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d. 28 Feb. 1793 in London, England


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MACTAVISH, DUGALD (the name is frequently written MacTavish or McTavish, but his branch of the family used Mactavish), HBC officer; b. 10 Aug. 1817 at Kilchrist House near Campbeltown, Argyllshire, Scotland, second son of Dugald Mactavish Sr and Letitia Lockhart; d. a bachelor, on 24 May 1871, at Montreal, Que.

Dugald Mactavish and his elder brother William* were appointed as apprentice clerks in the Hudson’s Bay Company on 2 Jan. 1833; they sailed for Hudson Bay in the summer, and Dugald was posted to Moose Factory in the Southern Department where his uncle, John George McTavish*, was in charge. Dugald was transferred to Michipicoten, 100 miles north of Sault Ste Marie, on Lake Superior in 1835; for outfits 1837–38 and 1838–39 he was a clerk at Lachine.

The Council of the Northern Department meeting at Red River in June 1839 ordered Dugald Mactavish to the Columbia Department as clerk at Fort Vancouver under Chief Factor John McLoughlin*. When he reached this post in October he found it “so very large that on first arriving a stranger is almost apt to imagine himself in the civilized world . . . .” In the spring of 1840 he accompanied the York Factory Express east with the Columbia Department’s yearly accounts, and in June he was instructed to take charge of the Columbia Brigade from Edmonton to Fort Vancouver and to convey 3,000 prime otter skins to meet the company’s contract with the Russian American Company. The brigade arrived safely on 31 Oct. 1840 and Mactavish received McLoughlin’s praise.

In June 1841 Mactavish was promoted to the rank of clerk first class at £100 a year, and his engagement at Fort Vancouver was renewed for three years. In 1842 Dugald’s sister Letitia*, wife of James Hargrave*, characterized him as “a distinguished voyageur & driller of unruly men but he appears to be a good accomptant [sic] – as they say the Columbia papers were never before in such order as since he went.” Yet advancement was slow under McLoughlin, and Dugald considered leaving the company. His merits were not entirely unnoticed on the Columbia, however, for when he took the accounts to Red River in 1845, Chief Factor James Douglas urged Governor Sir George Simpson* to send Mactavish back to the Columbia “as there is no person here, capable of replacing him.”

Mactavish, who went east with the accounts both in 1844 and in 1845 was, according to his sister Letitia, a slender, handsome, and intense youth of charming, buoyant manner dressed in expensive finery ordered out from England, including an embroidered black satin waistcoat in which he astonished some of the residents of York Factory. He was an indefatigable horseman, and rode at Fort Vancouver even on Sundays, when McLoughlin required all to walk. According to Edward Martin Hopkins, personal secretary and assistant to Sir George Simpson, who visited the post in 1841–42, Mactavish worked from 4:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. the entire year, but could be wild as well as serious. The American missionaries conducting Sunday services at the fort were apt to find themselves disconcerted by “a loud & curious chanting” from the next apartment, where lay Dugald “singing . . . voyageur songs with his head under the blankets, & this is his pastime every Sunday morng from 6 till 9 . . . .”

Increasing American settlement south of the Columbia River in these years made the HBC’s continued ability to retain its lands and investments in Oregon doubtful. Accordingly, McLoughlin and other company employees entered claims in their own names, attempting to secure the company’s important site at the falls of the Willamette River (Oregon City). Mactavish entered a claim to part of the lands at the company’s mill, which he registered with the provisional government of Oregon on 16 Dec. 1843. However Isaac W. Alderman, an American probably encouraged by the Methodist mission, forcibly took possession of the land and improvements arguing that Mactavish’s claim was invalid since he was not an American citizen. Mactavish was successful in his suit for recovery of the land but soon sold the claim to McLoughlin for $900.

When Mactavish arrived back at Fort Vancouver from York Factory in October 1845 it was expected that he would soon leave to take charge of Fort Victoria, Richard Lane having been assigned to his post as accountant at Fort Vancouver. However, the suicide of McLoughlin’s son-in-law, William Glen Rae, at San Francisco in January 1845 had revealed that the company’s affairs there had been poorly managed, and McLoughlin sent Mactavish to close its business. He sold the company’s premises for $5,000 and appointed an agent for the collection of the $10,000 in accounts owed to the HBC. With David McLoughlin and Rae’s family, Mactavish returned to Fort Vancouver on 11 July aboard the HBC barque Vancouver.

He spent the next six months getting his accounts in order, taking measures to keep American claim jumpers off lands held by employees for the company, and attempting to collect the debts of the Red River settlers who had left the company and taken up farms south of the Columbia. Beginning in September, he sat as one of two judges for Vancouver County under an appointment from Oregon’s governor, George Abernethy. His most important case concerned the jumping of a claim of Chief Factor Francis Ermatinger. Richard Lane arrived on 8 Dec. 1846 bringing Mactavish’s long-sought commission as chief trader effective 1 June 1846, and orders to succeed George Pelly in the “principal management” of the company’s business at Oahu (Hawaii). Mactavish turned his Columbia Department responsibilities over to Henry N. Peers* and Thomas Lowe, resigned as judge, and left to join the barque Toulon for passage to San Francisco, where he boarded the Currency Lass for Oahu.

