From HistoryLink.org the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History
From the University of Victoria - Writings on vaccination vs inoculation regarding Small Pox in the area. - click here
Words directly attributed to Dr. Helmcken - http://bcheritage.ca/salish/trad/jshelm.htm
This is a collection of evidence, extracts, to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the first settlers at Victoria, specifically the 'white' government of the day, targeted the Indians of the Sacred Circle for extermination.
At the present rate of mortality, not many months can
elapse "ere the Northern Indians of this coast will exist only in story." The Daily British Colonist, June 21, 1862, p. 3.
The Hon. John S. Helmcken, photographed by William J. Topley, circa 1854. by Wikipedia
After most of the northern tribes were forced from Victoria, the (Victoria)
Daily Press published an editorial titled "The Indian Mortality." It said in
"... What will they say in England? when it is known that an Indian population was fostered and encouraged round Victoria, until the small-pox was imported from San Francisco.
"They, when the disease raged amongst them, when the unfortunate wretches were dying by scores, deserted by their own people, and left to perish in the midst of a Christian community that had fattened off them for four years - then the humanizing influence of our civilized Government comes in - not to remedy the evil that it had brought about - not to become the Good Samaritan, and endeavor to ameliorate the effects of the disease by medical exertion, but to drive these people away to death, and to disseminate the fell disease along the coast.
"To send with them the destruction perhaps of the whole Indian race in the British Possessions on the Pacific .... There is a dehumanizing fatuity about this treatment of the natives that is truly horrible ... How easy it would have been to have sent away the tribes when the disease was first noticed in the town, and if any of the Indians had taken the infection, to have had a place where they could have been attended to, some little distance from Victoria, until they recovered as they in all probability would have done with medical aid.
"By this means the progress of the disease would at once been arrested, and the population saved from the horrible sights, and perhaps dangerous effects, of heaps of dead bodies putrifying [sic] in the summer's sun, in the vicinity of town ... The authorities have commenced the work of extermination - let them keep it up .... Never was there a more execrable Indian policy than ours." (Daily Press, June 17, 1862 in Boyd, p. 182-183, endnote 7).
Full Knowledge of the Consequences
In June 1862, The Daily British Colonist, noting the devastation of the Indians up to that time, stated the obvious inevitable consequences of these escorted canoes. Referring to a group of Haida who recently departed Victoria, the newspaper wrote:
"How have the mighty fallen! Four short years ago, numbering their braves by thousands, they were the scourge and terror of the coast; today, broken-spirited and effeminate, with scarce a corporal's guard of warriors remaining alive, they are proceeding northward, bearing with them the seeds of a loathsome disease that will take root and bring both a plentiful crop of ruin and destruction to the friends who have remained at home. At the present rate of mortality, not many months can elapse 'ere the Northern Indians of this coast will exist only in story.'" (The Daily British Colonist, June 21, 1862, p. 3; Boyd, p. 173, 229).
The Smallpox Vaccine
The smallpox vaccine was discovered in England in 1798 and first used in the Puget Sound area in 1837. On March 18, 1862, when The Daily British Colonist published confirmation of smallpox in Victoria, the paper made the following statement:
"[W]e advise our citizens ... to proceed at once to a physician and undergo vaccination ... from the loathsome disease ..." (The Daily British Colonist, March 18, 1862, p. 3).
Between March 18 and April 1, 1862, The Daily British Colonist reiterated to the citizens of Victoria at least five times the importance of getting vaccinated. The paper estimated that by April 1, one-half of the "resident Victorians" were vaccinated. In 1862, Victoria, the largest town north of the Columbia River, had a white population of from 2,500 to 5,000. The nearby Indian population was about the same size. There were probably at least 2,000 Northern Indians [all whose origins were from the coastal communities between northern Vancouver Island and Alaska] camping on the outskirts of Victoria, plus at least 1,600 local Indians who lived nearby.
Initially no demands were made to vaccinate these local groups. By March 27, 1862, Dr. John Helmcken (1824-1920), Hudson's Bay Company physician, had vaccinated about 30 local resident Songhees Indians, who constituted less than 1 percent of the nearby natives.
The Songhees Were Saved
On April 1, 1862, 18 days after the Brother Jonathan departed, the first reports were published of an Indian, who lived in town, with smallpox. The Victoria authorities and residents did not react. As the virus spread it would be more than two weeks before the local newspapers reported local Indians receiving additional vaccines. On April 16, Dr. Helmcken vaccinated another 30 Indians. By April 25, The Daily British Colonist reported that since the outbreak Dr. Helmcken had vaccinated "over 500 natives" (April 26, 1862, p. 3).
