Wisharts & The Hudson Bay Company

The Hudson’s Bay Company was established in 1670 and built many trading forts in northeastern Canada. It held a monopoly over trade in the region, and much information about the company is available online. By the end of the 18th century, about three-quarters of the men working for the HBC had been recruited from the Orkney Islands, and so it is unsurprising that most of the Wisharts who were employed by the HBC were of Orcadian stock.

The first to join was 22-year-old Nicol Wishart (WIS0082) from Orphir, who sailed from Stromness aboard the King George on 3 July 1776. He was the son of Nicol Wishart and Katherine Seater and arrived at York Factory (a trading post located on the southwestern shore of the Hudson Bay) in late August, where he found work as a tailor. From there he was posted to Cumberland House, which is in modern day Saskatchewan, and at that time a 40-day journey upstream from York Factory. Cumberland became one of the most important fur trade depots in Canada and Nicol was based there until 1779. The Cumberland House journal records that on:

24 February 1778 – clear & cold, Magnuss Scaltor and Nicholas Wishart froze their feet “by the holes at the nets being overflowed, which wet them much.”

27 May 1778 – Wind Northerly light breezes with clear Weather sent off Mr. Hansom and four men Vizt. James Banks, Malchom Ross, Nichs. Wishart and William Lieutit to meet the A,tho,pus,cow Indians, I have sent with them an assortment of Goods to the amount of 1023 Beaver to trade with Indians who may be unwilling to come here, I have also sent two Indians to assist and conduct them on the road as there is none of our people knows it.

18 February 1779 – departure of Indians, because of scant food stocks, Nicholas Wishart sent with them.

27 February 1779 – return of Nicholas Wishart & a young Indian with a little moose flesh “…the Indians has killed but one Moose since they went from here”

On 28 May 1779 Nicol left for Hudson House with another man and a small group of Indians they had been tenting with. He remained there until the following year when he travelled back to York Factory, before returning several months later. On 24 March 1781 the Hudson House journal recorded that:

Nicholas Wishart taken very bad with the Bloody flux but did not Complain until this morning, expecting to have got the Better of it, this day he has taken Physick for it, the men cutting firewood, no Indians on the Plantation at present, only two Old Leaders that is staying for some of their Children to come in, fresh Gales of Wind at South and Cold weather.

Nicol took a turn for the worse before he began to recover from the ‘bloody flux’ (dysentery.)

On 27 March 1783, three men left Hudson House in order to find meat in an area known as the ‘Barren Ground’, Nicol was one of the three, but not being ready when the other two set out, he found himself following on behind alone. Within hours he was caught in a storm and nothing more was heard of him. About six days later, an Indian arrived at the Station and informed that he had found a man’s thigh bone with some flesh on it in the area where Nicol was thought to have disappeared, and it was duly recorded that he had died about six miles away, and his remains eaten by wolves.

Two years after Nicol left for Canada, his brother Edward was recruited in Orphir by the company as a labourer and paid £6 a year. He arrived at York Factory in 1778 and in 1782 was posted to Cumberland House where he became a steersman and builder. Several entries in the journal mention Edward:

11 January 1783 – sent George Hudson & Edward Wishart, to look after our Indian Hunter to see whether he is Dead or alive…”-weather so cold it has frozen the spirits of wine “which is more then I ever see before. Indeed several of the men has been froze pretty much, & one of them has been off duty these two days.”

30 March 1788 – Indians that came in on the 3rd departed, sent Edward Wishart with “a trifle of trading goods and two men more to trade some provisions from the Indians at their tents… two Indian Lads arrived from across the Lake for Men to fetch Meat.”

31 March 1788 – “Malcolm Ross bad with a sore hand, Edwad Wishart lame with a sprain’d ankle, Charles still the same way …”

Copy of a letter received from Mr. William Tomison, Hudson House,

13 May 1788 – re. Goods arrived safely at South Branch, Mr. Walker sent on goods to Tomison, discrepancy in the invoice though according to Tomison, Wishart falsely accused him of carelessness; “had the said Edward Wishart and some others followed the Example that I have shewn and the Precautions given to them, I must say no such melancholy accident would not have happened as did last Summer.  I have been so far from leading them with into bad road that I have carried when none else did, and if they are so foolish as to go down bad falls and lose their things.   Do not have any right to make them up their loss out of the Company’s property.  I think Edward Wishart and Hugh Leask acted in a mutinous manner, in denying to come up with the pacquet… I am glad to hear that John Irwin had got better for he is a god Servant and I am sorry to hear that James Anderson had got bad, as he seemed to be very hearty when we left the place, we had a very bad passage up last autumn owing to the severe cold weather, it near the 2nd of October before we arrived at Manchester House and the ice had not melted off our canoes for three days before.

