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DEIGHTON, JOHN, steamer captain and hotel-keeper; b. in November 1830 at Hull, Yorkshire, Eng.; d. 29 May 1875 at Burrard Inlet, B.C.
Information on John Deighton’s early life is scanty but he probably began his career as a merchant seaman. He came to California in 1849, but soon returned to the sea, sailing between London, the British colonies, and China. In 1858, the year of the Fraser River gold rush, Deighton arrived in British Columbia. After trying prospecting, he entered the river steamer services, piloting vessels and sometimes commanding steamers that ran between Victoria, New Westminster, and Fraser River points. There is substantial evidence that in 1862 Deighton was briefly captain of James Irvine Bramley’s ship, Union.
After a lengthy illness and with the decline in traffic on the Fraser, Deighton turned to hotel-keeping. In September 1867 he moved to Burrard Inlet where Captain Edward Stamp had recently opened a sawmill. Although the population of the area was sparse, thirsty mill-workers and visiting sailors provided a steady trade for Deighton’s Globe Saloon, the first enterprise of its kind on Burrard Inlet. Two other public houses were soon established in the area but Deighton, who was “celebrated for his good table and his warm hospitality,” did most of the business. In 1870 he replaced the original saloon with the more spacious Deighton House. In 1873 he was able to open the commodious Deighton’s Hotel which he placed under the management of his brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Emma Deighton. The hotel was advertised as a resort for invalids and sportsmen.
Deighton’s success is explained by the increasing activity in the area’s lumber mills and by his affectionate and generous personality. He was well respected for his political opinions although his language was occasionally uncouth. According to local legend, the townsite of Granville, later Vancouver, received its unofficial but well-known name of Gastown from Deighton’s sobriquet, “Gassy Jack,” a tribute to his loquacity.
Deighton’s prosperity was short-lived. He quarrelled with his brother and sister-in-law, probably as a result of complications caused by his “klootchman,” an Indian woman, Qua-hail-ya, known as Madeline or Matrine, the mother of his illegitimate son. In 1874 Deighton returned briefly to steamboating on the Fraser as captain of John Irving*’s steamer, Onward. When his brother and sister-in-law left his employ he returned to hotel-keeping. He began to expand Deighton House but took ill and died. His son, and sole heir, died before the estate, which yielded little more than $300, was probated.
PABC, John Deighton correspondence. Mainland Guardian (New Westminster, B.C.), 9 June 1875. F. W. Howay, “Early settlement on Burrard Inlet,” BCHQ, 1 (1937), 101–14. Raymond Hull, “Sailor at the bar,” British Columbia Library Quarterly, XXVII (January 1964), 22–26.