The Lost History of 


Royal Marine
Light Infantry

 In British Columbia:




The Royal Marine Light Infantry had been busy fighting in China in 1858, when the information was transmitted to them that 150 Volunteer Marines were urgently required in the new Colony of British Columbia.

Upon arriving in Esquimalt harbour, on the 13th February 1859, the marines occupied themselves in transshipping material from their vessel, HMS Tribune, to various steamers and making their way up the Fraser River to their encampment 1 1/4 miles east of New Westminster.

Colonel Moody, as the Commander of Land Forces, used the RMLI officers reconaisance missions.

Royal Marine Camp, Queenborough, 25 April, 1859
To His Excellency
Colonel Moody
Royal Engineers


            I have the honor to inform you that according to your order, I proceeded last Monday in charge of an exploration expedition consisting of Captain Bazalgette, RM, one Private, RM, and three Indians with rations for five days for the purpose of ascertaining the relative position of Burrard Inlet with regard to Queenborough.

            The route I pursued for the purpose of affecting this was by the small River Brunette to Burnaby Lake, making the latter my Head Quarters.

The distance from Queenborough to the lake I ascertained to be by the River about 6 miles. The river is exceedingly tortuous in its course, and its stage at the time that I proceeded up it was very low, but perfectly navigable for small canoes the portages owing to the fallen timber are numerous; but these obstacles might easily be removed. 

The Lake is two miles and a half in length by one in breadth and the deepest part that I could find, I sounded at two fathoms, its entire shores are also very swampy – its bearing is N.70 W. from where the Brunette running to the Fraser flows out of it – and is about N.70 W. of Queenborough. On the Second day I despatched Captain Bazalgette R.M., to reconnoiter the head of the lake and he discovered a river which he followed up on a Westerly course for 3 miles (Still Creek). 

This river runs into a lake but with an almost imperceptible motion, it is also much deeper than any other part of the latter that I sounded. Its average depth being three fathoms, it also winds in small turns of every fifty of sixty yards but its general bearing is West, its shores are swampy and covered with alder, its general appearance might be likened to a Canal. 

On the same day I started with an Indian and two days provisions and took a course due North from the eastern point of the lake over a Mountain 600 feet above the level of the sea – covered with dense forest – on reaching the summit I found Burrards Inlet to be immediately beneath it on the opposite side branching off into two arms the Southern most one of which bore to the eastward and appeared to terminate within a short distance. The Northern most one hugging the base of the opposite high range of mountains was shut out from any observation. The mountain I ascended had an exceedingly steep descent to the Northward the breadth of the inlet was at the broadest part two miles: observing on this occasion that the mountain a short distance from where I had crossed it terminated abruptly to the Eastward and that a comparatively cleared valley about a mile in width skirted it in the direction of the Inlet, I devoted my third day to endeavouring to find out the nearest and most direct point from the latter to Queenborough and by returning about a mile and a quarter down the river Brunette from the Lake, I entered the valley and found it lead over a perfectly level and nearly cleared Country direct to the termination of the Southernmost branch of the inlet the distance from River to the latter being about two and a half miles and I compute the distance that exists between that part of the river and Queenborough to be about three miles in a direct line this would make the nearest point of the Inlet five and a half miles from Queenborough. 

 On the fourth day I tried to get up the River at the head of the Lake further than Captain Bazalgette had been but after three miles the snags were so numerous from the fallen trees that I found the labour of getting the Canoe over

Too great to proceed much further than he had already been the depth of the River continued the same at this point – it also flows through a perfectly unbroken valley which heads due West to Burrard Inlet. From the head of the lake and the distance across the former I should  say to be about eight miles. 

I have the Honour to be
Your Most Obedient Servant
G.S. Blake
Lt. , R.M.A..

The Marines, under command of Major Magin, RMLI, began constructing their barracks and were used as laborers by the Royal Engineers in the various lands and Works project in the fledgling Colony. The rapport between the two units was soon apparent and commented upon in the press.

