Sunday, June 22, 2008




More problems with pigeons

Take a look at the pictures above . These were cabbages & mangetout peas. Decimated, beyond hope of recovery. Torn to shreds by pigeons, despite protection.

What did Ozymandias, King of Kings, say?

"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

Ozymandias must have been a bloody pigeon.

I hate them!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ghost Bird

Woken at 5 this morning (this is me, real-time, not David Douglas, 1827) by a tremendous but dull bang, somewhere outside.

Staggered about a bit but found no signs of imminent Armageddon so went back to bed, grumpily.

But when we got up properly we found this on the bedroom window.


Clearly a bird (hopefully a pigeon) has flown into it at full speed and come to grief. There are no stunned birds lying around so it's either in the woods nursing an almighty headache or something has got it. There is a massive streak of bird poo down the conservatory window immediately beneath, so it was clearly sh*tt*ng itself as it flew. I suspect it was being chased by something big and fierce!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

To Norway House - June 11th to 16th, 1827

The country throughout [north-west of Lake Winnipeg] presents the same uniformity. Thick low wet woods and muddy banks. No place for botanising. Towards dusk on the 2nd day reached the head of the Grand Rapid [on the North Saskatchewan River] and walked down the wood while the boats descended – one unfortunately struck on some rocks so that they reached the shore with some difficulty. All next day spent drying the cargo and repairing the boat.

Had a ramble in the woods. Killed a fine large male pelican [in Canada? Surely not?] and preserved the skin. High wind and sleet during the whole night and following day – did not rise until midday [cf 21st May]. Moderated at sundown, when we embarked and entered Lake Winnipeg [Ermatinger’s Journal of the same trip records that they “row in the lake all night – pass several times though loose floating ice”. They are working their way around the northern shore of Lake Winnipeg from Grand Rapids to modern day Warren Landing.]

This image below is from the annual "Treaty & York Boat Day" celebration mounted by Norway House people today, in August each year.



Towards noon, wind rose very high and being near the shore in such broken water we were under the necessity of lying to.

Passed Mossy Point [the promontory on which Warren Landing stands], a part of the lake with steep muddy banks and 3-4 feet of rotten moss on top. Gained the old establishment of Norway House at 1pm for breakfast (!) then resumed our route to the new Norway House which we reached at 8pm . [Current aerial view below:]



Here I found my old friend Mr John McLeod who last year carried my letters across from the Columbia. Rec’d a letter from Jos. Sabine [of the Horticultural Society]; good news the vessel from the Columbia arrived safely and my seed collection sustained no injury.

Letters also from Dr Hooker of Glasgow [the elder of the two Hookers who later left such a mark on Kew] and my brother, the latter affording me but news of a melancholy cast [the death of his father]

Tramps Like Us.....

Baby, we were born to run!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From which you will deduce that we've been to see The Boss. No allotment work this weekend of course but that's a small price to pay to see Springsteen live in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Ye Gods but it's big. We were seated so high it was like clinging to a cliff face. Brill.

And soon I'll be able to hear again.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Cumberland House

The route from Carlton House to Cumberland House is so well known from the descriptions of the Arctic voyageurs [of the Hudson’s Bay Company] that anything from my pen is unnecessary [Well thanks Dave, that’s not much use to your readers in 2008!]

The journey admits of little variety; low, thick marshy woods of Pinus banksiana, Betula, Populus and Salix. Very unsteady rainy weather with high winds. Arrived at Cumberland House at 5pm on Saturday 9th June, [1827] and was kindly welcomed.

Here I was greeted by Dr Richardson, safe from his second hazardous journey from the shores of the Polar Sea. Every man must feel for the hardship and difficulties which he endured and overcame. What must be most gratifying is extricating themselves from the fearful Esquimaux without coming to violence. Informed him of my intention of going to Red River and sailing from Hudson’s bay; approved of it much.

Postscript – Douglas is clearly determined to get to the Red River Settlement, which I am fairly sure is present-day Winnipeg. Any confirmations from readers? Is anyone reading this?? No-one is commenting. Is anyone out there? Have the fearful Esquimaux got you all, or the terrible Stone Indians, or are you just bored with 1827?
Dastardly Deeds

I have learned with regret [writes David Douglas, 4th June, 1827] that my anticipated journey overland to the Swan and Red Rivers could not be accomplished. In the first place two horses would be requisite, to carry my papers, blanket and food – unsafe to have one in the event of dying [the horse, presumably]; in the next place, it was uncertain in what direction the Stone Indians were, and in the event of their meeting me, mine would beyond any doubt be a done career.

