Page images
PDF
EPUB

1

otter; 150 fur seal; 744 fisher; 1344 fox; 2997 bear; 29,785 marten; 14,103 mink ; 18,553 musquash ; 1551 swan ; 1015 lynx; 632 cat; 1494 wolf; 228 wolverin; 2090 raccoon; and 2884 deer skins ; &c. &c.

Caprice, fashion, changes in trade, or in the use of the different articles for manufacture, materially influences the price of goods; thus, for instance, the introduction of silk hats has much reduced the price of beaver skins and other furs.

The fall in the price of all skins has been very great, but as beaver constitutes the largest item in value, the reduction of profit to the Company will be seen by a comparison with the prices and amount of sales in

1839 and 1846. Price of beaver skin

27s. 6d. 3s. 5d. Number of skins sold

55,486 45,389 Sale proceeds

£.76,312 £.7856.

.

1

There is also great variety in the prices of articles of similar denomination. At the sales on 30th August last, two lots of otter, sixty-six in the lot, sold for 33s. ; another lot, with seventy-two in it, sold only for £.1 lls. Fisher skins varied from 26s. 3d, to 3s. each ; bear skins, 45s. to 128; martens, 14s. 8d. to 3s. ld.; silver fox from £.7 to 28. per skin. But the Hudson's Bay Company are obliged to pay the same price to the Indians for all skins, according to tariff; whether the skins be good or bad, the Company must buy them. By the time these skins are conveyed from the interior to the coast, warehoused, and shipped, their cost is greatly enhanced, irrespective of loss by damage, interest of money, insurances, &c.

The profits of the shareholders in London are not therefore to be estimated by the difference in price between the cost of a skin at one of the Company's forts in the interior, and its sale price in London. There are the heavy charges of different forts in the north-west territories :—the losses by non-fulfilment of contracts, (for the Indians, like the Eastern nations, almost invariably require advances, and always endeavour to be in debt to the Company),–

the deficiency of skins or furs in scarce seasons, -and the reductions in price at home; the long period for which the Company lose interest on their outlay, from the time of the transmission of their goods from London, to the re-payment of the same in five, six, or sometimes seven years, by their fur sales in London, as the Company always keep one year's stock of goods on hand in their territories; the expense of obtaining and transmitting food is often a heavy item, for at many of the Company's forts, the poor Indians would perish during an unusually inclement winter, when the buffalo and deer flee from the wind-swept plains to the shelter of the woods.

Whatever be the profits, after paying the whole expenses at home and abroad, they are divided, according to the provisions of the Deed-Poll just quoted, into fifths; of which three go to the proprietary, and two among the chief factors and chief traders of the Company, instead of salaries.

Considerable expenditure is necessary to try new districts, which sometimes, however originally promising, are ultimately found not to answer, and the establishments have to be withdrawn at a loss.

By the Licences of 1821 and 1838, the Company were authorized to trade over the ‘ Indian territories' west of the Rocky Mountains, then also open to the subjects of the United States. It was of great importance to us that Great Britain should obtain a footing and position in Oregon and on the Columbia River, which Mr. Canning had expressed his determination to maintain as British property. The Hudson's Bay Company therefore incurred large expenditure in establishing themselves on the coast of the Pacific, and the result is thus shown in the evidence laid before Parliament, 8th August, 1842, page 26.

For many years previous to the grant of exclusive trade to the Hudson's Bay Company, the trade of that coast was engrossed by the subjects of the United States of America and Russia, the only establishment occupied by British traders being * Astoria,' afterwards named 'Fort George,' at the mouth of the Columbia River, while no attempt was made, through the means

of shipping, to obtain any part of the trade of the coast; and so unprofitable was it in the years 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821 and 1822, and so difficult of management, that several of the leading and most intelligent persons in the country, strongly recommended that the Company should abandon it altogether. The Company, however, felt that the honour of the concern would, in a certain degree, be compromised were they to adopt that recommendation, holding as they did, under Government, the licence in question, and with a degree of energy and enterprise, which, I feel assured, your Lordships will admit, reflects much credit on themselves and on their officers and servants in the country, they directed their efforts so vigorously to that branch of the business, that they compelled the American adventurers, one by one, to withdraw from the contest, and are now pressing the Russian Fur Company so closely, that although that association is supported by its government, to the extent of affording them the assistance of a strong military guard at each of their establishments, which, with their shipping, are officered by naval and military officers of the Imperial army and navy, we are gaining ground upon them, and hope, at no very distant period, to confine them to the trade of their own proper territory.

