Syme Lindsay was born 28 August 1829, and baptized on St. Valentine's
Day, 1830, at Kilconquhar, Fife, Scotland.
Jimmy" on the Wagon Road
the colourful figures who built and travelled the Cariboo Road
was Sergeant James Lindsay of the Royal Engineers' Columbian
Lindsay joined the Royal Artillery in 1846,
days after his 18th birthday. For many years he
served the great guns of Gibraltar. His lieutenant there
remembered him as a 'lang-legget, keen-eyed Scot' whom he
boxed regularly for exercise.
The Rock of Gibraltar
on Gibraltar, Lindsay appears in "Gunner Jingo's Jubilee", the
1896 autobiography of Thomas Bland Strange.
Just as the morning gun boomed at sunrise,
the big Sergeant - Crawford Lindsay (sic) bursts into the room
of the sub on duty calling: "Sir, there's a Spanish
Guarda-costa chasing a Contra-bandista! She has let drive at her
already, the puir deevil has run up the Jack and is making
straight for the Guard Battery. Ye ken, sir, we perrmit no
hosteelities in oor waters - so 'ave just lodded number one
Jumping out of bed and scrambling into his uniform, the
Lieutenant was quickly standing on the parapet of the battery
with a telescope to his unwashed eye. Sure enough, there they
were, like two great sea-birds skimming along the waves, their
tall lateen sails spread like white wings before the spanking
breeze, dashing the foam from their bows. The Guarda-costa could
no longer fire her solitary bow gun, as the shot would have come
direct for the British Battery.
The Lieutenant's sympathies as well as those of his Scotch
Sergeant had gone out to the gallant little craft, smuggler
though she was, that flew our flag. Rather than surrender she
had stood on, despite the chasing shot, and now, every reef
shaken out, she staggered under her huge lateen sails. She was
rushing to destruction on the black rocks round which the sea
foamed like an angry cauldron. No time was to be lost.
could not be fired to check the mad race, without risk of
striking both -they were in exact line and close together-
there was nothing for it but to shoot over their heads, letting
the Spaniard know she was breaking the Law of Nations in
carrying hostilities into neutral waters.
A word from the officer and the keen-eyed Scot had taken his
line of sight and sent his iron message. It fell beyond both and
went dancing along in jets of spray, that rose in tiny fountains
far away. The strong breeze cleared away the smoke and seemed
even to carry off the report, but it bore to the gunners the
derisive shout of the crew of the Guarda-costa, who realized
that the guns from their great height could not be depressed to
The smuggler could not change her course without being boarded,
but she managed to swing into a little cove, where she dropped
her wings and lay in comparative safety. Some of her crew
scrambled onto a ledge of rock at the foot of the battery wall.
The Spaniard hove to, lowered her boat, and also pulled into the
little cove, and proceeded to make prisoners of the smugglers.
The sub shouted in his best Spanish that this would not be
permitted and the captors must consider themselves prisoners.
The jeering retort was: "Come and take us."
Calling for a rope, it was made fast to the muzzle of a gun, the
guard were ordered to load with ball, and before they had
realized the situation, the officer had slid down amongst the
Spaniards, and was politely informing the Captain that he was a
prisoner. The answer was a volley of "puniateros" and
"carajos" with an accompanying flourish of his sword.
The English officer had no sword, but he pointed to the levelled
carbines of the gunners, who crowded the embrasures of the
The Spanish Captain noted the grey eye of Crawford Lindsay
behind the sight of his carbine, which was reduced in length to
a round O. He, therefore, became more polite, an understanding
was arrived at -- the matter was to be referred without delay to
the Governor of Gibraltar, and the Spaniard gave his parole that
he would await the decision. The honour of a Spaniard can always
be trusted, be he peasant, robber, or Hidalgo. The English
officer ordered the withdrawal of the guard, and swarmed back up
His captain, when routed out of bed, was somewhat sleepily
perplexed. "Tut, tut!" he said, "what an awkward
complication! You are so impulsive, Jingo! Sliding down a rope!
How unseemly for an officer in charge of the guard!"
