Case 3 Hudson’s Bay Company

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Wales' fortRobson, Joseph. An Account of Six Years Residence in Hudson's-Bay, From 1733 to 1736, and 1744 to 1747. London: J. Payne and J. Bouquet, 1752.

Robson joined the Hudson's Bay Company in 1733 first as a stonemason, helping to build Prince of Wales Fort at present-day Churchill, then several years later as a surveyor and supervisor of the buildings. Robson explored inland up the Nelson and Churchill Rivers, including maps of the lower reaches of both in his Account. He was critical of the company: 'The Company have for eighty years slept at the edge of a frozen sea; they have shewn no curiosity to penetrate farther themselves, and have exerted all their art and power to crush that spirit in others.' Robson was described by Edward Umfreville, a trader with both the Hudson Bay and North West companies as 'a candid, true, and impartial writer'.

Fur sale t.p.Fur saleFor Sale by the Candle at the New-York Coffee-House in Sweeting's Alley, Cornhill ... [London: 1772].

Auctions of beaver and other furs were held in London, ‘by candle’. One method was to light a one-inch candle, then call a price and bids were then made on the various lots. The highest bidder at the time the candle went out, received the lot. Another method was to stick a pin into the candle, and the last bidder before the pin fell out received the furs.

Hearne mapHearne, Samuel 1745-1792. A Journey From Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay, to the Northern Ocean: Undertaken by Order of the Hudson's Bay Company, for the Discovery of Copper Mines, a North West Passage, &c. in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, & 1772. London: Printed for A. Strahan and T. Cadell; and sold by T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, 1795.

Samuel Hearne was in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company from about 1765 to 1787, serving initially at sea, then at Prince of Wales’s Fort (Churchill). He was sent by the company in December 1770 on an expedition to locate the copper mines supposedly located near a large river. He reached the Coppermine River in July arriving at the mouth of the river on 17 July, becoming the first European to reach the Arctic Ocean overland. Unfortunately the expedition proved fruitless as little copper was present. He was however able to disprove the existence of a waterway from the east to the western ocean in the north. The text was written three years after Hearne's death, from the manuscript held by the Hudson’s Bay Company. David Thompson mentions in his Narrative (see case 7) that as a fourteen-year-old apprentice he had written out some of the journal’s text.

HBC banknote Hudson's Bay Company. [Banknotes in Denominations of Five Shillings Sterling]. [ London? 1820?]

Currency was needed by the new settlers in the Red River Settlement, and the Hudson’s Bay Company's first promissory notes—2000 for one pound each and 4000 for five shillings each—were sent to York Factory in May 1820. The promissory notes were issued in books containing 100 notes each. They were not put into circulation immediately as Governor Simpson feared the settlers might hoard them, but after 1824 they gradually came into circulation and other denominations added. The notes served as currency until the Dominion of Canada took over the Company's territory in 1870. Unused notes from the original shipment were found at York Factory in 1920 and two books of differing denominations, almost certainly came from that supply and were donated by J.B. Tyrrell to the University Library.

Mclean t.p.McLean, John 1799-1890. Notes of a Twenty-Five Years' Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory. London: R. Bentley, 1849.

John McLean had joined the North West Company in 1820, and continued in service with the Hudson’s Bay Company when the two merged in 1821, retiring in 1846. He was the first European to see Churchill Falls. He wrote his 'plain, unvarnished tale' to describe the situation of the Company's servants—the Indian traders—and the 'degradation and misery of the many Indian tribes'. He hoped to present a faithful picture of the Indian trader's life; 'its toils, annoyances, privations, and perils, when on actual service, or on a trading or exploring expedition; its loneliness, cheerlessness, and ennui when not on actual service'. Highly sympathetic to the country’s aboriginal tribes, McLean wished to reform what he saw as abusive company practices, harmful to its native traders. His text is one of the few firsthand accounts of the fur trade during the administration of Governor George Simpson.