Cariboo Camp: 31 July [1895?]. Quarto (ca. 25,5x20 cm). 6 pp. Brown ink on watermarked lined laid paper. With the original envelope addressed to “Mr. George Abbot, 50 State Street, Boston, Mass. U.S. Brown Bros. & Co.” and postal ink stamp “150 Mile House, Aug. 2 93 [?].”. Fold marks, otherwise a very good letter.
Rare extensive letter with a detailed description of the operations on the Bullion Pit mine on the upper Quesnel River during its heyday in the 1890s. Operated by the Cariboo Hydraulic Mining Company and its manager J.B. Hobson, a mining engineer from California, the mine initially proved to be lucrative and was even dubbed “the largest hydraulic placer mine in the world.” In 1893 Hobson initiated the construction of the South Fork Ditch, a 21-mile canal supplying the mine with much-needed water. By 1899 an immense system of 33 miles of ditches and canals was completed. In the early 1900s, the amount of extracted gold started to drop. Hobson continued to manage the Bullion mine until it closed in 1907 due to the lack of financing. In 1893-1902 Hobson also operated the nearby Horsefly Hydraulic Mine. In 1902 he founded BC Provincial Mining Association and became its first president. Hobson was considered one of the “best mining men” of British Columbia, and “one of Cariboo’s most optimistic admirers” (The Cariboo Observer, Quesnel, B.C., 20 Jan. 1912, p. 1).
The letter describes the route to the mine via Ashcroft and Quesnel and notes on the harsh travel conditions, with roads covered by alkaline dust, which made it difficult to breathe. A separate paragraph praises Hobson’s house and garden in the “Cariboo camp” and talks about Hobson’s recent fire-preventive measures. The letter also contains a detailed report of Radford’s visit to the mine, describing the process of hydraulic mining, the work of the water monitors, the newly-constructed “Ditch” channel, the extraction of gold and mercury from the sluice, etc. A small drawing displays the size of the gold nugget found in Radford’s presence. He also talks about Hobson’s wife Julia (1863) and little son Robert, brother Henry Hobson (who was the mine’s accountant), and often notes how cordial and welcoming the Hobsons are to him. In the end, he mentions his plans to visit Hobson’s other hydraulic mine in Horsefly, and the excellent “invigorating” atmosphere “about 65°.” Overall a rare original source on the early history of hydraulic gold mining in the Cariboo.
The author of the letter John Radford (1830-1900) was an elderly resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, who before retirement traded “millinery & fancy goods” (US 1880 Federal Census). The letter is addressed to his daughter “Aggie” (Agnes Margaret, 1861-1944) and son-in-law George Abbot (1860-after 1930). At the time, George was an associate manager for the banking company “Brown Bros. & Co.,” office at 50 State St., Boston (Abbott, L.A. Descendants of George Abbott, of Rowley, Mass. Vol II. [Boston], 1906, p. 827). The letter also mentions George and Agnes’s son John Radford, or “J.R.” (b. 1893), Radford’s other daughter Helen Louise (1856-1946) and several other family members and acquaintances.
Excerpts from the letter:
“Dear Aggie & George,
It seems very strange to be all these thousands of miles away in so short a span of time, and surrounded by conditions so totally different, from anything I ever saw. And I find that with all the information recd. from J.B. that I really knew nothing about it. The journey from Ashcroft was very hard, as the roads were so fearfully dusty, that for the first 30 miles, I was very much worn out & discouraged and my mouth was parched, nostrils sore, and eyes irritated, for the dust is alkaline and the water full of it, so that we were very thirsty and year afraid to drink at the houses on the way. But afterward the wind was in our favour & blew from the north, so it drove the dust behind us, and we got along much better.
We started on Sunday morning from Ashcroft about 9 a.m. and that day drove 68 miles with two changes of horses. Monday we drove 75 miles and got within 82 miles of Camp. On Tuesday we drove to within 35 miles of Quesnelle, and got there about 11 a.m. and could easily have made the camp that evening, but found the horses all out in the pasture, which is an enclosure many miles in extent, and altho [sic!] they went in search of horses for 2 or more hours, could not get them, so we had to stop all night and the next morning. They got the horses, and we got in about 1 p.m. and I met a most hearty reception, as I knew I would from John, but must say that everyone here (as it is a large colony) are very kind & Mrs. Hobson has done everything to make me feel at home.