But the orders were distinct and had been obeyed in a fashion,
eccentric perhaps, but practical. A messenger was dispatched to
the Governor, and an order came for the release of the Spanish
officer and a safe conduct for the Contra-bandista into
[The above action appears
to have occurred in the first year Jingo was at Gibraltar,
"Jingo had mastered Spanish with an occasional help from
certain dark-eyed dictionaries, and the too ardent pursuit of
knowledge was varied by bouts of boxing and single-stick with
his sergeant, who had a drop of good blood in him, as his name
and appearance implied. Had the "lang-legget Scot"
served under Louis XI instead of Victoria he might have been a
Quentin Durward; as it was, he served his time as a sergeant,
took his discharge, and became Sheriff or Head Constable in the
rough early days of British Columbia, where Crawford Lindsay's
heavy hand was too much for the rowdiest miner."
reference to Quentin Durward is to a novel by Walter Scott,
whose hero is a soldier of fortune from a family of impoverished
[A note on why Strange may have called Lindsay -
"Sir David Lindsay who was created Earl of Crawford
in 1398... In 1652, the title passed to a cadet branch
first of Spynie, then of Balcarres, which was an earldom. Edzell
Castle, Brechin, was acquired by the Crawford Lindsays, who
built a new castle in the sixteenth century...in the 18th
century the lines of Crawford and Balcarres were united."
In short, the head of Clan Lindsay is the Earl of Crawford Balcarres. So Strange may have been making a reference to Lindsay's
supposed noble roots when he selected this pseudonym.]
1858, tired of garrison life, Lindsay volunteered for the
160-man force of Royal Engineers being sent to the booming
colony of British Columbia. Perhaps his decision was
influenced by a desire to keep an eye on his sister, married to
an Engineer of this same Detachment.
Corporal John McKenney was an Irishman whose fondness for drink may explain
his eight appearances in the Regimental Defaulters' Book and
his two Court-Martials.
was a likeable but eccentric soldier. While sailing from England,
he "fished" for albatross with a line from the ship's deck.
In B.C., his good friend Sgt. McMurphy recalled sighting "a large Bear
a little distance off today -- Lindsay started in pursuit but lost it -- his only weapon was an axe!" He was also said to be a bit too
fond of his drink. In Barkerville, he is remembered as 'Whispering Jimmy' for his habit of gossiping when liquor loosened
think Serjeant Lindsay took charge of the packing outfit; he
used to ride about on the smallest horse he could get, and as he
was a very large man his feet nearly touched the ground and he
was a sight, but always good natured when laughed at. "
-- Reminiscenses of
Mrs. S. C. Alison.
12 November 1859
I am desired by Your Excellency to forwards
further accounts without delay. No exertion is wanting on my part to
comply with your instructions. I have written again and again for
sundry outstanding Accounts and daily expect my repeated requests to
be complied with.
I have at the same time to state that not
only have I but one Accountant Clerk for the Accounts of the Lands
and Works Department, (Civil and Military) -- but also for those of
the Detachment (150 strong) of which he is the Pay Corporal, and
which, as you know, at present much divided.
The same Clerk is the one that the
Treasurer has applied for! Captain Gosset could not have been aware
of this circumstance.
I have every desire to meet his wishes and
therefore, though of the greatest inconvenience to the duties and
responsibilities resting on me, I spare Sergeant Lindsay RA to
assist him for a short time in recasting the Accounts already sent
in. Captain Gosset mentions that a week will be sufficient and I
must beg that Sergeant Lindsay be not detained beyond that time.
I have the honor to be,
Your most obedient,
Sgt. Lindsay's main task was inspecting work done by entrepreneurs who
had contracted to build the roads so badly needed in the colony.
Lindsay's surviving reports show he was not an easy man to please.
"There are a quantity of stumps above the surface," sniffs one
letter. "I consider this to be only a good trail, but not a Waggon
A new trail is to be cut from
New Westminster to Semiahmoo, W.T.
-- 30th January, 1860
Cariboo Road in particular became very familiar to Whispering Jimmy.
In 1861 he likely led soldiers guarding the Gold Escort from
Barkerville. In 1863 the Engineers' commander, Col. Moody, sent
him to resolve a dispute over the route the Road would follow north of
Williams Lake. One report even describes how Lindsay, transporting
a prisoner, managed the 380-mile trip from Barkerville to Yale by horse
and steamboat in an amazing 30 hours.
received the Army Long Service and Good Conduct medal,
retirement from the army he became a policeman, and eventually
Chief Constable of Cariboo.
many years he was stationed at the Courthouse in Richfield which stands
died in 1890, aged 62, and is buried at Barkerville at the end of the
magnificent Road he helped to build.