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Canadian Plates - Minton, Lord Milton's Dessert Service, 1865

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Lord Milton
&
Dr. Cheadle's Great Canadian Adventure

In 1862, a British lord, Viscount Milton and his party, arrived in Canada, determined to cross the wild western plains and Rocky Mountains, with the help of a Métis guide, at a time that it was trackless wilderness. It is a wonder they survived; that they did is, in fact, due to Dr. Cheadle, the party's doctor.

In 1865 Lord Milton commissioned Minton to make this dessert service for him.

Plate - Lord Milton's Dessert Service of his Canadian Trek, 1862-3, Minton 1865
Orig. desert plate - Size - 22.5 cm
Found - Shakespeare, ON
Far left, and far right, Lord Milton, who was of a most frail disposition, being afflicted with epilepsy. Dr. Cheadle is the burly one.

Their expedition was really a tourist romp though they tarted it up as a search for a North-West Passage for a book they wrote afterwards. (Excerpts featured below.)

At the time, Sir John Franklin and his crew, were in the news, looking for a North-West Passage by sea (in 1845), across the Canadian arctic, and had disappeared some fifteen years before. The search was still on, by sea and sledge, far to the north, to find out what had happened to them?

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Sir John Franklin's Jawbone, 1847
Lower jaw - Size - 10 cm
Found - Peffer Point, King William Is, NT
When one compares the two expeditions and their fate - a professionally led, and governmentally funded expedition, of some 125 British sailors who disappeared in the arctic wilderness of Canada, and an amateur party of dilettantes heading across the virtually trackless Canadian Rocky Mountains - one cannot be but amazed at how these two tourists survived.

Just like Sir John's men, whose bones still turn up along the route they took till they dropped from starvation, Milton and Cheadle's bones should have littered the mountain trails.

South of the border it is the stuff of countless movie legends, how immigrants and miners who headed west during the same time period, died like flies from starvation, accidents, or Indian attacks.

That Milton and Cheadle had a relatively peaceful crossing of Canada's Indian territories speaks volumes of the kind of relationship that Hudson Bay Company traders, both white and Métis, had established with the Indian people of the plains, to permit a defenceless pair of English greenhorns make the passage in safety across the wild Canadian west...

Another way that Canada is different from the US...

theCanadaSite.com
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Victorian Plates - 1863

Minton, Western Canada Views of the Milton & Cheadle Trek

These ultra-rare Canadian commemorative plates, featuring topographical views of Lord Milton's trek across the Canadian West, sold for 10,000 pounds (ten thousand pounds or $21,000 Canadian) per plate at Bonham's Auction, UK, in 2002.
Our Party Across the Mountain

The frail-looking Lord Minton and the burly and bearded Dr. Cheadle siting with their Métis guide and his family.

"'The Assiniboine,' although he possessed but one hand - the left one having been shattered by the bursting of a gun, which left but two fingers - was as useful and expert as if he were unmaimed."

Our Night Camp on Eagle River - Expecting the Crees

On the prairies the expedition traded for good horses, but got little sleep, worrying that the Indians would steal them as they grazed away from the camp at night. So they were up all hours of the night to drive them closer in. Lying in the middle of camp, under moonlight, is one of them, rifle in hand, expecting an unwelcome return visit from Crees, to whom they had given presents the day before, near Fort Carleton,.

Left, the Carleton Trail, linking Fort Garry (Winnipeg) with Fort Edmonton. The ruts of the fur trade brigades still visible a hundred plus years later, come down to the South Saskatchewan River at Batoche.

Milton and Cheadle came through here following a trail well marked by the fur trade brigades across the prairies.

This very spot was the centre of the Métis resistance some twenty years later. By then the Métis had a cable ferry on this spot.

A celebrated event occurred on this very spot when the government steamer Northcote tried to put soldiers ashore here. There was much shooting as the Métis lowered the cable bringing down the twin funnels of the steamer, and sending it drifting powerless down river.

The next stop was Fort Edmonton below, visible on the heights across the river, on the same spot where the Alberta legislature now sits.

The trail the party took virtually follows the Yellowhead Highway across the prairies to Jasper, the entrance to the Yellowhead Pass.

But probably at Tete Jaune Cache the party headed south via Kamloops to Victoria.

Fort Edmonton, on the North Saskatchewan

"The establishment at Edmonton is the most important one in the Saskatchewan district, and ... boasts of a windmill, a blacksmith's forge, and carpenter's shop. There are about thirty families living in the Fort, engaged in the service of the Company, and a large body of hunters are constantly employed in supplying the establishment with meat."

Over the Mountain, Near Jasper House

"Jasper House in the distance, 3 miles off; in the valley; road now went nearly straight up the mountainside; and I never had such an awful grind in my life as carrying our heavy load up this mountain side."

