The Colonial Despatches of BC and Vancouver Island

This digital archive contains the original correspondence between the British Colonial Office and the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. This project aims to digitize and publish online a complete archive of the correspondence covering the period from 1846 leading to the founding of Vancouver Island in 1849, the founding of British Columbia in 1858, the annexation of Vancouver Island by British Columbia in 1866, and up to the incorporation of B.C. into the Canadian Federation in 1871.

We currently have an archive of transcriptions of over 7,000 documents comprising despatches sent between the Colonial Office in London and the various governors of the Vancouver Island and BC provinces, along with ancillary correspondence. These are marked up in TEI P5, and are in various stages of completion. There are also nearly 40,000 page images of the original documents which we are linking into the transcriptions. In addition, we are creating a large collection of short biographies of people, descriptions of places, and information about seagoing vessels mentioned in the documents. There are, for instance, 294 complete biographies, with a further 663 awaiting completion (for the period 1848-1861).

It is difficult to imagine a collection of documents more significant in the history of a Canadian province than the collection represented here. The entire history of Vancouver Island and B.C., from 1846 to 1871, is represented here, in the words of those most intimately concerned with the governance and development of the land, its resources, and its population. But these documents are not only historically important; they are also enthralling and absorbing. Here are adventures and exploration, financial windfalls and disasters, conflicts, smuggling, and even murder. Look into this collection for fifteen minutes, and you will surely find yourself drawn into the stories of the early settlers and the First Nations people of 19th-century B.C.


Kinds of collaborators
Individual/small group
Graduate students
Undergraduate students
IT staff
Help description
Among many collaborators, this project has benefited from the work of four Professional Writing students from the University of Victoria, who have worked with us as part of a Directed Reading course. They have been responsible for a range of different contributions, but primarily the creation of biographies and place descriptions. We are hoping for collaboration from other Professional Writing units in other institutions who may be looking for opportunities for their students to work on a real Digital Humanities project, where their work will form part of a respected online publication, and they will be publicly credited for their contributions. In addition to the biographies, we are also creating brief abstracts for each document; these are so far completed up to 1852. Writing abstracts requires a degree of immersion in the documents, and a relatively deep understanding of the historical context, so this kind of work would suit graduate students in History who have an interest in the period. Finally, we need proofreading help with documents from 1858 onwards. This involves checking the transcription against the original page-images, and correcting or enhancing the transcription text and the TEI P5 XML markup.
Contact person
Help needed

Project Collaborators