Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory
A magnificent series of hand-colored lithographs of the Pacific Northwest forming an important record of the American west before it was touched by western civilization. This is a beautiful display of the northwestern territories during the first years of colonization. This work owes its existence to an undercover expedition which was prompted by a crucial border dispute between the United States and Britain.
Captain H. Warre (A.D.C. to the late Commander of the Forces) and Lieutenant Mervin Vavasour, of the Royal Engineers were agents of the British government who were sent out to Oregon at the height of the controversy between the United States and Great Britain over the sovereignty of that territory. The background to the journey was semi-official and semi-secret: Warre and Vavasour were to make what amounted to a military reconnaissance of the Oregon Territory. American expansionists were making it clear that the uneasy joint occupation of Oregon by the United States and Great Britain was not equitable and were demanding that a northernmost frontier be established.
The expedition left Montreal on 5 May 1845, the officers, disguised as young men of leisure visiting the west "for the pleasure of field sports and scientific pursuit," had been assigned to assess American military capabilities in the Oregon territory. They initially accompanied Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson Bay Company, who was making a tour of inspection of the Company's outposts. The two officers, with the enthusiastic support of the Hudson Bay Company, were sent to gather information that would be of use in the negotiations."
On reaching Fort Garry (plate 1) at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, they teamed up with Peter Skene Ogden (1790-1854), a Company Chief Trader who had vast experience of the West, the Columbia and the Rockies in particular. Travelling mainly on horseback, the journey from the fort over the Rockies to Fort Colville took them from 16 June to 12 August. This section of the journey is illustrated by five plates.
They left Fort Colville in boats and made their way down the Columbia River arriving at Fort Vancouver on the Pacific coast on August 25, 1845 (3 plates). They then spent the winter exploring Oregon Territory and the Pacific Coast, visiting the Company settlement on the Willamette River (2 plates), exploring the Columbia River (1 plate), visiting Fort George on the Columbia River (2 plates), Vancouver Island and Fort Vancouver (1 plate), Cowelitz River and Puget's Sound.
Once the weather started to improve, Warre and Vavasour and a party of about 30 began their westward journey on 25 March 1846, again by boat, but this time against the current. Warre made sketches of Mount Hood (2 plates) during this journey. They arrived at Fort Walla Walla, a distance of about 200 miles, on 3 April. They then took to horses again, and taking a short cut of about 250 miles, made for Fort Colville across a desert landscape (1 plate).
From Fort Colville they went up the Columbia by boat for about 250 miles, setting off to cross the Rockies on foot. After seven days their food ran out, but, fortunately, a search party sent out from the Company station at Jasper's House found them and guided them to safety. The station was on the Atthabasca River, and from here they again took to boats and swiftly descended a distance of nearly 400 miles in two and half days to Fort Assinboine.
On horseback, they travelled 100 miles in three days to Fort Edmonton on the Saskatchawan River. Then, by boat, 500 miles down the river to Fort Carlton. Again on horseback, they crossed the prairie to Red River in ten days, a distance of about 450 miles, arriving back at Fort Garry on 7 June. Here they met up with Sir George Simpson and together returned by boat to Montreal, arriving on 20 July 1846.
However, after returning to England, they found that the territorial dispute had been settled during their absence. Despite this, during the expedition Warre, who had no mean talents as a painter, made over eighty watercolor drawings, many of which included subjects of military importance. When the agents' espionage reports turned out to be superfluous, he decided to publish a selection of his drawings as a book of views. The Sketches were issued two years after the expedition, with an accompanying narrative in which Warre avoids any mention of the true nature of his journey or even the name of his partner, designated as "Lieutenant V----".
As Howes notes, Warre's dramatic depiction of the scenery, situations and incidents he encountered has resulted in "the only western color plates comparable in beauty to those by Bodmer. Copies were issued with the plates either uncolored or colored. The subjects include dramatic vistas of the Rocky Mountains, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and Mount Hood, most peopled with small figures of Native Americans in the foreground. A few scenes, such as the view of Fort Vancouver, depicted on the same plate with the scene of an "Indian tomb" (a canoe about to be launched on its final voyage), delicately evoke the poignancy of colonization.
Warre continued with his military career after his return to Great Britain, serving with distinction in both the Crimean and the New Zealand Maori wars, he was knighted for his military services and retired with the rank of General. In addition to the present work he also published a series of views in the Crimea, published in London in 1856, but the present work is his undoubted masterpiece.
Folio. (21 x 14 1/4 inches). Letterpress title (verso blank), pp.[1-]5 letterpress text Sketch of the Journey. 20 hand-colored lithographed views on 16 sheets, by Dickinson and Co., after Warre, 1 lithographic map, hand-colored in outline with routes marked in red and blue
Abbey Travel II 656; Graff 4543; Howes W-114; Sabin 101455; Smith 10727; Wagner-Camp-Becker 157.
Warre, Henry. Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory. London : Dickinson & Co.. 1848.
Warre, Henry (1848) Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory. London : Dickinson & Co..
Warre, Henry, Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory. London : Dickinson & Co.. 1848.