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and other islands of the Archipelago, is somewhat remarkable. Formerly there were a few of these animals on San Juan Island, but in a very short time after its occupation by white men they almost entirely disappeared, and are now no longer any annoyance to flocks. So it will be on Lopez after a few persons have taken up their abode there.
“ One-third of the area of this island, perhaps, might be subjected to cultivation, but the greater part of this is still covered with trees, which it would require much labour to
Much of the remaining two-thirds, although rocky, is covered with grass enough to support many hundreds of sheep and cattle. On its eastern and southern side there are a good many fishing grounds, where the Indians yearly take great numbers of salmon and halibut. At one of these localities, on the eastern side, there exists a small but very shallow bay, into which empties perhaps the largest stream of the island. At this place the Hudson's Bay Company formerly had a small trading station.”
Great as are the natural advantages of these islands, they sink into insignificance when compared with the importance of the Archipelago, looked at from a naval or military point of view. In proof of this I cannot adduce stronger evidence than the report of the late United States General, Persifer A. Smith, who visited these islands while in command of the military department of the Pacific.
This report was addressed to the President of the United States, dated December, 1857, and stated as follows (1):
“ When I had the pleasure of meeting you in Washington, I intended to speak to you on a subject of great importance connected with the boundary between the United States and
(1) American State Papers, p. 52.
the British possessions north of them on the Pacific coast. The line, after having followed the forty-ninth parallel to the Sound dividing the island of Vancouver from the continent, is to run south, taking the main channel to its intersection with the straits of Juan di Fuca, and then west through those straits to the ocean.
" At this intersection lies a group of islands just north of the end of the straits, commanding the entrance into the Sound and opposite to the entrance of Admiralty Inlet and Puget's Sound in our own territory. These islands form a naval harbour that may be defended against any force if they are fortified as they may be, and the nation that disposes of them thus will absolutely command, not only Queen Charlotte's Sound, but all those splendid harbours in our territory on the waters of Admiralty Inlet and Puget's Sound, as well as those on the straits of Juan di Fuca and the navigation of that inlet. These harbours are the best on the Pacific coast, for, with the timber that covers the hills bordering on them, and the coal in the adjacent territory as far south as Gray's Harbour, they possess the great advantage of a rise and fall of tide of twentyone feet, rendering the construction and use of docks easy and cheap.
"I visited these waters in 1849-50, and on my return represented to the President the immense importance of the islands referred to; and afterwards, at his request, gave Governor Stevens, then about to start for Washington Territory, a written memorandum in relation to the subject.”
General Tatten, again, the Chief Engineer of the United States army, after a tour of inspection through the region of which we are speaking, made an official report to his Government in the following terms(1) :
- The fitness of this island (San Juan) for a permanent fortification, or for a military station of any kind, depends upon its relation to so much of our water frontier as lies along
(1) American State Papers, p. 133.
the Straits of Fuca, and its water communication with the Gulf of Georgia.
“ This particular subject was, therefore, kept in mind while I was pursuing my general examination of the north-west coast. It directed the particular course of my inspections of those waters, and led me to extend my explorations as high up as Fraser River.
“I find nothing in the magnitude, form, or position of San Juan Island that will admit of the treatment for such a purpose, separate from general military considerations—those only with which I have anything to do—and I now proceed to give, as briefly as I can, the convictions that have arisen in my mind after mature reflection.
Great Britain, by owning the whole of Vancouver's Island, of which the southern shore bounds the Straits of Fuca on the north, possesses, just within its southern extremity, the admirable man-of-war harbour of Esquimault, and she now occupies it as a naval station, having present there, at the time of my visit, one line-of-battle ship and four war steamers. This harbour has, in a high degree, every internal convenience, facility of ingress and egress at all times, and perfect defensibleness, at a moderate cost, by fortifications, should such defence be considered necessary at future times.
“My first remark on these circumstances is, that, possessing Esquimault harbour, the ownership of the San Juan Archipelago, or of that island alone, is not necessary to Great Britain for her own occupation, either for defensive or offensive purposes ; because, while occupying Esquimault harbour, and enjoying naval superiority, she will command completely, so far as local position will enable her, the Straits of Fuca, and all other waters within Cape Flattery, including Puget Sound, Admiralty Inlet, and all the channels and passages of the San Juan Archipelago. All our commerce and communications therein will be interrupted, or exposed to the greatest hazards.
“ With superiority afloat she will need no fortifications in the Archipelago in order to command the passages. Its quiet
and pleasant waters may be much resorted to by her cruisers, but the place of refreshment, rendezvous, and, if need be, of refuge, will, because there can be no better, be Esquimault itself. Indeed, a fortified anchorage at San Juan island, for instance, would not be essentially nearer, and would no better overlook our harbours of Dungeness, Port Discovery, Sequin Harbour, Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound, &c., than that of Esquimault.
“ Neither does Great Britain need San Juan Island, nor any other island in the group, for the purpose of defending by fortifications her communications with the Gulf of Georgia.(')
“Such a system would demand numerous works to overlook the many navigable passages through the group, while the same naval force that will be indispensable for other purposes, will be precisely the best description of force for this defence, and for interception of, and resistance to, expeditions from our distant shores.
“ If, therefore, the Archipelago be assigned to Great Britain, it will hardly be the seat of any naval or military establishment. Possibly, with the growth of the country, some establishments there may be deemed to need slight defences against predatory raids, but nothing of that sort can occur within any reasonable time; and nothing is likely to happen in that way to bear upon our present question. But even if it be her wish to fortify them, her desire to retain the island arises, I am convinced, much less from a belief that such a military or naval station is necessary to her interest in that region, than from a knowledge that to us they will afford military advantages quite important, and not otherwise to be had.
« This leads me to remark, in the second place, that by the establishment of the division line between the two countries in the Straits of Haro, we shall, in some sort, have compensation for the advantages Great Britain enjoys by owning the whole of Vancouver's Island, and maintaining a predominant naval force at its southern extremity, since it
(1) I must beg respectfully to differ from this opinion.
will then be in our power to react with more or less effect, according to our energy and enterprise, upon these interior waters, by securely fortifying an anchorage at San Juan Island, or some other place close upon the Haro channel.
“ The presence, under the shelter of such fortifications, of fast armed steamers, would exercise an important influence upon the communications between the Straits of Fuca, and the Gulf of Georgia, Frazer River, &c., would at all times threaten and harass that communication, and completely command it whenever it should happen to be without the actual presence of a strong convoy.
“ It is easy to see that no such effects could be looked for, with the naval mastery against us, if our nearest fortified position were some forty or fifty miles distant from the main channel, which will be the case if the Rosario Strait is to become the boundary.
“My conclusions, from these and such like considerations, are, that the possession of the San Juan group of islands is strategically of high importance to us; that without this possession, there can be no escape or relief from the paralysis that adverse naval predominance will impose on our coasts and waters inside Cape Flattery; and that so far as considerations of a different nature admit, or can be materially aided by such influence, this importance can hardly have too much weight given to it.”
It may be observed here, that the General, in stating that the island can be of no service to Great Britain, proceeds on the assumption that she would retain her naval supremacy.