by D.W. Higgins
"Honor pricks me on. Yea, but how
if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Call honor
set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a
wound? No. What is honor? A word. What is that word, honor?
Air. Therefore I'll none of it."--Shakespeare.
EARLY on the 19th day of July, in
the year 1858, in company with some twelve hundred other
adventurous spirits who had left California to try their
luck in the Fraser River gold fields, which were then
attracting the attention of the world, I landed from a
rowboat on the waterfront of Esquimalt town. We had followed
in the wake of some 20,000 other gold-seekers. The old
steamer Sierra Nevada, in which we voyaged, was
overladen with freight and passengers, and it seemed a
miracle that she survived the heavy winds and waves that
beset her path. We were nine days on the way--the voyage is
now made with ease by moderately fast vessels in two and a
half days. The discomfort was great. Hundreds of the
passengers--men, women and children--unable to secure berths
or sleeping accommodations of any kind, lay about on the
decks and in the saloons in the abandon of despair and
hopelessness. Only a few escaped an attack of seasickness. I
was among the fortunate ones; having voyaged much in earlier
life I was seasoned to all conditions of weather.
I had a stateroom in which there were three
berths. One of these was occupied by G.B. Wright, who
afterwards rose to eminence on the Mainland as a pioneer
merchant and road builder. He was a bright, energetic man at
that time, young and chock full of enterprise and ability.
The remaining room-mate was a young Englishman who said his
name was Geo. Sloane. He was very intelligent, and having
lately left college in England, was fond of quoting Latin
and Greek phrases and reciting poetry, which he did very
well. In the next room was an American named Johns, whom I
had known at San Francisco; another American named Crickmer,
also a San Francisco acquaintance, and a third young man who
called himself John Liverpool. This last person was English,
he said. He was of a jovial disposition, smoked a good deal
and drank brandy from an earthen gallon jug. He could tell
a good story, and Wright and I--the others being prostrated
with seasickness--used to lean over the rail and listen to
his fund of anecdote and adventure. Sometimes he would make
us laugh immoderately, and at others our hearts would be
stirred with pity as he related some pathetic story of his
About the fifth day out a passenger--a
woman--died, and on the evening of the same day she was
buried at sea, Captain Blethen reading the funeral service
as the corpse, sewed in canvas and weighted with iron, was
shot over the side. I have often wondered how any of us
escaped with our lives. The condition of the ship was
abominable; the water was bad, there was no attempt at
sanitation, and the stench from the hold was unbearable. The
food was wretched, and so the brandy in Mr. Liverpool's jug
was at the ebb-tide mark long before we sighted Cape
On the sixth night the head wind stiffened to
a fierce gale, and in spite of all we could do to reassure
the wretched people on board, many resigned themselves to
their fate and few expected to see land again. That night
two men, who had come aboard healthy and strong, succumbed
and were buried at sea the next morning. The afternoon of
the seventh day was bright and warm. The wind died away, the
sea calmed down and the steamer began to make fairly good
time. The sick people gradually crawled from their hiding
places, looking wan and wretched enough, but loud in the
expression of their thanks that they had come through the
tempest with their lives. Seated on a steamer chair I
presently observed a young woman of eighteen or twenty
years, who had struggled from below. She was pale and thin,
and bore on her face a look of wretchedness and misery. I
got the impression that when in health she must be very
pretty, and I recall that she had a wealth of dark brown
hair, a pair of glorious hazel eyes and regular features.
She sat watching the gulls as they rode on the crests of the
billows, and I thought I had never seen a prettier picture.
I was tempted to speak to her, but as I was on the point of
advancing a burly figure pushed by me and, addressing the
girl, engaged her in conversation. Their tone was low, but
they seemed to be acquainted. Mr. Liverpool, for it was he
who had put my amatory "nose out of joint," hung about her
till bedtime. When Liverpool passed me on the way to his
stateroom, I rallied him as to his pretty acquaintance.
"Yes," said he, "she is pretty. Her name is
Bradford--Miss Bradford. She is very unfortunate. Her
mother was the lady who died and was buried the other day,
and she is alone in the world. I knew them in San Francisco.
The mother kept a boarding-house on Powell Street. They were
on their way to open a boarding-house in Victoria, but of
course that is all over now and she will have to go back."
