MOUAT, WILLIAM ALEXANDER, master mariner and HBC employee; b. in 1821 in London, Eng., son of William Mouat; m. 8 Aug. 1854 at Stepney, England, to Mary Ann Ainsley, by whom he had seven children; d. 11 April 1871 at Knight Inlet, B.C.
William Alexander Mouat went to sea in 1835 and served three years as an apprentice before becoming an officer. He came to the Pacific coast of North America as second mate of the Hudson’s Bay Company bark Vancouver (Capt. Andrew Cook Mott) arriving at Fort Vancouver on 27 March 1845. On 28 April he was transferred to the Cadboro as first officer and served in her until the end of February 1847 when Captain James Scarborough “put him off duty.” He is believed to have acted as pilot for the Columbia River bar in 1848, and he himself says that in 1849 he was “master of an American vessel at California.” In the summer of 1849 he was again serving as first officer under Scarborough, but this time in the Mary Dare at Beaver Harbour, where Fort Rupert was being established by Captain William Henry McNeill of the Beaver. On 30 July 1849 an eye-witness (Charles Beardmore of the HBC) reported to Dr William Fraser Tolmie* that Scarborough had kept Mouat “under arrest during his whole stay here,” and that by 25 July Mouat had been “so driven & bullied that he left the ship putting himself under Captain McNeil[l’s] protection.” Scarborough then “declared him a deserter & broke open his chest & proceeded to the extremity of the law.” “We shall be anxious to hear how it is settled,” added Beardmore, “as this officer is a favorite with us all.” The HBC apparently found for Mouat, since in 1850 he was master of the Mary Dare and took her home in 1853, arriving in London on 27 May 1854. But Mouat was now himself accused by his own first officer of “disgraceful conduct” in making a physical assault on the second officer of the Mary Dare in the presence of the crew. Later episodes in Mouat’s career would seem to indicate that although he was a kindly man, generous to the unfortunate, he had a quick temper and would brook no interference in what he considered the performance of his duty.
The outcome of the Mary Dare incident of 1854 is not known, but it was as a passenger on the Marquis of Bute that Mouat returned with a bride to Victoria on 1 April 1855. On 16 April he was given command of the HBC steamer Otter, then plying between Victoria and Fort Langley, and on 27 Feb. 1860 he was made a chief trader. He was master of the Otter until 3 April 1862 when he was transferred to the newly acquired Enterprise for her first trip to the Fraser. When in 1865 gold was discovered on the Big Bend of the Columbia River, he was sent to look into the possibility of steam navigation on the Kamloops and Shuswap lakes and the Thompson River which connected them. He reported the scheme “entirely practicable,” and the HBC ordered the Marten to be built at Savona’s Ferry.
Early in 1866 the HBC was awarded the contract for direct mail service between Victoria and San Francisco, and Captain Mouat, “one of the most careful and reliable men that ever handled a wheel,” was given command of the Labouchere, which he took to San Francisco on 15 Feb. 1866 to be fitted out for the accommodation of passengers. On her second voyage after the refit, on 114 April 1866, the Labouchere was lost off Point Reyes, her captain displaying “admirable coolness, bravery and forethought” in saving his passengers. But the official inquiry censured Mouat for “very gross negligence . . . in not swinging the Labouchere to ascertain the deviation of the compasses before leaving San Francisco, the steering apparatus having been shifted from aft forward” during the refit, and also for not having taken sufficient care of her majesty’s mails.
The HBC now placed Mouat in command of the Marten, which made her maiden trip on 26 May 1866, the first steamer to ply the Thompson River. But the Big Bend mines proved a failure, and at the close of the season the Marten was laid up and Mouat was posted to Fort Rupert, where he remained in charge until his death in 1871 while on a canoe trip from Knight Inlet to the fort. Mouat was buried in Victoria, and his tombstone, the inscription almost obliterated, may still be seen in Pioneer Square, adjoining Christ Church Cathedral.
HBC Arch. A.33/4, f.413; B.113/c/1, f.16; C.1/459; 0.1/462; C.1/625, f.208 (log of Otter). PABC, Charles Beardmore correspondence; Thomas Lowe journal, 1843–50; William Alexander Mouat correspondence, 1859–66. British Columbian (New Westminster, B.C.), 28 April 1866. British Columbia Tribune (Yale, B.C.), 28 April, 7, 21 May, 4 June 1866. Cariboo Sentinel (Barkerville, B.C.), 31 May 1866. Colonist (Victoria), 1863–71.
Lewis and Dryden’s marine history of the Pacific northwest (Wright). Denys Nelson, Fort Langley, 1827–1927, a century of settlement in the valley of the lower Fraser River (Vancouver, 1927; 2nd ed., 1947), 15–26. Walbran, B.C. coast names. N. R. Hacking, “Steamboating on the Fraser in the ’sixties,” BCHQ, X (1946), 1–37.