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ELWYN, THOMAS, public servant; b. in 1837 or 1838 in Ireland, eldest son of Lieutenant (afterwards Lieutenant-General) Thomas Elwyn, ra; d. 11 Sept. 1888 at Victoria, B.C.

Thomas Elwyn came from a military and naval family, and he himself served in the Crimean War as lieutenant in the 30th Foot. In 1858 he left England “on speck” for the newly proclaimed gold colony of British Columbia, and travelling by the Panama route arrived in Victoria, Vancouver Island, on Christmas Day. Being “well recommended from home” he was soon attached by Governor James Douglas* to the police force under Inspector Chartres Brew*, and after five months as chief constable at Yale he was appointed, on 8 June 1859, assistant gold commissioner and stipendiary magistrate for the district of Lillooet [see John Carmichael Haynes]. Here he remained until the spring of 1861 when he was given command of the gold escort from the Cariboo mines, Douglas considering him “peculiarly fitted for the task” by reason of his knowledge of the country and his previous military experience. When the gold escort was rejected by the miners because the government could not guarantee safe delivery, Elwyn was posted to the Cariboo district as gold commissioner on 21 April 1862. On 30 October, however, he resigned because of a conflict of interest: he owned a share in a claim on Williams Creek which had now “become so valuable,” he said, “that I cannot in justice to myself abandon it.” The governor expressed his “high appreciation . . . of the manner in which [Elwyn had] conducted the responsible duties entrusted” to him and regretted the loss of his “experience and ability.”

When the gold escort was temporarily revived in 1863 Elwyn was made second in command to Philip Henry Nind and brought the treasure safely to New Westminster. In 1864 Elwyn was second in command of the party recruited in New Westminster by Brew for an expedition sent out to capture the Chilcotin Indians who had killed Alfred Penderell Waddington*’s road construction crew at the head of Bute Inlet. During the mining season of 1865 Elwyn was working on White Horse Creek in the Kootenay, and the following spring he accompanied, as the agent of the government, the Western Union Telegraph expedition during its extension of the line north from Quesnel. When work was suspended for the winter he was left in charge of a mining party exploring on the Stikine River, but in the spring of 1867 the telegraph project was abandoned and Elwyn returned to civilization. In 1868 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, acting (for that session only) as magistrate for the Cariboo district where he seems to have tried his luck again at mining during the next few years. In 1871 he was in charge of a band of cattle being driven from Barkerville towards Tête Jaune Cache, B.C., as winter provisions for a Canadian Pacific Railway survey party. Subsequently he is said to have been “engaged in the [Hudson’s Bay Company]’s service on the steamer Otter and other vessels”; he was undoubtedly purser on the Otter from 1873 to 1876. Finally, on 7 Nov. 1877, he was appointed deputy provincial secretary and gave great satisfaction in that office until his death.

Elwyn was one of the earliest supporters of the Pioneer Society of British Columbia, serving as its president in 1878 and 1879. On 4 Oct. 1879 he married Rebecca, daughter of Captain William Henry McNeill*, and they had two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Elwyn himself died after over a year’s illness from “consumption” in 1888.

When all debts were paid Elwyn’s estate amounted to less than $100. His friends mourned him as a man “ever courteous, considerate and generous,” “of boundless sympathy and charity,” “noble all through,” who bore himself towards women “with unvarying chivalrous courtesy, hating the flippant fashion of to-day.” And yet in his pursuit of fortune in the successive gold excitements of British Columbia, he had borrowed money from friends and relations of both sexes, “to carry him through.” Nind, who left the colony in 1866, commented soon after, in private letters, on Elwyn’s “youthful indiscretions” as a magistrate in Cariboo and roundly asserted that he had been “proved to be a scamp.” On the other hand, though Elwyn resigned as gold commissioner in 1862 the government continued to employ him in positions of trust; and ten years as deputy provincial secretary confirmed his public reputation as “a shrewd, clear-headed man,” with considerable executive ability and an untarnished record for “probity, sincerity and manliness. “

Dorothy Blakey Smith

PABC, Add. mss 218; Add. mss 412; B.C., Colonial Secretary, Corr. outward, 1859–67 (copies); Colonial corr., M. B. Begbie corr.; Chartres Brew corn; Thomas Elwyn coll., Corr. outward, 1865; O’Reilly coll., Peter O’Reilly diary, 1865. Supreme Court of British Columbia in Probate, Victoria Registry, Elwyn estate papers (copy at PABC). B.C., Blue book, 1859–62; Legislative Council, Journals, 1868. [A. T. Bushby] ,“The journal of Arthur Thomas Bushby, 1858–1859,” ed. Dorothy Blakey Smith, BCHQ, 21 (1957–58): 83–160. British Columbian (New Westminster, B.C.), 27 Oct. 1866. Cariboo Sentinel, 19 Aug. 1871. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 5 June 1863; 17 April 1866; October 1873–October 1876; 12, 14 Sept., 7 Oct. 1888. Harts army list, 1858.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Dorothy Blakey Smith, “ELWYN, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/elwyn_thomas_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/elwyn_thomas_11E.html
Author of Article: Dorothy Blakey Smith
Title of Article: ELWYN, THOMAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: September 1, 2014