On the Strength:
Wives and Children 
of the
Columbia Detachment
Sapper Lewis F.  Bonson and family, c. 1870

The Camp

These are the barracks--taken from the centre of the above picture of The Camp--in which the women and children  of the Detachment lived with their husbands and fathers.  This was one of the places where there were Married Quarters--a post-Crimean War innovation.

"There was no single, hard and fast proportion of women allowed to accompany a regiment on foreign service.  The ratio varied and can only be determined for certain by finding the orders given to each specific regiment.  More importantly, it is not necessarily true that the orders were followed.  A British Regiment, having the more typical ten companies, was allowed six women to each company for embarkation, or about one woman for every ten men."

   One of the things that made the Columbia Detachment unique was that, unlike Line Regiments, the Royal Engineers were allowed, as part of the provisions for Volunteering for Service in British Columbia, to bring along all of their wives and children.

Wives and Children of the Detachment arriving in British Columbia:

25 December 1858 - On Asia: Mrs. Moody and 4 children

12 April 1859 - On Thames City: 30 wives (1 died in Childbirth) and 42 children (8 born on the Voyage)

27 June 1859 - On Euphrates: 6 wives and 4 children

Day Month Year - On Marcella: 3 wives and 4 children

The Men and women were separated for sleeping compartments on board the "Thames City" - the Men on the Troop Deck and the women and children in a section near the bow known as the "Dove-cot".

But having the good fortune to bring the Wives along did not stop trouble from following the Thames City in its wake.

NOTICE- To any man or woman desirous of making a fortune and benefitting their fellow creatures. A handsome reward is hereby offered to any person or persons who will invent a certain mode of promoting good feeling among women, and preventing them from fighting with teasing, abusing, and quarrelling with one another. The cure must be perfect and involve no bodily injury.

- 18th December, 1858, from The Emigrant Soldier's Gazette and Cape Horn Chronicle.

This garnered a response...4 months later.

To the Editor - Sir, Some time ago a paragraph appeared in your columns offering a handsome reward to anybody who would discover the means of preventing women from fighting with , Quarrelling with, and abusing one another. Nobody has hitherto ventured his opinion on so touchy a subject. Many of us have doubtless noticed Ponto and the "Horrible Lurcher" (Ship's Dogs) standing side by side in solemn dignity on the deck of the "Thames City", neither of them looking at the other, Ponto with his tail for once in his life in the air, the "Lurcher" with his stump elevated in a similar manner, and both thinking that the other is no better than he should be, and that there is not room for both of them in the "T.C.". Presently comes a growl from Ponto, ditto from Lurcher, next a reciprocal snarl, then a bite, and finally a fight. So ( we beg their pardons) is the case with the fair sex. Women will be women wherever they are, and when we come to consider that so many of them have been for six months cooped up in the confined locality of the Dove-cot, with nothing to do but think and talk of what Mrs. So-and-so said, of Mrs. What-d'ye-call'em, and what Mrs. Thingumigiag said of Mrs. Fol-de-rol, no longer can we wonder that cooing has eventually subsided into snarling and backbiting, and that, like crinoline, the  little world they live in is, after six months of it, becoming too small for them. The fact is that the ladies in question have shut the doors of their hearts for the time being to all tender feelings, determined to preserve their six months' stock till they are once more able to bestow them in the right direction, and although, rather late in the day, I by no means venture to lay claim to the reward, the whole fact of the matter is, that a months on shore, strong tea, freedom from the bile created by junk and biscuit, and restoration to conjugal affection, will speedily set them all to rights, and enable them once more rightfully to assume the epithet of "Doves".

I am, sir, etc., HYMEN

-2nd April, 1859, from The Emigrant Soldier's Gazette and Cape Horn Chronicle.

Upon arriving in the Mainland of British Columbia, the women and children were sent to the RE barracks at Derby while the Men lived in tents in the Camp at Queenborough while Permanent Quarters were being constructed.