From The British Colonist, 30 May 1859

The Celebration of the Anniversary of Her Majesty’s Birthday at Queenborough

  The 24th of May was a day of general rejoicing and festivity in Queenborough, the capital of British Columbia, in honour of the anniversary of Her Majesty’s birth, and what rendered the day so peculiarly interesting was its being the first time Her Majesty’s subjects in this distant part of the world have had an opportunity of expressing their loyalty and devotion to their beloved Sovereign. The sports and games went off with éclat, amid the applause of a large concourse of people. The weather lowered opinions at the dawn of the day, but changed towards noon to one of those bright, sunny days, which are so well known in dear old England as “Queen’s days”. 

            To the stroke of time, the bugle summoned the troops of the garrison to the place of rendezvous, whilst loud hurrahs followed in their wake, giving to the parade ground of the North Camp, a very animated appearance, which was moreover graced by the attendance of Mrs. Moody, Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Spaulding and others of the fair sex. 

            The troops were drawn up in line at 11:30. A field piece manned by the blue jackets of Her Majesty’s Ship Plumper, which ship, by the way, had been gaily dressed in flags, occupied the extreme right. The Royal Engineers on the left under the command of Captain Grant. The Royal marine light Infantry on the left under the command of Captain Bazalgette, R.M.L.I., Major Magin having been unfortunately indisposed. The Lieutenant Governor Colonel Moody, R.E., and staff, having inspected the troops, a Royal Salute of 21 guns was fired at noon, accompanied by a feu-de-joie from the forces. He then addressed the troops in very feeling and soldier-like terms, after which, the national Anthem was sung by all present in a strain that filled many with emotion. 

 At this stage of the proceedings the scene was most telling in effect. Three cheers were then given for our Most Gracious Queen, when all testified by volumes upon volumes of fervent vociferation how they felt and could pay a tribute to the good Queen of England, and how she reigns in the affections of her people. It is truly a happy and glorious thing to think of a nation’s loyalty, called forth by something more than lofty station and high descent, rendered to a Queen who has manifested those virtues, attainments and powers which win for her a high place in the hearts of an intelligent and mighty people. We need hardly add that Colonel Moody was warmly and enthusiastically cheered by the troops and civilians more than once in the course of the day. 

The following is the programme of the sports and amusements as drawn up by Captain Luard, R.E., Lieutenant Sparshott, R.M.L.I., and Dr. Seddall, R.E., : - Foot and hurdle-races, putting shot, throwing the hammer, high and long jumps, tossing the caber, bobbing for treacle rolls, bobbing for “bubs” in water, wrestling and boxing, boat races, etc., etc. Concluding with a sack race and greasy pole: a Blue Jacket having succeeded in attaining the envied grease crowned crest with little less difficulty than the Argonauts of ancient lore, received a like reward. The soldier’s wives and children were entertained with tea and cake, kindly provided by Mrs. Moody and the hilarity of the day was much enhanced by a scratch band from the Engineers, Marines and Plumpers. In the evening the Royal Engineers entertained the garrison and the officers of H.M.S. Plumper at dinner.

Soon after the work on the Harrison-Lilooet Road had begun letters began passing between the War Office, The Admiralty, Governor Douglas and the marines in British Columbia - to the effect of getting the Marines out of the Colony.

War Office
16th June 1859
    I am directed by the Secretary of State for War to transmit to you, for the information of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, the enclosed copy of a letter from the Admiralty, in reference to the detention in British Columbia of the party of Royal Marines who had been despatched from China to that Colony.
    Major General Peel is not aware of the circumstances under which this detachment was sent to British Columbia, but he presumes that the instructions were given before it had been decided to station a military Force in that Colony. He therefore proposes to inform the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that arrangements have some time since been made of the nature which they suggest for the performance of the Military duties in British Columbia by the regular Troops, and that the Secretary of State for War is aware of no reason for the detention of the Royal Marines.
    I have the honour to be,
Your Obedient Servant,
Note on back:
Mr. Merrivale,
Soon after the establishment of this Colony this Office pressed most strongly upon the Admiralty, the importance and necessity of strengthening the naval force off British Columbia, and of sending as many marines as possible - who, if the emergency required it, could be employed on shore as well at sea. You will notice Sir E. Lytton's views in his private letter to Sir John Packingham of the 20th August 1858. In consequence, the "Tribune' was ordered from China with as many Supernumery Marines as she could carry, and the Rear Admiral on that Station could spare: and she duly arrived at Vancouver's Island on the 13th February. Gun Boats were also ordered; but I have not heard of their having reached the Colony. The object of the Marines was that they should assist in keeping good order in the Colony, but this Office has not given the Governor any instructions that he was to land them. He has, however, done so, as reported in his despatch of the 11th April, and has sent them up to Queensborough or as it is now called "New Westminster", saying that he would report hereafter more fully as to his reasons for that step. And I presume, he will account shortly for so. But we can scarcely wait the Governor's report before we answer the War Office definitively. My own opinion is that in view of the numerous ships which are now being put in Commission, and the demand made upon the Admiralty for the complement of Marines required for other duties and the fact of the remarkable quiet and order which has prevailed, and I hope does still prevail in this new gold producing Colony, and remembering that we have 150 Royal Engineers in the Colony, besides Justices of the Peace, and an Inspector of Police ( who was to have organized a police force but has not done so) ready to come forward on disturbances arising, I am of opinion that we want the marines less in British Columbia than we do nearer home; and that the Admiralty ought to be informed that though it is impossible to dispense with some Naval Force off the Colony, which would necessarily have its usual strength of Marines on board, we shall be ready to instruct the Governor not to employ those Marines on Land Service, unless it be absolutely indispensable, and that the resent Force of marines may be diminished if the Admiralty wish it, and subject to the non receipt of unfavorable accounts from the Colony.


