Captain Victor Jacobson Courtesy of BC Archives Item B-00601 –
Captain Victor Jacobsen was born in Botney, Finland. As a young man he took passage ‘round The Horn as carpenter’s mate aboard City of Quebec, arriving in Victoria in 1881. Witnessing Victoria’s growth and potential, the young man jumped ship and hid in the dense woods surrounding the settlement for two days until he saw City of Quebec sail out of the Outer Harbour.
Victoria’s sealing industry was then just beginning and Jacobsen found a berth aboard Captain William Spring’s Favourite. She was one of the first of many sealing schooners to be built around Victoria. Later, he sailed as First Mate aboard Mary Ellen, the first of Victoria’s sealing fleet to visit the pelagic fur seal’s breeding grounds in the Bering Sea’s Pribiloff Islands.
Jacobsen’s desire to captain his own sealing schooner led to the purchase of Canadian Pacific Navigation Company’s Rainbow, a wooden single-screw compound steamer that had been built in Victoria for Captain William Moore in1884. Re-naming her the Eva Marie, he sailed to the Pribiloffs in 1910. In heavy seas off Green Island his vessel’s seams opened, ruining the store of salt carried to preserve harvested pelts. Fortunately, his fellow sealers helped the young man by sharing their salt with him.
Upon marrying Minnie McLean, Jacobsen laid the keel of his 70’ x 20’ x 7’sealing schooner Minnie. She sailed out of Victoria’s harbour with a First Nations crew who, much like the Grand Banks fishermen did in their dorys, would debark to harvest seals in skiffs. Pacific fur seals were hunted from the silent skiffs with tethered spears for they sank rapidly once they had been killed.
With the purchase of Alaska from the Russians, and the rapacious hunting of the fur seal in its breeding grounds threatening the industry, the Americans attempted to close the Pribiloffs. This led to an international crisis in which Jacobsen found himself involved. An American revenue cutter seized his ship and cargo by putting one of their officers in command. Later Jacobsen was able to sweet-talk the American into releasing Minnie and allow him to offload his cargo at the mouth of the Nitinat river. The Nitinat is on the west coast of Vancouver Island and was from where many of his First Nations crew hailed. He arranged for his skins to be trans-shipped to their canoes then smuggled into Victoria’s harbour.
Minnie was eventually lost in Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands while Jacobsen lay below with an infected eye. He ultimately lost sight in that eye. Captain Jacobsen owned a number of vessels over the years, including Casco, once owned by Robert Louis Stevenson. He and his family lived on his last vessel, Distributor, a Skeena River sternwheeler during the construction of the family’s West Bay Italianate home in 1893.
Captain Jacobsen recaulking Tilikum’s seams at Thunderbird Park in 1937.
In the summer of 1937, the Thermopylae Club repatriated Tilikum, the famous dugout canoe Captain John Voss had sailed from Victoria in 1901 to London, a voyage of 40,000 miles. The club hired Captain Jacobsen to restore Tilikum under shelter in Thunderbird Park.
The old sailor upped anchor for the last time in his 90th year.