I have the pleasure to inform you that the Trade at this place is no worse than last Year and by what I can hear has increased a little at South Branch and hope it will do the same with you.” – season has been late, 28th of April before the river broke up “there has been several disputes amongst the different tribes of Indians, and I had but a small stock of Ammunition and Tobacco, I did not think it prudent to leave men so high up in the Country, so therefore have brought all down to Hudson House and there to leave six Men to pass the Summer, which I think will be with greater safety than had I left them at Manchester House.”

In 1792 Edward travelled home to Scotland but returned two years later to take up the position of steersman, canoe builder and master of one of the houses on the Nelson River. Seemingly Edward was not a well-educated man, with one journal entry recording that: “he cannot write his own name and being obliged to apply to the Men to read his Letters of Instruction exposes him to their ridicule and contempt.” Perhaps it was his failing in being able to successfully run a Station that prompted him to leave the company and sail back to the Orkneys in 1795 where he died in 1823.

The third Wishart to join the Hudson Bay Company was a John Wishart from Rousay, Orkney. He was born about 1785 and possibly the son of John Wishart and Mary Spence (WIS0082.) A labourer by profession, he spent ten years between 1802 and 1812 based in the Albany District before becoming a boatswain at the Red River Post in Winnipeg. In 1814 he returned to the UK but rejoined the HBC in 1818 where he spent the next five years employed as a steersman in various Stations in Saskatchewan, and on one occasion went on an expedition to find horses. Between 1821 and 1823 John worked as a servant in the Red River Colony before returning to Scotland.

On 10 June 1812 Peter Wishart (WIS0039), a joiner from South Ronaldshay, left the Orkneys on board the King George and arrived at York Factory in early September. He was the oldest son of Andrew Wishart and Isabel Dundas, and described by the HBC as being 5ft 7in tall, pretty well made, good skilful workman, sober, attentive, intelligent & well behaved as well as fair and stout. Between 1812 and 1816 he worked as a boat builder at Churchill River and returned to Scotland on board the Prince of Wales in 1817. Prior to working overseas Peter had married a Margaret Gray and had two sons with her, however it appears that she died sometime before 1822 when Peter remarried to Mary Mouat and had six more children with her (four girls, two boys.) For the rest of his life Peter worked as a farmer, and died aged 92 in 1876.

Our fifth Wishart to join the HBC is a 23-year-old labourer named Thomas. Jack Wishart’s database has Thomas being born in Wemyss, Fife during 1796, however other HBC sources suggest he was a native of the Orkneys. Either way he is part of WIS0057 and embarked at Gravesend for Canada on 22 May 1819 on board the Prince of Wales. After disembarking at York Factory on 31 August he subsequently took up a position as colonial servant at the Red River Settlement (where perhaps he may have bumped into the aforementioned John Wishart?) Shortly after arrival Thomas married a Barbara Spence, who was mixed blood (her mother was a Metis Indian) and went on to have seven children with her (four girls, three boys.) Much information on Thomas’s family is to be found in the book, “Akokiniskway, by the river of many roses”, which is freely available on the internet, and also in a book written by Vernon Roy Wishart in 2006 entitled “What Lies Beneath the Picture? A Journey into Cree Ancestry.” Vernon is Thomas’s great great grandson.

In 1838, Thomas and family (minus son James Thomas and daughter Mary) left the Red River Settlement for Iowa, and he died at Turkey Junction in Clayton County at some point within the next two years. James Thomas Wishart remained in Manitoba and worked for the HBC, he married a Metis lady named Elizabeth Amy Flett in 1853 and had thirteen children with her. In later life he worked as a farmer and died in Calgary during 1906, aged 74.

