Peter Bartleman, Blacksmith at Craigflower

Life in Scotland

Peter Bartleman was born in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, around 1823. In 1851, he was living with his mother, an agricultural labourer, and working as a blacksmith at Gifford Gate, Haddington. [note] Although his reasons for leaving Scotland and joining Kenneth McKenzie on Vancouver Island are unclear, it is likely that it was due to the poor economic situation in Scotland at the time, and perhaps Bartleman felt he would do better in Canada. However, he was soon to discover that life in the small colony of Vancouver’s Island was not as rosy as he may have imagined.

Journey to Canada

After embarking on the Norman Morison on August 14, 1852 Bartleman and his new wife endured a difficult crossing, during which they survived a four-day hurricane with snow off of Cape Horn in November. A number of adults and children died in the crossing. They arrived in the harbour on January 21, 1853 and finally made their way to Craigflower Farm on Monday, 24 January. A temporary blacksmith’s shop was erected on March 4, 1852. [note]

Life at Craigflower

However, life at the new farm did not run smoothly, and McKenzie notes that Bartleman was “left off work in consequence of refusing to do my orders” on June 24, 1853. The diary of another labourer, Robert Melrose, notes on a number of occasions “Peter Bartleman stricken work.” [note] Three days later, Mr. Thomas Hall, the Victoria constable, was summoned and McKenzie paid $5.00 for 5 warrants to apprehend five escaped labourers, Bartleman included. While at least two farm workers, William and John Weir, made good their escapes for a short time before ending up in prison, neither Bartleman nor John Russel, the other blacksmith, were as fortunate, and both were immediately brought back to the farm. Two days later, Bartleman was once again hard at work.

Conflicts with Kenneth McKenzie

Almost a year and a half after arriving on the farm, Bartleman moved into Fort Victoria, for reasons which are also unclear. However, it may have been due to a personality conflict with Kenneth McKenzie, the bailiff of Craigflower. Bartleman seems to have frequently quarreled with the bailiff, having tried to escape to Sooke, in addition to setting up his own shop on Craigflower property and using McKenzie’s coal to fuel it. This resulted in McKenzie “attacking and destroying” the shop and taking him to court. However, due to a number of technicalities in the case, McKenzie’s attempts to exert control over his worker were thwarted, and the end result was that Bartlemanm “set up on his own account upon Captain Cooper’s claim, laughing at us, our ‘contracts’ and the ‘Court of Justice.’” [note] Labour records reveal that Bartleman had a number of conspicuous absences during his time at Craigflower which went unexcused, and between the period 1852 and 1857, a fellow labourer frequently recorded in his diary “P. Bartleman, ¾ d[runk].” It was not just McKenzie with whom Bartleman quarreled, but also with his fellow blacksmith, for on March 21, 1854, it is recorded that “John Russel & Peter Bartleman fought a battle. J. Russel ½ d[runk].” [note]

The situation between Bartleman and the rest did not seem to have improved, and appears to have reached new heights on April 12, 1855, when he was sentenced to be sent home. [note] This, however, never came to pass, for a year later, Bartleman addressed a letter to Mr. Margery from Esquimalt, stating that “at the time [he] left Mr. McKenzie, there was a balance in my favour of £2/9/10, which you say is forfeited. I beg to say that I never received any money from Mrs. McKenzie and from what transpired, I do not see that I am liable for passage money. I am, sir, your ob[edient] servant, Peter Bartleman.” [note] Bartleman must have succeeded in thwarting all attempts at curbing his behaviour and sending him home, for he can be found living in Saanich with his children in 1891 at the age of 65, still working as a blacksmith. He appears to have died at the respectable age of 82 in 1907 in Kamloops.


Like others on this site, Peter Bartleman represents the ordinary working man who helped to build the colony of Vancouver Island into what we know it today. Those who arrived on the Norman Morison with Kenneth McKenzie in 1852 represent a small but vital cross-section of settlers who were cogs in the machine of Empire during the nineteenth century. These settlers arrived with both their aspirations and their personal flaws and helped to contribute to the establishment of a successful colony.

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