Saturday 16th April, 1859 – The “Eliza Anderson” came along side about 10 a.m.  We set to work immediately putting cargo into her.  At 4:30 p.m. I warned the men that we were to start the following morning at 3.  All of the married men with the women and children for Langley (Derby) and 30 NCO and men for Queensboro - The skipper of the “Eliza Anderson” paid our men a dollar each for working after hours getting out cargo: They finished about 10 p.m.

 The sappers at Pilgrim’s Rest Barracks Gave our married people a grand entertainment: I had not gone ashore all day, except taking a few trips to the landing place getting back the women and children –

- from the Journal of Lt. Lempriere.

During Special occasions, the Men and Women participated together.

From The British Colonist, 30 May 1859


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

"...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.



"The summer of 1859 was spent in clearing the site of their camp, building the barracks for the single soldier's, the married quarters, offices, store-houses, and other necessary buildings.  Included in this group were a small church -- convertible into a school -- a court-house, a jail, a custom's house, offices of the Lands and Works , a treasurer's office and finally the Government House -- the residence for the Lieutenant Governor.  Even the flower beds and kitchen gardens were planted that first summer.  The list of requisitions included flower seeds of 'the choicest quality'.

Mrs. Herring, describes the camp:
The married people's quarters stood in groups of three: each contained two rooms, and in one of them was the luxury of a brick open hearth, with an unlimited supply of wood for the fetching.  A house had been built for the Colonel and his numerous family, one smaller one for the married officer, a school was also used for church, likewise a Chaplin's residence."

--"Colonel Moody and the RE in BC" by Lilian Cope.
UBC 1940

Below is a requisition for the bricks for the hearth of the Married Quarters in the Camp.

File  Folio  Item                                                                Date

18    127    Sanction of 80 Pound Sterling for bricks  17 Sep 59
                   & lime for public offices and married
                   quarters for RoyalEngineers

British Columbia
Department of Lands and Works
Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works correspondence inward
Originals    1859    6 cm
BC Archives

As the married Quarters were completed in the late Autumn, a terrible tragedy struck the Camp.

From The British Colonist,  by Amor de Cosmos
                                      4th November 1859, New Westminster

     On Friday last, while the town was still in a great state of excitement about the murder of the three Italians by the pirates at the mouth of the Fraser, (consisting of Indians from Cowichan, Tadka Tula, Tuashans, Sea Shells, Mousquims and Squamish) news arrived that Mrs. Crote, the wife of one of the Sappers and Miners, had murdered her family and cut her own throat; and I am sorry to say it turned out too true.

     By the evidence before the Coroner's inquest that was summoned the same day, it appeared she had been in a desperate way for some time about being out here.  And when the news of the murders below arrived, it turned her brain completely, and she was heard to say that sooner than the Indians should kill her children, she would kill them herself.

     During the night she appeared uneasy, getting in and out of bed many times: and when her husband left for his  work, she locked the door and attacked first her little son, about eight years of age, who was putting on his shoes and stockings.  She cut him with a razor in the leg, side and back of the neck, and he was so stunned by the attack that he lay still.  She then crossed the room, razor in hand, and cut the throat of her little daughter, a pretty child of three years old, with long flaxen hair, which lay dabbled in her life's blood when seen by the Jury.  She nearly cut her head from her body.  She then made a cut at her infant, but did not cut deep and perhaps it will live.  Last of all, she cut her own throat, and unlocked the door, rushing on the balcony, wringing her hands and gurgling "I have done it!"  Assistance immediately came, but she died in three-quarters of an hour, presenting a horrid site.  The Jury returned a verdict that she murdered her daughter and wounded her other children, and killed herself while under the effects of temporary insanity.

Sapper Crart appears to have been unable to attend to his living children. The eldest girl appears to have been a Sarah Hill. She married Sapper Henry Smith and the newly wedded couple took in her young brother, George Herring.

In the Spring of 1860, the Men of the Detachment petitioned Colonel Moody, that now that the Camp was settled, they would like to bring their wives and sweethearts from England to join them in the Colony.

