Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment
The Columbia detachment of the Royal Engineers was a British military contingent that played a major role in the settlement, development and security of the new British Columbia. Sent at the request of Governor James Douglas to help maintain order during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, the detachment was created by an Act of the British Parliament on 2 August 1858 and commanded by Col. Richard Moody. The cost of the detachment was borne by the colony.
The corps consisted of 150 sappers, and was later increased to 172. Moody had three captains: Robert Mann Parsons, John Marshall Grant and Henry Reynolds Luard. The contingent also included two subalterns, Lt. Arthur Lempriere (later a Major-General) and Lt. Henry Palmer, and a surgeon, John Seddall. Captain William Driscoll Gosset, a retired Royal Engineer, was appointed a civilian treasurer and commissary officer. Rev. John Sheepshanks served as the detachment’s chaplai, and Robert Burnaby was retained for a time as Moody’s personal secretary.
The Royal Engineers arrived in British Columbia in October and November 1858, just in time to respond to an incident popularly known as "Ned McGowan's War". 22 Engineers accompanied Moody and Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie to Yale to face down a group of rebellious American miners. Order was restored without further violence.
Following the enactment of the Pre-emption Act of 1860, Colonel Moody and his engineers assisted the process of settling the Lower Mainland by selecting and surveying the site for the capital "Queenborough" (rechristened New Westminster by Queen Victoria on 20 July 1859). Just a mile outside of the townsite, the Engineer's camp developed into a settlement of its own-- the area is still known as Sapperton.
Moody and the Royal Engineers also built an extensive road network, including what became Kingsway, connecting New Westminster to False Creek and North Road between Port Moody and New Westminster. As part of the surveying effort, several tracts were designated "government reserves", which included Stanley Park as a military reserve (a strategic location in case of an American invasion).
The Columbia Detachment was disbanded in July 1863. Apart from the Moody family, only 22 men and eight wives returned to England, while the rest, 130 sappers, elected to remain in British Columbia. The Colonial Secretary Edward Bulwer-Lytton described the Engineers’ accomplishment as “to found a second England on the shores of the Pacific”.
- Margaret A. Ormsby, "Richard Clement Moody" in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, (2002)
- Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, (Toronto: University of Toronto)
- Barman, 71