John William Laing
1846 - 1909
John Laing was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1846, the second son of Wilhelmina and James Laing, armiger (or esquire). He attended Blackheath Proprietary School where athletic sport was a big part of the curriculum. He matriculated from Christ Church at Oxford University on June 7, 1865, aged nineteen. The 'University Gazette' records that the degree of Bachelor of Arts was conferred (at a ceremony) on June 6, 1872. At the same ceremony Laing was admitted to the status of Student of Civil Law (SCL). It is recorded that at this time Laing was a member of Magdelan Hall rather than Christ Church. The next edition of the 'University Gazette' records that the degree of Master of Arts was conferred on June 13, 1872. By this date, Laing was again a member of Christ Church. The fact that Laing matriculated from Christ Church, migrated to Magdelan Hall, and then back to Christ Church again is unusual.
When he started at Christ Church, he emerged early as an athlete capable of running most of the events on the track. In 1866 he achieved a series of times that established him as one of the leading athletes in Britain. In March, he won the University mile in 4:50.0 and at the Oxford v Cambridge Sports on March 10, he completed a double victory in the mile (4:45.4) and 2 miles (first equal in 10:20.0). The time for the mile ranked him 7th in the UK for that year and the 2 miles time was the second fastest. In June, at Blackheath Sports, an open meeting, he won the 440 yard in 52.0, which equaled the best anywhere for 1866. At 880 yard he ran 2:06.0 at Oxford in November, ranking him 3rd among British amateurs.
In 1867 at Oxford he won the University sports mile (4:46.5) and was second in the 2 miles (10:31.0 estimated), but he seems to have been injured or ill and didn't compete in the annual match with Cambridge.
In 1868, his versatility was well demonstrated. He won a 120 yard hurdles race at the Christ Church Sports on March 5, in 18.0, a respectable time over sheep hurdles. He also competed in the 3 mile walk finishing second after holding an early lead. He also tied the 880 yard handicap, starting from scratch. In the Oxford v Cambridge Sports he was second in the mile in 4:31.2 at Beaufort House, London, on April 3. At the Blackheath Sports on June 6, he ran in the one mile steeplechase, from scratch in the handicap, and finished second after losing a shoe at the water-jump. In 1869 he finished 3rd equal in the mile against Cambridge at Lillie Bridge, London, on March 18. He was President of OUAC (Oxford University Athletic Club) in the season 1868/9.
to have gone into teaching soon after leaving Oxford, however, in June
1873, he left London for a tour of India and reached Bombay via the Cape
in October. Laing then spent the next five months (October to March) visiting
Bombay, Madras, Ceylon, Calcutta, Agra and Delhi. He returned to England
and then travelled for the next six months (July to January) in Europe
- Great Britain (chiefly Scotland), France, Switzerland and Italy, Greece
and Asia Minor, the Suez Canal, Palestine and Egypt. The journey was apparently
made in the company of an American, T.E. (Edward) Screven. The accounts
of his travels between 1873 and 1875 can be read in his diaries (including
photographs) which were presented to Cambridge University Library in 1975.
elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society on June 9,
1879 and appears to have continued to travel extensively in the years
to come. In 1891, Laing was living in Melbourne, Australia. Later, when
he moved to North America, he would give talks illustrated with lantern
slides in California, Oregon and British Columbia with such titles as;
Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs; India: Its People, Palaces, Temples and Tombs;
and Travels in Sunny Spain. He was also known for giving a riveting talk
entitled - London Life in Shakespeare's Time.
At one point in Laing's teaching career he taught at the prestigious Mayo College in India, which was known as the "Eton of India" and was the Professor of English Literature at the Mount Tamalpais Military Academy in San Rafael, California, in 1895-96. It was most likely during this time that he met Reverend William Bolton, the rector of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in nearby Cow Hollow, San Francisco, and took an interest in Vancouver Island.
