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Mike Vouri: The Delacombes at English Camp

  • Written by Mike Vouri

Captain William Addis Delacombe of the Royal Marines arrived on San Juan Island in April 1867 to assume command of the Royal Marine garrison. His predecessor, Captain George Bazalgette, had run afoul of his government after discovering a deserter—his bugler of six years before—in the ranks of the American contingent at the southern end of the island. His request that the bugler be returned had created an international incident. The British removed Bazalgette, the Americans the bugler. 

While Bazalgette had served seven years here as a bachelor, Delacombe came with his wife and four children, which required spacious quarters atop Officers’ Hill that included the house, carriage barn and a badminton court. We will be forever grateful that Mrs. Delacombe, who gave birth to another child while here, assembled a scrapbook of photographs documenting their life at the camp, each with a brief description in elegant cursive in the margin or on the reverse.

The photographers would come over from Victoria on the weekly steam gunboat run, return to their studios and produce the images for the family, as well as for the public at large. Remember, this was before the Brownie camera, which did not come along until the late 1890s. If you wanted a photographs of family, friends or scenes if your daily life, you had to hire them done.

We were not aware of the Delacombe’s family album until we were visited by his great-grandson and his wife about 15 years ago. One of my summer staff called from English Camp and said, “The Delacombes were here.” Ha, ha. Good one. I had been off island and missed them, but they left behind a kind note and a CD of that album. Most of the images we had seen before, as they had circulated widely from the photography shops. But there were a few we had not seen...and they were labeled!

Nothing constricts time better than a well-written journal or photograph. They reveal our humanity as well as those facts of everyday life.

I offer a few of Mrs. Delacombes photos here, along with a few of my own shots, taken over the last couple of days from similar perspective.

A later, post-joint occupation image taken in the early 20th century, shows the cenotaph commemorating the peaceful joint occupation and settlement of the boundary dispute.

That is to remind us that peace, not war, broke out here.


English Camp  Mike Vouri photo

Mike Vouri is a retired national park ranger and historian. He is the author of The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay and four other histories about San Juan Island and the Pacific Northwest.

Last modified onSaturday, 05 September 2020 16:52

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