DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

BARKLEY, CHARLES WILLIAM, ship’s captain and fur trader; b. 1759, son of Charles Barkley; d. 16 May 1832 in Hertford, England.

At age 11, Charles William Barkley went to sea with his father, commander of the East India Company’s ship Pacific. After his first voyage Barkley sailed to the West Indies in the merchantman Betsy but returned to the eastern seas on seven subsequent voyages for the East India Company. Even though his father drowned while he was still a lad, Barkley rose rapidly in the company’s service. In 1786 he left the company to take what was apparently his first command, the ship Loudoun, outfitted for a trading voyage along the northwest coast of America. At 400 tons, the Loudoun, owned by various supercargoes in China and several East India Company directors in England who together called themselves the Austrian East India Company, was the largest and finest vessel that had yet visited the coast. Barkley subscribed £3,000 of his own to the venture.

The Loudoun left the Thames on 6 Sept. 1786 and sailed first to Ostend (Belgium) where she picked up supplies. There her name was changed to the Imperial Eagle and she hoisted Austrian colours since British vessels were required to respect the monopoly rights of the East India Company. While at Ostend, Barkley met and on 27 Oct. 1786 married Frances Hornby Trevor, the 17-year-old daughter of the minister of the Protestant chapel at Ostend. On 24 November the Imperial Eagle sailed for the Pacific via Brazil and Cape Horn.

The vessel reached Nootka Sound (B.C.) the following June. Barkley and his wife met John Mackay*, who had been left there the previous summer by James Charles Stuart Strange* to learn Indian customs. Mackay taught Barkley much about the Indian traders and also about the geography of Vancouver Island and the waters to the south of it, thus giving him an advantage over rivals such as James Colnett*. Barkley traded extensively with the Indians at Nootka and Clayoquot sounds and at another very large sound to which he gave his own name. Late in July the Imperial Eagle sailed into an extensive waterway that Barkley immediately recognized as the long-sought-for strait said to have been discovered by Juan de Fuca*. On his chart he named it after Fuca. He was surprised to find this strait because Captain James Cook* had stated emphatically that it did not exist.

After the loss of some crewmen at an island he named Destruction Island (Wash.), Barkley left for Macao (near Canton, People’s Republic of China), which he reached in December 1787, and there he sold his 800 furs on an overstocked market for 30,000 Spanish dollars. He sailed with a cargo for Mauritius and then to Calcutta where he hoped to outfit his vessel for the second of three projected voyages to the northwest coast. That project never materialized for the East India Company had discovered the threat to its monopoly. According to Mrs Barkley, her husband’s partners, eager to dissociate themselves from the venture, ignored his contract, sold the Imperial Eagle, and handed his charts and instruments to John Meares*, who later claimed some of the captain’s discoveries as his own. Barkley recovered £5,000 in a case settled out of court in Calcutta.

Between 1788 and 1791 Barkley commanded the Princess Frederica, sailing in the Indian Ocean. After being dissuaded by his brother from continuing in the lucrative Indian coastal trade, on 16 Aug. 1792 Barkley was again on the northwest coast, in command of the 80-ton brig Halcyon, which he had purchased in Calcutta. Barkley traded at Sitka Sound (Alaska) and then sailed for the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, China, and eventually Mauritius.

Nothing is known of the latter years of Barkley’s career but they were probably not prosperous. In her diary Mrs Barkley wrote at his death, “I lost my beloved husband – in his 73rd year – worn out more by care and sorrow than by years, as he had been blessed with a very strong constitution.” Barkley also left two sons and two daughters. Three other children had predeceased him. Mrs Barkley, his companion on two circumnavigations of the world, died in 1845 and was buried near him.

Charles William Barkley’s name, which has been variously spelled, is perpetuated in Barclay Street, Vancouver, and Barkley Sound.

Barry M. Gough

PABC, AA20.5, H12B, Halcyon, Princess Frederica; L92, Halcyon, Loudoun; L92W, J. T. Walbran, “The cruise of the Imperial Eagle” (1936). “Documents relating to the mystery of Mrs Barkley’s diary,” ed. W. K. Lamb, BCHQ, 6 (1942): 49–59. Beth Hill, The remarkable world of Frances Barkley: 1769–1845 (Sidney, B.C., 1978). W. K. Lamb, “The mystery of Mrs. Barkley’s diary,” BCHQ, 6: 31–47; “Notes on the Barkley family”: 143–44. J. T. Walbran, “The cruise of the Imperial Eagle,” Victoria Colonist, 3 March 1901.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Barry M. Gough, “BARKLEY, CHARLES WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barkley_charles_william_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barkley_charles_william_6E.html
Author of Article:   Barry M. Gough
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   June 25, 2024