MacDonald Appears in Recent Books

MACDONALD APPEARS IN RECENT BOOKS

Robert Brown and the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition.  Edited by John Hayman, Univ. of British Columbia Press, 1989.  204 pgs., $31.95

One of Ranald MacDonald’s ventures after he returned to land and the Canadian Northwest was his membership on the Vancouver island Exploring Expedition led by Robert Brown.  Brown’s journal of the exploration, a 4 1/2 month criss-cross of the island as far north as Comox, reports the discovery of the Leech River gold fields and of a coal seem on Browns River.

The book, Volume 8 of the Recollections of the Pioneers of British Columbia, includes numerous references to Ranald as well as a picture of him and Frederick Whymper, the expedition artist, coming spectacularly downriver on a raft.  Whymper’s illustrations of expedition activities and landmarks are used lavishly in the book.

Ranald’s own original journal of the expedition, scratched out over his weeks in the field, is in the Provincial Archives of British Columbia.  It supplements some of the official reporting done by Brown in his account.

The editor refers to MacDonald as “undoubtedly the most colorful and entertaining of the group … At forty, he was the oldest of the explorers, but his persistent high spirits made him, according to Brown, a popular member of the group”.  One rainy night, Brown quotes MacDonald as saying, ” ‘ … the devil was whipping his wife’ and, if we may judge from his frequent allusions to that gentleman, he appears to be on terms of considerable intimacy …”

In addition to giving readers as account of life on the island as the expedition found it in 1864, this book gives us a rare glimpse of Ranald as seen by his contemporaries.

An Ocean Between Us:  The Changing Relationship of Japan and the United States, Told in Four Stories from the Life of an American Town.  By Evelyn Iritani.  Wm. Morrow & Co.; 272 pgs., $23.00

Evelyn Iritani, daughter of a second-generation Japanese-American father and a born-and-reared-in-Japan mother, has covered Asian-related economic, political and cultural matters for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer since 1987.  Her book reflects both her birth and her vocation; it is a first-hand look at the impact of the Japanese presence in Port Angeles, Washington, and reaction to it.  Her “Four Stories” are about four situations involving Japan-U.S. relations, the first of them telling of the “drifters” enslaved by the Makah Indians (later) rescued through the efforts of the Hudson’s Bay Co. in 1834.  She expands on the bewhiskered and fanciful fiction that Ranald MacDonald shared school-days with the trio by stating that he “befriended the Japanese sailors and traded English lessons for schooling in Japanese.”  (In fact, of course, Ranald briefly attended John Ball’s school, held from November 1832~February 1833; the three Japanese youngsters were students of Cyrus Shepherd in the fall of 1834.)  Another reference to Ranald says he departed via “rowboat” from the whaler in which he had sailed to Japan; Ranald described his craft as “custom-built” for the captain, with sails and a mast.

However, Iritani’s personal insights and interviews with contemporaries make her book well worth reading.

*****

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