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Manitoba History: James Farquharson - Agent and Agitator

by Allen Ronaghan
Viking, Alberta

Manitoba History, Number 17, Spring 1989

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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One of the shadowy secondary figures in Red River history is James Farquharson, best known to students as the father-in-law of John Christian Schultz, member of parliament, senator, and lieutenant-governor of Manitoba. Very little is known of Farquharson, but what we know about him enables us to see better how Schultz was subverting the volunteers at Fort Garry during the chaotic months of the Archibald administration early in the 1870s.

Farquharson was born in Scotland about 1819 or 1820. We may take our pick of four birthplaces given by Farquharson or the Schultz family at various times: Aberdeen, Balmoral, Edinburgh, Glasgow. He told Charles Alston Messiter that he was the son of an Edinburgh clergyman and had run away from home when he was sixteen to become an actor. He was a Shakespearean actor for some years until he decided that he was not making enough money at it. Then he emigrated, and arrived at St. John’s, Newfoundland, just after the disastrous fire of 1846. Here he hired himself to a house-painter and developed a talent for the work. He became adept at imitating different woods with his paint, and from this time forward he considered painting his profession. He left Newfoundland and set himself up as a house-painter and decorator in Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana. He returned to Scotland, if we can go by what he said later on, and in Scotland he married and had two daughters. When the British Columbia gold boom began he decided to send his wife and daughters to stay with friends in Iowa and, in 1862, he joined a party of Englishmen each of whom paid a certain company forty pounds to transport them to British Columbia. This company’s bubble burst in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Englishmen found themselves cast adrift. Farquharson bought an ox and a cart and travelled alone to Fort Garry. There he worked until he could buy a new outfit and set out for British Columbia alone. When he reached Fort Carlton his ox died, and Farquharson was reduced to living with some old Indians who were given scraps from the Fort. It was against Hudson’s Bay Company policy to help any indigent white man coming into the Company’s territories. [1]

At Fort Carlton Farquharson was discovered by one Messiter, a young Englishman who had travelled from Britain with Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle to experience a season of sport and adventure in the vast expanses of Rupert’s Land. Messiter and Milton did not get along very well, and at Fort Carlton they decided to part company. Milton and Cheadle built a cabin somewhere northwest of Fort Carlton, while Messiter chose to build his in the Thickwood Hills west of Carlton and make his headquarters there. On a trip into Carlton for supplies he met Farquharson, found him a “pleasant and amusing man,” and invited him to come and winter with him.

In most ways Farquharson proved nearly useless as a winter companion. He could not stand the cold, he refused to use snowshoes, he would not do his share in gathering wood and keeping up the fire, and when he acted as cook he used too much cayenne pepper for Messiter’s liking. However, he spent much time during the winter decorating the interior of Messiter’s cabin and he painted the fireplace in such a way that it appeared to be made of marble and to have vases standing on it. On certain evenings he would entertain Messiter and visiting Indians with recitations from Julius Caesar and other plays by Shakespeare. These recitations amused the Indians greatly. [2]

On one occasion Farquharson and Messiter made a trip to visit Milton and Cheadle in their winter quarters. Farquharson is referred to in Cheadle’s journal as “Farquharson,” “the painter,” and the “Columbian,” the latter an allusion to Farquharson’s stated intention of going to British Columbia. From Cheadle’s journal we learn that Farquharson was not above promising to send materials for a Christmas plum pudding from food supplies which were not his. [3] Messiter later found that someone had stolen part of his supply of raisins, currants and citron.

There seems little doubt that, in befriending Farquharson, Messiter saved his life. Farquharson was truly fortunate to have found such a patient and generous friend. When the two men parted company at Carlton in the spring of 1863 Messiter understood that Farquharson intended to join the first party headed for the British Columbia gold mines. Whether he was actually able to do so is not known.