Apparently, the doctor distributed most of his vaccine to the Songhees, a local tribe that resided near Victoria. Soon after smallpox symptoms emerged at the Northern Indian encampment, the Songhees departed their Vancouver Island village(s) en masse to a nearby island in Haro Strait. Because of the vaccinations and the tribe's self-imposed quarantine, the Songhees survived the epidemic with few deaths (Boyd, 176, 177, 183).
Was There a Shortage of Vaccine?
It is unknown how large a supply of the smallpox vaccine was kept at Victoria. Boyd states that the vaccine was "available, though in short supply" (Boyd, p. 172). Possibly there was a shortage of vaccine when the smallpox epidemic started.
According to Boyd, Anglican missionary Alexander Garrett stated in his Reminiscences that there was not enough vaccine "within seven hundred miles to go around" (Boyd p 178-9).
Still, during the entire run of the epidemic The Daily British Colonist did not mention a vaccine shortage at any time. On the contrary, during the last half of March, after the first smallpox case was discovered, the paper mentioned numerous times the availability of the vaccine. In mid-June, about when the Indian epidemic along the coast reached its height, The Daily British Colonist (June 14, 1862) asked why "our philanthropists" and "missionaries" had not started "vaccinating the poor wretches" in mid-April?
If there was a vaccine shortage, it was just temporary. Apparently, by May 1, 1862, at the latest, there was plenty of vaccine to go around. During the first half of May 1862, Father Leon Fouquet, a Catholic Missionary, reportedly vaccinated 3,400 Indians along the lower Fraser River. At the same time, other missions along both sides of the Strait of Georgia and in Puget Sound received supplies to vaccinate nearby tribes people. The ravages of the epidemic bypassed these vaccinated groups (The Daily British Colonist, March 18, 26, 27, 28, 1862, April 1, 1862, June 14, 1862; Boyd, p. 183-184).
The Epidemic Could Have Been Stopped
In the spring of 1862, the government body that administered authority over Victoria was the House of Assembly of the Colony of Vancouver Island (in 1866 Vancouver Island merged with the mainland colony of British Columbia). The town of Victoria had not incorporated, so had no town council and no mayor. At least two members of the House of Assembly, along with the Governor of the Colony, undoubtedly were aware of the obvious consequences of not immunizing the Indians, and not placing them under quarantine.
In 1862, Dr. William Tolmie (1812-1886) and Dr. John Helmcken were both legislators in the Vancouver Island Assembly, Helmcken serving as Speaker, one of the highest elected positions in the Colony. The Hudson's Bay Co. hired William Tolmie in 1833 and John Helmcken in 1850 as physicians.
In 1837, reports reached Fort Vancouver of smallpox in northern British Columbia. Before the disease reached Puget Sound, Hudson's Bay Co. dispatched Tolmie to vaccinate the Indians near Fort Nisqually. By mid-July 1837, he had inoculated all the women and children and probably most of the men. In 1853 Tolmie again helped vaccinate "large numbers" of Indians near Fort Nisqually during a smallpox epidemic centered along Washington Territory's Pacific coast (Boyd, 170). John Helmcken also served as HBC physician for a number of years, and then continued in private practice until he retired in 1910. They were both well aware of the issues surrounding smallpox.
Governor James Douglas Proposes Action
Shortly after the smallpox outbreak, James Douglas, the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, submitted a proposal to the House of Assembly regarding smallpox. James Douglas had arrived on the coast in 1826 and was familiar with two previous Indian epidemics on the coast (1836-37 smallpox and 1847-48 measles). In his March 27, 1862, proposal to the Assembly he noted that because "several cases" of smallpox had occurred it "is desirable that instant measures should be adopted to prevent the spread of the infection ..." and "strongly recommended" that the House immediately appropriate funds to build a hospital in a isolated location for all cases of smallpox (Journal of the Colonial Legislatures ... vol. 2, p. 350).
Dr. Helmcken and Others Oppose Action
Four days later, the nine-member House of Assembly, including Speaker Helmcken and Tolmie, met and considered the Governor's proposal recommending a smallpox hospital and "compelling" all patients to be sent there. According to a newspaper account, Speaker Dr. Helmcken stated he was against a fully staffed hospital and against forcing all cases of smallpox to go there. The doctor expressed concern about the cost of establishing and operating the hospital and that it would interfere with the liberty of the patients. Helmcken went even further and chastised the Governor for being an alarmist about the disease.