Names of Men belonging to the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers, who have petitioned me to obtain for them such assistance in the transport of their wives, families, etc. as the Government may be willing to afford.  To accompany my letter (No. 2401) to His Excellency the Governor of British Columbia dated 29th March 1860.

Serjt. W. McColl - Mrs. W. McColl; 4 Childen - 8, 6, 4, 2.
New Street, Daventry, Northamptonshire.

Sapper R. Goskirk - Mrs. Goskirk -
Inverleithen, Peableshire, N.B.

Sapper H. Holroyd (enlisted under the name Dransfield) - Mary Anne Holroyd; 2 children - 6, 4.
Clayton Heights, West Bradford, Yorkshire.

Sapper John Laffrey - Catherine May.
Acrise Village, Etham, West Canterbury, Kent.

Sapper W. Franklin - Jane Bingley
22 South St., Thurlor Square, Brompton, London

2nd Corp. Geo. Hand - Sarah Jane Crossland.
Care of E. Norris, Esq., Trafford Old Hall, Old Trafford, Manchester.

2nd Corp. James Flux - Sarah Gill
"The Roebuck", Saint Margarets, Rochester, Kent

--- Colonel Richard C. Moody

The wheels of the Army turned slowly and months later the proper department responded to Colonel Moody.

Emigration Office
14th November 1860


With reference to your letter of the 14th August and 1st October last directing us to provide passages (via Cape Horn) to British Columbia, for the wives and families of the 7 men belonging to the Detachment of Royal Engineers stationed in that Colony, I have to report for the information of the Secretary of State that the "Marcella" in which Vessel passages were engaged as mentioned in Mr. Malcott's letter of the 20th ultimo, sailed on the 12th instant from Gravesend for Vancouver's Island having on board the 3 women and 4 children named in the margin (Sarah J. Crossland, Sarah Gill, Mrs. McColl and her 4 children).

All the women comprised in the list which accompanied your letter of the 14th August last except Mrs. Holroyd (who stated that she preferred to remain where she was a little longer) accepted the offer of a passage when made to them - but subsequently Mrs. Goskirk, Jane Bingley and Catherine May declined to proceed - the first alleging that she had not the means to travel from Scotland to London to join the Vessel, the second that she had been informed that she was to go out as an Emigrant and not as a passenger and the last because she was an Indoor patient at the Dover Hospital with little prospect of recovery.

A passage warrant was sent to Mrs. Goskirk to enable her to reach London without expense - and the nature of the arrangements were explained to Jane Bingley but in neither case with any change in the result.

Bingley and May appear to be young women who were probably going out to be married to the men who sent for them.

The Secretary of State may perhaps deem it advisable to notify to Colonel Moody the sailing of the "Marcella", and the reasons why Catherine May, Mrs. Holroyd, Mrs. Goskirk and Jane Bingley have not proceeded in her.

As the two former gave us notice of their intentions to remain at home, before the preparations for their accomadation on board the ship were completed, we forfeit for their passages, but in the cases of Mrs. Goskirk and Jane Bingley we shall have in justice to the ship owner, to pay the usual forfeit of half the passage money, as their change of mind was not communicated until all the expense of fittings and provisioning had been incurred.

I have the honour to be etc


The struggles of the Enlisted Men's women was also suffered, to a lesser extent, by the Officer's Ladies.

"Upon the pathway, Mrs. Moody takes her 5 children day by day, and Mrs. Grant her 2 little ones.  Each lady has to be her own head nurse, if not sole nurse - but Mrs. Moody is fortunate in having a young girl as a governess - just sufficient to teach her little ones (the eldest only 7) the beginnings of book learning.  Miss Nagle of course shares whatever Mrs. Moody has to do, as she would do in her own home: All ladies here taking it for granted that they must do without servants or at least may have to do so.  Mrs. Moody and Mrs. Grant each has her baby to carry, but are often relieved by a stray gentlemen; and the babies are quite used to this.  It is quite common to see gentlemen carrying the children, out of natural pity for the mothers!" 