The outlay and expense attending this competition in trade are so heavy, that the profits are yet but in perspective, none worthy of notice having been realized, the result showing some years a trifling loss, and in others a small gain, fluctuating according to the degree of activity with which the contest is maintained; but by energy and perseverance, we hope, in due time, to bring it to a more favourable issue, if the facilities of protection now required of Her Majesty's Government be afforded.

• This trade, nevertheless, affords employment to about 1000 men, occupying 21 permanent trading establishments, two migratory, trading and trapping expeditions, a steam vessel, and five sailing vessels from 100 to 300 tons burthen, all armed; and so dangerous is the trade, that I lament to say that it has not been unattended with loss of life.'

6

The expenses incident to the Red River settlement are also a drain on the funds of the Company.

An erroneous opinion has been entertained that the past (as well as the present) profits of the Company have been enormous. But the truth is shown in the following extract from the Parliamentary Papers of 8th August, 1842, p.p. 24, 25:

"The Hudson's Bay Company was incorporated in the year 1670, under a Royal Charter of Charles the Second, which granted them certain territories in North America described in that Charter, together with exclusive privileges of trade, &c. &c. Between the years 1670 and 1690, a period of 20 years, the profits appear to have been very large, as, notwithstanding losses sustained by the capture of the Company's establishments by the French in the years 1682 to 1688, amounting to £.118,014, they were enabled to make a payment to the proprietors in 1684 of 50 per cent.; another payment in 1688 of 50 per cent.; and of a further payment in 1689 of 25 per cent.

In 1690 the stock was trebled without any call being made, besides affording a payment to the proprietors of 25 per cent. on the increased or newly-created stock; in the years 1692, 1694, 1696, and 1697, the Company incurred loss and damage, to the amount of £.97,500, by other captures of their establishments by the French

· These losses appear to have rendered it necessary for the Company to borrow money, on which they paid 6 per cent. interest; they were enabled, nevertheless, in 1720, again to treble their capital stock, with only a call of 10 per cent. on the proprietors; and, notwithstanding another heavy loss sustained, by the capture of their establishments by the French under La Perouse, in 1782, they appear to have been enabled to pay dividends of from 5 to 12 per cent., averaging 9 per cent., and showing, as nearly as I am able to judge from the defective state of the books during the past century, profits on the originally subscribed capital stock actually paid up, of between 60 and 70 per cent. per annum from the year 1690 to 1800.

• Up to this period the Hudson's Bay Company had no great cause for complaint of interference with their inland trade, and if they had been left unmolested, or been protected in the undisturbed possession of it, and of the rights and privileges vested them by their Charter, they would in all probability have continued in the enjoyment of the advantages they were then deriving from their labours and exertions in those remote and little frequented wilds.

• But about that period their rights of territory and trade were invaded by rival traders, which led to animosities, feuds, and breaches of the peace, extending to the loss of lives, and considerable destruction of property, injurious to the native Indians, by reason of the unrestricted use of spirituous liquors and other demoralizing influences, consequent on opposition, and so prejudicial to the interests of the Hudson's Bay Company, that between 1800 and 1821, a period of 22 years, their dividends were, for the first eight years, reduced to 4 per cent; during the next six years they could pay no dividend at all; and for the remaining eight years they could only pay 4 per cent.

During a long succession of years, while this destructive contest existed, very frequent applications for protection and redress were made by the Hudson's Bay Company to his Majesty's Government, as may be seen by reference to the records of the Colonial Office, but without avail, and scenes of bloodshed, robbery and demoralization, revolting to humanity, were allowed to pass without any effectual measures being taken to punish or prevent them, although the Hudson's Bay Company had every claim on Government to support them in their just rights of territory and trade.

• At length, in the year 1821, when the violence of the contest had nearly exhausted the means of both parties, an arrangement was entered into between them, by which their interests became united, under the management of the Hudson's Bay Company.

* The proprietary were then called upon to pay £.100 per cent. upon their capital, which, with the stock in trade of both parties

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »