William Fraser Tolmie

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William Fraser Tolmie
William Fraser Tolmie.png
Born February 3, 1812
Inverness, Scotland
Died December 8, 1886
Occupation Doctor, scientist, fur trader, and politician

William Fraser Tolmie (a.k.a. "Dr. Tolmie") (February 3, 1812 – December 8, 1886) was a surgeon, fur trader, scientist, and politician.

He was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1812, and by 1833 moved to the Pacific Northwest in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). He served for two years, 1832-33 at Fort McLoughlin.[1] He served at Fort Nisqually, an HBC post at the southern end of Puget Sound, from 1843 to 1859. In 1859 he moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where he continued serving the HBC as well as becoming active in politics.

His written works include Comparative Vocabulary of the Indian Tribes of British Columbia (1884), and his journals, published in 1963 as The Journals of William Fraser Tolmie.

Early career[edit]

At the age of 20, Tolmie received a medical degree from the University of Glasgow, after which he joined the Hudson's Bay Company and soon sailed for the Pacific Northwest.[2] In the spring of 1833 he arrived at Fort Vancouver. Soon after arriving he was sent to the proposed site for Fort Nisqually, at the southern end of Puget Sound near the Nisqually River delta. The route was via canoe up the Cowlitz River then overland by horse. Tolmie's journal provides the first detailed account of this route, today essentially that of Interstate 5.

Tolmie stayed at the newly built Fort Nisqually for seven months, until December 1833.

In June 1833 there was an earthquake at Fort Nisqually. Tolmie's journal entry about it is the first recorded eyewitness description of an earthquake in the Puget Sound region.[3]

While at Nisqually he wrote in his journal about nearby Mount Rainier and his desire to see it more closely. In August 1833 he arranged a "botanizing excursion" to the mountain, with Lachalet, a Nisqually, and Nuckalkat, a Puyallup, as guides. Three other Native Americans joined the party. They traveled through the thick forests, following the general course of the Puyallup River to the Mowich River and into what is today the northwest part of Mount Rainier National Park. Wanting to reach the snow level, Tolmie chose the nearest snowy peak and climbed it with Lachalet and Nuckalkat. Tolmie Peak is named for this event, although it is not known exactly which peak was summited.[4] During the expedition, Dr. Tolmie discovered a new species of plant which is now known as Tolmie's saxifrage (Micranthes tolmiei).[5] Due to this trip, Dr. Tolmie was the first European to explore the Puyallup River valley and Mount Rainier.

At the end of 1833, Tolmie went to the HBC post of Fort Simpson before returning to Europe.[2] In 1834 and 1835 he served at the new HBC post of Fort McLoughlin.[6]

Fort McLoughlin[edit]

Dr. Tolmie served at Fort McLoughlin, adjacent to Old Bella Bella during the early operation of the fort. Descriptions of his time at the fort include insights to Heiltsuk and other First Nations at the time, including attendance at a potlatch among the Heiltsuk.

Commander of Fort Nisqually[edit]

In 1843 Dr. Tolmie returned to Fort Nisqually (also called "Nisqually House" and "Nisqually Station").[7] He served at Nisqually from 1843 to 1859. In 1847 he was promoted to Chief Trader, and in 1855 to Chief Factor. He worked to achieve good relationships with the region's Native Americans and the growing number of United States settlers.[2]

In 1846 Tolmie served as a legislator in the Provisional Legislature of Oregon representing Lewis County and HBC interests.[8][9]

In 1857, Dr. Tolmie supported Chief Leschi, who was being tried for murders related to the Puget Sound War of 1855-1856. Tolmie visited the sites where Leschi was alleged to have been, measured distances, and determined it was impossible for Leschi to have made the trip to the murder site in the time required. Nonetheless, Leschi was executed in 1858. Later, the trial was judged to have been unlawfully conducted, the execution wrong, and Leschi innocent.[10]

Vancouver Island[edit]

In 1859 the Hudson's Bay Company transferred Tolmie to Victoria in British Columbia. He served on the HBC Board of Management from 1861 to 1870, retiring from the company in 1871.

In addition to working for the HBC, Tolmie became active in politics. He was a member of the House of Assembly of Vancouver Island from 1860 to 1866 and a member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia from 1874 to 1878.

He continued to study indigenous languages until his death on December 8, 1886.[2]


Jane Work was the daughter of John Work and Josette Legacée, a Metis whose mother was from the Spokane tribe. She was 23 years old, and he 38, when they were married in 1850. They had twelve children, seven boys and five girls.[11] They lived first at Fort Nisqually, then at Victoria, where their farm home adjoined the Work family's Hillside Farm. The Work and Tolmie cousins grew up together.[12]


William Fraser Tolmie's name is associated with Tolmie Peak near Mount Rainier and Tolmie's saxifrage (Micranthes tolmiei), which he discovered there. Tolmie State Park in Washington is named for him, as are Mount Tolmie, Tolmie Channel, and Tolmie Point in British Columbia. Tolmie Street in Vancouver is also named for him.[13] Other plants bearing his name include Tolmie's star-tulip (Calochortus tolmiei) and Tolmie's onion (Allium tolmiei).[14] The scientific name of MacGillivray's warbler is also named for him: Oporornis tolmiei.[15]

Tolmie's son, Simon Fraser Tolmie, was the twenty-first Premier of British Columbia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tolmie, William Fraser (1963). Physician and Fur Trader. Vancouver: Mitchell Press Limited. 
  2. ^ a b c d William Fraser Tolmie, Leschi: Justice in Our Time.
  3. ^ Earthquake Shakes Puget Sound on June 29, 1833, HistoryLink Essay
  4. ^ Morgan, Murray (1979). Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound. University of Washington Press. pp. 30–36. ISBN 0-295-95842-1. 
  5. ^ Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, Mount Rainier Nature Notes
  6. ^ Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843. Vancouver: University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-7748-0613-3.  online at Google Books
  7. ^ Morgan, Murray (1979). Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound. University of Washington Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-295-95842-1. 
  8. ^ Oregon Legislative Assembly (2nd Provisional) 1846 Regular Session
  9. ^ Gray, William H. A History of Oregon, 1792-1849, Drawn from personal observation and authentic information. Harris & Holman: Portland, OR. 1870.
  10. ^ Morgan, Murray (1979). Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound. University of Washington Press. pp. 134–136. ISBN 0-295-95842-1. 
  11. ^ "Biography – TOLMIE, WILLIAM FRASER – Volume XI (1881-1890) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography". Retrieved 2017-05-11. 
  12. ^ Tolmie, William Fraser (1963). The Journals of William Fraser Tolmie: Physician and Fur Trader. Mitchell Press. p. 401. OCLC 1578481. 
  13. ^ Walker, Elizabeth (1999). Street Names of Vancouver. Gordon Soules Book Publishers. p. 121. ISBN 0-9692378-7-1. 
  14. ^ Tolmeia/tolmiei, California Plant Names, A Dictionary of Botanical Etymology
  15. ^ MacGillivray's Warbler, Birds of the Rocky Mountains


External links[edit]