William Henry Rowling was born in
Truro, Cornwall, England in 1826 and came to Esquimalt with Royal Engineers
of the Boundary Commission to survey the boundary between U.S. and British land
along the 49th parallel.
On the 4th of May, 1859,
a few days after the arrival of the bulk of the Columbia Detachment to
Queenborough, Colonel Moody posted off a letter to Colonel Hawkins of
the Boundary Commission informing him of the "District Court
Martial of Corporal Rowling RE, of the Boundary Commission."
Little is known
about Rowling after this time, except that he was a corporal in charge
of the commissary. When the engineers completed their work in
1862, many sailed back to England, but Rowling remained, settling in
Sapperton, now part of New Westminster, where he operated a saloon
called The Retreat.
In 1868, he,
his wife Mary and their five young children steered a barge loaded with
all their possessions --including a goat-- along the Fraser to what is
now the Killarney neighbourhood, where they became the first settlers in
South Vancouver, according to the city's web site. In the mid- to
late 1800s, Killarney was heavily forested, with thick brush and an
abundance of fir trees. After clearing a property, Rowling built a
simple log cabin and began raising ducks, chickens, pigs and cows, as
well as growing produce, including grapes.
Over the years, Rowling acquired
three riverside lots in the Killarney area, as well as another on Lulu
Island, and became a prominent citizen, serving on Richmond council in
1884. The final Rowling home was an impressive Victorian house with a
stone and wrought-iron fence. In 1889, he invited friends and
acquaintances over to this residence --or perhaps its predecessor, made of
cedar shingles-- for a Christmas party. About three the next morning, five
young men and a young woman boarded a sleigh driven by two horses for
the trip back home along the North Arm Road, a dirt trail version of
Marine Drive. It's unclear whether the party was headed to New
Westminster or Vancouver. A short distance from Rowling's home, however,
one of the men, William Mashiter, noticed a smoldering tree not far from
the sleigh. A nearby settler named James Saint had set a fire inside the
base of the trunk to knock the tree down, a common practice for people
clearing trees off their property.
Accounts differ on what happened
next. In a letter written after the incident, Mashiter said he called
for the driver to stop, but the driver spurred the horses forward in an
attempt to race past the tree. The Daily Colonist in Victoria, however,
says a burning branch fell from the tree, spooking the horses. Regardless, the massive tree fell directly on top of the sleigh,
instantly killing 24-year-old Jasper Locke, 21-year-old James Bodwell,
16-year-old James Lawson, and 22-year-old Clarence Campbell. Mayo Lawson,
James Lawson's sister, escaped with an arm injury, while Mashiter was
unharmed. One of the horses was crushed and the other so seriously
injured it was shot shortly thereafter.
On Dec. 27, a New
Westminster-based correspondent for The Daily Colonist wrote: "The news
of the sad affair cast a gloom over this city and the North Arm, all the
parties being well-known. The bodies were crushed and mutilated
almost beyond recognition."
Rowling's reaction isn't recorded,
though the names of his son John and daughter Priscilla are included on
a resolution calling for their International Order of Good Templars
lodge to drape its charter and regalia in mourning for three months.
victims and survivors were all Templars as well, though little other
information about them remains.
Rowling lived for another 16 years,
until 1905. Later, his name was given to a station on the Marpole