The majority of the other members agreed with Mr. Helmcken. The members did vote to construct a "suitable building" near the present hospital for white smallpox patients, but did not require them to go. The Assembly also rejected the establishment of a quarantine for the same reasons - cost and restricting liberty. Apparently only one member, Mr. Burnaby, spoke out in favor of a fully staffed Smallpox Hospital and the quarantine. The newspaper account did not mention any discussion about what to do to prevent smallpox from infecting the Indians (The Daily British Colonist, March 28, 1862, April 1, 1862).
This inaction of the Assembly and other government officials sealed the fate of nearly every group of Northwest Coast Indians from Sitka to northern Vancouver Island and south into the Puget Sound area. Robert Boyd estimates that from April 1862 to about the end of year, more than 14,000 Indians died of smallpox and untold hundreds of survivors were disfigured for life. Boyd states unequivocally: "This [Indian] epidemic might have been avoided, and the Whites knew it" (Boyd p 172).
The paper remarked on the consequences of the authorities' intentional refusal to act to vaccinate and quarantine the Indians:
"Were it likely that the disease would only spread among the Indians, there might be those among us like our authorities who would rest undisturbed, content that the small-pox is a fit successor to the moral ulcer that has festered at our doors. ... [But] chances are that the pestilence will spread among our white population [because] ... [t]he Indians have free access to the town day and night. They line our streets, fill the pit in our theatre, are found at nearly every open door ... in the town; and are even employed as servants in our dwellings, and in the culinary departments of our restaurants and hotels" (The Daily British Colonist, April 28, 1862, p. 2).
In the doctor's own words:
"Hyder [Haida] women and men came in flocks, to go away ruined forever, Indians from the North West coast met with the same fate, from which they have never and never will recover. In process of time Chinese women came and they in some measure took the business of the local Indians, Haidas, Chimpsehans [Tsimshians] and so forth and to end the matter the small pox and local demands drove them home in their own canoes, and hundred perished on their way to their own country. I may say here they nearly every Indian attacked with small pox died, whether he was taken care of in the Indian small pox hospital or not, and it was also said whether he had been vaccinated or not.
"I do not believe the last assertion because the Songish [Songhees] Indians kept comparatively free from the disease and many of them at various times had been successfully vaccinated by me, arm to arm."
Has the prevailing attitude changed much today?
Allowing and continuing to name anything in Victoria, the
Capital of BC, after this man (ie Helmcken Road General Hospital, Helmcken
Memorial in Clearwater) is akin to naming things in Germany after Dr. Joseph
Did he know better, or was it intentional?
He was hired aboard the Hudson's Bay Company's Prince Rupert as a ship's surgeon on its 1847 voyage to York Factory, Rupert's Land. After completing his certification at Guy's Hospital, he travelled to India and China. He had intended to join the Navy, but was persuaded instead to join the HBC in 1849 as a physician and clerk on to be stationed on Vancouver Island. On the long voyage, smallpox broke out aboard ship, but Helmcken handled the situation ably, and only a single life was lost.
Hmmmm, one can only wonder. Consider this - His success in preventing the spread of smallpox among the whites on the ship was a dozen years prior to his failure to take measures to stop the spread of the disease among the Sacred Circle natives. Only one conclusion can be had - His and the government he was the 'speaker' for, considered the highest post, - had but one intention, the death and destruction of the Northern tribes.
Still today these people from the Nations of the Sacred Circle are relegated to the shadows, their tragedies ignored. While Indians across Canada stand up and demand recognition for the harm done over the course of the last 300 to 400 years, the harm in the Sacred Circle is so fresh it remains difficult for the surviving elders to speak of it. Those who had their children abducted, their villages burned, their daughters raped and murdered, are still alive living with the pain right now.
It remains an ongoing tragedy that the efforts of the Idle No More movement east of the Ominica Mountain Range does not come close to addressing. The genocide continues today. These are not; Cree, Sioux, Apache, or Iroquois. They are the people of Demalahamid, Temlaham. They are the; Nisgaa, Tahltan, Gitxsan, Wetsuweten, Haisla, Haida, Tlingit and the Tsimshian. The once most respected and admired traders in the Pacific Northwest. A unique totem culture based strictly on a Matriarchal, Matrilineal hierarchy with government structures based on feasting and decency. Something the British and Canadian governments abhorred and continue to destroy today.
The only reference to address the source of the women in the recently released government report on the missing and murdered women from the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, was encouraging a transit bus system along the highway of tears. These women were the potential authority, the matriarchs. A bus? The government offers these women who had their children ripped from their arms, their communities burned, their ancestors graves disturbed, are offered a bus?