Whose Gonzalo Farm is that?

View to northeast from Gonzales Hill, showing the McNeill homestead at R. Postcard, ca. 1905-10, by "Trio" Crocker. Collection of John and Glenda Cheramy.
View to northeast from Gonzales Hill, showing the McNeill homestead at R. Postcard, ca. 1905-10, by “Trio” Crocker. Collection of John and Glenda Cheramy.

Governor James Douglas took a census of the immigrant population of Vancouver Island as it stood on December 31, 1854. Known as the Census of 1855, the farm-by-farm tally identified the inhabitants by gender and age group, also the infrastructure, livestock and production of each. Douglas’s enumeration was published by W. Kaye Lamb in the BC Historical Quarterly in 1940. Included were four of the five farms in the district that became Oak Bay. From the editor’s summary:

The following notes on some of the proper names and places listed may be of assistance to students …
Foul Bay    Presumably the reference is to the estate of Isabella Ross, widow of Charles Ross, the first Hudson’s Bay officer in charge of Fort Victoria.
Oak Bay    Presumably the estate of John Tod.
Uplands    The Uplands Farm of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Gonzalo    The property of J. D. Pemberton, Surveyor-General.

The estate of William Henry McNeill was not included. One wonders why.

Capt. McNeill’s purchase of land on Shoal Bay was quite involved. The tortuous tale begins in 1851, when McNeill found himself newly widowed with ten children. His Haida wife Matilda died in November 1850 after birthing twins at Fort Rupert. She was “a good and faithful partner to me for twenty years,” McNeill wrote to Hudson’s Bay Company governor Sir George Simpson in March. Their eldest, Helen, “now has much on her hands. Four young children to look after with other matters about the house.” Helen was married to George Blenkinsop, clerk in charge of HBC Fort Rupert, and they had children of their own. Three McNeill children show up in the register for Rev. and Mrs. Staines’ school in Fort Victoria. “I intend to become a settler very soon,” McNeill wrote to Simpson.

McNeill soon concluded an eight-month furlough and took charge of HBC Fort Simpson. He was not to settle on Shoal Bay for more than ten years. But he did begin negotiating the purchase of the Shoal Bay property from the HBC. His chosen 200 acres shows up in a letter from HBC governor Sir J. H. Pelly to colonial secretary Earl Grey in  June 1851, listing “Sales of land in Vancouver’s Island at the price of One Pound per Acre.” In November Douglas mentioned, in a letter to HBC secretary Archibald Barclay, that “Chief Trader McNeill is in treaty for a lot of 200 acres.” A footnote explains that McNeill’s American citizenship posed an obstacle and traces the follow-up:

McNeill had written to London requesting 200 acres and had been given approval [McNeill to Governor and Committee, March 21, 1851; Barclay to McNeill, June 20, 1851].
Now the Governor and Committee raised the question of McNeill’s citizenship. As an American citizen, it was pointed out, he could not be given a title to land on Vancouver Island [Barclay to Douglas, March 12, 1852].
When McNeill indicated his intention of becoming a British subject and taking the oath of allegiance a title was made out [Douglas to Barclay, June 23, 1852; Barclay to Douglas, November 10, 1852; Douglas to Barclay, February 16, 1853].

(Paragraphing added; detailed references omitted)

McNeill concluded the deal for 200 acres on October 10, 1853 (Stuart Stark, personal communication). He paid the first instalment of £22.10.2 on the purchase of Section XXII on May 24, 1858 (assistant surveyor Benjamin Pearse’s testimony before the select committee investigating Crown Lands in 1863). The total acreage was 264, but the purchase price was discounted by 59 acres of rock at the southeast corner and swamps at head of Shoal Bay.

In June 1853 the eldest McNeill son, William Henry, Jr, married Mary Macaulay at Fort Victoria. They settled on his father’s Shoal Bay property and set about farming it.

The McNeills called it Gonzalo Farm. So it appeared on the 1859 Victoria District voters’ list.

The property of Joseph Despard Pemberton was identified on the 1859 voters’ list as Gonzalo Cottage.

Did W. Kaye Lamb err in assigning Gonzalo Farm to J. D. Pemberton?

Joseph Pemberton’s daughter Harriet Susan Sampson claimed that he bought “the first portion of the property in 1855.” This is testimony enough to refute the notion he owned Gonzalo Farm at the end of 1854. The best evidence suggests that Joseph Pemberton bought his first piece of land in 1856. After fulfilling his contract with the HBC in July 1854, he was invited to reapply for the post of Colonial Surveyor. While in England he enlisted his uncle Augustus Pemberton and sister Susan Pemberton to return with him. Joseph and Augustus drew up an agreement to share in the purchase of land. The three arrived at Fort Victoria in December 1855. The Pembertons’ purchase of land first shows up in a letter James Douglas wrote to the secretary of the HBC on March 5, 1856, excerpted by the editor of The Journals of Arthur Thomas Bushby:

An application has been made to me for the purchase of a part of [the Government] Reserve, by Mr. Augustus Pemberton, an intelligent and enterprising Gentleman who lately arrived in this Colony; but I could not grant his application without referring to the Committee for instructions.
The Fur [Trade] concern having formerly a Dairy, on [that] Reserve, from which, as a matter of [economy] the people have been withdrawn, [I proposed] to Mr. Pemberton to occupy the buildings valued at the sum of £40 Sterling, and authorised him to lay out a further sum of £60 in repairs and improvements on Fur Trade Account, which he is to repay over and above, the cost of the land, if the Committee agree to the sale of the Governors Reserve, a measure which for the reasons before stated I strongly recommend.

