Lewis and Clark's Columbia River

"British Admiralty Survey, 1839"
British Admiralty Survey, 1839...
"Sir Edward Belcher"
In 1839, Sir Edward Belcher in his ship the Sulphur charted the lower Columbia River as part of the British Admiralty Survey.

From the "Belcher Foundation" website (2006):

"... In 1836, Edward Belcher was appointed by the Admiralty to the command of the H.M.S. Sulphur and the H.M.S. Starling, which resulted in his voyage around the world. He distinguished himself highly while on this adventure, and consequently, he became famous. Upon the voyage’s successful completion, he was honored with a knighthood, and his published journal of the voyage was praised as being exceedingly interesting. In his two-volume work titled Narrative of a Voyage Round the World, Performed in Her Majesty’s Ship Sulphur During the Years 1836-1842, Including Details of the Naval Operations in China, From Dec. 1840 to Nov. 1841 (1843), Edward Belcher described the Sulphur as weighing 380 tons, with a crew of 109 men. ..." [Belcher Foundation Website, 2006]

"... After revisiting Hawaii in the summer of 1839, the Belcher expedition then sailed for a second pass along the Pacific coast of North America. In July, the Sulphur reached Kodiak, Alaska, and then sailed for Sitka. After visiting Sitka, the Sulphur sailed for the mouth of the Columbia River, which the expedition then navigated. Captain Belcher visited the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver (near present-day Portland, Oregon). After several stops along the California coast, the Belcher expedition reached San Diego, California in October. Off the coast of Baja California, Edward investigated a body of water that he called the Gulf of Magdalena (Magdalena Bay). ..." [Belcher Foundation Website, 2006]

As written in the 1889 publication History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington 1889:

"... In the summer of 1839, the little handful of Americans in the Willamette valley experienced extreme solicitude, upon the appearance in the Columbia river of a British surveying expedition, commanded by Captain Sir Edward Belcher, Royal Navy. It consisted of her Majesty's ship Sulphur, 380 tons, with a complement of 109 men, attended by her Majesty's schooner Starling, of 109 tons, Lieutenant H. Kellett, Royal Navy, commanding.

This expedition for the survey of the Pacific coast, from Valparaiso to sixty degrees, thirty-one minutes north, and originally under command of Captain F.N. Beachey, R.N., had sailed from Plymouth, England, December 24, 1835. On reaching Valparaiso, Captain Beachey, in consequence of hill health, was compelled to return to England. Lieutenant Kellett commanded until January, 1837, at which time Captain Belcher joined the Sulphur at Panama. Nor were the jealous fears of these American settlers without occasion. Among the instructions by the British Admiralty, dated December 19, 1835, was the following:

"Political circumstances have invested the Columbia river with so much importance, that it will be well to devote some time to its bar and channels of approach, as well as to its anchorage and shores."

From a narrative of the voyage by Sir Edward Belcher, we quote the following extracts:

"On the 28th of July, 1839, H.B.M. ship Sulphur reached the mouth of the Columbia river, when Lieutenant Kellett, having descried us, weighed and stood with the Starling to conduct us in."

"On the 9th of August, after being nearly devoured by mosquitoes, we reached Fort Vancouver, where we were very kindly received by Mr. Douglas, and had apartments allotted to us."

The instructions of the British government in fitting out this surveying expedition clearly foreshadowed the british programme of acquiring Oregon by acts of occupancy. It is evident that the territory north of the Columbia was deemed British soil. Captain Belcher numbers the American element in Oregon as "twenty American stragglers from California, ten clergymen, teachers, etc., American Methodist Mission and four missionary stations in the interior." British feeling against these whom they regarded as trespassers and intruders, who are denounced as "stragglers," is faithfully portrayed in Belcher's narrative. It is a British view of Oregon in the fall of 1839, and indicates the situation of the pioneers, - their duties, their dangers, their responsibilities, their outlook of the future. ..."

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • Belcher Foundation website, 2006;
  • "Rootsweb.com" website, 2006;

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
September 2008