The text of this article is reprinted from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, (Volume XII) 1891-1900, thanks to the great kindness of its author, David H. Wallace, and of the publisher, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
MACDONALD, RANALD, adventurer, teacher, explorer, businessman, and author; b. 3 Feb. 1824 in Fort George (Astoria, Oreg.), eldest son of Archibald McDonald*, an HBC fur trader, and Chinook Indian princess Raven (Sunday), daughter of Chief Comcomly; d. unmarried 24 Aug. 1894 in Toroda, Wash.
Ranald MacDonald’s mother died shortly after his birth, and he was raised by his stepmother, Jane Klyne. After spending his early years at several Hudson’s Bay Company posts in the Columbia district, he was sent in 1834 to the Red River Academy at Fort Garry (Winnipeg) [see David Thomas Jones*]. Four years later he went to St Thomas, Upper Canada, to train in banking at a bank managed by one of his father’s friends, Edward Ermatinger*. He soon tired of this work, however, and early in 1841 he left surreptitiously to go to sea. Determined to visit the closed country of Japan, he shipped from Lahaina (Hawaii) in 1848 on the whaler Plymouth and arranged to be dropped off, appearing to be a shipwrecked sailor, near the west coast of Ezo (Hokkaido).
Taken by the Japanese authorities to Nagasaki, he made the best of his comfortable confinement in a temple room by becoming the first teacher of English in Japan, and it is as a teacher that he is best remembered there. One of his students, Enosuke Moriyama, later became a noted interpreter to the missions of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry in 1853–54 and of Lord Elgin [Bruce*] in 1858–59.
At the end of April 1849 MacDonald was released to the American sloop of war Preble, which was visiting Nagasaki to pick up American sailors who had deserted from the whaler Lagoda. He traveled widely in Asia, Australia, and Europe before returning, shortly after his father’s death in 1853, to his family, then living in St Andrews (Saint-André-Est), Lower Canada. He remained there for about five years, during which time he became a Freemason.
In 1858 Ranald and his half-brother Allan returned to the Pacific coast, to the new colony of British Columbia. They set up a packing business between Port Douglas (Douglas), at the head of Little Harrison Lake and the Fraser River gold-mines, and ran a ferry across the Fraser at Lillooet. Their younger brother Benjamin later joined them. In 1861–62 Ranald MacDonald and Johnston George Hillbride Barnston, whose families were connected through marriage, set up the Bentinck Arm and Fraser River Road Company to service the new mines in the Caribou district. The route for this road was a pack-trail, running from the site of present-day Bella Coola to the Fraser River near Fort Alexandria (Alexandria, B.C.). The enterprise was not completed, however, because of financial difficulties. In 1864 MacDonald and Barnston’s younger brother Alexander joined the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition [see Robert Brown]. On this expedition, which crossed the largely unexplored interior of Vancouver Island four times, MacDonald participated in the discovery of vast stands of prime timber, the Sooke gold-fields, and a large coalfield on Browns River near Comox. The next year he led a government-sponsored expedition to explore for minerals in the Horsefly area of the Caribou.
MacDonald spent the following decade in the Caribou district, exploring, and at his ranch on Hat Creek. He was also an employee of Barnard’s Express and Stage Line [see Francis Jones Barnard*] and later of Bonaparte House, the hotel run by Charles Augustus Semlin* and Philip Parke at Cache Creek. In 1875 he assisted his cousin Christina MacDonald in her trading operation at Kamloops. He finally retired to a log cabin close to the home of Christina’s brother Donald near Fort Colvile (near Colville, Wash.), where his own father had developed a large farm for the HBC during the 1830s.
While in retirement, MacDonald tried to find a publisher for his account of his visit to Japan. The manuscript was edited by Malcolm McLeod, who in 1872 had published Archibald McDonald’s Peace River journal, and several drafts were submitted to Canadian, American, and British publishers. A proposal for publication in Montreal under the title “A Canadian in Japan” fell through in 1892 because of a lack of subscriptions, but a revised version which McLeod prepared the following year finally appeared in 1923.
A portion of Ranald MacDonald’s original account of his visit to Japan is preserved in Malcolm McLeod’s papers at PABC, Add. mss 1249, along with one of the three manuscript copies of McLeod’s final 1893 edition, “Japan: story of adventure of Ranald MacDonald, first teacher of English in Japan, A.D. 1848–49.” The other surviving copy (the one McLeod returned to MacDonald) is held by the Eastern Wash. State Hist. Soc. (Spokane), which published it in 1923 as Ranald MacDonald: the narrative of his early life on the Columbia under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s regime; of his experiences in the Pacific whale fishery; and of his great adventure to Japan; with a sketch of his later life on the western frontier, 1824–1894, ed. W. S. Lewis and Naojiro Murakami. A Japanese translation of the Narrative prepared by Toruo Tomita, Makudonarudo “Nihon Kaisoki”, appeared in Tokyo in 1979.
