Not all of our pioneers were heroes

Only a small creek in the Malahat District recalls this tragic pioneer who became an embarrassment to his peers.

July 30, 1864 – His Excellency has been pleased to appoint Mr. Richard Golledge to be Acting Gold Commissioner for Sooke mining district.

July 31, 1884 – Richard Gollage [sic], who 27 years ago was the private secretary of Governor [James] Douglas, and was afterwards a gold commissioner and a justice of the peace to the province, was convicted before Mr. Justice Fisher of Esquimalt on Tuesday of stealing an Indian canoe…

What could better depict the downfall of pioneer Richard Golledge than these two news briefs of exactly 20 years apart? From having had a position in the highest office in the land, poor Richard’s fortunes had deserted him. Or, as a journalist so succinctly summarized his career, "Fallen so low!" Today little is known of the man who for seven years served as private secretary to the remarkable Sir James Douglas. It seems quite apparent that, embarrassed by his antics in later years, his former peers and acquaintances did their best to forget him. Only the briefest mention, and then only in reference to his official capacities, is made of him in records or in personal memoirs.

It is known that he came to outpost Vancouver Island in 1851 when about 20 years old as an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Co. On one point few disagree: Richard Golledge was of a respectable family and he’d enjoyed a full education.

Which no doubt qualified him, from his arrival in Victoria until 1858, to serve as Douglas’s secretary, attending to the hundred and one minor details which daily beset the austere colonial governor. With 1858 he left Douglas, it not being known whether by resignation or dismissal, and isn’t mentioned again until the July 1864 announcement of his appointment by Gov. A.E.

Kennedy, Douglas’s successor, as acting gold commissioner in the then-booming Leech River diggings.

On Aug. 4, Golledge, apparently fulfilling his new duties enthusiastically, sent his second despatch to Gov. Kennedy in which he outlined the events taking place on Leech River where the discovery of gold had drawn hundreds of fortune seekers to this latest El Dorado. Golledge seems to have been caught up in the excitement, breathlessly reporting: "I have the honour to report that affairs are progressing in a very satisfactory manner, both in regard to the finding of good paying prospects, the numbers of miners gradually coming upstream, and the working of the present mining

regulations." One of the Sooke River miners mentions Golledge in his memoirs: "…Quite young, violently red-haired…inexperienced," and treated with bemusement or open disdain by many of the miners when he tried to collect licence fees. His pencil seemed to be ever in need of sharpening and when a prospector ignored his request of a pen-knife, Golledge haughtily identified himself as the Gold Commissoner.

When the man and his companion met this declaration with sarcasm then indifference, Golledge slunk away.

The fortunes of the Leech River, like those of Richard Golledge, were fleeting. When next we hear of the former gold commissioner, he’d been arrested for stealing a canoe for which Justice Fisher fined him $10. The Colonist had had enough of his antics and identified the source of his difficulties: "…It is hoped that Golledge will quit the province of his presence which has become very distasteful to respectable people. [He] received the education of a gentleman, was highly educated and connected. He took to drink and prowling about Indian villages nearly 20 years ago, and has become a confirmed vagrant."

But Richard didn’t quit the province until three years later by dying of "heart disease" in St. Joseph’s Hospital. A respectful obituary mentioned only his former positions as governmental secretary and gold commissioner, noting, too, that he’d once enjoyed wealth, prominence and "connections [with] prominent people". For the year prior to his death the Sisters of St. Ann had cared for him – out of pity, it was said.

So ended the sad career of Richard Golledge who left his name, from when he was gold commissioner no doubt, to Golledge Creek which flows into the Sooke River south of the Leech River in the Malahat District.

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