SCOULER, John




Author Tags: 1800-1850, Alcohol, Forts and Fur, Medicine

Prior to Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galápagos Islands in 1835, the first six scientists to visit the Galápagos Islands also proceeded to visit British Columbia. The sixth of these men, young John Scouler, was as much impressed by the Haida as the oddities of the Galápagos.

As part of Alessandro Malaspina’s scientific expedition, botanists Antonio Pineda and Luís Neel, along with naturalist Tadeo Haenke, first stopped at the Galápagos in 1780, then reached Nootka Sound.

Fifteen years later, Archibald Menzies, botanist with Captain George Vancouver, visited a desolate area of the Galápagos, on the northwest side of Isabela Island, in 1795, but found little of interest.

The first scientists known to have gathered samples from the Galápagos were two young Scotsmen, David Douglas and Scouler. They arrived at James Island in the Galápagos on the Hudson’s Bay Company brig William and Ann on January 9, 1825. Many of their samples were lost or destroyed, but Sir Joseph Hooker cited thirteen Galápagos plants gathered by Scouler and five from Douglas in a paper he published on Darwin in 1847. David Douglas and John Scouler are therefore credited with gathering the first botanical samples for scientific research from the Galápagos Islands.

Hired to serve as a medical officer on the William and Ann, Scouler (1804–1871) sailed from the Galápagos with his University of Glasgow classmate, Douglas, and made some of the first botanical and geographic observations of the Pacific Northwest: “When we consider the abundance of provisions this beautiful country affords,” he wrote, visiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca, “we shall not be surprised at the great population it maintains; and, probably no Indians in North America have less difficulty in procuring their food than the tribes from the Gulf of Georgia to the Columbia River; the sea yields an abundant supply of fishes of the most delicious kinds, as various species of mullet, turbot, and cod; every rivulet teems with myriads of salmon; and the meadows and forests produce an endless variety of berries and esculent roots. The collection of the latter forms the occupation of the women and children, while the men are occupied in procuring the former, and both are carefully dried for winter stores.”

Scouler visited the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1825 and noted, “Around Skittegass [Skidegate], the potato is now pretty extensively cultivated, and they brought us plenty to sell. One cannot but rejoice at this symptom of commencing civilization, which, if persevered in, will limit their wanderings, and give them better ideas of property, and teach them that more is to be gained by cultivating their fertile soil, than in following salmon up every creek, or spending days in the uncertain support of the chase.”

Scouler’s zeal for collecting almost got the better of him when he stole three skulls from a Haida burial place in 1825. Pursued back to the ship by furious Haida, he hastily retreated from the area.

Nonetheless Scouler viewed the Haida as “far above the natives of the Columbia in the scale of intelligence.” On his return journey, Scouler visited Nootka Sound and found that the sources for furs had been exhausted: “Nootka, which excited so much contention between the courts of Madrid and London, is now completely neglected by every civilised power, & the state of poverty in which they are at present affords little inducement to the visits of mercantile adventurers.”

Prior to 1850, Scouler was one of the precious few physicians who visited the Pacific Northwest without dire consequences. The Astorian trader Alexander Ross later observed: “It had often been a subject of remark among Colombians how unfortunate a certain class of professional men had been in that quarter, physicians and surgeons.”

The casualty rate for physicians prior to the long life of Dr. William Fraser Tolmie was such that the existence of a jinx was presumed. Here is a brief inventory of Scouler’s medical peers.

• Welsh-born doctor David Samwell survived Captain James Cook’s visit to Nootka Sound in 1778, but his fellow surgeon on the Resolution, William Anderson, died of tuberculosis in August of 1778 off the coast of Alaska.
• John MacKay, assistant surgeon for Captain Strange in 1786, barely survived his one year as a “guest” of Chief Maquinna and apparently died as an alcoholic in India, a shattered man.
• Alexander Purvis Cranstoun, surgeon for Captain Vancouver on the Discovery, was invalided home from Nootka Sound in 1792, replaced by Archibald Menzies, a botanist.
• According to Alexander Ross, a physician identified as Doctor White arrived in Astoria in 1811, but “became suddenly deranged, jumped overboard, and was drowned.”
• Ross also recorded that a Doctor Crowley was sent away from Fort George (Astoria) to be tried for murder after he allegedly shot a man in cold blood; as well, a surgeon on the ship Colonel Allan shot himself to death in his cabin while anchored near the fort in 1816.
• The Hudson’s Bay Company trader and surgeon Alexander McKenzie (not the explorer) was killed by Aboriginals at Hood Canal in 1828.
• Doctor Richard J. Hamlyn quarrelled with Chief Factor John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver and left the fort in 1830.
• Unable to cope with an outbreak of malaria that killed thousands of Aboriginals, the Edinburgh-educated physician John Frederick Kennedy contracted the disease, threatened to quit, and was sent to Fort Simpson.
• Also trained in Edinburgh, the conceited twenty-two-year-old Meredith Gairdner sailed with twenty-year-old William Fraser Tolmie on the Ganymede in 1832, reaching Fort Vancouver some seven-and-a-half months later, where he coped with more than 600 malarial patients in 1833, only to die of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) in Hawaii in 1837.

BOOKS:

Scouler, John. Account of a voyage to Madeira, Brazil, Juan Fernandez, and the Gallipagos Islands: performed in 1824 and 1825, with a view of examining their natural history (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Edinburgh Journal of Sciences; London: T. Cadell, 1826).

Scouler, John & Dr. Gairdner. Observations On The Indigenous Tribes Of The N.W. Coast Of America; & Notes On The Geography Of The Columbia River (London: Royal Geographical Society, 1841).

Scouler, John. "Journal of a Voyage to N.W. America." The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society VI (1905): P. 54-75.

Scouler, John. "Journal of a Voyage to N.W. America, Part II." The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society VI (1905): P. 159-205.

Scouler, John. "Journal of a Voyage to N.W. America, Part III." The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society VI (1905): P. 276-287.

[BCBW 2006]