John Irvine Sr. of Craigflower and Rose Bank

From a Remote Island...

The Irvine family came from the Scottish Orkney Islands. When they boarded the steamer to London to join there the Hudson's Bay Company barque Tory, John and his wife Jessie may have been dreaming of owning their own piece of the new world. It was to be about a decade before, half a world away, the Irvine family, by then consisting of John, Jessie and their six children (with one more still to come) were settled at their Rose Bank Farm.

To a More Remote Island

In November 1850, John inked his first contract with the HBC, signing his labour over to them for a five-year term, to be served out at Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island. The approximately 18,020 kilometre voyage from London to Fort Victoria took the Irvines from November 9, 1850 to May 10, 1851. This time was spent aboard a sailing ship just of just 130 feet in length and 25 in beam and carrying between 120 and 140 passengers. [note]

Details on the Irvines' early days in Victoria are somewhat uncertain, but it seems that John and his family worked and lived just outside Fort Victoria and at the nearby Church Hill and Gonzales farms. In September of 1851 their second son, William, was born. In 1852, they played a crucial role in the establishment of Craigflower farm. John worked as grain miller at the farm and, in the early days, no doubt helped with construction and other work. Much of 1852 was spent preparing the site of Craigflower for the arrival of its manager (or 'bailiff') Kenneth McKenzie in January 1853. [note]

A Dream Realized?

John was paid a salary of 20 pounds per year by the Hudson's Bay Company, and seems to have saved as much as he could towards the purchase of land. In 1855, with not enough collected to achieve this goal, John signed on for another five year term of servitude with the HBC and continued to work at Craigflower farm. By 1857, however, he had saved enough to make the first payment on about 130 acres in the area north of Victoria known as Cedar Plains, along the route of Cedar Hill Road between Mount Douglas (Cedar Hill) and Fort Victoria. There was so much work to be done making the place liveable, it seems, that they may not have been able to move there until five years later in 1862. This may not be so surprising when we consider that John was still working 6 long days each week at Craigflower. [note]

It is unclear exactly when they first moved in - perhaps the process was gradual - but it seems to have been sometime between 1860 and spring 1862. Jessie named it Rose Bank for the wild roses growing around their home site. [note]

The place was wooded and rocky and remote, but it must have suited the Irvines - perhaps reminding them of home in the distant Orkney islands - because John and Jessie lived there for the rest of their lives. The Irvines' kitchen was the first home to the Anglican congregation of the area (despite the Irvines being Presbyterians) before it moved into St. Luke's church, whose modern incarnation rests at the corner of Cedar Hill and Cedar Hill Cross roads. [note]


Life at Rose Bank was not easy. John Irvine Jr. (known as 'Long Gun' Jack), born in October of 1861, records that by the time he was nine, he had a full roster of chores on the farm and was expected to "be a man." At that age, he caught his hand in a piece of equipment and had to be taken to the doctor with two of his fingers "like sausage meat." Long Gun also mentions the family having cows and sheep at this time, and we know that 34 of their sheep were killed by wildlife one night in 1868 - which shows how wild the area was.

Similarly, Long Gun discusses his great skill at hunting with a flintlock rifle when he was 12 years old; he brought home many varieties of birds and sometimes one of the wild pigs which so aggravated the area's farmers. John Jr. also spent much of his childhood playing with local First Nations children, and writes that he "could talk Chinook like [he] belonged to the tribe." We do know, however, that basic education for the children in the area was established fairly quickly, at first in the kitchen of the neighbouring King family, and by 1872, in the new Cedar Hill school. Christina Irvine's workbook provides a glimpse into the world of a child of 1875 - and reveals that in the mind of a child, that world was not so different from our own.

The Irvine family established itself firmly as one of Victoria's key pioneering clans. A family reunion in the city in 1992 saw about 150 attendees.

A New World

The Irvine family achieved the fulfillment of an idea which, perhaps ironically, drove the consolidation of the British Empire: the dream of independence. John Irvine's chances of ever owning land - and certainly of owning so much land - in his native Scotland were tiny. On Vancouver Island, however, a decade of hard work turned this dream into reality. Whatever the British Empire has meant to the world, its owes its great impact in large part to people like the Irvines. By taking advantage of the opportunity offered by an imperial institution such as the HBC and moulding it into a life not possible in their homeland, the Irvines participated in the creation of what we know as the Western world. [note]

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