It is certain, however, that Farquharson spent the summer of 1867 painting the interior of the new Roman Catholic cathedral at St. Boniface. Father Lestanc wrote enthusiastically to Bishop Taché describing and praising Farquharson’s work. Lestanc stated that Farquharson had painted the choir benches the color of oak and had done a “superb” job. [4] The biographical information available is not consistent on how and when Farquharson’s family reached Red River, but it is certain that Agnes Farquharson, James’s daughter, was at the convent at St. Boniface in August of 1867 and planned to marry John Christian Schultz. She wanted to remain at the convent after her marriage to Schultz, but neither the Mother Superior nor Father Lestanc approved of this plan. It must be assumed that after the September wedding in the Bishop’s Palace at St. Boniface Agnes left the convent. There is no doubt that James Farquharson signed the register. [5]

After his daughter’s wedding Farquharson put together an outfit and again headed west, this time in the company of “Pa-pe-nay” Racette, son of George Racette, an old trader. By the time he met Isaac Cowie at Qu’Appelle fort, he and “Pa-pe-nay” had been plundered of their goods by a band of Assiniboines who took everything they owned except the clothes they were wearing. Farquharson introduced himself to Cowie as the father-in-law of “Doctor” Schultz. Like Messiter, Cowie found Farquharson a good conversationalist. Farquharson told Cowie of his extensive travels since leaving Aberdeen, and talked of Demerara in British Guiana and of Jamaica, where the best brand of Hudson’s Bay Company rum was made. He invited Cowie to his cabin to partake of curried chicken and plum pudding, and Cowie was pleased to accept the invitation. Farquharson’s conversation was of the development of the great West by a transcontinental railway which he predicted the Imperial government would build in spite of Hudson’s Bay Company opposition. [6]

The Manitoban newspaper office after election riot, September 1872.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

We find no more references to Farquharson until January of 1870, when what must surely be a reference to him appeared in the New Nation:

We hear rumors of Jamaica and Demerara being annexed to the new republic [at Portage la Prairie] but we should advise strongly against it as being liable to promote discord. [7]

If Farquharson had continued to use Winnipeg-Fort Garry as his headquarters between trading trips to the West the readers of this news item probably knew precisely to whom the remarks referred. Had Farquharson gone to Portage la Prairie to take part in the secret meetings of those conspiring against the Provisional Government? We cannot be certain, although in view of what Schultz was doing at the time we must not neglect the possibility. In later years the Schultz family stated that after Schultz’s escape on January 23rd, 1870, Farquharson was “arrested and placed with William Hallett who was heavily ironed [handcuffed] in the room from which Dr. Schultz has escaped. [8] Had Farquharson, who lived with his daughter and son-in-law, managed to avoid capture when the Provisional Government forced the surrender of those barricaded in the Schultz house? It seems improbable, but Farquharson’s name is included in only one of the known lists of prisoners taken. [9] Begg’s Journal records that Farquharson was arrested on February 9th and released on the 15th, a total of seven days imprisonment. Farquharson later claimed compensation for twelve days imprisonment. Begg’s Journal also records that Riel would not take Farquharson’s oath “as he said he had twice already broken his oath.” Farquharson was pushed out of the Fort. [10]

In the days of great political activity in January of 1870, when delegates to the Convention were being elected, Farquharson’s name was on a list dated January 24th of those nominating A. G. Bannatyne. The next day his name was on a list as one who supported Alfred F. Scott. He must have been free at this time. [11]

After his release from prison in February, Farquharson disappeared from view, and he did not emerge until after the arrival of the Red River Expeditionary Force in late August. At that time he was trying to place an advertisement in the New Nation offering a reward of twenty pounds each for the capture of Riel, O’Donoghue and Lepine. The lieutenant-governor, Adams George Archibald, was able to have this advertisement suppressed, but news of the offer was published in Toronto and Montreal newspapers: “A resident of Winnipeg—Dr. Schultz’s father-in-law—has offered a reward ...” [12] A report appeared in eastern newspapers in late September about a brutal attack on a young man named Cyr. Again the assailant was not named but was described as “an individual who lives with Mr. Schultz.” [13] By that time, however, Farquharson had achieved much greater notoriety in the Winnipeg-Fort Garry settlement because of his part in the drowning of Elzear Goulet, a Métis who had been a member of the Provisional Government court martial which tried Thomas Scott. On September 13th, to quote Archibald’s report,

