British Columbia

'It is a different perspective': UBC acquires rare travel diary of B.C. in 19th century

The diary written from 1849-1851 is the earliest known account of British Columbia by an English woman.

Diary is the earliest known account of B.C. by an English woman

The book was purchased from the Weyntons' descendents in Australia. (

In 1850, Susannah Weynton, wife of the captain of a Hudson's Bay Company supply ship, took a remarkable journey through British Columbia.

The University of British Columbia is now the owner of her handwritten diary of that journey, which they say is remarkable in its own right: it is the earliest known account of British Columbia by an English woman and the only first-hand journal written by a woman of a maritime fur trade voyage.

"It's quite different because it is a different perspective. She's a woman — so many of the passages are about her and her experiences," UBC Interim University Librarian Melody Burton told The Early Edition guest host Stephen Quinn.

"She's a very observant woman. She's particularly non-judgemental. While some officials wear the lens of their office, she doesn't: she's very curious about what she sees … I was quite taken by that."

Listen to the full interview:

'Grand and extensive scenery'

Weynton's journey started in London in 1849. She sailed with her husband across the Atlantic, past Cape Horn and to Hawaii and then spent four months in B.C.

She sailed from Fort Victoria to Fort Rupert to Fort Langley and to Vancouver — before it was Vancouver — and documented the sights, the geography and the Indigenous peoples and their customs and ways of life.

"She was 29, very young, newly married, a devout Protestant, she was the only woman on the ship, and as we learn later on, becomes pregnant and gives birth on the ship," Burton said.

"So this was a very important voyage for her, personally and professionally."

Burton says Weynton wrote a great deal about the natural beauty she observed, writing, "I've seen more grand and extensive scenery [in B.C.] than in my whole life."

The title page of the handwritten diary Journal of a Voyage to the Pacific and American Shores, which the University of British Columbia now owns. (

Competition for work

The UBC rare book collection acquired the diary through a private sale from the Weynton's descendents in Australia.

The volume cost $88,000, an amount partially funded from grants to repatriate Canadian artifacts back to Canada.

"There was competition [from the United States and United Kingdom]," Burton said. "We made a really great pitch for it and it did come to us."

The Weynton diary can be viewed at UBC by arrangement and a digital version of the book is available online.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition