Victoria Brides

September 28th, 2018

September of 1862 was, for bachelors in British Columbia, a month that held the promise of great excitement. It was the month that the ship the Tynemouth, hereafter known as “the bride ship,” was to arrive in Victoria carrying precious cargo––a boatload of single women from London. At the time, the province had a disproportionately large number of young bachelors, and so the prospect of a ship full of potentially marriageable women was, for many, almost too enticing to bear.

This would not be the first time that shiploads of women were transported to the colonies to be brides. Victoria’s young bachelors had already suffered a disappointment when the Australian ship the Seaman’s Bride, which had carried about twenty women destined for Victoria, arrived without even one woman on board. Before docking in Victoria, the ship had stopped in San Francisco where, according to the local newspaper the British Colonist, “the young Yankees” had “captured the affections of the girls.”

This influx of marriageable women to the colonies was a deliberate move by the Queen of England and the Anglican Church, who sought to populate the colonies and simultaneously make them more British. At the time, the population of British Columbia (then two colonies, one on Vancouver Island and one on the mainland) was overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly American, due to the stream of young American bachelors who had come seeking their fortunes during the gold rush. With the help of the Anglican Church, the Columbia Emigration Society had organized a ship, the Tynemouth, of about sixty women who would help to unify the two colonies, and to augment their British population via marriage and settlement with London women.

While much of the male bachelor population was undoubtedly excited at the prospect of the Tynemouth’s arrival, the Colonist’s publisher Amor De Cosmos (who later became British Columbia’s second Prime Minister), has been accused of adding to this frenzy by sensationalizing the event in headlines such as: “The girls are coming! The Girls are coming! They’ll be here any day!” Known for his eccentricity, De Cosmos’ overdramatized headlines astutely attracted readers––and therefore advertisers, in what some have called a calculated move to profit from the bachelors’ boredom. Some also suspect that his motives were not purely commercial, and that his sensationalist reporting on the “bride ships” was rooted in his desire to unite the colonies of Vancouver Island and the mainland.

The arrival of the Tynemouth was an event that was perhaps all the more eagerly anticipated in the wake of what had been a very difficult year. 1862 had begun with one of the worst winters on record and was so cold that the Fraser River had frozen solid. South of the border, the American Civil War was hard at work. The raging smallpox epidemic had threatened to wipe out many First Nations populations.

When the women on board the Tynemouth finally arrived on September 20th, excited young bachelors in Victoria went wild. Men trekked from far out in the countryside clothed in their best attire. They hired any watercraft they could get their hands on to take them out to meet the Tynemouth girls. De Cosmos reported that the ship’s “lovely freight” consisted of “mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women –– ages varying from fourteen to an uncertain figure,” and noted that these women seemed “superior” compared with “the women usually met with on emigrant vessels.” All in all, it was an exciting end to a strenuous year, for everyone involved.

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