A man by the name of Elzear Goulet ... made his appearance in the town of Winnipeg, was recognized in a drinking saloon and pointed out ... He was immediately chased by three men and when he came to the River rushed in and tried to make his escape by swimming ... [14]

Archibald arranged for an investigation into the affair. Twenty subpoenas were issued. Two informations and eleven depositions were taken in writing and seven persons were examined verbally. Judge Johnson’s summary of the information concluded that a charge of murder could be made against Farquharson, who had incited the others to pursue Goulet, as well as against individuals named Saunders, Madigan and Campbell, who had pursued Goulet. Copies of the report were sent to Ottawa and to the Colonial Office in London. There Lord Kimberley expressed the opinion “that there was evidence enough to send the case for trial,” [15] and the information about it was sent to the Law Officers for an opinion. The Law Officers agreed that “measures should be taken” for prosecution of those involved. [16] However, no one was ever brought to justice.

Judge Johnson informed Archibald in December that he felt the evidence was “not sufficiently strong to authorize him to say that the Justices ought to issue their warrants” against those named. [17] Saunders and Madigan were Volunteers of the Ontario Battalion and Campbell was a Voyageur who had come west with the Red River Expeditionary Force. Farquharson was the father-in-law of the Volunteers’ idol, “Doctor” Schultz. The Law Officers of the Crown in London might well suggest that “measures should be taken” to prosecute those involved, but Johnson was at Fort Garry where he could gauge the temper of the Volunteers. Fights between the Volunteers and the Metis were a daily occurrence in the fall of 1870. [18] The need for a police force to maintain peace between the Metis and the army of occupation was seen in September and reported in the Montreal press in October. [19] Johnson well knew that caution was necessary where attempts to punish men of the occupation force were concerned.

Writing nearly forty years after the event as one who had been in Winnipeg at the time, Dr. J. H. O’Donnell had this to say of the four men involved in the Goulet affair:

The men who drove Goulet to his grave were of no credit to either party, and were a class having no standing in the community ... [20]

With all respect to Dr. O’Donnell it would appear that in some very real sense those who incited and pursued Goulet had a rather special standing in the community and were, in fact, above the law.

In early October reports emanating from the province of Manitoba began to refer to a “reign of terror,” of an organized effort to drive out by threats or actual violence all the Métis population. [21] The third issue of Schultz’s Manitoba News-Letter contained a hint of a reason for such a campaign:

A correspondent at White Horse Plains writes, saying that a good many of Riel’s “loyal men” are selling their claims dirt cheap ... and asking why don’t some of the new arrivals come into this locality and buy farms while the “truly loil” are scared? Thanks to his hint they will do so ... [22]

Schultz had inaugurated the “reign of terror” by invading the offices of the New Nation on September 6th with three companions and assaulting Thomas Spence, the editor. [23] As a result of damage done to the press by Schultz or his accomplices before their departure the New Nation was unable to resume publication, and Schultz’s News-Letter had a press monopoly until the Manitoban appeared in mid-October. [24] A study of News-Letter issues of September and October shows the newspaper was not slow to try to ingratiate itself with the Volunteers. And reports in eastern newspapers prove that leaders of the Métis were deeply concerned about the number of people who were out on the plains and fearful of returning to their homes in the Settlement. [25]

Archibald was a lieutenant-governor who had to be his own premier and was in a very difficult position. The situation at Fort Garry required strong measures if peace was to be restored, but there was no dependable force for him to call upon. Archibald’s treasurer, Marc Girard, knew as early as 17 September that the Volunteers could not be depended upon to obey orders. [26] As for Archibald, he certainly was under no illusions in the matter when he wrote to Macdonald in December:

Mr. Schultz came up with the troops—he made many people believe that they were brought up by him. He had gone down to Canada for them, and they were here to do his bidding. [27]

The organization of a civil police force proved to be only a partial solution.

Archibald’s correspondence with Macdonald in 1871 was full of references to Schultz. In March Archibald reported that Schultz had “encouraged the disposition to rowdy-ism among the soldiers—and he or his immediate friends have been prominent in every trouble we have had.” [28] Archibald had reported details of the mutiny of February 18, 1871, when the Volunteers of the Ontario Rifles were out of control for hours. [29] And Archibald was not alone in his assessment of the situation at Fort Garry. The Volunteer Review, a militia magazine with correspondents at Fort Garry, commented thus in March of 1871:

The man who encourages lawlessness in a soldier ... is not only a public enemy but a scoundrel of the deepest dye. There are such men in Canada today, and unfortunately they have control of the columns of newspapers. [30]

By September of 1871 the Volunteer Review was prepared to name names. Reporting on the appointment of John Christian Schultz as colonel of a Red River regiment the Review commented as follows:

... but little confidence can be felt in a man who could so far allow his selfish vanity to blind him to his plain public duty, as to prostitute the temporary prosperity he enjoyed to purposes of factious violence and to do his best to bring disgrace on the military service of his country by tampering and causing his agents to tamper with the sense of military discipline of the men of the first Dominion expedition. [31]

Farquharson was in the news again in October of 1871. According to the Manitoba Liberal he was one of those who enlisted with the “loyal” men at the time of the so-called “Fenian” raid, [32] and Le Metis reported that he was responsible for the mendacious Charette affidavit to the effect that Riel and his committee enlisted for service only after it was known that the raid was a failure. [33] We know from Archibald’s reports to Macdonald that Farquharson was active in December of 1871. At that time he was one of a group of men who disguised themselves and went under cover of darkness to the Riel home. There they pointed pistols at the women and demanded to know Kiel’s whereabouts. In his report to Macdonald, Archibald stated that Farquharson “had been in every row” since Archibald’s arrival as lieutenant-governor. [34] Incidents like this added impetus to the exodus of Metis families noticed by Father Kavanagh of White Horse Plains in August of 1871: “Many ... are putting their land up for sale.” [35]

In May of 1872 Schultz, now member of Parliament for Lisgar, left Ottawa suddenly to return to Red River, ostensibly to consult with his constituents. He was widely criticized for leaving his duties in the capital, and the Manitoban was probably close to the mark when it reported that he was buying up lands “in considerable numbers at low figures. [36]

The Manitoban newspaper office after election riot, September 1872.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

If press reports can be trusted Farquharson was at the pinnacle of his career as an agent and agitator in September of 1872, at the time of the federal election in Selkirk. Using as a pretext the suggestion that certain names should be but were not on the voters’ list, a number of “loyal” supporters of Wilson, Donald Smith’s opponent, went over to St. Boniface and created a riot near the home of Roger Goulet where the polling place was located. Farquharson was seen to drop on one knee, take deliberate aim at St. Boniface men and fire his revolver again and again and again. [37] Luckily, he was no more effectual at firing a revolver than he had been at collecting firewood for Messiter, for while several people were wounded no one was killed. When the mob withdrew from St. Boniface and returned to Winnipeg they did so much damage to the newspaper offices there that the Manitoban, the Gazette and Le Metis were not able to resume publication for over a month. Schultz’s mouthpiece, the Liberal, was the only newspaper left able to publish. [38] Schultz was ecstatic about the damage to the printing plants. “The Metis office press and type ...” he wrote to John Gunn, “went out the window and it will be some time before ‘Jean Baptiste’ can express his grievances in print.” [39]

Schultz’s alibi was excellent. As he wrote to Donald Gunn, he had been out of town in the Lisgar constituency: “The horse being tired I only came to Mr. Tait’s last night,—and [came] from there up to here this morning.” [40] “It seems to be a fact ... that the French struck the first blow,” he later wrote to John Gunn, “and fired the first shot across the River, and that Ricey Howard commenced the scrimmage on this side, hence with them rests the onus of the row.” [41]

Having “got the rights of the story” from Mulvey and Wilson, Schultz went to see Archibald and warn him “against making arrests.” Schultz said he “had heard” that a body of Metis “were to be called in as Special Constables to aid in the arrests.” Archibald replied that no such idea had been entertained. Schultz then advised that it would never do to make any arrests at all. If the attempt were made the officers would be resisted and there would be civil war. He gave it as his opinion that the soldiers would take sides with the mob. [42]

Schultz knew, and knew that Archibald knew, exactly who would be involved if arrests were made. Archibald informed Macdonald on the point and asked advice:

The Ringleaders inciting the mob are Cornish and Mulvey; the former you know at least of repute, the latter is Editor of the “Liberal” and captain of a militia company. Both harangued the mob on the occasion of the row at the Polling Booth, stimulating them to disorder by every kind of foul epithet hurled at the authorities. Mulvey declared to the mob that if the soldiers were ordered to fire, they would not obey their officers, and they need therefore not fear them ...

Archibald then turned to the part played in the St. Boniface fight by James Farquharson:

I do not lay much stress upon the fact that that man “Farquharson” who is particularly and not improperly known as “Old Depravity” is Dr. Schultz’s Father-in-law. A very good man may be unfortunate in having a blackguard hold that relation to him, but of course, in the popular mind, it leads to very natural, if not entirely logical inferences.

“Now,” Archibald concluded, “the question arises what is to be done?”

Are we to take Dr. Schultz’s advice and do nothing? Is property here to depend upon the will of the mob, and life upon the accuracy of aim of such men as Farquharson? [43]

Macdonald’s answer reveals much:

I note what you say about Schultz ... but we must treat him now as a friend and supporter. This however should not deter you from pursuing a firm course in the way of vindicating the law. [44]

A few days later, and after Archibald’s departure for Ottawa, Macdonald’s spy in Winnipeg, Gilbert McMicken, reported to Macdonald:

... a lot of roughs in from Moorehead during the excitement—Schultz, Lynch, Cornish, Mulvey and Davis can at any time plunge us into the wildest disorder. [45]

It is clear that in October of 1872, when Archibald left Manitoba, there was no security of life or property in the province. Authority was not in the office of the Lieutenant-Governor, where it was supposed to be; the power to create disorder “at any time” was in the hands of Schultz and associates. Furthermore, Macdonald knew it. If this is true we must ask ourselves what the motives of these men were. The answer is to be found in Archibald’s correspondence with Macdonald. At the time of the nocturnal raid on the Riel home in which Farquharson had taken part Archibald reported to Macdonald the gist of a conversation between a young man who served him as a spy and the saloon-keeper Davison, one of Schultz’s staunchest supporters. “The pacification we want is extermination,” Davison had stated. “We shall never be satisfied till we have driven the French half breeds [sic] out of the country.” [46] For Schultz and men like Davison the exodus of Metis meant lands for sale and lands for sale meant profits.

James Farquharson did not live to see the transcontinental railway which he had predicted. He also did not live to commit any indiscretions which would reveal how he had served his political boss. He died on November 1, 1874, “aged 55 years.” [47]


1. C. A. Messiter, Sport and Adventure Among The North American Indians, London, no publisher, 1890, pp. 49-50.

2. Ibid. p. 84.

3. A. G. Doughty and Gustave Lanctot (eds.), Cheadle’s Journal of Trip Across Canada, (Ottawa, Graphic Publishers, Ltd., 1931), pp. 93, 95, 98-9, 112, 116, 117, 118, 126.

4. Provincial Archives of Manitoba (afterwards PAM), MGIO F5, Societe Historique de St. Boniface, Bulletin n. 3, 4, Lestanc to Tache, 19 aout, 1867.

