The Spirit of Pestilence

Colonists and Contradictions

Although race is not a valid way to biologically distinguish one human from another,1 in 1862 many Europeans believed that there were different races arranged hierarchically with white Europeans at the top. Written reactions to the smallpox epidemic show that many white colonists believed in this hierarchy, and that their beliefs affected their actions.2 These beliefs came from ideas about race and class in Britain, and continued because of colonists' social and economic circumstances on Vancouver Island.

[Hospital Point] Colonists often expressed contradictory ideas about Natives. These contradictions show how many people's ideas were shaped by preconceived notions.
[Warwick Castle] Prevailing ideas in Britain strongly affected these views.
[Boat] Even before the smallpox epidemic, colonists wanted the government to send Natives away from Victoria because of social and economic factors in their lives as colonists.
[HMS Grappler] A result of the colonists' and the government's attitude was gunboat diplomacy, which the British had used to control Natives even before the epidemic.
[Newspaper] However, some documents show that not all white colonists shared the racist attitudes exemplified by the Colonist articles.