Meet Victoria’s founding vessel
Beaver was the first steamship
to operate in the Pacific Northwest of North America and Victoria’s founding vessel.
Construction, Power and Delivery
HBC steamship Beaver Courtesy of Vancouver History
Beaver was commissioned by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and built in Blackwall, England. She was launched on 9 May 1835. Constructed of British oak, elm, greenheart and teak, she was copper fastened and sheathed. Her length was 101 feet (31 m), with a beam over her paddle boxes of 33 feet (10 m). She was powered by a two cylinder Boulton and Watt side lever vacuum engine, initially fed by a rectangular seawater boiler that generated steam pressure at under 3 psi. Over time the salt water draw rusted the wall thickness of the boiler. Beaver had to have a new boiler every seven years or so, undergoing several installations over her career. With the replacements, her boiler pressure was increased, and 36 inch diameter cylinders replaced the original 42 inch cylinders.
Beaver departed for the Pacific Northwest on 29 August under the command of Captain David Home. She sailed in company with the HBC barque, Columbia that was built at the same time and commanded by Captain Darby. Beaver was outfitted as a brig for the passage out, paddles unshipped, and came around Cape Horn under sail alone. After calling at the Juan Fernández Islands and Honolulu, she arrived off the Columbia River on 18 March 1836 and anchored in the Columbia River off Fort Vancouver on 10 April.
Beaver’s paddles were shipped and her boilers and engines were connected. For seven years she sailed out of Fort Vancouver, serving the trading posts maintained by the HBC between the Columbia River and Russian America (Alaska 1867).
As American claims to Oregon territory strengthened James Douglas, Factor of the Fort Vancouver, directed Beaver to find for a location for the HBC’s Pacific headquarters north of the 49th parallel. In 1843 Beaver officially transported Douglas to the Inner Harbour where he established Fort Victoria as the. With the Oregon treaty signed in 1846 the HBC left fort Vancouver forever.
Beaver played a significant role in maintaining British control over British Columbia during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858-59. She ferried dignitaries back and forth between the Victoria, capital of the British colony of Vancouver Island and New Westminster, capital of the Colony of British Columbia. In 1862 the Royal Navy chartered her to survey and chart the coast of the Colony of British Columbia. She also provided assistance to the Royal Navy at Bute Inlet during the Chilcotin War. Beaver contributed to the establishment of coal mines at Fort Rupert, and later in 1853, Nanaimo. Originally a wood burner In her later life she burned coal. The HBC would hire young men of the Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish) people of North Vancouver to work the holds as coal passers.
The Hudson’s Bay Company sold her in 1874 to a consortium that became the British Columbia Towing and Transportation Company. She was employed as a barge towboat. On 25 July 1888 an inebriated crew ran her aground on rocks at Prospect Point in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. The wreck finally sank in July 1892 from the wake of the passing steamer Yosemite, after enterprising locals had stripped much of the wreck for souvenirs. The Vancouver Maritime Museum houses a collection of Beaver artifacts including the boiler and two drive shafts for the paddle wheels, one raised in the 1960s and the other returned from a collection in Tacoma, along with her boiler. A plaque commemorates the site of the sinking. Divers surveyed the wreck in the 1960s. However, when the Underwater Archaeological Society of BC did so in the 1990s, they found she had mostly disintegrated due to rot and currents.