Captain Charles Joseph Spratt (1834 -1888) was born in England and, after being educated at Brussels, returned to England to learn marine engineering and construction. He immigrated to California in 1853, attracted like so many others by gold fever. He established the Albion Foundry in San Francisco and built the first locally-constructed locomotive to run on the west coast.
In the late 1850s British Columbia was dependent on California for ships and ironworks to serve the demands of the Fraser Canyon and Cariboo Gold Rushes. To prevent American industrial domination of the British colony, laws were passed restricting US shipping and encouraging BC shipping and manufacturing. Recognizing opportunity, Spratt immigrated to Victoria and established the Albion Iron Works, an iron works and shipyard, in 1861, two years before the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were amalgamated. It was the city’s first foundry.
In addition to establishing the iron works, Spratt purchased the steamships Maude, Cariboo Fly, and the Wilson G. Hunt, among others, inaugurating the East Coast Mail Line, a regular steamship service between Victoria, the Gulf Islands, and Nanaimo. Spratt served as skipper of the Wilson G. Hunt. The line was dissolved when the Canadian Pacific Navigation Co. was founded.
In the latter part of 1882, Spratt was taken seriously ill and he passed the iron works to his son, Charles. Joseph retained a few of his steamships and ran a floating salmon cannery aboard the Spratt Ark. Still in poor health, he returned to the foundry business, establishing the Victoria Machinery Depot (VMD) under the management of Andrew Gray, a friend and associate of many years. Management of VMD eventually passed to Spratt’s son, Charles, and to Gray.
After a trip to the Banff and Harrison Hot Springs Spratt’s health improved slightly. In October 1888 he believed a trip California would be beneficial, but he died during his travels and his remains were transported back to Victoria by steamship. His funeral took place at the Masonic Temple on Douglas Street. Spratt’s cortege to Ross Bay Cemetery consisted of over 40 carriages that conveyed, among others, Victoria’s mayor and city council.