In August 1852 Mactavish took a long-deferred furlough in England and Scotland. He had been promoted chief factor in 1851, and upon his return to Fort Vancouver in September 1853 he acted jointly with Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden* on the board of management of the company’s newly created Oregon Department, comprising the lands and posts in the United States to which it retained possessory rights by the Oregon treaty of 1846. Ogden died on 27 Sept. 1854, and Mactavish had sole responsibility for the department until June 1857 when Chief Factor William Fraser Tolmie* joined him on the board, although Tolmie remained at Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound. During the Indian troubles of 1855–56, Mactavish had to abandon Fort Hall in present-day Idaho, and he was called on to advance supplies to the territorial volunteers of both Oregon and Washington. He estimated the total value of these supplies at $100,000, and as late as 1866 the bill remained unpaid. At Fort Vancouver itself he protested what he considered the premature survey of HBC lands by United States officials and the appropriation of company lands and buildings for the U.S. army’s Columbia barracks. In June 1858, with the company’s ability to maintain its operations at Fort Vancouver in doubt, Mactavish turned the fort over to Chief Trader James Allan Grahame* and moved to Fort Victoria where he replaced James Douglas. With the creation of the crown colony of British Columbia, the position of the HBC there became what it was in its last years on the Columbia. Mactavish and Chief Factor John Work* prepared a report on its claims to lands and posts in mainland British Columbia which governor Douglas transmitted to the Colonial Office. Douglas felt that the company had acquired rights to the soil by occupation, improvement, and public services, and he urged that its claims be met in a spirit of “judicious liberality” particularly as the decision of the British government would influence the settlement of the company’s claims in Oregon. Mactavish’s future with the company was determined in part by his work on the British Columbia claims.

From February 1859 to June 1860 Mactavish was in England on sick leave. He returned to serve as the senior member of the board of management for the company’s posts in British Columbia until November 1863, when he again returned to England.

In the early months of 1864, the United States and Great Britain ratified a treaty which provided for a joint commission to make final settlement of the claims of the HBC and the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company arising from the Oregon Treaty of 1846. Mactavish left London on 28 Oct. 1864 for Washington, D.C., with orders to help prepare the company’s memorial to the joint commission. From Washington, Mactavish went to Canada and in May 1865 he made his last trip to the northwest coast. Arriving in Victoria on 26 June he had a month to prepare for the arrival of the U.S. commissioner who was to take testimony. Mactavish was back in Montreal by Christmas, and in March and April 1866 he wrote his first deposition for the agents of the commission. Between April 1866 and March 1867 he moved between Montreal, New York, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina on business connected with the company’s claims, and from 8 March to 1 May he gave many hours of testimony in Washington to the joint commission. On 10 Sept. 1869 the commissioners made their final awards, reducing the claims of the two companies from $5,449,936.67 to $650,000.

Mactavish left for London at the conclusion of the commission’s deliberations, but his days as company trouble-shooter were not yet over. Scarcely a month after his arrival, Mactavish, “a man of great intelligence, plain and unpretentious in his manner, and possessed of sound common sense,” was recalled to Montreal to take the position vacated by Chief Factor Donald A. Smith*. Mactavish took rooms at St Lawrence Hall, and there on 24 May 1871 he died on a reading room sofa of “disease of the heart” following a sudden seizure at Martineau’s bathing rooms.

William R. Sampson

PABC, Thomas Lowe journal, 1843–50. Canadian North-West (Oliver). Evidence on the part of the Hudson’s Bay Company claimants (British and American Joint Commission for the final settlement of the claims of the Hudson’s Bay and Puget’s Sound Agricultural companies, [Papers], 14 v., Washington, Montreal, 1865–69, II). Evidence for the United States in the matter of the claims of the Hudson’s Bay and Puget’s Sound Agricultural companies. Miscellaneous (British and American Joint Commission for the final settlement of the claims of the Hudson’s Bay and Puget’s Sound Agricultural companies, [Papers], 14v., Washington, Montreal, 1865–69, XI). Hargrave correspondence (Glazebrook). HBRS, VI (Rich); VII (Rich). [Mactavish], Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod). British Colonist (Victoria), 10 Oct. 1859, 23 June 1860. Daily British Colonist (Victoria), 27 June, 28, 31 July 1865. Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle, 17 June 1871. Gazette (Montreal), 25 May 1871. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 25 May 1871. Treaties and other international acts of the United States of America, ed. [David] Hunter Miller (8v., Washington, 1931–48). J. A. Hussey, The history of Fort Vancouver and its physical structure ([Tacoma, Wash., 1957]).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William R. Sampson, “MACTAVISH, DUGALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 28, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mactavish_dugald_10E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mactavish_dugald_10E.html
Author of Article:   William R. Sampson
Title of Article:   MACTAVISH, DUGALD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   February 28, 2024