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A HERITAGE BED & BREAKFAST IN VICTORIA
A HERITAGE BED & BREAKFAST IN VICTORIA
A few blocks east of Pentrelew Place, a short street marks the southern aspect of land that once belonged to another creative individual. Sarah Crease and David Higgins traced Victoria’s early days from different angles. She sketched her surroundings; he painted pictures with words.
David Williams Higgins was the son of a Manchester man who had immigrated to Nova Scotia in 1814. Higgins was born there in 1834. Two years later his parents moved to Brooklyn, New Jersey, where he received his education and apprenticed as a printer. In 1852 the sixteen-year old Higgins went to California. He became editor and part owner of the Morning Call newspaper in 1856, selling his interest in 1858 when he got gold fever and headed north for British Columbia.
On its voyage from San Francisco, Higgins’s ship carried some 1,200 souls, the latest of a wave of 20,000 gold seekers to journey north in search of fame and fortune. The Sierra Nevada was overloaded. Some fortunate passengers, like Higgins, shared staterooms; others, unable to find berths, lay on the decks or in the saloons. It was a particularly difficult, storm-tossed sailing. Most of the passengers were violently seasick. A few died and, in seagoing tradition, were consigned to a watery grave.
According to Higgins, three of the survivors formed an unusual relationship that would earn them a place in Victoria’s history. He wrote the following story about them and in included it in a book that was published most five decades after these events were purported to have taken place. Higgins’s cast of characters included George Sloane, a well-educated young Englishman who was fond of quoting Latin and Greek; John Liverpool, another Englishman, an adventurer and raconteur; and an attractive young lady known only as Miss Bradford.
Higgins tells how the unfortunate Miss Bradford was left an orphan when her mother died, five days out of San Francisco. Mrs. Bradford was buried at sea. Sloane, ever the English gentleman, took up a collection to help her establish herself in her new home. However, when he attempted to present it to her, Liverpool, who was also much attracted to Miss Bradford, became enraged. He knocked the money from Sloane’s grasp and flung it over the ship’s rail. A fistfight ensued. Both men were hurt, but Liverpool was definitely the worse for wear.
The next day the Sierra Nevada anchored at Esquimalt. Its passengers made the three-mile trek into Victoria and, like the hordes of hungry gold seekers before them, settled in the tent town that had sprung up around the fort. There, later the next evening, Sloane and Liverpool crossed paths again. Liverpool, who had with unseemly haste married Miss Bradford that very morning, was still smarting from his beating. When Sloane refused to accept Liverpool’s challenge to take up a revolver and fight to the death, Liverpool spat full in his face. Goaded out of his usual good sense, Sloane agreed to a duel.
With their supporters and a large group of onlookers, the two walked to a grassy space just east of the District Church, on the corner of today’s Quadra Street and Burdett Avenue. In time-honoured tradition, they stood back to back. Liverpool, who had won choice of position, faced west. It was a smart choice. When they walked ten paces, turned, and fired, Sloane faced full into the setting sun. He fired and missed. Liverpool’s shot found its mark. Sloane, shot through the heart, dropped dead, the victim of Victoria’s first duel. He was buried just a few yards away, in the Catholic section of the Quadra Street Burying Ground.
Indeed there was a duel, between two men with different names than those mentioned above. With his own, far more imaginative rendering of the historic events that took place, Higgins preserved the story, along with many other such interesting tales, for later eyes to read.
After this exciting beginning in his newly adopted accommdation, Higgins travelled to Yale in search of gold. His descriptions of his adventures there and the people he came across have provided us with a rich source of information about those early gold rush days.
Historic Amethyst Inn Bed & Breakfast Inn Victoria BCBy 1860 the 24-year-old Higgins had tired of the gold fields. He returned to Victoria and met a fellow Nova Scotian who had already made his mark in this little town. Bill Smith, who had decided some years earlier to call himself Amor de Cosmos (“Lover of the Universe”), arrived in Victoria the same year as Higgins and took a great dislike to Governor James Douglas. Just before Christmas 1858, de Cosmos founded the British Colonist. Its sole purpose, it seemed, was to function as a vehicle for his unceasing, often vitriolic attacks on Douglas and all things allied to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Higgins became the British Colonist’s reporter, making notes of his observations and interviews with townsfolk, then repairing to the paper’s Wharf Street shed-cum-office to write his stories. It wasn’t long, however, before the relationship soured between Higgins and his opinionated boss. Higgins left the Colonist and in 1862 started up the Daily Chronicle in direct competition. Neither newspaper did well. Higgins eventually combined them into what would become the Victoria Times Colonist.
In March 1863 Higgins married seventeen- year-old Mary Jane Pidwell, a Prince Edward Island native who had journeyed overland with her parents and arrived in Victoria several years earlier. The five Pidwell sisters were talented in vocal harmony. Ensemble singing was a novelty in Victoria at that time, and the Pidwell family home became a focus for social activity. Before long, four of the five sisters were married and had moved to California. Mary stayed.
David and Mary Higgins had six children. Oldest son W. Ralph, known as Will, was by all accounts a handsome and popular young fellow, an accomplished musician and singer and a “chip off the old block” who followed his father into journalism and onto the Colonist. Will married Edith Louise (known as Dolly), youngest daughter of Dr. and Mrs. J.S. Helmcken and thus a granddaughter of Sir James Douglas. Will and Edith rented a small accommodation on Belleville Street, close to the Helmckens’ house.In 1885 Higgins built a large, Italianate bc accommodation set at an angle on the corner of St. Charles Street and Cadboro Bay Road (now Fort Street). “Regents Park,” set in several acres that stretched down St. Charles Street toward Rockland, was a fitting reflection of Higgins’s stature in the community. Its two-and-a-half storeys featured vertical columns on the Fort Street side and wooden balustraded balconies above the verandah and bay windows. A dining room and drawing room dominated the main floor, while an exquisitely carved staircase led to the upper level’s ten bedrooms.
Higgins was active in almost all aspects of the local business and political scene. He organized and became first president of the Victoria Fire Department. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1866 to 1869. A member of city council, he was returned to the provincial legislature as member for Victoria District in 1886. Three years later he became Speaker of the House, a position he held for nine years. As a businessman he promoted, and served on the board of directors of, Victoria’s electric street railway system, which operated from 1889 to 1948.
Meanwhile, Mary Higgins too went from strength to strength. As Speaker of the assembly, her husband was at one point rendered almost speechless by Marys involvement in the women’s suffrage movement. Handed a list of 500 females in the Victoria area who were petitioning to secure the vote for women, Higgins was flabbergasted to find Mary’s name at the top of the list. The petition was received, but it would be some years before women were given the right to vote.
Higgins retired in 1899. He died in 1917, at the age of 83, and is buried, beside Mary, in Ross Bay Cemetery. Lovingly restored, “Regents Park” stands today exactly where it was built, a stately and fitting reminder of the man whose colourful prose in books like Mystic Spring and Passing of a Race brought Victoria’s early history to life.
Copied with Permission
From the book by Danda Humphreys, On The Street Where You Live
Published 1999 – Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd