This Week in History: Charles Newcombe, one of the founders of the Royal BC Museum


In the late 1800s,  after a number of influential people in this province realized that many British Columbia artifacts were being shipped to museums in the United States and Europe, they petitioned that the government create a museum in this province.

And many of the earliest collections in the new BC Provincial Museum were from Charles Newcombe.

“Charles Newcombe was very much like a founder at the museum, in terms of his collecting” explains Marji Johns, Paleontology Collections Manager and Researcher at the Royal BC Museum.

Johns points to fossils collected by Newcombe on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which are 25 million years old.

“We also have here the Newcombe Catalogue where he documented fossil collections and some of the original writing.  And some of the new writing, as corrections came through time. Dr. Charles Newcombe was a medical doctor, and as you’ll notice, some of these are old pill containers, and vials and things like that.And a lot of his pill containers are still kept with the fossils. They have the identification of the fossil on it.”

“He had a good eye for the large and the small. He was an excellent collector” says Johns.

Newcombe collected fossils from Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Haida Gwaii, and Sucia Island near Orcas Island.  And he used his own boat, the Pelican.

Newcombe’s great-great-great grandson Scott Humphreys says the Pelican “was a 24-foot built boat that he built, custom, for himself, to do his excursions up around Haida Gwaii.”

The boat was actually designed to be placed on steamships.  Newcombe would disembark at Haida Gwaii, load his boat with necessary provisions, and then, explains Humphrey, row and sail with photography equipment, which was really heavy back in the day.

The Museum, which housed Newcombe’s collections, was founded in 1886.

“In the late 1800s, it was sort of like ‘discover, collect.’  ‘The Age of Discovery!’ ‘Frontier Science!’  And that’s what he was a part of.”

Humphreys is very proud of his great-great-great grandfather’s contributions.

“We all have the opportunity to visit the museum,” Humphreys said.

“As B.C. residents, I think we all have a responsibility to support the museum, and I think my ancestors were a testament to that fact.”

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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