"Yes, Hughie, wasn't Franklin funny when he sang 'My Pretty Maid,' when one side of him was the maid and the other the man, and didn't Woodcock, Derham, Sinnett, Argyle (from Brum), and others bring down the house with their humourous songs?"
-- REMINISCENT OF PIONEERS, Daily Columbian,
Wednesday, October 13th, 1909
Thomas Argyle was born in Birmingham, England. As a lad with a strong, adventurous spirit, he joined the Royal Engineers of the British Army and volunteered for service in developing the unorganized territory of New Caledonia, later to become the province of British Columbia.
On April 12, 1859 the vessel Thames City dropped anchor in Esquimalt Harbour. On board that ship, together with 150 other members of the Royal Engineers, was Thomas Argyle. The journey from England had been long and tedious and Thomas helped passed the time entertaining the rest of the men by singing humorous songs. He was a fine singer.
Immediately upon arrival the main body of engineers were sent to Queensborough, now New Westminster. The next five years were spent surveying land and building wagon roads through the Fraser Canyon to Clinton and the Cariboo. Argyle spent most of his time stationed at the Camp at New Westminster with his duties as Detachment Armourer.
When the time came to re-embark for England, November 11, 1863, only 15 of the original 150 men went on the ship. Thomas elected, as did most of the men, to stay in British Columbia and availed himself of 150 acres free land grant for prime waterfront land at Rocky Point.
In the hot and dry summer of 1864, Argyle came to the assistance of his former comrades-in-arms.
Saturday 4th June 1864 - The British Colonist
Having been personally engaged up to a late hour on Tuesday in repelling the advance of the flames upon the property in the rear of the city, we were unable to give anything beyond the very meagre notice which appeared in our last issue of Wednesday. In that notice we gave the names of four who were burned out at Sapperton. We are happy to learn subsequently that only three of the four were really victims, viz., Franklin, who lost his house and a great part of his effects; Bruce, who lost every article he possessed in the world; Gilchrist, who lost his house and a portion of his effects. This last case was rendered perhaps more distressing from the circumstances of Gilchrist having been absent upon the Bute Inlet Expedition, from which he only returned to find a heap of smouldering ashes where he left a comfortable house and happy family. There were instances of heroic bravery, too, which ought to be noticed in connection with the Sapperton fire. We learn that almost superhuman exertions were made in order to check the fire, and no better evidence of this is needed than the fact that Colston's house is now standing. The Hon. Colonial Secretary, Mr. J.T. Scott, Mr. C. Good, Mr. Howse. Mr. Deasy, Mr. Argyle, Mr. Green and Mr. Ede, have all been mentioned to us as having exerted themselves in the most praiseworthy and sometimes daring manner in order to save both life and property. The damage done to fences and garden stuffs must be very considerable, as we are informed that every piece of fencing in Sapperton was either burned or torn down to save it from being burned. The roads in that neighbourhood also suffered more or less injury. On the Pitt river road 234 feet of the roadway which was constructed of cedar logs covered with earth and gravel, was burned, while on the North or Burrard road, three of the bridges are more or less injured. In the rear of the city the house of Mr. Benney was destroyed, and back about 2 miles on the Douglas street road Mr. Bennet was burned out, while some three miles down the river Mr. Martin's buildings were destroyed together with most of the household stuff.
In the north-western suburbs considerable damage has been done in the destruction of fencing and garden stuff. There is an old saying that nothing is so bad but it might be worse; and notwithstanding all these losses and misfortunes a general feeling of thankfulness ought to pervade the community on account of the smallness of the aggregate loss; and that feeling should find practical expression in assisting as far as our circumstances will allow, the few who have lost their all.
Mary Ellen Argyle née Tufts
Courtesy BC Archives; Call Number F-00446
In 1862, a young lady by the name of Mary Ellen Tufts, set sail for British Columbia from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Miss Tufts was the daughter of Samuel Tufts, a United Empire Loyalist whose forebears came over from England on the Mayflower. Chased out of Massachusetts at the time of the revolution, the Tufts family had settled in Halifax in 1776, at a spot still known as Tufts Cove. Soon after her arrival on the West Coast, Miss Tufts met Thomas Argyle and they were married in 1863 and took up residence on the land at Rocky Point.
A sapper's Regimental Pay per Diem was 1s. 2 1/2d. plus Working Pay per Diem of 1s. to 4s.
In 1867 the Thomas Argyle was appointed chief keeper of the Race Rocks Lighthouse, 10 miles below Victoria, and he maintained that position until 1888, when he retired and returned to his Rocky Point home.
On the right we have a photograph of Thomas and Ellen Argyle with six of their nine children: Grace, Ellen, Louisa, Jennie, Anne, and Fredrick.