The Undersecretary of State
War Office
9th July 1859
    I am directed by the Duke of Newcastle to acknowledge your letter of the 16th Ultimo, enclosing copy of one from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty on the subject of the detention in British Columbia of the Party of Royal Marines who had been despatched from china to that Colony.
    I am desired to request that you will state to Mr. Secretary Sidney Herbert, that, having regard to the measures that have been adopted for the maintenance of order in British Columbia by stationing there a party of Royal Engineers, and by taking steps for the organization of a Police force, the Duke of Newcastle is of the opinion that the Marines are less urgently required in the Colony than they probably are now in other portions of the Queen's dominions.
    His Grace considers therefore that the Admiralty may be informed that, though it is impossible to dispense with some Naval force off the Colony, which would necessarily have its usual complement of Marines on board, the Supernumeries who are understood to have accompanied Her Majesty's ship "Tribune" to the Colony in February last may be withdrawn. As there is no reason to apprehend the receipt of unfavorable accounts from British Columbia, the Duke of Newcastle is prepared to sanction this diminution, and also to instruct the Governor not to employ any of the Marines attached to the Ships of War remaining on Station, or the Crews of such ships, on Land Service unless exigencies arise which render such assistance absolutely indispensable.

As the mosquitoes, blistered hands and torn clothing took their toll of the Marines building roads through the Wilderness or at the Camp, another battle was forming - the Colony tried to go back on its promise of Colonial or Extra pay for the Marines.

War Office
19th August 1859
    I have laid before Mr. Secretary Herbert your letter of the 13th Instant, with its enclosures, and, in reply, I am to acquaint you, for the information of the Duke of Newcastle, that it does not appear that the promises of extra Pay etc. held out, as alleged, to the Royal Marines of Her Majesty's ship "Tribune" whilst in China, as an inducement to them to volunteer for service in British Columbia, are based on any instructions or authority from this department.
I have the Honour to be
Your Obedient Servant
Note on back:
Mr. Merrivale,
Await an answer from the Admiralty to the letter addressed to that office on this matter?

On the 31st of August, US Forces invaded the Island of San Juan. Colonel Moody sent a number of Marines, along with Lt. Lempriere, RE and 14 members of the Columbia Detachment to support them.


While the Colonial and US Officials settled the matter of the Island, the Marines returned to Esquimalt and Victoria.


These vessels are stated in Tuesday's Colonist, to be about leaving for England with the marines recently embarked. This is incorrect; these vessels will not go home for some months. The Marines were embarked because the Colonial Authorities were desirous of diminishing the expenses of the Colony. For our part we would have retained this useful body of men, and sent off the Sappers and Miners, as one Sapper costs more than three marines and certainly the marines have been more useful. Were the Chief Commissioner to employ the skill and talents of the fine body of men under his orders in their legitimate duties, and for which they were sent out, viz., in the making of roads, we should nor object to their remaining, but under the present circumstances we consider that they are a useless burthen on the Colony.

- 31st December, 1859 - The New Westminster Times.