The next morning I was early on deck and
there sat the pretty girl with the hazel eyes again watching
the gulls as they skimmed over the surface of the waves. The
morning was warm and pleasant, the land was in sight, and
the assurance of the Captain that next day we should be at
Esquimalt brought the color to many pallid cheeks and the
lustre to many dull eyes. At this moment Sloane, advancing
with difficulty along the crowded deck, reached the girl. He
held in one hand a cup of tea and in the other a plate on
which were an orange and some biscuits. As he was about to
hand the articles to the girl, Liverpool, who was standing
near, took the cup and plate and himself handed them to Miss
Bradford. The girl never looked at Liverpool, but she
flashed her beautiful orbs full in Sloane's face, and
thanked him in a low, sweet voice. Sloane, who seemed
somewhat disconcerted at Liverpool's interference, hesitated
a moment and then walked to where Wright and I were watching
"You seem," said I, "to be making progress in
"Well, you see," he replied, "I was up at
dawn, and you know the saying about the early bird, etc. I
have had a long talk with her. Since her mother is dead she
has no friends left except a brother at San Francisco, and
she intends to go back by this very boat. She has no money
either. It was all in her mother's purse, and when she died
money and purse disappeared--stolen by some miscreant. She
is very intelligent, very sweet, and, oh! of such a grateful
and confiding nature. She told me everything about herself
and I know all about her and her belongings."
"Have a care," said Wright. "My experience of
steamboat acquaintances is rather unfavorable."
"My dear fellow," rejoined Sloane, "there are
acquaintances and acquaintances. This girl is as good as
gold. What do you say? Let's start a subscription for her.
I'll give twenty dollars."
The idea was adopted, and in about ten
minutes Sloane was on his way back to the girl with a
considerable sum--I think about one hundred dollars. I
accompanied him. Liverpool stood behind the girl's chair,
conversing with her in a low tone.
"Miss Bradford," began Sloane, speaking very
slowly and very low, blushing like a schoolboy the while, "I
have brought you a small sum as a loan from a few of your
fellow-passengers. You can repay it at your leisure."
He was about to place the coin in the girl's
out-stretched hand when Liverpool wrenched the money from
his grasp and tossed it overboard.
"Look here!" he exclaimed, "this girl is not
a beggar, and if she stands in need of money I have enough
Sloane was speechless with indignation. His
eyes blazed with anger. "You d----d cad," he began, and then
recollecting himself he paused and bit his lip.
"Go on," said Liverpool; "I'm listening."
"Miss Bradford," said Sloane, ignoring
Liverpool, "do you countenance--do you approve of this
I looked at the young woman. Her face had
assumed an ashen hue; her lips were colorless and her
beautiful eyes were filled with tears. She half rose and
then sank back and seemed about to faint.
Sloane still held the reins of his passion
and refused to let it get away with him, but he was livid
with repressed rage.
"Do you," he at last managed to say to Miss
Bradford, "do you approve of this man's beastly conduct? Has
he any right to control your movements, or to say what you
shall or shall not do? Please answer me, and if he has a
claim upon you I will go away and trouble you no more."
The girl rose from the chair and was about to
reply when Liverpool's right arm shot out and his fist
struck Sloane full in the face between the eyes. Sloane
staggered, but he did not fall. In an instant he recovered
his balance, and, quicker than it takes to tell it, he
seized Liverpool by the throat with one hand while with the
other he delivered about a dozen smashing blows in rapid
succession upon his antagonist's face and body. It was all
over in half a minute, and Liverpool, his face streaming
with blood and half dead from the choking and pounding,
dropped into the chair which the girl had vacated as she
fled from the scene. I took Sloane away and got a piece of
raw meat from the steward to bind over his eyes, which were
The next morning the passengers landed at
Esquimalt from the steamer in small boats (there were no
wharves), and having seen nothing of Liverpool and Miss
Bradford since the affray I began to hope that we had heard
the last of them--not because I was not deeply interested
in the fair creature (for I may as well confess that I was),
but I feared if the two men came together again there would
be a tragic outcome. We walked to Victoria in the afternoon
and found the town crowded with gold-seekers. Houses were
few and the whole town-site was covered with miners' tents.
