James Douglas

James Douglas (1803 - 1877)

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Sir James Douglas
Born in Demerara, Netherlandsmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 27 Apr 1828 in British Columbia Canadamap
Descendants descendants
Died in Victoria, British Columbia, Canadamap
Profile last modified 29 Jan 2019 | Created 28 Jul 2015
This page has been accessed 2,837 times.



James Douglas is/was a significant British Columbian.
Sir James Douglas was Governor of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, and considered by many to be the "father of British Columbia."[1][2][3]


James Douglas was born August 15, 1803 in Demerara, then a colony of the Netherlands, and is now part of Guyana.[1] (His death record lists Scotland as his place of birth.)[4] His father, John Douglas, was a Scottish planter and merchant from Glasgow, Scotland.[2] His mother was Martha Ann Ritchie, a Creole of mixed race from Barbados.[2] His parents were never married, but did have three children together.[3]

James attended school in Lanark, beginning around age 12.[2] He found himself regularly in conflicts, fighting his way through school.[2] He also had a French Huguenot tutor while in Chester, England.[2] His grasp of the French language would help him later in the fur trade.[2]

James was part of the Reformed Episcopalian Church.[4]

James married Amelia Connolly, daughter of William Connolly, who he had accompanied on a fur brigade to Vancouver, on 27 August 1828.[1][2] The marriage was confirmed in 1837.[2] Their children included Cecelia (Douglas) Helmcken[1], James William Douglas[1], and Martha (Douglas) Harris[1].

James was described as a "stout, powerful, active man of good conduct and respectable abilities."[2] He was also known for his raging temper, though.[2] Later he would even be considered "pompous" and inclined to despotism, as well as aloof.[2]


Preceded by
Richard Blanshard
Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island
October 30, 1851 – March 25, 1864
Succeeded by
Arthur Kennedy
Preceded by
Office Established
Governor of the Colony of British Columbia
November 19, 1858 – April 21, 1864
Succeeded by
Frederick Seymour

He began his career at age 16, apprenticed to the North West Company, which was involved in the fur trade.[1][2] It would merge with the Hudson's Bay Trading Company in 1821.[2] James became Chief Trader at Fort Vancouver (now part of the state of Washington, USA) in 1835.[1] In 1839, he was made Chief Factor.[1] Once it appeared Fort Vancouver would become part of the young United States, he moved onto Fort Victoria to build it up.[1] This led to him being considered the founder of Victoria.[1] He went on to help the Hudson's Bay Trading Company establish something of a trading monopoly in the Pacific Northwest.[2]

He would go on to become the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island after the original choice vacated, not happy with the treatment of miners or indigenous people in the region.[1][2] James had antiquated views about the rights of the population and genuinely thought that people wanted to have a ruling class governing their lives, instead of individual rights.[2]

The gold rush changed the way Douglas did things, and Great Britain insisted on the changes in order to accommodate incoming gold seekers from California, removing much of the favour bestowed upon the HBC previously.[2] Insisting he sever his ties with the fur trade, Douglas was offered the role of first Colonial Governor of the Colony of British Columbia in 1858.[1][2] His primary concern during his governorship was maintaining peace between the indigenous people and the miners.[2] Douglas also encouraged a large number of black settlers from California to move to British Columbia in order to try to maintain a balance between American Gold Rush immigrants and those who were loyal to Great Britain.[5]

At the end of his career, Queen Victoria promoted his position in the Order of the Bath to Knight Commander.[3][2]


James died in Victoria, British Columbia on August 2, 1891 of a heart attack.[4][1], and was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria[1][3] On his death certificate, James's occupation is listed as "Knight Commander of the Bath, + Late Governor of British Columbia".[4]

Many places were named for him throughout British Columbia, to honor his time spent as the "Father" of the region.[3]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Find A Grave Memorial# 2548: Sir James Douglas
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 Ormsby, Margaret A., “Sir James Douglas”, in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Toronto, ON: Historica Canada (2008) Accessed July 1, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/douglas_james_10E.html.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Wikipedia: James Douglas (governor)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Registration of Death for James Douglas, Event Type: Death, Registration Number: 1877-09-001090, BC Archives Mfilm Number: B13077, GSU Mfilm Number: 1927287, Event Date: 1877-08-02, Event Place: VICTORIA, Age at Death: 74, Person: JAMES DOUGLAS, Vital Stat Images(s): 004438045_00128.jpg, BC Archives - Royal BC Museum.
  5. Kilian, Crawford, "Sir James Douglas: Colonial Governor", Library and Archives of Canada. Accessed 11 July 2017.

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