In early 1896, Laing decided to financially back Bolton on the second part of his north/south traverse of Vancouver Island. Laing furnished the $1200 required for the trip and on June 26 he and Bolton left San Francisco for Vancouver Island. The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper dubbed Laing "The Angel of the Enterprise." In Victoria they hired C.W. Jones of Seattle a mining expert, John Garver as a cook and packer, and Edgar Fleming a photographer, for the expedition and on July 1 sailed from Victoria aboard the steamship Danube to Alert Bay on the east coast. The expedition reached Woss Lake on July 8 by canoeing up the Nimpkish River and then crossed the divide to Tahsis by way of the Oolichan Trail. They then explored the country between the head of Tlupana Inlet, Burman River, Buttle Lake, Flower Ridge and Great Central Lake passing through what is now Strathcona Provincial Park. With weather in their favour they reached Port Alberni on August 14.
On January 12, 1897, at the Union Square Hall in San Francisco where Laing gave a talk about the expedition, John Buttle (1865 Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition leader) was in the audience and after the lecture he met with Laing: " (Buttle) occupying a seat on the platform and reviving memories of his younger days of activity and ambition as one by one the picturesque scenes [of Buttle's Lake] were unfolded, familiar in all probability to him alone of the hundreds in the audience. He is now an old man, his hair being touched with the frosts of three score years and ten, but he retains all his mental facilities undimmed, and entered with zest and enthusiasm into the subject old with him, but fresh with Messrs Laing and Bolton."
expedition, John Laing announced that he would be moving permanently to
Victoria on Vancouver Island as he was about to purchase the good-will
of the Collegiate School. In 1897 he became the Headmaster and over the
next twelve years his students excelled academically as well as in sports
with his students often competing against Bolton's students. Laing also
married in 1897 on December 20 to Ethel May Read of Toronto but they never
had any children. He remained Headmaster until his untimely death.
Laing passed away on October 21, 1909, in Victoria two weeks after suffering
a stroke at the age of sixty-three. The funeral took place at Christ Church
Cathedral on the 23rd and Lindley
Crease was one of the pallbearers.
Curthoy, Judith. College Archivist. Christ Church College, Oxford University.
Fisher, Nathan. Archives of the Royal Geographical Society. London.
Lovesey, Peter. Personal communication. 2010. Historian on 19th century British athletics.
Peter. The Official Centenary History of the AAA (Amateur Athletic
Association). Guinness Superlative, United Kingdom. 1979.
Foster, Joseph. Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886; their parentage, birthplace and year of birth, with a record of their degrees. Being the matriculation register of the University. Vol. 2. Parker and Co. Oxford, England. 1888. p. 809.
Oxford University Gazette. Vol. III, No. 94. June 11, 1872. p. 249. (references to BA and SCL)
Oxford University Gazette. Vol. III, No. 95. June 21, 1872. p. 260. (reference to MA)
'Report of the Evening Meeting, Session 1878-79.' Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography. New Monthly Series. Vol. 1, No. 7 (July 1879). p. 473.
"In Shakespeare's Time." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (January 17, 1897) p. 8.
"Exploring Vancouver Island." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (May 6, 1896) p.
"Rector Bolton Goes Exploring." San Francisco Chronicle. [San Francisco, California.] (June 26, 1896)
the Island." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (August
16, 1896) p. 1.
Announcement of John Laing becoming a resident of Victoria. Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (August 29, 1896) p. 5.
"A Land of Wonder." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (January 17, 1897) p. 8.
and Patriotism." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.]
(February 7, 1897) p. 2.
Bolton, W.W.: Laing, J.W. "Exploring Northern Jungles: I. Across Vancouver , from Alert Bay to Tahsis. II. The Central Crags of Vancouver." The Overland Monthly. Vol. 29. Overland Monthly Publishing Co. San Francisco, California. 1897.
"Married in Cathedral." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (December 21, 1897) p. 5.
"In Vancouver Wilds." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (May 4, 1898) p. 5.
"John W. Laing, M.A. Died Last Night." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (October 22, 1909) p. 2.
"Obituary Notice." Victoria Daily Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (October 24, 1909) p. 5.
School Ends Long History - Doors are Closed." The Daily Colonist.
[Victoria, B.C.] (July 28, 1929) p.