There must have been 10,000 people there at the time of
which I write. Every country on the face of the earth was
represented. The streets and fields were alive with people.
Fort and Yates Streets, from Cook nearly to Quadra, and from
the present line of Fort to Johnson Street, was a big swamp
where pond lilies and cat-tails flourished. At Cook Street
on the East, and James Bay on the south, where the
Government Buildings now stand, there were dense forests of
oak, cedar and fir. The Hillside estate was thickly covered
with standing timber and grouse and deer in large numbers
and an occasional bear could be bagged within a few minutes'
walk of the Finlayson homestead.
Crickmer, Johns and I had brought a tent and
a good supply of food. We pitched, as nearly as I can
remember, in an open space near where the Dominion Hotel
stands. Sloane we invited to camp with us. Although he was a
casual acquaintance we liked him from the start, and his
plucky display of science when he beat John Liverpool
endeared him to us. The first night we slept on a bed of fir
boughs. In the morning we built a fire, and Crickmer, who
was a good cook and had been accustomed to camping out,
began to prepare the morning meal. Presently he came inside
and lowering the flap of the tent said: "Boys, who do you
think are our next door neighbors? Guess."
We all gave it up, and he exclaimed,
"Liverpool and Miss Bradford occupy the next tent."
Sloane sprang to his feet with a furious
oath, exclaiming, "If he has wronged that girl I'll kill
"Nonsense," said I; "when you've been on the
Coast a little longer you will not make such a fuss about
people you chance to meet when travelling. What is she to
Crickmer and Johns took the same view, and we
extracted from Sloane a solemn promise that he would not
speak to Miss Bradford if he met her and that he would not
notice Liverpool under any circumstances.
As we concluded our conversation the flap of
the tent was raised and a broad, good-natured face appeared
at the opening.
"Boys," the face said, "I've been here a
month. I know all about everybody. I live next tent on the
north, and anything I can do to help you, ask me. I want to
warn you. I saw a bad San Francisco man pass here a moment
ago. He disappeared in one of the tents. Keep a close watch
Little did we think at the time that the bad
man was Sloane's steamboat antagonist.
We ate our meal in silence, and then walked
to Government Street to enjoy the sights and sounds that are
inseparable from a mining boom. About the noon hour we ate
luncheon at the Bayley Hotel, where the Pritchard house now
stands. The luncheon cost each man a dollar, and for a glass
of water with which to wash down the food each paid John C.
Keenan, who kept bar at the Bayley, fifteen cents. Water was
scarce and just as dear as Hudson's Bay rum; and as for
baths--well, there was the harbor. A bath of fresh water at
that time would have been as costly as the champagne bath at
Winnipeg in 1882, which a man took to commemorate a big
real estate deal, at $5 a bottle!
We returned to the tent about five o'clock in
the evening and set about preparing our dinner of bacon and
beans and flapjacks. Presently, Liverpool and Miss Bradford
appeared. The girl seemed ashamed and hurrying into their
tent did not appear again.
Johns and I had arranged to meet Wright at
seven o'clock and attend a minstrel show at the Star and
Garter Hotel, which stood on Government Street upon the site
now occupied by the old Masonic Temple. So we sauntered down
the road to keep the appointment. What happened after we
left the tent was told us by Crickmer amid tears and sobs,
for his was a very nervous and emotional temperament. He
said that as he and Sloane sat about the camp fire smoking
their pipes after we had gone Liverpool came out of his
tent. His face bore the marks of his severe punishment.
Sloane's eyes were also black. Liverpool, who was
accompanied by three or four evil-looking men, his voice
quivering with passion, said to Sloane:
"I demand satisfaction for the injury you
have done me."
Sloane rose slowly to his feet and, keeping
his eyes full on the other's face, replied, "I have done you
"You have," said Liverpool, passionately.
"You insulted my wife by offering her money, and you beat me
like a dog when I refused to let her take it."
"I did not know she was your wife," said
"She wasn't then, but she is now. I married
her this morning," returned Liverpool.
"What do you want me to do?" asked Sloane.
"I want you to fight me--now--here--this
minute. Get your pistol."
"I have done you no wrong, and I won't fight
you; besides, I have no pistol," said Sloane.
