MUIR, ANDREW, collier and office holder; b. c. 1828, probably in Ayrshire, Scotland, eldest son of John Muir* and Annie Miller; m. 31 Jan. 1854 Isabella Weir in Victoria, and they had one daughter; d. there 11 Jan. 1859.
Andrew Muir was about 20 years of age when in 1848 he signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company as a collier to work the coal deposits at Fort Rupert (near Port Hardy) on Vancouver Island. He sailed from Gravesend, England, aboard the HBC barque Harpooner on 5 December with a group of fellow miners – including his father, who was to be overman, three brothers, and two cousins – and their families. During the seven-month voyage across the Atlantic, round Cape Horn, and up the Pacific coast, Andrew Muir kept a diary in which he noted the many difficulties encountered, such as high seas, shortages of food, a mutinous crew, and conflicts among the passengers. After arriving at Fort Victoria (Victoria) on 1 June 1849, the party was put to work in the construction of a dockyard and in digging a well. At the end of August they embarked on the company brig Mary Dare for Fort Rupert.
At their destination the Muirs found undeveloped deposits, insufficient equipment, and primitive living conditions in place of the established mines they had been led to believe would be awaiting them. The local Indians, who were under contract to gather coal on the beach for the HBC, viewed the new operation as an intrusion and threatened the miners with violence. Digging pits as best they could, the Muirs soon discovered that there would be little yield from the proposed operation, and they were called upon to perform menial labour in and around the fort. Their complaints about these conditions, addressed to local company officials who placed a low priority on coal production, were met with indifference, and relations between the miners and the company men rapidly deteriorated. For a week beginning on 16 April 1850 the miners refused to work. George Blenkinsop, HBC manager at Fort Rupert, accused Andrew Muir of being “a rebellious person [who] kept the men off their duty,” and after Muir and his cousin John McGregor stopped work for another week, Blenkinsop had the two arrested on 2 May and put in irons in the fort’s bastion, where they were held for six days. They were released after a hearing before Blenkinsop, Captain William Henry McNeill*, Charles Beardmore, Captain Charles Dodd, and Dr John Sebastian Helmcken*. As Muir noted in his diary, he and his cousin were nevertheless “determined to make for some Christian place – since we could get neither rights nor privileges here.”
The opportunity came at the beginning of July. Muir and McGregor left the fort on 2 July; six days later, with some of the other miners and their families, they boarded the brig England, which was carrying a load of coal, and sailed to San Francisco. All of the miners, except John Muir and his youngest son, Michael, eventually deserted the fort. Attracted by California’s gold-rush, Andrew did not go any farther than San Francisco, where he took employment as a collier and deck-hand in the Sacramento River trade. Within months, however, he had moved again, this time to Astoria (Oreg.). He was back on Vancouver Island by late summer 1851, in time to present a written complaint about the treatment he had received at Fort Rupert to the departing governor, Richard Blanshard*. The London committee of the HBC later criticized Blenkinsop and the other officers at Fort Rupert for their actions.
With his cousin Archibald Muir, Andrew rejoined his family on the farm his father had purchased at Sooke. They conducted a logging and sawmilling operation on this property, supplying piles and square timber for the San Francisco market. Andrew, however, did not stay there very long and by 1853 he had relocated in Victoria, where he was appointed the town’s first sheriff. Six years later, the day after his term as sheriff ended, he died intestate at age 31 of chronic alcoholism. He was buried in the churchyard of the Victoria District Church (Christ Church Cathedral) on 13 Jan. 1859, the same day that his only child, Isabella Ellen, was baptized.
Bancroft Library, Univ. of California (Berkeley), H. H. Bancroft, “British Columbia sketches,” 13–18. PABC, Add. mss 520, 3, folder 1: 41; folder 3: 12; folder 6: 11; Andrew Muir diary, 9 Nov. 1848–5 Aug. 1850; Vert. file, Muir family. PAM, HBCA, A.6/29–30; A.11/72. G.B., Parl., House of Commons paper, 1857 (session ii), 15: nos.224, 260; Report from the select committee on the Hudson’s Bay Company, 292–93. Helmcken, Reminiscences of Helmcken (Blakey Smith and Lamb). Daily Colonist (Victoria), 17 Jan. 1888. Gazette (Victoria), 13 Jan., 16 Aug. 1859. Derek Pethick, Men of British Columbia (Saanichton, B.C., 1975). Keith Ralston, “Coal miners’ contracts with the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1848–1858” (paper given at the B.C. Studies Conference, 1981). P. M. Johnson, “Fort Rupert,” Beaver, outfit 302 (spring 1972): 4–15. W. K. Lamb, “The governorship of Richard Blanshard,” BCHQ, 14 (1950): 1–40. B. A. McKelvie, “Coal for the warships,” Beaver, outfit 282 (June 1951): 8–11.
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