-- 6 March 1861, Sophia Cracroft.

The British Army of the post-Crimean period not only took care of making certain that the Women and Children "On Strength" were fed, clothed and quartered but also that they had a proper and adequate education. The Columbia Detachment was no exception.

Royal Engineer Camp
New Westminster
19th March 1861.


I have the honour to request that you will draw the attention of His Excellency the Governor to the total absence at present of education for the Children of the Men of the Royal Engineers serving in British Columbia.

The total number of children is seventy (70), of whom thirty-one (31) are of an age to attend school.

The young woman who recently held the position of schoolmistress, has, from misconduct of a nature proving her entire unfitness for the charge of children, rendered it necessary to dispense with her services.  An unfortunately misplaced sympathy on the part of many of the Detachment, arising however from the Kindest feelings, makes it impracticable for me to obtain the services of another teacher unless at once assisted pecuniarily by the Government.

Hitherto the men of the Detachment, subscribing at a rate proportionate to the number of children sent by each, furnished an Income of Thirty-six (36) or Thirty-seven (37) Pounds, that of the Teacher being guaranteed at Forty-five (45) pounds per annum.

In addition to this she enjoyed the privlege of living with her parents in the Camp, her father being a Serjeant.  This renumeration was deemed by me sufficient without applying for Government aid.

I am made aware of the certainty that any other Teacher than the above will not receive the same amount of voluntary support from the sympathy towards the first to which I have above alluded; though I have no doubt that, by firmness with Kindly forbearance on my part and the judicious selection of a successor, a wiser course will be adopted.

Under no circumstances, however, can I sanction the employment of the unfortunate girl who lately filled the position of Teacher.  I cannot find at present the Circular or Authority by which the War Department, under certain circumstances, grant pecuniary aid towards the Schooling of Soldier's children where there is no War Department Teacher, but I am sure such grants are made, and what I now solicit the sanction of His Excellency is to an advance from the Colonial Treasury of the sum of Thirty (30) Pounds per annum with free rations, communicating the circumstances to the Colonial Department for consideration and arrangement with the War Department in England.

With this small amount of assistance and, I trust, the gradual return of ALL the Soldier's children with their Parent's pecuniary contributions, we may early anticipate an income worth the acceptance of a respectable young Teacher.

I am yours etc.
RC Moody
Col. Commanding

The "unfortunate girl who lately filled the position of teacher" appears to have been Sarah Hill, the daughter of Sapper Crart and his murderous wife.

Jan 1, 1863 - New Years day. This Evening a gathering of the children of the Corps of Engineers with their parents took place in the Camp.  There are about 120 children who increase at the yearly rate of 25.  A finer and more healthy group never assembled in any country.  The Archdeacon announced the Prizes which Col. Moody who presided, distributed.  I also addressed them.  There was an adjournment afterwards to the Camp Club Room where the Archdeacon gave a lecture on Palestine with the aid of a Magic lantern, concluding with lighter scenes for the pleasure of the young eyes.

- From the Journal of Bishop Hills.

By 1863, the Camp was a bustling location filled with the Wives of the Men and the ever increasing numbers of Children. The Spring and Summer months, when the Men were off on various tasks throughout the Colony, would have meant that the Camp was occupied almost exclusively with Women and Children.

