Coast Salish Mausolea, Victoria, 1859

 Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake.  Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

So, not long ago we had an excellent discussion here centered around Edward Richardson’s 1864 painting of a Coast Salish grave house or mausoleum.  I’ve recently come across another set of images of these places which are so important to First Nations. These images were painted by well-known early Victoria resident (and former mayor and Supreme Court of BC Justice)  Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake.  They’re pretty interesting paintings  from the early colonial period on southern Vancouver Island which I don’t recall seeing before.

The painting above clearly shows a small mausoleum, weighted with rocks on top, in front of which are two carved figures. The one on the right includes fishers or river otters, both of which have important spiritual significance in this area.  Each of these images has notes on the back, which are also reproduced at the British Museum site (click the image to go to the accession record). For this image, the notes aren’t transcribed, though maybe someone with better olde handwritinge fkills would care to have a go  As near as I can make out, the back reads:

This is another eccentric specimen of Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of _________  — see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his ?cheek bone, but a _____ ________ _______ would have mastered __________ a flight of ___________ imagination. The other is holding two dogs [sic] of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This ______ are carved in wood and _____ ________ near a large grave of the family vault above ground ___________ .

It”s true, both sculptures are lively and naturalistic. In both cases, and the one below, there is apparently a rendering of face paint.  I’m sure those readers more knowledgeable than I will see a lot of interesting detail in these pictures.  Note the open prairie environment – anthropogenic Garry Oak meadow, no doubt.

 Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake.  Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

Grave near Victoria on the harbour, August 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

A view of a different grave-house is shown above. This is the one with the sketch of a dog on the back, where there is also the rather inappropriate inscription which reads:

A grave, the old gentleman is doubled up into a sitting position a bit of reed matting put over him & then he is built in with posts logs of wood & a few stones to keep all snug? & I can assure you though they don’t smell sweet during life after death they are something beyond a stink- This is an unfinished sketch but you must take it as it is. [refers to a pencil outline of a dog at the back of the drawing] [QM note: the British Museum mixes up the verso inscription between these one and the one above].

View from a native graveyard; tall statue with a hat standing in the foreground with a sailing boat in the background. Victoria Island [sic] 1859,  by William Tyrwhitt-Drake.  Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

View from a native graveyard; tall statue with a hat standing in the foreground with a sailing boat in the background. Victoria Island [sic] 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

The final image is described as a view from the graveyard, with “Victoria Island” in the background – suggesting this scene is on a small burial island of some kind. Locals might recognize the setting.  The inscription on the back is interesting in several ways, not least that it claims it is a marker for a Chinook chief, presumably someone from the Columbia River area, and it also has a sketch of a ?tattooed individual wearing a labret.  It reads:

Victoria Island from a native grave yard.  An Indian image erected over the mortal remains of some great chief of the far famed Chinook Tribe. Antiquarians insist that the image is intended to represent the image idea of a Sufercuie? being personified in a Hudson Bay man of differ? form? them & would suggest that the great chief died from eating too much cold white man & his lamenting relations erected this elegant statue to represent the individual who had disagreed with his lordship perhaps some of his relatives may still be existing & this portrait may be the means of informing them what has become of him.
The tree behind [QM: evidently an arbutus] is peculiar the bark is if any thing a brighter red & the leaf equally like the rhododendron.

Cause of death: “eating too much cold white man”, an incident memorialized by a statue of said dinner. This has the smell of the estimable yet no doubt intrusive and nosey Tyrwhitt-Drake being told a pile of bollocks to induce him to pack his paintbox and leave the graveyard.

Sketch of a dog, 1859, from verso of topmost image. Source: British Museum, click to view their accession record.

Sketch of a dog, 1859, from verso of topmost image. Source: British Museum, click to view their accession record.

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8 responses to “Coast Salish Mausolea, Victoria, 1859

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #5 | Doug's Archaeology

  2. This is another excentric specimen of the Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of…….. see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his cheek. none but a great genius would have ventured to such a flight of poetical imagination. The other is holding two dogs of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This [?these] being[s] are carved in wood and sit sentinel over a large grave of the family vault above ground

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  3. maybe it is “the finest specimens of carving..”

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  4. Such an interesting pair of paintings! I expect you know “Fishers” can also be found on a grave box from Musqueum at UBC Mus of Anthro. They are also carved on a large board there. After having my own real encounter with a Fisher I have tried but never found much info on what meaning they had for Coast Salish. They are larger than a Martin and quite bold.

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  5. Judy – yes I’m familiar with the Musqueam piece showing fishers, they also came up in a previous post: https://qmackie.com/2013/12/27/a-coast-salish-mausoleum-1864/
    If memory serves there are pictures around of a housepost with fishers from North Saanich. it doesn’t surprise me if you ran into a dead end since (generalization alert!) Salish spirituality tends to be kept very private.

    Gillian, Valerie – thanks for the transcription, I think you nailed it. Just one or two more words including “Sufercuie?” from the last caption here:

    http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=66927&objectid=1662428

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  6. Interesting! The facial markings on the last one are strongly suggestive of the Chinookan stylized human faces, particularly the long rectangular nose. I’ll have to show this to my Chinook friends and see what they make of it.
    The Chinook have a long tradition of trade with Vancouver Island. Our neighbor when I was a kid still remembered as a girl seeing the big Chinook trade canoes journeying north up our part of the coast on their way to the Island. That was probably about 1900.

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  7. insist that the image is intended to represent the savage idea of a superior being personified in a Hudsons Bay man… ( this is how I read it)
    Mario

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  8. This is one of several paintings and drawings of the burial site at Laurel Point at the constriction of Victoria’s inner harbour. You can see one of the images and read about the site on page 33 of my Songhees Pictorial Book. Jonathon King of the British Museum Published both of the Trywhitt-Drake paintings in his publication on the Northwest coast. There are other drawings which I will be using when I get around to finishing a more detailed article for my RBCM web profile.

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