One of the Canadian servants was four weeks ago murdered within four miles of Carlton House, his gun and horse taken and his body left stripped. The villain who committed this horrid deed had been kept during the winter in food, being an object of pity and his family starving; in spring he manifested his ingratitude by perpetrating the foulest of crimes.

Therefore I abandoned my plan and proceed towards Norway House where an opportunity may offer of going to Red River [present day Winnipeg?]. For now I go to Cumberland House.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008


Buffalo Problem, no-one dead (quite)

June 1st 1827, east of Edmonton

A party of hunters went out at daybreak after the herd of animals seen last night. Most willingly I followed them. Mr Harriott & Mr Ermatinger and three hunters went off to the opposite side of the herd and killed two very large and fine animals. Seeing their boat at the side of the river and no-one in it gave us to know they had gone for the meat and we put to shore.

Mr H & E were pursuing a bull which had been wounded. The animal, which had suffered less injury than expected, turned and gave chase to Mr McDonald and overtook him. Seeing that it was impossible to escape he had presence of mind to throw himself on his belly flat on the ground, but this did not save him.

He received the 1st stroke on the back of the right thigh and pitched in the air several yards. The wound was a dreadful laceration literally laying open the back of the thigh to the bone; received five more blows at each of which he went senseless. Perceiving the beast preparing to strike hi m a seventh, he laid hold of his wig [the buffalo’s hump] and hung on; man and bull sank down the same instant.

His companions had the melancholy sensation of standing g to witness their companion mangled and could give no assistance. His life could not be expected.

But a shot went off by accident without doing any injury to anyone, and had the unexpected good fortune to raise the bull, first sniffing his victim, turning him gently over, and walking off.

I went up to him and found life still apparent, but quite senseless. He had sustained most injury from a blow on the left side, and had it not been for a strong double sealskin shot-pouch, with ball, shot, wadding etc unquestionably would have been deprived of life, being opposite the heart.

The horn went through the pouch, coat, vest, flannel and cotton shirts, and bruised the skin and broke two ribs. He was bruised all over, but no part materially cut except the thigh & left wrist dislocated.

My lancet being always in my pocket like a watch, I had him bled [which he was doubtless much in need of, not] and his wounds bound up, when he was carried to the boat; gave 25 drops of laudanum and procured sleep. In hope of finding Dr Richardson no time was lost to convey him to Carlton House.

[Postscript – the man survived; presumably so did the buffalo.]

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Can’t dance, must jump

Last night (31st May 1827, Fort Edmonton, Canada), before we should part with our new friends, Mr Ermatinger [Edward Ermatinger, Douglas’s companion on this journey] was called on to indulge us with a tune on the violin, to which he readily complied. No time was lost in forming a dance; and as I was given to understand it was principally on my account, I could not do less than endeavour to please by jumping, for dance I could not.

Fort Edmonton was established on the Northern Saskatchewan River in 1795 by the HUDSON'S BAY CO as a fortified trading post next to the rival NORTH WEST CO, which had earlier built its own fort nearby. After the amalgamation of the 2 companies in 1821, Fort Edmonton emerged as the leading centre of the Saskatchewan district fur trade.



The evening passed away pleasantly enough; breakfasted at 5 o’clock and embarked in the boat with all my baggage and went rapidly before the stream. Put ashore in the dusk to cook supper, and as the Stone Indians had manifested hostile intentions it was deemed unsafe to sleep at a camp where fire was. We therefore had the boats tied two and two together and drifted all night.
Finding this mode of travelling very irksome, never on shore except a short time cooking breakfast, always dusk before a second meal, I began to think this sort of travelling ill adapted for botanising.

Just in the dusk had a fine chase after two Red deer swimming in the water; both were killed. Saw a huge grisly [sic] bear and a number of small plain wolves. Passed Fort Vermilion, an abandoned establishment.

On Wednesday at sunrise five large buffalo bulls were seen sanding on a sandbank of the river. Mr Harriott debarked and killed two, and wounded two more. Fifty miles further down [the Saskatchewan River] a herd was seen, and plans laid for hunting in the morning.
Here comes the rain again

It's looking uncomfortably like a repeat of last year. Everything is lank and wet. The flowering mallow (Lavatera) at the top of the plot has fallen over, because the ground it's in is so wet, and the damn pigeons are eating the peas. Pah!