From the Ledger of the Church at the RE Camp kept by Archdeacon Wright, Detachment Chaplain


7th October 1862 - James Thistleton, Lance Corporal RE, Father: William Thistleton and Eliza Whitehouse, Father: Thomas Whitehouse

7th October 1862 - Henry Bruce, Sapper RE, Father: Alexander Bruce, Clerk and Ann Stevenson, Father: James Stevenson, Draper - Witnesses: Henry Soar (Lance Corporal RE), William Rogerson (Serjeant RE)

7th October 1862 - William Anthony Franklin, Sapper RE, Father: Norman Franklin, Grocer and Jane Bingley, Father: Charles Bingley, Hatter - Witnesses: Henry Soar (Lance Corporal RE), John Noble (Lance Corporal RE)

19th March 1863 - Philip Jackman, Sapper RE, Father: Unknown and Sarah Lovegrove, Father: John Lovegrove, tailor - Witnesses: Minnie Gillan (To be Mrs.Cox), Robert John Howell (Corporal RE)

26th August 1863 - John Cox, Sapper RE, Father: William Cox, Miner and Minnie Gillan (18), Father: Joseph Gillan, Printer - Winesses: Sarah Jackman (her Mark), Joseph Maynard (Sapper RE)

7th October 1863 - Henry Spencer Palmer, Lt. RE and Mary Jane Pearson Wright


27 June 1862 (Born 1 June1862) - Eliza; Daughter of William and Fanny Haynes; Sapper RE

21 Aug. 1862 - Alice; Daughter of John Marshall and Emily Grant; Captain RE

28 Sep. 1862 - Ellen; daughter of William and Ann Hall; Sapper RE

13 Dec. 1862 - Frederick; Son of Thomas and Jane Price; Sapper RE

31 Jan. 1863 - Henry; Son of Johnathan and Frances Morey; Serjeant RE

15 Mar. 1863 - Ellen Amelia; Daughter of Daniel and Mary Ann Richards; Sapper RE

26 Apr. 1863 (Born 14 Jan 1863)- Margaret; Daughter of Richard Clement and Mary Susanna Moody; Colonel RE

19 May 1863 (Born 21 Apr. 1863) - Emily Jane; Daughter of Henry William and Sarah Sophia Smith; Corporal RE

4 Oct. 1863 - Georgina; Daughter of George and Sarah Jane Hand; Sapper RE

11 Oct. 1863 - Susan Eleanor; Daughter of Matthew and Harriet Hall; Sapper RE

18 Oct. 1863 - William Henry; Son of William and Mary Jane Robinson; Sapper RE

27 Dec. 1863 (Born 11 Oct. 1863) - Henrietta; Daughter of William Anthony and Jane Franklin; Sapper RE

8 May 1864 - Charles Robert; Son of Alfred Richard and Margaret Howse; Ex-Corporal RE

31 Jan. 1864 - Philip; Son of Philip and Sarah Jackman; Ex-Sapper RE

31 Jan. 1864 - Rebecca; Daughter of James and Sarah Flux; Ex-Sapper RE


11 Jan. 1863 - Ellen Hall; daughter of William and Ann Hall; Sapper RE

15 Mar. 1863 - Frederick Price; Son of Thomas and Jane Price; Sapper RE

5 Oct. 1863 - Georgina Hand; Daughter of George and Sarah Jane Hand; Sapper RE


Victoria, V. I.
22nd April 1863.

"...The expenditure of the Detachment during 1862 has exceeded the expenditure in 1861 by 2271 Pounds.  The increase is mainly to be found under the heading of Rations.  The Provisions in 1861 cost 6020 pounds.  In 1862, 7805 Pounds - a difference of 1784 Pounds.  At present I do not exactly know how to account for this large increase but a portion of it is no doubt attributable to the greater number of persons rationed - the number of children in the Detachment having been more than trebled since it left England; and the number is increasing every day.

I believe the number of women and children rationed at the present moment exceeds 150 and as this is beyond the strength of the whole Detachment, I believe it is out of all proportion to what is authorized by the Regulations of the Army.

Under these circumstances I do not hesitate to beg that Your Grace will authorize me to reduce the establishment by granting a discharge to those who may have large families and to others who may wish to settle in the Colony; I believe many so circumstanced would readily avail themselves of the offer, and in cases of invariable good conduct the grants of land referred to in Sir Edward Lytton's Despatch No. 14 of 2nd September 1858, might be made, by which means the cost of the Detachment could be considerably reduced.

I have the Honour to be,
James Douglas