"Then I'll brand you as a liar and coward,
and will kill you, too."
"Take care, Liverpool," said Sloane. "Don't
go too far."
"Go too far! Why, man, if anything I can do
or say will make you fight I'll say and do it. Take that,"
and the ruffian spat full in the other's face.
"Give me a revolver!" exclaimed Sloane,
enraged beyond control. "I'll fight you; but it must be with
the understanding that after we have fought I shall be
troubled no more."
"Yes," said Liverpool, his every word seeming
to carry a hiss, "after you have fought me you will be
troubled no more."
The awful significance of this remark was
realized later on.
Crickmer said he clung to Sloane and implored
him not to fight. But the Englishman's blood was up, and he
struggled like a wounded tiger. Two of Liverpool's
companions dragged Crickmer, who was little and frail, aside
and threatened to shoot him if he interfered further.
A crowd of miners had been attracted to the
spot by the loud talking, and one of them unbuckled his
waist strap and handed Sloane a six-shooter.
"It's a good one and never misses," the miner
said. "Do you want a second?"
"Yes; will you act?" asked Sloane.
The miner consented. Liverpool chose one of
the evil-looking men as his second, and the principals and
seconds, followed by a gang of several hundred campers,
repaired quickly to an open space where Rae Street now runs,
and beneath the very shadow of the English Colonial Church
ten paces were stepped off and the men took their places.
Liverpool, winning the choice of position, stood with his
back to the sun, a manifest advantage. As for Sloane, the
glory of the departing sun shone full on his face. The music
of birds was in his ears. Sweet wild flowers bloomed about
him. He took all these in with a sweeping glance, and for a
moment turned and gazed at the old church. Perhaps a vision
of his childhood days, when a fond mother directed his
footsteps to the House of Prayer, swept across his mind. The
next instant he faced his adversary, dauntless and cool.
"Gentlemen, are you ready?" asked one of the
"Ready," both responded.
There were two reports, but only one bullet
found its billet. With a loud cry of agony Sloane fell
forward. He had been shot through the heart.
The sun sank behind the Metchosin Mountains,
and the chill evening breeze swept across Church Hill and
sighed a requiem through the branches of the tall pines. The
midsummer moon rose in all its splendor over the tops of the
trees, and its soft rays fell upon Something lying there
still and cold--Something that a short while before was an
animated human being, full of hope and promise and
chivalry; now, alas! dead to all things earthly. The scene
was deserted by every living thing, and the dew of heaven,
like angels' tears, had fallen on the stricken youth's form
and bathed his face and hair ere the police appeared and
bore the body to town.
As Johns, Wright and I came out of the show
place, two hours later, we saw a stream of excited men and
women passing along. "A man has been shot dead," said one of
the passers-by. We followed the crowd to the corner, and
with some difficulty elbowed our way into a deserted
building. Our feelings may well be imagined when we saw our
late steamer acquaintance and tent mate, whom we had left a
short time before, lying dead on the floor. An inquest was
held and a verdict of "wilful murder" was returned. But the
surviving principal, the seconds and Miss Bradford were
gone, and no man could be found who would acknowledge that
he saw the duel. All who had not run off were struck
suddenly blind, deaf. and dumb.
When we came to prepare the poor youth for
the grave, the man who had given us the warning as to the
presence of a bad character helped. We had asked a
Presbyterian minister to read the service, but we found a
gold medallion of the Holy Virgin and the Child suspended by
a chain about the neck of the corpse, so the Bishop of the
Catholic mission read the funeral service of his Church over
the remains. Nothing was found in the dead man's travelling
bag to indicate who he was. We only knew that he was a brave
young English gentleman who had been done to death by a
bloodthirsty ruffian through a mistaken idea of what
And John Liverpool and Miss Bradford, did you
ever hear of them again? you ask. Yes; John Liverpool was
in reality "Liverpool Jack," a noted California outlaw, who
immediately on his return to San Francisco murdered the mate
of a British ship and was executed with neatness and
despatch by the authorities there. Crickmer, whose terrible
experience while here prompted him to take the next boat for
home, wrote me some years later that he often saw the girl
with the wealth of hair and glorious eyes flitting along the
pavements at night like an evil spirit.
And so ends the story of British Columbia's
first and only duel.