APPLEBY, CHARLES, farmer; b. 25 Dec. 1866 in Jamaica; d. unmarried 12 March 1929 in Essondale (Port Coquitlam), B.C.
Of African descent, Charles Appleby immigrated to Canada in 1896, according to census records. After living for a time in British Columbia’s lower mainland, he moved to Salt Spring Island, near the southern tip of Vancouver Island and the second largest of the Gulf Islands. He would reside there for more than 20 years, eking out an impoverished existence as a market gardener and farmer.
British Columbia’s first black immigrants had arrived from San Francisco in 1858, part of the diverse population drawn by the Fraser River gold rush [see Mifflin Wistar Gibbs*]. Many also sought freedom from California’s racially restrictive laws. Black settlers came to Salt Spring in 1859. Rich with game and good farming areas, it was part of the unsurveyed region opened by Governor James Douglas* in response to complaints about high land prices [see Joseph Despard Pemberton*]. On 26 July 1859, 29 settlers of different nationalities were given permission to pre-empt land on the island. The next day, black settlers Armstead Buckner, Abraham Copeland, and William Robinson were part of the initial group to set off for Salt Spring. Other blacks would follow, to brave the often perilous and isolated circumstances to create homes. Several would become involved in local civic and provincial affairs. By the end of the century a number of these early black settlers had left the island, some because of racial tensions and some because the end of the Civil War had made a return to the United States attractive. Others had relocated to explore economic opportunities elsewhere, and some had died. Descendants of several pioneer black families were still there, however, when Charles Appleby joined the community in 1896.
A photograph taken of Appleby around 1910 shows a thin, wiry man with greying hair and a pipe; in his forties, he looks over sixty. According to some islanders, he was a slightly mad but harmless person who possessed the gift of second sight. Leonard Tolson states in his memoirs that Appleby predicted the sinking of the steamship Iroquois, which on 10 April 1911 set out from Sidney, B.C., for the Gulf Islands, filled with freight and approximately 40 passengers. Less than a mile out, it encountered rough seas, some of the cargo shifted, and the ship sank with the loss of at least 21 lives. Tolson recalled that before the disaster Appleby had “stumbled up to a group of men, weeping and hysterical, and told them that he had just seen the Iroquois sinking and many people drowning. The men did not take this too seriously, knowing that his mind was unhinged.”
Appleby lived on Salt Spring for almost ten more years, evidently with continuing problems. On 6 April 1921 he was admitted to the Provincial Hospital for the Insane at Essondale. Its intake file stated that “this patient’s mental condition is such that no reliable family or personal history could be obtained from him. He will never give the same answer twice in succession.” His physical examination found him to be 5 feet 6½ inches, 118 pounds, poorly nourished, and “showing marked advanced changes of senility.” He had been committed by Dr Eva Maud Sutherland of Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring, whom he had told, among other stories, that he was the son of Queen Elizabeth I and that he had once gone out to catch his neighbour’s horse, which was full of jewels. Appleby was not a source of trouble, except, as Sutherland and the provincial constable on Salt Spring noted, when he swore and was abusive towards children who teased him. He never left the asylum, and died in its farm annex.
BCA, GR-2880, 90, file 6815; GR-2951, no.1929-09-424334 (mfm.).
NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, New Westminster, B.C., div.2: 35.
Salt Spring Island Hist. Soc. Arch. (Salt Spring Island, B.C.), Toynbee Coll. (photographs).
Bea Hamilton, Salt Spring Island (Vancouver, 1969).
Snapshots of early Salt Spring and other favoured islands, comp. R. M. Toynbee (Ganges, B.C., 1978), 56