Their house is a perfect corner of coziness, and I was perfectly astonished to find things so homelike & delightful. Mrs. H. has a beautiful flower garden, French peas in abundance, and a great variety of other flowers looking healthy & fine. They also have a fine vegetable garden, lettuce, peas, Cauliflower, onions, beets, potatoes, and all looking fine. Of course they are irrigated, for everything is fearfully dry, and a few days before I got here, John had 150 men fighting fires in the mountains, for 3 days & was fearful of the destruction of this camp. But they saved [?] it by cutting down the timber & back-firing, as they call it, further up the ditch (which I shall see later). They had men cover up or bury with dirt 40,000 of Lumber, which was saved, and one building was burnt and John says the business cost the Company at least $5,000, but he thinks they got off cheap.
I got here on Wednesday & after a good clean up & a good dinner, I went with John to the Mine, and saw the blasting & 2 monitors at work, and can assure you it is a most wonderful sight, the roar of the monitors and the rush of racks & water thro’ the flumes is something astonishing. After looking at them a little while, we went back to Camp (for you must know the mine is more than ½ mile away) and after supper had a long talk with John, and he opened a bottle of champaign & I went to bed feeling very tired & happy. Next morning got up about 8 and found them waiting for me to go to breakfast. Went to the mines again afterward, after going to the Reservoir & walking down the Ditch, where I saw the clean up of one short piece of sluice, about 40 or 50 ft. in length. It is done by tearing up the blocks & riffles, which are laid on a perfectly tough bottom of planks & a continual stream of water about 3 inches deep is run thro the sluice box, the men wearing rubber boots &t. They commence on the top first & follow down & as they lift the blocks & riffles that stop the gold, a man with a peculiar scoop shovel, fills the sand & gravel into a pan, and the pan-man lets the water wash it out and the precious stuff then shows in the shape of quicksilver & the gold is enclosed in the same & in amalgam which they carefully in a sheet iron pad very strongly made. The whole process was interesting & also exciting <…> When they got to the end of the short piece of sluice to be cleaned we had after all the clear quicksilver had been poured back into the flasks over 800 ounces of amalgam, which we brought home with us, and put into the safe. Mind you, I could not tell you how many hundreds of feet of sluice there are, but many. And John says lots of it is far richer than the one cleaned & he expects over $100,000,00 when the final clean up comes. Which will be in a week or so, for he says he saved the clean up for me to see. It is impossible for me to tell you how kind he is to me in every way – and this visit will be to me a memory as long as I live.
There are lots of plans ahead. We are going fishing tomorrow, and horseback rides are planned. Then I am going to Horsefly & spend a night or more there and I don’t know what besides. Went down to the mine with John this morning and one of the men brought & handed to me 2 specimens of coarse gold, which are unusual. One some like this [a drawing] and is large, pure, the other smaller. The larger John says at $ 2.50. I have found out here exciting a business it must be, especially when you have an interest in what you find.
Henry Hobson was very cordial and altho’ he is much changed, I begin to get familiar with his old look. Robbie is a pretty interesting boy and takes to me which I am very thankful, as he brings to me my little grandson, J.R. and I tell Robbie about him, and he says he wishes he would come and play with him. He is larger and heavier than J.R. as he wights 35 lbs. His nurse is a very fine girl and seems devoted to him. He always speaks of her as “his Mary.” I hope to get letters from home by next mail which will be next Thursday. There is only one mail a week in here. I have written several disjointed epistles, but I think John telegraphed your mother that I was safe here from the fact that he said last night that I was not to worry for they knew at home I was all right in Cariboo.
They live as well here as at Jonny’s Hotel, and our party at table is Mr. & Mrs. H., Mr. Warner, the Doctor, & Henry, and we have about everything you could wish. So you see I have fallen in good hands, and I wish it were possible you could see things here as they are, you would be interested & astonished. I trust you & the children are well, and that your mother & Nellie are also well. It seems a long time since I left Lynn and yet it is so short a time since. The weather here is very fine, the atmosphere invigorating about 65, and the nights delightfully cool, and conducive to sleep, and I am sure it will do me a great deal of good…”.
Price: $1,500.00 USD