Gunboat Justice

During the 1800s, the British Navy had warships stationed along the West Coast. These warships were some of the most forceful weapons used against the First Nations people of B.C. Some of the names of the ships spoke of their might: HMS Grappler, Devastation, and Boxer. The ships carried up to 50 cannons in addition to rockets and full squadrons of Royal Marines.

In 1850, the Royal Navy first used these gunboats to destroy the village of Kwakwaka'wakw on northern Vancouver Island in response to the alleged killing of a settler. Up until the mid-1850s in British Columbia, there was no municipal police forceā€”the Royal Navy enforced the law. Over the next 40 years, the British continued to use the same retaliation tactic if any settlers were killed or ships were attacked and raided by First Nations people. In every case, villages were destroyed by naval bombardments or by fires. In many cases, First Nations' villages were occupied and the accused persons were brought to trial on the spot. If convicted, they were hung in front of the village.

In 1864, the British trade ship Kingfisher was destroyed after being looted in Clayquot Sound. The Royal Navy deemed the Ahousat Nation was responsible for the attack. In retaliation, the navy attacked and destroyed nine Ahousaht villages.

During the 1860s and 1870s, the Navy made several more attacks on First Nations villages along the west coast. The Royal Navy destroyed Nuu-chah-nulth, Coast Salish, and Tlingit villages. The last attack by the British Navy occurred in 1877, when the Nuxalk village at Kimsquit was attacked.


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