The Days When Scoops Travelled by Steamer
The hard work of Donald Fraser, a seasoned British newspaper reporter in his late forties, was one reason the Fraser River gold rush of 1858 attracted people from so many different countries. Fraser wrote voluminously for the world's most famous newspaper, The Times of London.
The hard work of Donald Fraser, a seasoned British newspaper reporter in his late forties, was one reason the Fraser River gold rush of 1858 attracted people from so many different countries. Fraser wrote - voluminously - for the world's most famous newspaper, The Times of London.
Once water levels on the river had fallen enough to allow the mining season to begin, Fraser accompanied James (not yet Sir James) Douglas of the Hudson's Bay Company on an inspection tour of "the diggings" - the gravel bars in the river where gold had been found - and the tiny instant "mining camp" towns that often sprang up around them.
As Fraser explained: "In consequence of rumours of an alarming collision between the miners and the Indians, the Governor [Douglas] determined to visit the interior in person; and the account of the collision which was brought to him by a deputation from the miners at Fort Yale and Fort Hope was given with such minuteness, detailing the massacre of 45 white men and the commission of other atrocities, and the demand for assistance was so pressing, that the Governor made a requisition upon Her Majesty's naval and military officers on the station for men to accompany him, to support the civil authorities if necessary. I accompanied this party."
Tales of a massacre, of course, turned out to be false.
Fraser wasn't a detached observer like reporters today. He was a booster. He didn't play down the harshness of a journey up the Fraser. He did, however, write glowingly at times about the miners' communities. He saw them as part of a libertarian society that many of his readers must have equated with personal (as well as the material) growth.
He wrote: "The work is not heavy; any ordinary man can do it. The time at work is generally 10 hours. Every man works much or little, according to the dictates of his own sweet will. This independency is one of the chief charms of the miner's life. Independence and hope make up the sum of his happiness. The cost of living is $1-a-day. To wash 250 buckets of 'dirt' is a short day's work. The bucket is a common wooden water pail, rather small size. Went up to two men at a place by themselves 'clearing out' their day's work. They 'guessed' their amalgam was worth $21 to $22. From this place 16 men gone home. Left the other day. 'Made anything?' 'Guess so.' A great many go back to California on making a little money. They have ties there no doubt."
However positive its tone, his information wasn't always fresh. This is because he had to send his stories by steamer down the Pacific Coast to Panama, where they were taken overland to the Atlantic side (for the Panama Canal was two generations in the future). There they were put on a steamer for New York, where they were taken aboard another one, bound for London. The words quoted above, for example, were written in early October 1858. They appeared in type in mid-December.