David Durham Wishart (1814 – 1868)

David Durham Wishart (WIS0003) was the son of a sea captain and born in Stepney, London on 10 June 1814. When he was eleven he was admitted to the Greenwich Hospital School and subsequently followed his father into a life on the ocean. On 2 May 1849 he was appointed commander of the Norman Morrison and worked for the HBC taking settlers to Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The journey took about five months, and David made five such trips over the next few years. In 1854 he captained the Princess Royal and sailed the London – Fort Victoria route until 1855. David had nine children with Elizabeth Deborah Hardwick, and died aged 54 at Plaistow during 1868. He was later described as being ‘not a social man, he had been soured somehow or other, but nevertheless he was kind and good to all and a thorough seaman. Strict discipline was kept, Wishart never relaxed this, he was commander. He took charge of the ship and no matter how hard the weather he would remain on deck night and day and was always ready at a moment’s notice.’

Part of David’s story is connected to the final two Wisharts who joined the HBC, although it is unknown if they were related. George and James (WIS0084) were born in Carlisle during 1825 and 1827 respectively. They were the eldest sons of James Wishart, a customs house officer, and his wife Jane Leming. Their mother died when they were young boys, and along with their sister Jane, the family moved to Stepney in London, where their father remarried to a lady named Margaret Walker, and had two further sons (Robert and John.) When they were sixteen, both George and James became seamen and eventually joined the HBC in 1849. As mentioned, we do not know if the brothers knew David Durham Wishart, however they joined his crew and sailed for Fort Victoria in late 1849. During the voyage James got into a spot of trouble when, as part of the crew forming the port watch, he had refused to attend prayers. A week later, he was among eleven seamen who refused to take their grog and lime juice. The journey took  the ship around the hazardous Cape Horn before heading north along the South and then North American coastlines. On arrival in Fort Victoria both Wisharts, along with two other men named Charles Lobb and A. F. Hale, made the spontaneous decision to desert their ship and boarded the England, which had docked nearby whilst on its way to Fort Rupert for coal. Several days later at Shushale Harbour, the deserters received word that they were about to be apprehended, so George and the two other men left the ship (James remained on board) and headed inland, but were attacked and killed by Indians near Newittee about 7 July 1850. George’s body was stripped and put in a hollow tree and discovered a week later, when, along with the corpses of the two other men, it was taken for burial at Fort Rupert.

Enraged, James threatened to ‘jump down and be revenged’ and being prevented from doing so, said he would ‘sail about for twenty years to be revenged.’ He was last seen on board the England bound for California, where he had made plans with the others to join the gold rush, however, by 1856 he had arrived in Victoria, Australia. He eventually married, had seven children and owned a hotel until his death in New South Wales during 1876.

With their fate unknown to their parents, a letter to the brothers dated 2 September 1850 arrived in Fort Victoria that was subsequently undelivered. It read:

Dear Sons,

I write you these few lines to Lett you no that we ar all well at present thank God. And I hope this will find you boath in good health and all the Ships Compney and I hope you in (crossed out) ar all adgreable with each other (.) I received your Kind Letter on the 3th of July and I was happy to hear that you had such a fine Run out and everything well, mother sends hir kind Love to you boath (.) Richard and Gane (Jane) Send thire love to you (.) John sends his love to you, Robort Came home son after you life and he did not behave very well (.) he was in London a bout 3 Months and he only come home twice. You must excuse me for giving you such a short letter(.) I have only seen Godfrey twice sinc you left (.) I believe they ar all wel(.) Mrs and Sargent Robbie sends thire Kind love to you. I hope you will write by the Ships as the Leave the Island and I will write by the Ships that Leaves London(.) Robart I Beleave has gon to Mad(r)as(.) The next Litter I write you may expect to Get Sum thing better(.) The next Ship you disered me to writ by the Colimbia but She as up for Seal. But I took the first Ship after I received your letter(.) the over Land Letters ar two Shillings that a half more then from India(.) I canot say what the Ship Charge(.) all that I had to do was to take it to the office and put in a box so you can let me no next litter(.) I expect that will be by the Norman Morison for She is Expected next Ship. Mr Clanch disers to be rembred to  you, give my kind love to Mr Holland & Mr Sinclar (Sinclair) Captain Wishart and all the Ship Compney(.) I was sory hear that you Had the Smal pox on board but I was happy to here that it was no wors. Mother is much the Same with her Hand(.) Gane is Still the Same working at her neddle. I will conclouse by washing you both well and happey(.)

Your truly affectenet Father & Mother

J Wishart, 7 Nottingham Place, York Street

Commercial Road East