Lady Amelia Douglas

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Amelia Douglas  


Amelia Douglas was one of the founding mothers of British Columbia - and one of the most well-known women in fur trade society. She was born at Fort Churchill to a fur trader of Irish and French Canadian ancestry called William Connolly, and his Cree wife Miyo Nipiy. Amelia grew up in a household where her mother commonly spoke Swampy Cree and her father (born in Quebec) usually spoke French. Amelia was raised in fur trading posts.

When Amelia was living with her family at Fort St. James she met an enterprising young Scottish clerk who worked for her father (at the time chief factor of the post). In the spring of 1828 sixteen-year-old Amelia married James Douglas, who was twenty-five. Douglas was a competent man who rose quickly in the fur trade, becoming a chief factor by November 1839. The couple settled at Fort Vancouver and Douglas later became chief factor and governor of Vancouver Island. He eventually became governor of British Columbia. Throughout the impressive career of James Douglas his wife Amelia was his number one supporter and advisor on aboriginal traditions and politics.

Early in their married life the courageous Amelia risked her life trying to rescue Douglas from an attack by some angry natives; Douglas had not understood some customs of the Carriers and Amelia saved her husband by throwing bales of trade goods to their chief to restore his honour. The warriors released James Douglas.

The Douglas family became the most prominent in British Columbia - and also the wealthiest. Amelia had given birth to thirteen children, though seven died as infants and she saw two others die in adulthood. She conveyed some of her aboriginal traditions to her offspring, though they grew up with primarily European customs. Amelia lived in Victoria for 40 years but often avoided its social life, perhaps because she was sometimes shunned because of her mixed-blood heritage and she had problems communicating in English. When James Douglas was knighted in 1863, the shy and modest Amelia became Lady Douglas.

Sir James died in 1877 and Lady Douglas lived a quiet life until she passed away in 1890 at the age of 78. The remaining Douglas family then consisted of her four daughters, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Of their 13 children, only 6 survived childhood:

Name   Born Married
Cecilia 1834 Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken7 in December 1852. Cecelia's life was cut short. She died at the age of 31, leaving behind young children for her husband to raise by himself. They had seven children altogether, though only four of them survived.
Jane 1839 A.G. Dallas in March 1858, who succeeded Douglas as head of the Western Department of the Hudson's Bay Company. After the death of her first child in 1860, Jane and her husband left Victoria for Rupert's Land, where A.G. Dallas had been appointed Governor.
Jane died in 1909
Agnes 1841 Arthur Thomas Bushby May 1862. She was engaged for three years to Arthur Bushby, an Englishmen serving as private secretary and clerk of the court to Judge Begbie. In 1862 her husband was promoted to Registrar General of British Columbia. The couple lived in New Westminster.
Agnes died in 1928.
Alice 1844 Charles Good in Canada August 31, 1861, and in the US just prior to August 31, 1861.  They later divorced and remarried. 

Alice caused a scandal in Victoria when at the age of seventeen she eloped with Douglas' private secretary Charles Good. Douglas sent a government agent after them, but it was too late. The couple had been married by an American Justice of the Peace at Port Townsend.

When they returned the next day, Douglas insisted they go through a second marriage ceremony, as he was uncertain about the validity of it, so on August 31, 1861, they re-exchanged their vows in Victoria. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and eventually obtained a divorce, and later remarried.

"Had she trusted her Father more, and put less faith in God, how different, and how much more happy would her lot in life have been" -James Douglas

Alice died in 1928.

James William 1851 Mary Elliott in 1877. He was sent to school in England. It had been Douglas' aspirations that he graduate from a respected university and pursue law, but his health was never good enough to fulfil his fathers aspirations for him. His father felt that he lacked application, and moved him from one school to the next. In 1870, James came home for a holiday and never came back, though his health somewhat improved. James studied law for a time with the first premier of BC, J.F. McCreight. He was eventually elected to the Provincial Legislature, serving as a junior member for Victoria from 1876 to 1878. The year of his fathers death, James wed Mary Elliott, the daughter of BC's Attorney General A.C. Elliot. James died at the age of thirty two.
Marthe 1854 Dennis Harris in 1878. 

Between 1872 and 1874, Martha was sent to school in England to, as her father says ". . . get rid of the cobwebs of colonial training and give you a proper finish." He would write he a few lines to her almost daily, and send them in a letter once composed. These "Letters to Martha" are available in the British Columbia Archives (BCARS EB 124A 1866-1869), and provide fascinating insight into the Victorian era and the Colonies early civic and provincial development.

Martha married Mr. Dennis Harris in 1878, a grand affair in high Victorian style.

Marthe died in 1933.


Sources for this article include:
  • Adams, John; Adams, John David (2011). Old Square-Toes and His Lady: The Life of James and Amelia Douglas.

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    Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024