SHEEPSHANKS, John




Author Tags: 1900-1950, Early B.C., Gold, Religion, Sports

The outspoken Anglican clergyman Reverend John Sheepshanks (1834-1912) came to British Columbia in 1859 to serve as first rector of Holy Trinity Church in New Westminster. According historian Irene Stangoe's third book on the Cariboo-Chilcotin, his first rectory was a draughty log cabin with a mud floor. When the nearby Fraser River froze, Sheepshanks "awoke to find the bedclothes near his mouth frozen stiff with ice, and the cups and saucers frozen hard to the shelves in the cupboard." He observed the local men playing hockey on the frozen Fraser with hockey sticks "cut from the forest."

Before he returned to England in 1867 after a three-year journey via the West Indies, Hawaii, Asia and Russian, Sheepshanks made two forays into the Cariboo where he and his companion, Reverend Robert Dundas, were besieged by mosquitoes in a wayside inn. In the summer of 1862, he wrote, "There was a ceaseless hum as the room was literally brown with mosquitoes. It was swelteringly hot, yet every man wore his coat buttoned up, strings were fastened round his cuffs and trousers. He had gauntlets on his hands, his hat on his head, and a veil hanging down covering his face and neck. He would stick his fork into a piece of meat and pop it in under the veil as quickly as possible. Not a word was spoken. We were too beaten down and cowed by insects."

Sheepshanks reached Barkerville in the fall of 1862, having inoculated some 80 members of a tribe at Green Lake against smallpox and met countless failed goldseekers heading south. He wrote, "Day after day we met groups of men, chiefly young Englishmen, turning back, never having reached the mines. Disappointed, broken down, haggard, they cried, 'back, back, to go on is madness.'" At Barkerville, Sheepshanks and Dundas held their Anglican services in the largest saloon at Antler Creek. "I rang the dinner bell up and down the street...," he wrote, "and soon had a gathering of about thirty men. There was not a woman on the creek."

During his return trip in the spring of 1863, Sheepshanks oversaw the construction of the first church in the Cariboo gold fields, at Richfield, on a lot that he purchased for $500. Sheepshanks later became the Bishop of Norwich and published his memoirs in 1909.

BOOKS:

Sheepshanks, J. A Bishop in the Rough: Reverend J. Sheepshanks (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1909; New York: Dutton, 1909). Duthie, D. Wallace (editor).

[BCBW 2006] "Religion" "Early B.C." "1900-1950" "Missionaries" "Sports" "Gold"