MacDonald is also the author of Bentinck Arm and Fraser River Road Company, Limited, prospectus (Victoria, 1862), prepared in collaboration with his partner, Johnston George Hillbride Barnston.
Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Repository (Tokyo), Zoku Tsushin Zenran Ruishu (coil. of docs. from the time of the Tokugawa government), “Beikoku Hyomin no Geisen Nagasaki-ko ni Torai Ikken” (record of the visit to Nagasaki of the Preble, 1849) and “Kits Kaigan Hyochaku no Beikokujin Nagasaki Goso a Ikken, 1848–1849” (record of Ranald MacDonald and the Lagoda seamen). PABC, Add. mss 794, esp. Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition journals of Robert Brown and of Ranald MacDonald. [Robert Brown], Vancouver Island; exploration, 1864 (Victoria, ). “An interesting visitor,” Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1 Sept. 1888; repr. in Daily News–Advertiser (Vancouver), 15 Sept. 1888. Frederick Whymper, Travel and adventure in the territory of Alaska, formerly Russian America – now ceded to the United States – and in various other parts of the north Pacific (London, 1868).
British Colonist (Victoria), 1858–60, continued as Daily British Colonist, 1860–64, and Daily Colonist, September 1894. Cariboo Sentinel (Barkerville, B.C.), 12 June 1865. China Mail (Hong Kong), 1 May 1849. Morning Oregonian (Portland), 12 Feb. 1891. Spokesman–Review (Spokane), 31 Aug. 1894. DAB. J. E. Ferris, “Ranald MacDonald, the sailor boy who visited Japan,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Seattle, Wash.), 48 (1957): 13–16; “Ranald MacDonald’s monument, Toroda Creek, state of Washington,” BCHQ, 15 (1951): 223–27. Province (Vancouver), 18 Nov. 1963. Shunzo Sakamaki, “Japan and the United States, 1790–1853,” Asiatic Soc. of Japan, Trans., 2nd ser., 18 (1939): 44–49. Vancouver Daily Province, 20 May 1928.
© 2000 University of Toronto/Université Laval
NOTE: A second edition of Ranald’s Narrative was published in 1990 by the Oregon Historical Society Press with support from FOM and Epson Portland, Inc. It is available from the OHS Press, 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland, OR 97205, at $30 plus shipping. [U.S. funds only.]
Chinook Tribe Seeks Information …
Edna Miller, secretary of the Chinook Indian Tribe, has asked that FOM share with the Tribe information about Ranald MacDonald, half-Scot, half-Indian, and grandson of legendary Chinook Chieftain Comcomly. FOM Chairman Bruce Berney has offered copies of our publications and suggested a newsletter exchange.
Dramatic Scenery, Historic Sites, Good Company, Great Fun …
The vastness of Eastern Washington is awe-inspiring. The air is pungent with the scent of pine and sage, the land rolls with breathtaking skies. Travelers will visit three unusual museums: the Native Cultures Collection at Cheney Cowles Museum, Spokane; the architecturally exciting Yakima Nation Indian museum; and the charming Colville Museum, the heart of an historic complex.
We’ll learn more about Indian culture with an Indian feast — and see pictographs and petroglyphs painted and carved thousands of years ago. We’ll see gigantic Grand Coulee Dam, a working gold mine, a winery …
We will visit, finally, the house in which Ranald MacDonald died and the lands he knew, pausing for a centennial tribute at his well-marked grave site near the Canadian border.
The tour is being organized in cooperation with the Oregon Historical Society , which will also invite its members to participate. TO ASSURE YOUR PLACE on the tour, complete and mail the special FOM advance reservation form in this newsletter.
A Visit to Toroda
by Prof. Steve Kohl, Ph.D.
(FOM Vice Chair Steve Kohl, a member of the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Oregon, has long been interested in the Ranald MacDonald story. Steve will lead our Tour to Toroda. The following is his account of his visit there last summer …)
RANALD MacDONALD died at Toroda on the Canadian border of Washington. Eva Emory Dye romantically and erroneously describes him passing away at his home at Fort Colville near Kettle Falls. The actual circumstances of his death were more dramatically poignant than that. Away from home, visiting his niece, Jennie Lynch, he died in her arms saying, “Sayonara, my dear, sayonara.”
