Spanish Cross

Manuel Quimper
Manuel Quimper

While moored in the Pedder Bay area on the 28th, Manuel Quimper reports the following:

…At 2 in the afternoon the longboat departed at my behest with the pilot and the second pilot to reconnoitre two points, distant from the anchorage, one and four miles respectively and which apparently formed inlets from the Strait. At sunset they came back and the pilot told me that the first point, which I named Santo Domingo, made with the second, which I named San Miguel, a fine roadstead which I named Solano. Behind the second point there was another roadstead extremely large and of good depth, capable of holding a great squadron at anchor and sheltered from the winds of the first and second quarter…”

In his book Spanish Explorations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, author H. R. Wagner identifies Santo Domingo as being William Head, San Miguel as being Albert Head and Solano as Parry Bay. The name San Miguel may have been in honor of the Spanish ship St. Miguel that was lost at sea around the 27th parallel of latitude in 1532.

On June 29, the journal indicates that: “At 3 in the afternoon I went ashore with the pilot to get a good view from the top of the hill immediately in front of our anchorage…”

Since they were still anchored at Pedder Bay, the hill was probably what, in the mid 1800s, was called Buck Hill. Today it is known as Mary Hill and rises some 400 feet affording an excellent view in all directions.

The June 30 entry states that at 3 in the afternoon:

“I had the longboat and one of the canoe, armed and embarked with the pilot, taking along the cross, for the purpose of taking possession of the farthest roadstead which I named Valdes Y Bazan. At 4 in the afternoon I took possession, planted the cross, buried the bottle with all the other ceremonies which the instructions prescribe and fired repeated salutes. The Holy Cross was placed on a messa which consists of a piece of land without any trees, and bears W 08 N (of the compass) from the point at the entrance to the roadstead. The bottle is buried at the back of the Holy Cross at the foot of a pine tree on which a cross was formed by cutting off the bark. This will distinguish it from five others close to it and the only ones in the neighborhood. At 8:30 I returned on board.”

The above entries have been translated in Wagner’s book. Some feel that the translation is less than pefect. It indicates that the cross was placed in an area with no trees yet later states that a cross was carved on a tree.

In any case, let’s jump ahead 157 years to 1947. During the later part of June and early July the local papers carried stories indicating that the cross was found. Articles in The Daily Colonist, Daily News, Vancouver Province and Nelson Daily News state that local businessman Cecil French, using Quimper’s chart and bearings found what was believed to be the cross.

A Victoria Times article Wednesday, June 18, 1947, states in part: “The tree has axe mark on it that are gradually being covered by the bark and it fitted the description given by Quimper. Great boulders were removed from the cairn by winches and much digging was done under roots of the big tree and a smaller one. During a later inspection of other trees in the, neighborhood Crndr. Cavieux and Mr. French discovered what they considered to be a true Papal Cross on a Douglas fir which had been topped. Excavation work has been switched to this site and the party has high hopes of finding the historic bottle.”

It should be noted that during the Second World War the property was used by the military and several trees were “topped” to give the fort a view in all direction.

It is interesting to note that earlier in the above article it states: “Selected a large fir tree which was on the edge of one of the mangy cairn which was discovered in the area. These cairn, are understood to be the burial place of a race of people which inhabited Vancouver Island before the Indians and are believed to have been Mongolian or Polynesian.”

The Colonist article of the same date states: “On its north side an old markings similar to a Papal Cross which has a vertical and three horizontal bars. The tree is obviously old enough to be the one described by Quimper.”

Unfortunately, the Quimper tree story seems to end as fast as it started. Sources indicate that the forestry department would be called in to evaluate the tree but the department does not appear to have any record of such a request. The confirmation of the find does not seem to be available. It is believed that the bottle was never found.

Again searching the provincial archive files, I have found a number of letters sent out to various religious authorities including the Vatican Headquarter in Rome. These ask whether Quimper would have had the authority to use a Papal Cross over the normal cross. However these same files do not contain responding correspondence to initial enquiries.

Going back now to 1790, Quimper’s journal of July 18 explains why the cross that he planted was never found. His explanation may also cover the missing bottle. It states: “At six I sent the longboat with the second pilot to see if the cross which had been put up when possession was taken in this roadstead had fallen down or had been carried away by the Indians as it was not to be seen. He returned shortly and said that the Indians had taken it up and carried it away.”

During the beginning of July, Quimper spent several days charting the U.S. side of the Strait. On the 19th, he was again on the north side and in fact sailed into the Esquimalt harbour. On the 20th, he named it Puerto de Cordova.

Between June 28 and July 22, Quimper’s journal mentions at least 18 contacts with the Indians. He tells of meeting and trading along our coast as well as along the south coast of Juan de Fuca.

The only reference made to the Indians at the Albert Head area was, as previously mentioned, on July 18. On this date Quimper refers to Albert Head as “the Punto de San Miguel.”

During these contacts he refers to trading on one occasion with “as many as eight canoes, with from 15 to 20 Indians in each.” This was probably on the American side. While in the Pedder Bay area on June 29, he mentions, trading with seven canoes.

For trade, he offered pieces of iron cask hoops, beads, and pieces of the “King’s” copper. In return he received “delicious, and abundant fish” including flounder, ray fish, salmon, sea bass, dogfish and crabs. Other exchanges included venison, duck, salmon berries, seeds, bear, buffalo, deer and utter skins, baskets and reed mats of various types.

Describing Juan de Fuca Strait he mentions: “buffalo, stags, deer, wild goats, bears, leopards, foxes, hares and rabbits feed on the luxuriant pastures and uncommonly large partridge, quail and other unknown kinds of little birds and their seeds.”

In the Sooke area he mentions that the Indians number about 500 and live off the seeds. He goes on to say: “They steal and pretend to be friendly. They are lazy and therefore do not make a practice of fishing or hunting.”

Describing the Indian on the U.S. side, he is even more harsh. He states that they “recognize no superior chief and carry on continuous warfare with those on the north side, thus accounting for the fact that the beaches are strewn with the harpooned heads of their enemies.”

In the Neah Bay area he estimates there were about 1,000 Indians.

Source: When glaciers covered Albert Head – Times Colonist The Islander – December 9, 1984 by Bart Armstrong