Their other three children, not shown in the photograph, are Maude, Thomas, and Albert.
The Argyle Family, circa 1890
Courtesy BC Archives Image C-05363
In 1867 Thomas Argyle was appointed as Chief Keeper of Race Rocks Light at an annual salary of $630. His wife Ellen was retained as matron at $150 and two assistant keepers were hired at a salary of $390 each for the year. Supplying the station was always difficult as it involved rowing out from Victoria but at least the Admiralty paid up to $900 a year for supplies. The employment conditions for the keeper of Race Rocks were relatively good at this time compared to the situation after 1871 when the new Dominion Government took over the lights. Argyle's annual salary was then cut to a paltry $125 and he was expected to pay for his own assistants and all supplies. Argyle apparently took to the sea to supplement his food supplies. His family had grown considerably as six children were born to the Argyles at Race Rocks. He was known to dive into the frigid waters around the station in search of abalone, scallops and mussels.
An early incident of rescue-without-search occurred in 1877. From his lighthouse lookout, Tom Argyle saw two figures bobbing precariously on a makeshift raft in the Race Rocks waters. He managed to rescue them, pull them ashore and revive them. They turned out to be two seamen deserters from Her Majesty's navy vessel, H.M.S. Shah. They were floating in the tide on two logs temporarily lashed together. Later, the unfortunate Mr. Argyle was charged with having aided and abetted deserters from Her Majesty's ships. He was fined $100, so much for the rescue service of 1877.
It seems that Thomas Argyle's luck suddenly changed in about 1885. The Colonist newspaper reported that he was paying for his weekly supplies in Victoria with gold sovereigns. When Thomas died thirty years later at the age of eighty he had still not exhausted his apparently endless supply of gold coins. It would appear that Thomas Argyle's diving expeditions had resulted in the discovery of sunken treasure. "The sea provides!" Argyle served at Race Rocks for twenty-one years and retired in 1888. One son was drowned at age 19 when returning from Victoria with a friend. Another son, Albert, took over as temporary keeper until a new appointment was made on January 1, 1889. According to descendants of Argyle they would not allow him to stay on as keeper because he was not married!
Thomas and Ellen Argyle retired from Race Rocks lighthouse in 1888 and went to live on their Rocky Point farm. From there, his young children used to drive by horse and buggy to the little Metchosin School. The Argyle home on the Rocky Point waterfront was a popular place for visitors. Many of the pioneer families of Victoria took their children out to the Argyle estate and set up their tents for a summer's camping. Evenings would find Argyle at the piano, leading his guests in singsongs with gusto. Thomas, by all accounts, was a bit of a martinet. Brought up in the English tradition, he was King of his Castle, and demanded a great deal of service and attention from his household, like having his own special chair, and comforts of the "bring me my slippers, dear" type.
In 1909, he participated the RE Reunion.
Much of the above information is from the book "FOOTPRINTS, Pioneer Families of the Metchosin District, Southern Vancouver Island 1851 - 1900". This book was compiled and edited by Marion I Helgesen and Published by the Metchosin School Museum Society who we would like to thank for their kindness in allowing the extracts to be used. A visit to the Metchosin School Museum is highly recommended, as is purchasing a copy of this excellent book.
The following information came from The Vancouver Island Brewery from their page on Thomas Argyle's Best British Ale.
That page is no longer there and it has been brought to our attention that the Vancouver Island Brewery no longer makes Thomas Argyle's Best British Ale, however in honour of Sapper Thomas Argyle, we present the contents of that now defunct page.
February 19, 2001
Thomas Argyle's Best British Ale
In April of 1859, a British clipper ship, Thames City, weighed anchor in Esquimalt Harbour after a six month journey from Gravesend, England. Aboard this ship was Thomas Argyle, an eager, adventurous lad of 20, who as a British Royal Engineer in the Queen's Army had volunteered for service in developing the unorganized territory of New Caledonia, now known as British Columbia. When it came time for the Engineers to return home Thomas chose to remain on Vancouver Island and start a family. He originally settled in Metchosin where he was lighthouse keeper at Race Rocks for 20 years. Thomas then moved to Victoria with his wife Ellen and nine children where he would own and operate the Willows Hotel on Cadboro Bay Road. The house he built still stands to this day on what is now the Lansdowne campus of Camosun College.
One hundred and forty one years later, Thomas Argyle's great grandson, Barry Fisher, and the staff at the Vancouver Island Brewery are proud to introduce a Traditional English ale created in Thomas's memory.
Thomas Argyle's Best will be enjoyed throughout an evening's pleasant conversation in the pub without overwhelming the drinker.
Office: (250)361-0007 Retail Store: (250)361-0005 Please be aware that their products can be purchased only on Vancouver Island and in the Vancouver, British Columbia area. Please see their website for more details.