5. Ibid. See also Nor’Wester, Sept. 21, 1867.

6. Isaac Cowie, The Company of Adventurers (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913), pp. 237-8.

7. New Nation, Jan. 21, 1870.

8. Daily Free Press, Nov. 2, 1874.

9. G. Dugas, Histoire Veridique des Faits Qui Ont Prepare Le Mouvement des Metis (Montreal Libraririe Beauchemin, 1905), p. 115.

10. W. L. Morton (ed.), Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal (New York, Greenwood Press Publishers, 1969), p. 308.

11. Ibid., pp. 282, 284.

12. The Globe, Sept. 19, 1870 (Red River, Sept. 2).

13. Nouveau Monde, Oct. 15, 1870 (Red River, Sept. 17).

14. Canada. Sessional Papers (afterwards C.S.P.), 1871 (No. 20), Archibald to Howe, Sept. 17, 1870.

15. Colonel Office (CO)/42 702 722 p. 160, dated Jan. 27, 1871.

16. CO/42 702 722 p. 269, dated March 4, 1871.

17. C.S.P. 1871(No. 20), Archibald to Howe, Dec. 7, 1870.

18. Glenbow Museum, William Laurie, “Gleanings from my memory of fifty odd years,” p. 11.

19. Le Nouveau Monde, Oct. 8, 1870 (Fort Garry, Oct. 2).

20. Dr. J. H. O’Donnell, Manitoba As I Saw It (Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1909), p. 70.

21. St. Paul Weekly Press, Oct. 6, 1870.

22. Manitoba News-Letter, Sept. 20, 1870.

23. News-Letter, Sept. 13, 1870; Telegraph, Sept. 22, 1870; Globe, Sept. 27, 1870; La Minerve, Sept. 28, 1870; Le Nouveau Monde, Oct. 8, 1870.

24. La Minerve, Sept. 28, 1870; Le Nouveau Monde, Oct. 8, 1870; Manitoban, Oct. 15, 1870.

25. Telegraph, Sept. 22, 1870; Le Nouveau Monde, Oct. 8, 1870.

26. House of Commons. Journals. 1874, VIII, “Report of the Select Committee” (afterwards “Report-1874”), Girard’s deposition, p. 179.

27. Public Archives of Canada (afterwards PAC), MG26A, John A. Macdonald Papers, vols. 187-8, Archibald to Macdonald, Dec. 11, 1870.

28. Macdonald Papers, vols. 187-8, Archibald to Macdonald, March 8, 1871.

29. Manitoban, Feb. 25, 1871; Morning Chronicle (Halifax), Mar. 9, 1871; O’Donnell, Manitoba As I Saw It, p. 52.

30. Volunteer Review, March 27, 1871.

31. Volunteer Review, Sept. 25, 1871.

32. Manitoba Liberal, Oct. 18, 1871.

33. Le Metis, Oct. 19, 1871; “Report-1874,” Archibald’s deposition, p. 153.

34. Macdonald Papers, vols. 187-8, Archibald to Macdonald, Dec. 13, 1871.

35. Archives de 1’Archeveche de St. Boniface (afterwards AASB), Kavanagh to ?, August 14, 1871.

36. Manitoban, May 4, 1872.

37. Manitoban, Sept. 21, 1872; Manitoba Gazette, Sept. 24, 1872.

38. Manitoban, Sept. 21, 1872.

39. PAM MG2 C25, Schultz Papers, Schultz to John Gunn, Sept. 23, 1872.

40. Schultz Papers, Schultz to Donald Gunn, Sept. 20, 1872.

41. Schultz Papers, Schultz to John Gunn, Sept. 23, 1872.

42. Macdonald Papers, vol. 187, Archibald to Macdonald, Sept. 25, 1872.

43. Ibid.

44. Macdonald Papers, vol. 187, Macdonald to Archibald, Oct. 7, 1872.

45. Macdonald Papers, vol. 246, McMicken to Macdonald, Oct. 13, 1872.

46. Macdonald Papers, vols. 187-8, Archibald to Macdonald, Dec. 13, 1871.

47. Daily Free Press, Nov. 2, 1874.

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