The Flying Dutchman

January 4th, 2019

The infamous man known as The Flying Dutchman was an early 1900s pirate who sailed up and down the Strait of Georgia pillaging small seaside communities. Alternately known as Henry Wagner, Henry Ferguson, or any number of other aliases, he was recognizable by the large mole on his right cheek. In one article from 1913, the Nanaimo Free Press described him as having “steely blue” and “callous” eyes and an “expansive forehead denoting great intelligence which evidently has been cultivated in the wrong direction.” He was notorious in the area, and his ship was rumoured to be ominously swift and silent.


Before his days looting in the Strait of Georgia, Wagner was believed to have been part of the Cassidy Gang, a group that had struck Wyoming and its environs with numerous train robberies and murders. While most of his accomplices had been arrested, Wagner had managed to escape, along with Bill Julian, and the pair had fled west. Julian developed a homestead in Scottie Bay on Lasqueti Island, a hideout perfectly placed to give access to the Vancouver Island coal communities of Nanaimo, Wellington, and Union Bay. Their days of pirating began in earnest when they stole the ship, The Spray, whence the exploits of The Flying Dutchman began.


Their notorious career was interrupted on March 4th, 1913. On this day, their crew docked at Union Bay, then a bustling port where freighters came to transport coal from the Cumberland mines. Their goal: to rob the local Fraser Bishop Store, which at the time was the most significant retail business north of Victoria. The store was also conveniently (for the robbers) located only 100 meters from the beach. On this night, however, two constables who had been stationed to roam the town in hopes of preventing robberies noticed a light on in the Fraser Bishop Store, and they intercepted the robbers in the middle of a heist. In the resulting altercation, one constable lost his thumb––reportedly bitten off by one of the pirates––and the other lost his life. The remaining constable, despite being down one thumb, captured The Flying Dutchman, while the rest of the crew escaped to their hideout on Lasqueti.


One week later, the rest of the gang was intercepted at Scottie Bay and were arrested. Upon arriving at the robbers’ homestead, the authorities discovered piles of loot. Julian, hoping for a lighter punishment, cooperated with authorities and eagerly told them whatever they wished to know. Julian did get off easy––he was later known to be a camp cook––but things were not so good for Wagner. Wagner had gained so much notoriety that American officials sent an officer to his trial to rearrest him in the unlikely event that he was released by Canadian authorities. Wagner was sentenced to hang.


It was weeks before his sentence would be carried out, however, as Wagner had to wait for the hangman to arrive. In the meantime, he attempted suicide, unsuccessfully, by banging his head against the wall. The Flying Dutchman was hanged in Nanaimo on August 28th, 1913, at what would be Nanaimo’s last hanging.


Sign-up for Our Exclusive Newsletter