1806 - 1856
Thomas Blinkhorn was born on May 3, 1806, at Sawtry, Huntingdonshire, England. He became a farmer in his native Sawtry and on August 2, 1827 married Anne Beeton of Great Gidding where they had one son and two daughters. Thomas Blinkhorn was one of the small number of early settlers on Vancouver Island independent of the Hudson's Bay Company, which in 1849 had been granted a lease of the crown colony in return for its colonization. Possessed of "a mind of wide range, and well tried by experience," Blinkhorn had been "up and down the world somewhat," and from 1837 to 1849, he had been stock-raising in Australia. He reached Vancouver Island from England in May 1851, having formed a partnership aboard the Tory with a fellow passenger, James Cooper, a former captain in the HBC maritime service now returning to Fort Victoria as a free merchant and landowner. Accompanying the Blinkhorn's on the journey to Vancouver Island was Anne's teenage niece Martha Beeton Cheney. She kept a diary from 1853 to 1856 and it is the only diary by any woman on Vancouver Island in the pre-goldrush period. Also on the Tory when it arrived in Victoria was Adam Horne who had been recruited by Edward Clouston in Stromness to work for the HBC.
Cooper took up over three hundred acres of land at Metchosin, nine miles from the fort by sea, fifteen miles by Indian trail through the forest, and the partners were soon engaged in various enterprises. Cooper himself traded between Vancouver Island, San Francisco, and Hawaii, leaving the management of his Metchosin farm in Blinkhorn's capable hands.
Living with the Blinkhorn's in Metchosin, Martha Cheney helped with the chores around the farm and in July 1855 married Henry Bailey Ella. He first came to Victoria in 1851 as chief officer of the Hudson's Bay Company's chartered barque Norman Morison and sailed for some years between Victoria and England. Ella commanded the Recovery, and later he became a pilot on the coast and in this capacity assisted Captain George Henry Richards, R.N., in his surveys in H.M.S. Plumper and H.M.S. Hecate during the period 1858 to 1862.
In the five years before Blinkhorn's untimely death in 1856 he cleared and brought under cultivation some sixty acres and established a dairy herd. Unfortunately the HBC chief factor in charge at Fort Victoria, James Douglas, considered some of Cooper's trading activities an infringement of the company monopoly. Consequently the partners joined with the other thirteen independent settlers in an unsuccessful petition against the appointment of Douglas to succeed Richard Blanshard as governor of Vancouver Island.
In March 1853 Blinkhorn, along with the three HBC farm superintendents, received a commission as "magistrate and justice of the peace," Governor Douglas considering him "the only independent settler with a sufficient degree of education" to qualify for the office. By December, Douglas had found his appointees so ignorant of the law that he had been obliged to restrict them to "their proper duties of Conservators of the Peace" by establishing a Supreme Court of Civil Justice, under his brother-in-law, David Cameron. In February 1854 Blinkhorn and his fellow justices were among the seventy settlers who petitioned the queen, without success, against Cameron's appointment as chief justice.
It was said of Thomas Blinkhorn by the Honourable Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam: " [he] was by far the most energetic settler on the island." Blinkhorn now added to his responsibilities at Metchosin the management of William Fraser Tolmie's farm at Cloverdale, fifteen miles away, and proceeded to carry out his various commitments in a most conscientious manner. The road from Fort Victoria had still not reached Metchosin and so his visits to Cloverdale and his monthly attendance at the Court of Petty Sessions involved him in strenuous travel in all weathers. On one occasion in winter while walking across the frozen river he fell in and had to go back and change. He regularly came down with a cold while traveling in the canoe to Fort Victoria and eventually his lungs were seriously affected and on October 13, 1856 he died at the age of fifty. Thomas Blinkhorn was buried in the graveyard adjoining the Victoria District Church, now Christ Church Cathedral, and on November 4, an auction sale was held at the Metchosin farm where "the stock sold remarkably well." Mrs. Blinkhorn then moved from Metchosin to Victoria with her niece and husband.
Blinkhorn Island (Peninsula) in Johnstone Strait (named by Captain George H. Richards in 1861), Blinkhorn Lake and Mount Blinkhorn, both in Metchosin, perpetuate the name of this widely experienced and successful farmer, loved and respected by family and friends, and, within the limits of his scanty legal knowledge, the faithful holder of a minor office in the judicial system during the infancy period of Vancouver Island.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of British Columbia 1792-1887. The History Company Publishers. San Francisco, California. 1887.
Ella, Martha Cheney. "The
Diary of Martha Cheney Ella, 1853-1856." Ed. J.K. Nesbitt.