Last August we drove through the Okanogan country, passing through Kettle Falls, crossing the Columbia, camping at Curlew Lake, and going on to Toroda to visit the site of MacDonald’s grave on a bluff high above Kettle River. In many ways the area has greatly changed since MacDonald passed through here on his last journey, and in that process of change our sense of history has changed as some things are lost and other things gain heightened importance.
MacDonald spent his final years at Fort Colville where his father had been chief factor half a century earlier. MacDonald evidently cared a great deal about preserving that legacy in his father’s memory. He seems to have found contentment during those final years of his life. He is quoted as saying, “I yearn for nothing more than to live according to the whims of my nature. If I need meat for my dogs, in the foothills there is plenty of game. If it is flour that I lack, there is a store at the nearest settlement. My books furnish diversion, and in my solitude I am free to write and meditate.” Today, neither fort nor homestead remain; all were flooded by the backwaters of Grand Coulee Dam.
As we crossed the 75 miles or so from Kettle Falls to Toroda, i could not help but wonder if these mountains and meadows are any different from what they were when Mac made his last journey in August of 1894. He surely passed by Curlew Lake and perhaps camped there as we did, watching the sun set and twilight gather over the Okanogan.
When Lewis and Murakami were editing MacDonald’s Narrative in 1923, they described the site as a neglected Indian cemetery. Today it is a neatly fenced plot which includes also the graves of Jennie Lynch, Nellie Stanton and other family members. The mountains and rivers have not changed at all. On a clear August morning the hills are green and dotted with pines and the river flows through the valley below, a remarkably lovely location.
Changes, of course, have been many. MacDonald went to Japan hoping to open the doors of commerce with that country. Today, as we see the vast amount of commerce – the wheat, cattle, timber, potatoes, fish and fruit of the Columbia River basin that goes to Japan, and when we see the Toyotas, televisions and computers that comes from Japan — we can appreciate the extent to which MacDonald’s dream of commerce and friendship between our two countries has been accomplished. As we near the 100th anniversary of MacDonald’s death, it seems appropriate to honor this man of vision and humanity.
What FOM’s Been Doing …
AT FORT VANCOUVER Boy Scouts from Hyogo Prefecture in Japan joined Washington State representatives to rededicate the Friendship Monument erected in 1988 to honor three Japanese sailors – “shipwrecked” sea-drifters rescued and brought to the Fort in 1833 on orders of Dr. McLaughlin. Chairman Mas Tomita represented FOM.
AT THE OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY FOM was represented at the August 6th opening of an OHS exhibit about the issei, Japanese pioneers who came to Oregon in the late 19th and early 10th centuries. A special FOM flyer was developed for the opening. FOM member George Azumano was among those instrumental in developing the popular exhibit, a joint effort of the japanese American National Museum, Oregon Japanese Americans and OHS.
IN PORTLAND FOM was host to a film crew from KTN-TV/Nagasaki, which created a special documentary about Ranald MacDonald as part of the stations 25th anniversary celebration. Portland-area Friends met for dinner with the film crew. FOM Vice Chairman Bruce Berney entertained the group in Astoria. The film-makers also traveled to Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.; Winnipeg; Toronto; Washington, D.C.; Republic and Spokane, Washington, and Lahaina and Honolulu, Hawaii. A copy of the Japanese-language production will be placed in FOM archives.
FOM/PORTLAND this month also greeted visitors from Japan led by FOM Vice Chair/Japan Masaki Takahashi. The group was making an early centennial pilgrimage to Toroda.
IN JAPAN – Masaki Takahashi, who spearheaded development of the Rishiri monument memorializing Ranald MacDonald, is the new Vice Chairman/Japan for FOM. He will serve as liaison between FOM/US and leaders of four Japanese chapters, who are Dr. Obama, Nagasaki; Mr. Nishiya, Rishiri; Mr. Aisaka, Kansai; and Mr. Kawasaki, Tokyo. The Japanese groups have published a number of MacDonald studies.
AT THE BANK – Chairman Mas Tomita reported on FOM’s fiscal year-end status during the November meeting, noting a 12% increase in current paid membership. income from memberships exceeded budget projects by $231; resale items were up $8, donations up $450, and luncheon receipts up $452, for a total increase in income of $1,181. Expenses overall decreased, down from a budgeted $1800 to $1265, primarily because of reduced printing expenses.