Sunday, April 28, 2013
William Henry McNeill, and his very old-fashioned conundrums
I found these conundrums in the British Columbia archives, in the front page of William Henry McNeill's sea log.
"Conundrums" are puzzles; and these puzzles are truly a puzzle -- the puzzle being is how anyone could have ever figured out the answers.
But these men were sailors, and long-distance or ocean sailing can be a very boring business (I know, I've been there).
The officers had time on their hands, and they used that spare time to create these terrible quizzes.
Here are the questions, for your enjoyment:
1. Why is a dandy like a haunch of venison?
2. Why are pens, Ink & Paper like fixed stars?
3. What word is that which by taking away the first letter makes you sick?
4. What is always invisible yet never out of sight?
5. Why is an empty room like a room of married people?
6. Where did Noah strike the first nail of the Ark?
7. What is smaller than a mite's head?
8. Why is a lover like a gooseberry?
9. Why is swearing like an old coat?
10. Where was Moses when his candle was blown out?
11. Why do ladies talk least in February?
So, who was William Henry McNeill?
First, he is the man after whom McNeil Island,in Puget Sound, was named.
McNeill was an American sea captain who joined the fur trade of the HBC.
According to Bruce Watson in Lives Lived West of the Divide, he was born in Boston, Mass., in 1801 or 1803.
He "started his sea-going career as an employee of Boston traders sailing between the Sandwich Islands and Boston. On October 16, 1824, he left Boston harbour in command of the Convoy, arriving back in Oahu the following year. By 1826, the command of the Convoy was given to John Dominis who along with McNeill, now in command of the Tally Ho traded at Norfolk Sound for the season. From 1830 he sailed the Lama from Boston and the following year was back on the Northwest Coast.
"In 1832, when McNeill brought the vessel to the Coast and heard from Dr. McLoughlin that the HBC was in search of such a vessel to replace the unservicable vessel, Vancouver, he quickly sailed to the Sandwich Islands where the Lama was purchased by Chief Factor Duncan Finlayson. Following this, on September 1, 1832, McNeill was hired on by the HBC in Oahu, an act to which the Governor and Committee reluctantly agreed, preferring an American to the incompetent English captains.
"In the early summer of 1834, McNeill ransomed three shipwrecked Japanese from the Cape Flattery Makah. In 1837, in command of the steamer, Beaver, he found Victoria harbour, a site which later that year McLoughlin rejected. In January 1838, when the crew of the Beaver mutinied against McNeill's discipline, John Work had to bring the vessel from Fort Simpson to Fort Nisqually with McNeill as a passenger. At that point he was ready to retire in 1838 but a promotion to Chief Trader in November 1839 induced him to stay on. In 1846 in response to the establishment of the international border, McNeill along with sixteen others, laid claim to 640 acres of land around Fort Nisqually, land to which the HBC/PSAC held possessory rights, a claim which never came to fruition.
"In 1849-1850 he superintended the construction of Fort Rupert and in 1854 he purchased a town lot in Victoria and in 1855, over 250 acres in the Victoria district. He took charge of Fort Simpson for eight years and became Chief Factor in 1856. When in 1861 he returned to the coast after a year's furlough, he was put in charge of Fort Simpson for two years before retiring. He settled on a farm near Gonzales Point, Vancouver Island, and in 1869 added his name to a petition to U. S. President Grant asking for annexation of British Columbia to the United States. for a time before his death in 1875, he commanded the HBC's steamer Enterprise."
McNeill was an interesting man and I didn't know all that about him.
He was also a man that the other fur traders disliked, and a difficult man to get along with.
At some point in time I uncovered, in the masses of information I have, that he and John Work had some problems working together, and that McNeill was jealous of Work's position in the Company.
On another occasion James Douglas thought of assigning McNeill to the charge of the Sandwich Islands.
That assignment was quickly cancelled on Governor Simpson's orders, and someone else took over the place -- it appears that Simpson did not think McNeill was the best man for the job.
However, James Robert Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, liked Captain McNeill, and had quite a bit to say about him in his Memoirs, written many years later.
He first met McNeill when he was a student at the school inside Fort Victoria in the early 1850's, and remembered that McNeill returned from the Sandwich Islands with oranges, which he gave out to the schoolchildren as a greatly appreciated treat.
As a grownup, James wrote: "The late Captain McNeill was born in Boston, Mass., in 1803; he came to the Coast in 1831 as Master of the American brig 'Llama', 144 tons, laden with merchandise for trading with the natives.
"Arriving on the Coast, he found that the Hudson's Bay Company was first in the field, and realizing that opposition to this powerful Corporation would result in possible serious loss, he, after some negotiations, wisely decided to sell ship and cargo to the Company and enter himself into the service of the Company and become a British subject.
"He was retained in command of the 'Llama' until 1837, when he succeeded Captain Home as Master of the 'Beaver."
"He was in Fort Nisqually in 1841, as he was mentioned by the late A.C. Anderson, who was then in charge of the Post, and by Commodore Wilkes, U.S.N of the 'Vincennes', then lying at that port.....
"Whilst in command of the 'Beaver' Captain McNeill made a survey of the southern part of Vancouver Island and reported favourably on the site of Victoria and Esquimalt.
"It was during the year 1833 that the brig 'Llama' under the command of Captain McNeill and the brig 'Dryad', Captain Kipling, conveyed the stores and material for the construction of Fort McLoughlin from Fort Nisqually and Fort Vancouver.....[see pages 34-39 of The Pathfinder for that story and McNeill's part in it.]
"In the year 1843 Captain McNeill resigned the command of the 'Beaver' to Captain charles Dodd and proceeded to England...
"After Captain McNeill's return from England he was for a short time put in charge of Fort Simpson and later given the command of the Hudson's Bay Company's brigantine 'Mary Dare', trading with Honolulu, whither was conveyed some of the products of the country such as salmon, potatoes, etc., bringing back sugar, molasses, etc.
"It was at this period that I, as a small boy, first became acquainted with Captain McNeill, an acquaintance which in later years, despite the disparity in our ages developed into a warm friendship.
"Some time prior to 1850, Captain McNeill was instrumental in rescuing the survivors of a Japanese vessel, which had been wrecked on the Washington coast, south of Cape Flattery. These survivors consisted only of two boys who were taken to Fort Vancouver. Japan being at that time closed to foreign commerce, the Hudson's Bay Company sent these much travelled boys to England for return to their native country.
"A vase of Japanese workmanship, which was salved [salvaged?] after the wreck is now in the possession of Mrs. Dennis Harris of Victoria."
Has that last line caused you to perk up your ears? It should have.
We brushed up against the Japanese shipwreck story a few weeks ago; I will return to tell you the rest of the story soon.
But before I do that, I will give you the answers to Captain McNeill's terrible Conundrums:
1. Because he is a bit of a buck.
2. They are stationary.
4. The letter g.
5. Because there is not a single person in it.
6. On the head.
7. That which enters it.
8. Because he is easily made a fool of.
9. Because it is a bad habit.
10. In the dark.
11. Because it is the shortest month.
Ho Ho Ho!
These "Conundrums" came from the British Columbia Archives Reel No. 7A (1), "Journal of a voyage kept on board Brig Lama bound for the Sandwich Islands & North West Coast of America."
If I remember correctly, they are written on the inside front cover of the sea-journal that begins "Boston Harbour, Wednesday, October 6th, 1830."
I hope you manage to solve a few of them, at least.