The site of Jasper House - where the party stopped to rest and visit with the fur traders who were there - as it looks today, showing the kind of mountains which the group started to encounter as it entered the Rocky Mountains.

They became the first tourists to go through the Yellowhead Pass, which is down the road, today known as Trans-Canada Highway #16, the Yellowhead Highway, to the left, past Jasper a few kilometres further on.

Jasper is a good town to avoid overnighting in. It has the highest priced accommodation of any place in Canada, with the poorest maintained rooms. Having a monopoly on accommodation in a National Park, where new hotel growth - make that competition - is restricted, means you don't need to keep up your services. Our motel was full, atrociously expensive, had 30 watt bulbs, a small and old TV with a clicker that was broken, taps that sputtered, a protesting toilette, and cigarette burns on the coverlets. Plan to stay in Hinton, outside the Park, if you want decent accommodation at reasonable prices. Unless you like roughing it like Milton and Cheadle...

The Trail at an End

Across the prairies there were cart trails, used by fur trade brigades, notably the Carleton Trail from Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to Fort Carleton in northern Saskatchewan, and then to Fort Edmonton, in north central Alberta. But in the mountains the trail would end abruptly, as previous travellers took to boats. Then Milton and Cheadle would have to break trail into mountains where no one else had seen any reasons for going over.

The Assiniboine Rescues Bucephalus

The travellers often had to cross rivers; there were no bridges and fords were not marked. They had to figure out where the shallows were for crossing. They made mistakes. One time the horses were suddenly swept away into deep water and downstream a mile or more. Their Métis guide risked his life to swim Lord Milton's horse back to safety.

"I told Milton the horses had gone into the river & were probably lost, the men discontented, & the best thing & wisest for us to do was to give up quarreling - and do our best to work together or we should be left in a most unpleasant fix.

"The Assiniboine rushed into the frightful current, just reached the horse; carried off his legs & under the belly of the horse, but clung to him desperately & succeeded in bringing him to shallow water by the side - We were much astonished with the bravery of the Assiniboine in facing such a current & rocks as he did, & promised him 5 pounds on the spot."

The terrain inside the Yellowhead Pass beyond Jasper shows the mountains the party had to hike over, and the rivers they had to cross with their animals.

This is the Fraser River over the divide, starting to gather volume as it flows northwest, before turning south to Kamloops, Hope, and Vancouver.

The party was following the Fraser after going through the Yellowhead Pass, so they no doubt passed by this spot.

When full of spring melt water, or heavy with rain, these mountain rivers were treacherous for man and beast alike.

It is somewhere in this neighbourhood that Bucephalus was almost lost. Later another packhorse was swept away with valuable provisions, never to be seen again...

When the party ran out of food, and were faced with starvation, they were forced to kill their packhorse "Blackie." Milton and Cheadle delegated the task of shooting the poor beast to the Assiniboine.

The Headless Indian

The party came upon a dead Indian - the perfect subject for a formal dessert service... providing lots of after dinner conversation...

"The corpse was in a sitting posture, with the legs crossed, and the arms clasped over the knees, bending forward over the ashes of a miserable fire of small sticks. The ghastly figure was headless, and the cervical vertebrae projected dry and bare; the skin, brown and shrivelled, stretched like parchment tightly over the bony framework."

The consensus was that he had probably been killed by, who else, "the Americans," many of whom were travelling or prospecting here and there. Their reputation as ruthless frontier killers made it a normal conclusion. To prove the point, in December 1862, the largest mass hanging in US history took place at Mankato, in Minnesota, when 38 Sioux were hanged together. Others fled to Canada for safety, which became a habit over the following decades, for Indian bands seeking to escape the genocidal US Army.

The Rattlesnake Grade, Pavilion Mountain, BC, 4,000 feet

The only reason that there were any roads in these mountains is because of the Gold Rush. Miners needed a way to bring in their grubstake. As the population of gold seekers built up, entrepreneurs brought in food, clothing, and equipment, to supply the greedy and high-spending miners. Roads were needed for the wagon traffic that resulted, since only limited quantities could be carried on horseback or mules. But the roads were only the minimum they could get away with. Wagons, horses, and mules, often went over the side, along the steep walls along the river.

"After ascending still higher, commence descent of Pavilion by "rattlesnake grade", the most dangerous carriage road I ever saw; the road turns 6 times, is very narrow except at turns, the mountain side terrifically steep. We rattled down at a fearful pace, a wheel coming off, the brake giving way, or a restive horse being almost certain death"

A Way-Side House - Arrival of Miners

"The accommodation along the road was everywhere miserable enough, but after leaving Clinton it became abominable. The only bed was the floor of the "way-side houses," which occur every ten miles or so, and are named the "Fiftieth" or "Hundredth Mile House, according to the number of the nearest mile-post. Our solitary blankets formed poor padding against the inequalities of the rough-hewn boards, and equally ineffectual to keep out the cold draughts which whistled under the ill-fitting door of the hut.

