McNeill’s Kygarney Summer


According to Donald Henry McNeill, in a curious typewritten manifesto in the BC Archives, his grandfather William Henry McNeill discovered the Victoria area in May 1831 while on a fur trading mission out of Boston.

He visited Polynesia  … passing thence to the Hawaiian Islands … [I]n April 1831, he sailed North-east across the Pacific … to Vancouver Island … and reaching the harbour of Camosun, May 1, 1831, he explored the Southern end of the Island. The brigantine “Llama” was the first ship to anchor in what is now Victoria Harbour, Captain W.H. McNeill in command, May 1, 1831… (Personal Record, pp. 1a-2)

After doing some fur trading up north, Capt. McNeill returned, in Donald McNeill’s account, to spend the better part of the summer around southern Vancouver Island:

On June 10th [1831], McNeill sailed South again for Camosun, reaching the Southern end of Vancouver Island on the 17th of June. McNeill renewed his explorations, delighted with the beauty of the scenery and the surrounding country; he and part of his crew made a very careful examination. Leaving on August 2, he crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca … (pp. 2-3)

A charming vision. Let’s just have a peek at the primary document, the 1830-32 logs of the Lama, written by Capt. McNeill himself. The first log, author unidentified, bears the title “Journal of a voyage kept onboard Brig Lama bound for the Sandwich Islands and North West coast of America.” Its first entry is headed “Boston Harbour Wednesday, Oct. 6th 1830.” Its last entry is dated Friday May 11th 1832. In another book is, among other records, a section headed “Journal of a voyage kept on board Brig Lama Wm. H. McNeill Commander cruising on the North West Coast of America continued from the other Journal.” The first entry is dated Saturday May 12th 1832. The handwriting is notably similar to the other journal’s.

32 05 12 first entry

At the point when Donald McNeill has his grandfather discovering Victoria Harbour, we find this:

Saturday, April 30th 1831
Commences with light breezes and pleasant weather at 4 PM get underweigh and at 10 PM came to an anchor in the inner harbour of Skidegates in 13? fathoms water Latter part pleasant weather employed in various jobs Ships duty
Sunday May 1st 1831
comes in with pleasant weather the wind from NW to SE middle & latter parts pleasant with light airs from NW

Skidegates is presumably the Haida village on Moresby Island.

After McNeill was supposed to have left the north coast to return south we find this:

Sunday June 12th 1831
… at 9 PM came to anchor in Kygarney harbour with 10 fathoms water

Kygarney is pretty clearly Kaigani, a Haida village and stronghold in the Alexander Archipelago, southeast Alaska:

Kaigani. (K!aiga’ni) An important Haida summer town or camping place at the s. e. end of Dall id., s. w. Alaska. Most of the families which moved from the Queen Charlotte ids. formerly gathered here to meet trading vessels, for which reason they came to be known to the whites as Kaigani. …
Kaigani. A division of the Haida, living in Alaska. … The Kaigani emigrated from the n.w. end of Queen Charlotte ids. between 150 and 200 years ago [i.e., in the first half of the 18th century], drove the Tlingit (Koluschan) from the s. end of Prince of Wales id., and took possession of their towns. …

Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Edited by Patrick Webb Hodge. Part I. Washington: government Printing Office, 1907.

So it continues…

Sunday June 19th 1831
… Beating around Kygarney point bound to Hanageh at 6 AM …
Sunday June 26th 1831
… came to anchor in the harbour of Cuyou …
Sunday July 3rd 1831
… made all sail for Pearl Harbor in company with the Driad at 2 PM fell in with the Brig Active Capt Raymond from Boston…

Pearl Harbor is a bay in the area of Juneau, Alaska.

Wednesday July 6th 1831
… at 9 AM came to anchor in the harbour at Kygarney.
Monday July 11th 1831
… at 2 PM came to anchor in the inner harbour of Tumgass …

Tumgass is probably Tongass, a Tlingit village near Ketchikan, Alaska.

Saturday July 16: Kygarney Pt

Thursday July 21: Mill Bank Sound

Saturday Jul 30: Kyetes Cove

Tuesday August 2: Cape Swain(?)

Wednesday August 3: Pt Day

Thursday August 4: Charlottes Island … Dundas Id

Saturday August 6th 1831  
Bore away for Sitka at 6 AM … Kygarney Pt

One has to wonder at Donald McNeill’s narrative. Capt. McNeill was a fur trader, not an explorer. And the Victoria area was never a place to buy furs. It was not sea otter habitat, for one. Why would he have bothered to spend six weeks there? How would Donald McNeill know Capt. McNeill was “delighted with the beauty of the scenery?” In 1837, working for the HBC and charged with finding a habitable harbour, the Captain — a regular terror when aroused — may have entertained such soft feelings. Could Donald McNeill possibly have owned a copy of Capt. McNeill’s 1837 reconnaissance report to the Company? If so it’s a shame he didn’t see fit to share it; the report has not come to light since.

Donald McNeill was the lighthouse keeper on Fiddle Reef, where for more than 20 years he lived alone in a 10-foot by 10-foot room. Never married, he wrote the Personal Record when he was 70 years old. It is animated with a fair amount of self-pity and resentment. He never got a fair shake. He performed many deeds of rescue without due thanks or recognition. He should have been the keeper of the Trial Island light. It went to someone with no experience. Capt. McNeill got a raw deal, too. He was never recognized as the true founder of Victoria. And so on.

His narrative of 1831 can be read as a fantasy of an unpeopled primeval Eden infinitely preferable to the Oak Bay he had to live in.

Back to the real world of 1831. William Henry McNeill, while trading for furs, had taken up with a Kaigani Haida woman. William Henry McNeill, Jr., Donald McNeill’s father, was born — gauging from the age given on his 1889 death certificate — between October 30, 1831 and October 29, 1832. He was no offspring of a summer romance. The mother, who enters the historical record much later with the name Matilda, bore at least ten children with Capt. McNeill. Their long and abiding relationship goes quite a ways toward explaining Capt. McNeill’s whereabouts in the summer of 1831.

"Territory and principal towns of the Haida in the early to mid-19th century." With "Haida: Traditional Culture" by Margaret B. Blackman. In Handbook of the North American Indians, Volume 7, Northwest Coast, Edited by Wayne Suttles (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1990), p. 241.
“Territory and principal towns of the Haida in the early to mid-19th century.” With “Haida: Traditional Culture” by Margaret B. Blackman. In Handbook of the North American Indians, Volume 7, Northwest Coast, Edited by Wayne Suttles (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1990), p. 241.

“Kaigani” in Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Edited by Patrick Webb Hodge. Part I. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907. Accessed November 10, 2013.

McNeill, Donald Henry. Personal Record. Pioneer Reunion, May 9-10, 1924. Typescript, BC Archives.

McNeill, William Henry. Log of the Lama, 1830-32. BC Archives textual record A/B/20.5/C76.

McNeill, William. Death registration. Died October 29, 1889, Victoria, age 57. Reg. Number: 1889-09-006111. B.C. Archives microfilm reel B13077.

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