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Date: October 30, 2008

UVic Uncovers Empire's Correspondence

If not for some quick-acting faculty and staff at the University of Victoria, over 7000 digital files—transcriptions of all the government documents that passed between Victoria and London in the colonial period—might have been lost forever.

As UVic prepared to shut down its last IBM mainframe—a technology workhorse that housed all research applications since the late 1960s—UVIC faculty and staff discovered important digital files. They contained Emeritus Professor James Hendrickson’s massive project undertaken in the 1980s: the transcription from difficult-to-read archival documents of all the Vancouver Island and British Columbia Colonial Despatches.

Colonial Despatches (the 19th century spelling of dispatches) are the most authoritative documentary source available for the gold rush, Aboriginal relations and the colonial period in BC. They were a special kind of correspondence—communications between the governor of a colony and the Colonial Office in London. The despatches included related correspondence, maps, legislation, and clippings. Governors were required to report on everything of importance that happened in their colony.

“The Colonial Despatches paint a compelling picture of the colonial period of BC,” says UVic history professor John Lutz. “With BC’s 150th birthday just around the corner not only is the digital publication of the despatches timely, but it also provides a valuable resource for land title and many other issues.”

Thanks to a grant from the Ike Barber Foundation, matched by UVic Libraries, Hendrickson’s transcriptions of the 1858 despatches, originally encoded in the pre-Internet era, have been re-encoded to current international standards. For the first time, these are being made available in a publicly accessible website (http://bcgenesis.uvic.ca).

Media advisory: On November 3 UVic’s Humanities’ Computing and Media Centre,
UVic Libraries and the Department of History will launch this new website, complete with transcriptions and scans of the original despatches. The official launch will take place at
3:30 p.m. at the Maritime Museum.

Media contacts:
John Lutz (History) at 250-721-7392 or jlutz@uvic.ca
Chris Petter (McPherson Library) at 250-721-8247 or cpetter@uvic.ca
Maria Lironi (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6139 or lironim@uvic.ca

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

(image: fern)