"A way-side house on the road to the mines is merely a rough log hut of a single room; at one end large open chimney, and at the side a bar counter, behind which are shelves with rows of bottles containing the vilest os alcoholic drinks. "

Way-Side House at Midnight

"Stayed for night at 15-mile house; wretched place, no fire, no beds. Milton slept under the counter, I alongside it. Hall on the top; 4 or 5 miners along the floor. - Awful night last night; wind blowing thro' cracks in walls & floor; only one blanket apiece; 20 men in room; one afflicted with cramp in his leg which brought him on his feet swearing every 1/2 hour. Milton & another talking in their sleep; rest snoring; my nose running; little sleep."

Brawls were frequent, like the one they saw at Kamloops.

"Martin lost his temper & shied a cup of tea in Bingham's face, calling him a liar, & McKay a d----d half-breed; at which Bingham retaliated by shying his cup, tea & all, at Martin who responded with his cup. Martin then rushed at the other & there was a regular scuffle for a short time, plates being smashed, victuals upset & an awful mess."

Miners Washing for Gold

"A shaft is sunk to the required depth, and the 'dirt carried up by a bucket raised by a windlass. This is emptied into a long box, called the dump-box, or 'long tom,' having a false bottom of parallel bars, with narrow spaces between them, raised a few inches above the true bottom, across which several cross pieces are placed. A stream of water, brought in a series of troughs called 'flumes,' sometimes for a considerable distance, pours into the dump-box at one end, and runs out by another series of troughs at the other. As the dirt is emptied in, a man armed with a large many-pronged fork stirs it up continually, and removes the larger stones. The smaller particles and the clay are carried down the stream, while the gold, from its greater weight, falls through the spaces."

The Cameron Claim, Williams Creek, Cariboo

The Gold Rush of 1858, along the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and their tributaries, brought in some 25,000 gold-seekers, mostly Americans. Governor James Douglas, based in Victoria, claimed the gold fields for the crown and issued licenses to miners.

The nuggets lying in creek beds were quickly snapped up, and gave way to sluice boxes sifting tons of sand and dirt, and then to underground mines.

Miners worked hard; a few struck it rich; most found only hardship, disease, disaster, drudgery, and failure. But the business men and women, offering services of various kinds, got wealthy, and laid the foundation for the economy of British Columbia.

When the party reached the Cariboo goldfields, the region was all abuzz about the "Cameron" strike. John "Cariboo" Cameron left from Cornwall, Ontario, had brought his pregnant wife, Sophia right, to the Cariboo goldfields. He struck it rich in December 1862; sadly though, Sophia had died of typhoid two months earlier.

Soon his claim was surrounded by a gold rush of its own. In his sorrow he kept digging. His claim was famous throughout the west and got its own plate in the Minton service.

With some $300,000 he returned to Ontario, carrying his wife's preserved body back as well. When he spent it all, he procured a new wife, and returned to the Cariboo in 1886 to try his luck again. He died broke two years later.

Viscount Milton returned to England, his fabled exploits in the wilds of Canada winning him fame that he used to propel himself into the House of Commons as an MP. He espoused liberal causes.

He returned to Canada and was a booster of British Columbia and Canada generally.

Sadly he died young, in 1877, at 38.


Dr. Walter Butler Cheadle coauthored the North-West Passage by Land which went through an amazing 9 editions. Cheadle's Journal was published in 1931, its prose clearly establishing him as the main author of the earlier work, even though the Viscount's name led his on the title page.

Sketches made during the expedition were ultimately used to decorate the dessert service.

Sir Alexander Fleming, who planned the Canadian Pacific Railway route across Canada used their book as a key reference when surveying the best course for the track.

Dr. Cheadle became one of the first fellows of the Royal Geographic Society.

He became an eminent Victorian doctor and was an early proponent of allowing women to enter medial school. He was one of the first lecturers at the London Medical School for Women.

He died in 1910 at the age of 74.


With thanks to James Bisback, for supplying material for this page.

Yale, On the Fraser River

"We arrived at Yale about four o'clock in the afternoon, and immediately ordered the best dinner they could give us at the Colonial Hotel. The house was kept by a Frenchman, who excelled himself on this occasion, and provided a meal which to us, who had not eaten anything deserving the name of a dinner for at least eighteen months, appeared perfection. The champagne, however, and sundry drinks with fraternizing miners, caused us to wake with most tremendous headaches next morning."

The trip was over where the Fraser starts to quieten down as the land starts to flatten enough to permit steamer traffic down to New Westminster and civilization...