James Douglas Warren was born in 1837 in Prince Edward Island. He arrived in Victoria in 1858 and began trading with the natives on the west coast of Vancouver Island in his sloop Thornton. Though he freighted cargo and shipped passengers his main business was trading dogfish oil and furs, particularly the pelt of the North Pacific fur seal. He was the first Victorian to trade routinely in northern British Columbia. In 1869 he crewed the Thornton with Clayoquot hunters for one of the first Pacific coast commercial pelagic, or open-sea, sealing voyages.
In 1867 Warren was convicted of selling liquor to natives. In 1868 he and Thornton’s five-man crew were attacked by Indians off Port Hardy. Warren and crew returned fire, killing 15 and wounding 5. The crew suffered injuries and Warren was hit in the chest by buckshot. Though newspapers lauded him a hero, he was arrested upon returning to Victoria for shooting an Indian. The charge was dismissed, though there remained an impression the attack might have been provoked.
The Boscowitz Partnership
In 1871 Warren formed a partnership with Joseph Boscowitz to purchase the schooner Anna Beck to accompany the Thornton in pelagic sealing. They established several stores on northern and central west coast of Vancouver Island to trade for sealskins with Indians who hunted from canoes. By 1881 the firm owned four ships, a third of Victoria’s sealing fleet. That same year Warren powered them with steam engines to more easily navigate coastal tides. In 1884 he was among the first Victorian to pursue migrating seals beyond southern Washington and British Columbia, and into the Bering Sea. This alarmed American land-based sealing interests, prompting seizures by American revenue cutters. By 1887 Warren owned full or part interest in seven vessels, more than any other sealer in Victoria, though all but two were seized that year by the Americans, including his flagship Thornton.
Despite a later judgement the American action was illegal, Warren was ruined. In 1889 Warren helped form the Victoria Shippers and Master Sealers Association to seek compensation for the Bering Sea seizures and provide mutual protection and assistance. Warren served as its chairman until 1891.
Subsequently Warren resumed his original career of freighting; in 1897 he purchased the Alpha, a former Cunard steamer ship passengers and supplies to the Klondike gold-fields. He added the Barbara Boscowitz the next year and managed to recoup some of his losses. When the gold-rush subsided in 1900, Warren sold his interest in those vessels and retired to his Victoria as one of British Columbia’s pioneer sealers and leading mariners.