Second Expedition

The Second Expedition

Shortly after his return, Palliser began to consider further exploration of the North American Rocky Mountain area. To advance his prospects he sought, and was granted, membership of the The Royal Geographic Society on the 24th of November 1856.  Early in 1857 Henry Labouchere, Secretary of State for the Colonies, [1798-1869] on the recommendation of Sir Roderick Murchison President of Royal Geographical Society [1792-1871] commissioned an expedition under Palliser for which £5000 was allocated. Charles Darwin was consulted on the tasks to be assigned and the membership of the team.  The motivation of the Foreign Service was to,

“annex the vast territories within the monopoly of the Hudson Bay Company, from the hydrographic basin of the Hudson’s Bay to the Pacific Ocean and from the American Border to the Arctic”

But to justify this they needed to know the potential value of the territory and so key considerations were that they be informed of the populations of fauna, the potential for roads the navigability of rivers, and the possibilities for farming and mining.
Palliser was to be leader.  He was to be assisted by Lieutenant Thomas Wright Blakiston (12)  [1832-1891]Royal Artillery a specialist in magnetic variations; ornithologist Mr. Eugėne  Bourgeau (13)  [1813-1877] as Botanist; John William Sullivan as secretary and astronomer; & Dr James Hector (14) [1834-1907]  as geologist.
Leaving Liverpool, Palliser passed through New York, Niagara Falls, and Detroit before crossing Lake Superior.  The expedition itself commenced on the 21st of July 1857 from Lower Fort Garry on the Red River and was joined by Métis guide James McKay.  They travelled together and in smaller functional groups as the need arose.  Commenting on this first foray Palliser later said,

“The whole of the country which I have travelled from the Columbia to the westward is auriferous there was hardly a creek of any importance in which more or less gold cannot be washed.  This has rendered the process for all articles of clothing, food etc. enormous,[…] Articles of clothing and food are the only pay with which you can engage Indians for a journey.  Money cannot circulate in this country owing in a great measure to the absence of coin.” [Palliser 1860, 16]

(12) Blakiston was the son of Major John Blakiston and Jane Wright.  He married Ann Mary Dunn and they had two children.
(13) Bourgeau was born in France and carried out significant botanical research in Spain, North Africa and the Canary Islands.
 
(14)  It was a kick received by Hector which led to the naming of Kicking Horse Pass and River.  He was later knighted by Queen Victoria.

Victorian Adventurer

For a Victorian adventurer he displayed significant sympathy for the native Indians then ravaged by smallpox when “McKay told him that half the Indians tenting round Fort Ellice the year before had died from it.” (15)

He displayed his affinity for his task when towards the end of the first year,

“Captain Palliser suddenly walked in upon us, silently as an Indian.  He was walking in advance of his party, as the horses had all broken down, and they were bringing them slowly on, while he kept ahead in order to have a better chance of killing game…They had travelled pretty much in this style all the way from Red River, a distance of 550 miles” (16) 

His appreciation of the Indians was later evidenced again when having given them clothes,

“They thought themselves very fine, but anyone observing their awkward constrained appearance now, contrasted with the east dignity with which they made up to great us clothed in their own apparel a short while previous, would indeed have considered the change one for the worse.” (17) 

Palliser River in the Western Rockies was like Palliser Bay and Palliser Range just one of the local areas named after members of the party. Palliser’s reports issued in 1859, 1860 and 1863 as well as a map published in 1865 “provided the first environmental and human observations ever published on the southern prairies and the Rocky Mountains of Canada.” He also identified “Palliser’s Triangle” a short grass prairie in Southern Alberta.  His conclusions were presented to the British Parliament in 1862.
The expedition was, even as Palliser himself modestly stated, successful in its central objectives:  a route was found to the Pacific but

 “I consider this fact established, viz., that a line for a route has been discovered from Red River Settlement to the west coast of the continent, and that line moreover entirely within British territory, yet, I wish [it] distinctly to be understood that I think it far from being the best that could be discovered.  Time did not admit of a series of attempts in a more northerly direction.” (18) 

They had accumulated a “wealth of new scientific and geographical knowledge, the expedition had made a careful study of the ‘capabilities’ of the country it had traversed – as well as making it clear to the United States authorities that Great Britain had an interest in these Indian territories.” (19)  In his analysis of the Palliser Triangle he accurately suggested its capacity for agriculture but also its vulnerability to extensive farming, a prediction confirmed by its status as a dustbowl in the 1930s but now again hugely productive using modern methods for wheat production.
Spry has suggested that,

“Perhaps the most important thing Palliser’s expedition did was to travel through the heart of the Plains Indians’ territory without getting into a fight, even with the proud independent, and warlike Blackfoot, Bloods, Piegans and Sarcees” (20) 

For his endeavours Palliser was awarded the Patron or Victoria Gold medal of the Royal Geographical society for his survey of 1859.  He was also elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and on the 30th May 1877 the Companionship of St. Michael & St George.


 (15) Spry, Irene M.  The Palliser expedition: The dramatic story of Western Canadian exploration 1857-1860.  Canada: Fifth House Publishers, 1995 pg. 65
 (16) Do pg. 86
 (17) Do pg. 234
 (18) Do pg. 288
 (19) Do pg. 294
 (20) Do pg. 296

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