Lord Selkirk’s occupation of Fort William

Ian August
122 x 122 cm
Oil on Canvas
Lord Selkirk’s motto

Ian August
74 x 43 x 58 cm
Salad bowls, silver platters, foil tape, toys, steel 

On a hot summer night in 1798, The Royal British Navy discovered and annihilated Napoleon’s French fleet as it lay anchored off the coast of Egypt near the mouth of the Nile River.
The battle shifted the balance of the conflict and cemented Britain’s dominant position for the rest of the French Revolutionary Wars.(1)
A Battle of the Nile craze swept Britain with depictions in paintings, poems, and plays. Egyptian-style motifs were added to everything from knick-knacks to architecture. 
In 1804, Prince Regent George IV commissioned twelve silver Egyptian Revival sauce boats from the Crown’s official silversmith, to form part of the Grand Service for his London Palace, Carlton House.
The sauce boat’s twin snake handle with the head of a dog is Kebchet, the Egyptian serpent goddess of embalming fluid. Also featured is Isis-Sopdet, the goddess of the flooding of the Nile River, who is also associated with embalming.


Two identical sauce boats were also made for Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk. On the base, both carry his crest, coronet, and motto: JAMAIS ARRIERE (NEVER BEHIND).
Lord Selkirk was a colonizer born in Scotland. His proposal for a Red River colony was denied by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) until he bought up a controlling share in the Company. At that point, they allowed him to make a go of it - so long as he stayed out of the fur trade and started a strictly agricultural settlement.(2)
In 1814, Lord Selkirk’s Governor banned the Metis from selling Pemmican and from hunting on horseback – their main sources of livelihood. He set up blockades on the Red River and confiscated arms and thousands of pounds of foodstuff from the Metis. The Governor was later forced to resign and stand trial for these orders.(2)
In 1816, The replacement Governor and his Irish paramilitary security force instigated the Seven Oaks Incident, firing on Metis traders and their leader, Cuthbert Grant, as they transported provisions over land for the rival North West Company (NWC). The traders returned fire, killing the force of 21 (including 3 settlers). Grant and the Metis were cleared of all charges. The Governor, however, was found responsible, and his actions are viewed more in line with continuing a fur trade war against the North West Company than agricultural development.(2)


In 1816, Lord Selkirk had hired a contingent of 100 Swiss mercenaries from the disbanded de Meuron regiment and had set off for his first visit to his Red River colony, when he learned of the Seven Oaks incident. Selkirk turned his private army to the NWC headquarters at Fort William for retribution.(3)
Sixty intoxicated soldiers with bayonets fixed, forced the gate of the Fort and spread a general terror amongst the inhabitants while shouting a most horrid huzzah! Selkirk halted all shipments of NWC goods, and sent the company’s controlling partners East on bogus charges, except one which he locked in a cramped, lightless cell. The captive was kept inebriated until he reached a derangement of the mind and traded his release for a signed letter outlining the transfer of all provisions, furs, furniture, animals, the fort and the soil it stood on, to Lord Selkirk.(3)
During that winter in Fort William, Lord Selkirk would sit and sketch his view.
The seizure of Fort William shifted the balance of the conflict and cemented HBC’s dominant position for the rest of the Fur Trade Wars. (3)
Selkirk returned to London to face multiple charges for acts of injustice and oppression during his illegal occupation of Fort William. The legal proceedings were long and costly, draining his remaining fortune and health. Selkirk lost his case and died shortly after, on 8 April 1820.(4)
His death allowed a merger of the competing companies and an end to the Fur Trade Wars.(4)

1. Jessica Brain (2012) The Battle of the Nile. Retrieved from: Historic-UK.com
2. Barkwell, Lawrence J. (2015) The Battle of Seven Oaks: A Metis Perspective. Second Edition. Winnipeg, MB. Luis Riel Institute
3. Jean Morrison (2007) Superior Rendezvous-Place: Fort William in the Canadian Fur Trade. Toronto, ON. Dundern
4. J.M Bumsted (2008, Jan 22) Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. Retrieved from: thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

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