The three Pembertons occupied “Greyhill Farm” beginning in January 1856, according to Augustus Pemberton’s diary (cited extensively in a biographical sketch appended to The Bushby Journals). It’s pretty clear that farm was the property in the Rockland area that became the nucleus of Joseph Pemberton’s 1,200-acre Gonzales Farm. Pemberton’s own testimony before the Crown Lands committee in 1864 was that he settled on Section LXVIII (68) in August 1856. He got into hot water over the timing of it after being elected to the first Vancouver Island House of Assembly in July 1856. A petition mounted by James Yates alleged that he did not meet the requirement for candidacy — ownership of 300 acres of land. Joseph obtained title to Section LXVIII just before the Assembly convened in August.

Meanwhile, back on December 31, 1854, in Shoal Bay, the young McNeill family was going about the business of Gonzalo Farm. The census gives us a picture. There was a male age 20-29 — that would be William Henry, Jr. The female age 16-19 was Mary — she was 15 when they married. A male age 1-4 was likely their first-born son Donald. A male age 16-19 could be William’s brother Henry and a male 10-14, his brother Alfred. (The ages aren’t quite right; censuses often err.)

They had built a house, a shop or storehouse and two other outbuildings. The stock comprised twelve horses, six cows, nine oxen, nine other cattle, thirty-five pigs and fourteen chickens. With twenty acres under cultivation, the farm had produced fourteen bushels of oats, one hundred bushels of potatoes and two hundred thirty pounds of butter. That’s after one, arguably two, year’s production.

To do: how Joseph Pemberton’s 300 acres turned into a 1,200-acre spread that took the name Gonzales Farm.


The Census of Vancouver Island, 1855. Edited with an introduction by W K L[amb]. In British Columbia Historical Quarterly IV:1, January 1940, pp. 51-58.

Douglas, James letter to Archibald Barclay, Fort Victoria, 24 November, 1851. In Fort Victoria Letters 1846-1851. Winnipeg: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1979, p. 234.

The Journal of Arthur Thomas Bushby, 1858-1859. Edited, with an introduction and notes, by Dorothy Blakey Smith. In British Columbia Historical Quarterly XXI:1-4, Jan-Oct 1957, pp. 83-198.

List of Voters for Victoria County District. The British Colonist, December 3, 1859, p 1.

McNeill, William Henry letter to George Simpson, Fort Victoria, 5 March 1851. In Simpson Correspondence Inward, Hudson’s Bay [Company] Archives D.5/30, p. 364. Quoted in “Sources on Mathilda, Kaigani Haida wife of Captain William Henry McNeill,” by Sylvia Van Kirk (unpublished typescript).

Pearse, Benjamin, testimony to Crown Lands Committee of Dec 16, 1863. In MINUTES of PROCEEDINGS OF A SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY, Appointed to inquire into the present condition of the CROWN LANDS of the COLONY, with reference to the proposal of HER MAJESTY’S SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES, dated 15th June, 1863, to hand over the CROWN LANDS to the LEGISLATURE. VICTORIA. PRINTED BY HARRIES AND COMPANY, FOR HER MAJESTY’S GOVERNMENT, 1864, p. 34.

Pelly, Sir J. H., Governor, Hudson’s Bay Company, letter to Henry Earl Grey, Colonial Secretary, Hudson’s Bay House, registered 13 June 1851. Public Offices Document 5120, CO 305/3, p. 373. http://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/getDoc.htm?id=V515HB07.scx

Pemberton, Joseph Despard letter to Chairman, Crown Lands Committee, Victoria, May 11, 1864. Op. cit., p. 62.

Sampson, Harriet Susan. My Father, Joseph Despard Pemberton: 1821-93. In British Columbia Historical Quarterly VIII:2 (1944), p. 120.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. Tracing the Fortunes of Five Founding Families of Victoria. In BC Studies, no. 114/115, Autumn/Winter 1997/98, pp. 149-180.

Thanks to Stuart Stark and Sylvia Van Kirk for information about the McNeill family.


3 thoughts on “Whose Gonzalo Farm is that?”

  1. Wow! That McNeill was one prolific dude, no? Ten children and a widower. But then Fort Rupert was a pretty isolated, if industrially-busy place back in those days.

    Might I suggest that you try the Land Title Office – look first at copies of the first plans of subdivision on those parts of Victoria out past Ross Bay – and east, or northeast of Gonzales. Then get them to give you access to the (likely microfiched) land titles dating to the 1850’s, in the names of either McNeill or Pemberton. That area at the dead end (as it then was in the 1950’s) of Runnymeade, and between Foul Bay Road and the south side of the holly farm were farmlands – there was an old barn in there, and between the holly farm and FBRoad there were fields; my guess? parts of the old “Pemberton Farm” bespake – P Road ran almost right into it across FBRoad, didn’t it?


  2. One more thing that emerges after I revie3wed the blown-up version of your cap-photo; that pic appears to have been taken from the Northeast side of Gonzales, looking down what is now FB Road on the left, and over toward the bulk of Oak Bay centre-pic, with the hills above the Victoria Golf Club as now – then probably parts of the Tod farm on the right. First thought? Only a Scot would want to farm that crap!

  3. This is very interesting information! I am the GGG granddaughter of Captain McNeill and his son Alfred is my GG grandfather.

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