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CHAPTER 6: The Royal Navy, Ruler of the Seas

The Royal Navy Patrols the West Coast (4 pages)

Justice at the Muzzle of a Cannon

A Royal Navy gunboat in action against pirates in British Columbia in the 1860s

A Royal Navy gunboat in action against pirates in British Columbia in the 1860s
(Click image to enlarge)

Various similar incidents occurred over the following years. In 1863, for example, a ship's boy was killed on board the HMS Forward during an exchange of gunfire. But there was a major incident in August 1864, when Amerindian pirates boarded a small merchant vessel, the Kingfisher, killing its crew and then pillaging and setting fire to the ship. In view of the seriousness of what they had done, the governor asked the Royal Navy to intervene. But when the HMS Devastation, a small six-cannon steamship, arrived in the vicinity, it found hundreds of armed Natives and decided to wait for reinforcements in Clayoquot Sound, approximately 50 kilometres south of Nootka. On the evening of October 2 the screw frigate HMS Sutlej arrived, captained by Admiral Joseph Denman, commander of the Pacific Squadron and a veteran hunter of slave boats and pirates off the African coasts. The next day the two warships arrived at the village of Marktosis looking for Chapchah, the purported leader of the pirates. But the area had been abandoned and the pirates had taken refuge nearby.

The HMS Devastation then went to the village of Moyat, where the Amerindians immediately opened fire, forcing the ship to move out of range. The HMS Sutlej arrived in support, and Denman informed the opponents that he would not shell them if the guilty parties were turned over to him. They cavalierly refused, adding that if Moyat was burned not a single seaman who dared to set foot on land would be spared. The Sutlej opened fire in response, and row-boats that kept well away from the ship launched incendiary rockets while others bearing armed seamen approached the shore. They were welcomed by Amerindian fire, but this was rendered powerless by a few well-aimed British salvos. The seamen disembarked, with fixed bayonets, and found the lifeboats of the unfortunate Kingfisher. They burned the place down. In the days that followed, eight other villages were destroyed, with the Amerindians offering only token resistance. Although he was unable to capture Chapchah, Admiral Denman considered the operation a complete success. Not a single British seaman had been killed or injured, whereas the Natives had lost approximately 15 men and had been given a severe warning.

Other incidents would occur, but this swift justice at the muzzle of a cannon discouraged the Amerindians from continuing with their piracy and slavery and they abandoned these practices once and for all in the 1880s. [124]