‘A Fine Old Tar’: James Aitcheson

In 1867, Isaac Cowie, author of Company of Adventurers (1913) had signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company to begin a career as a clerk in Rupert’s Land. On the voyage outward, he met James Aitcheson aboard the Prince Rupert and described him thus:

The boatswain, named Aitchison, was a fine old tar, and, next to the captain, the best seaman on board. He, too, had made many voyages in the Company’s ships, besides all over the globe.

Aitchison’s HBC work record is partially outlined below:

Appointments & Service Outfit Yearstart    finish Position Post/Ship Location Reference
1853-1860 Seaman not employed by HBC. HBCA, E.84/1 fo. 2
1860 entered HBC maritime service Class: A.B. Prince of Wales London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/8 p. 1
1860-1865 Seaman not employed by HBC HBCA, E.84/1 fo.2
1866-1873 Boatswain Prince Rupert HBCA online biography puts him aboard the Prince Regent, but there was no HBC ship of that name and Cowie has him on the Prince Rupert in 1867 London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/20; C.3/8 pp. 51, 65, 81; C.3/17 pp.15, 34, 50, 70, 87. Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 74.
1874 Boatswain Ocean Nymph London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/17 p. 107. HBCA, C.3/20
1875 Boatswain Lady Head London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/17 p. 128. HBCA, C.3/20
1876-1879 Boatswain Prince of Wales London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/18 pp. 12, 26, 40, 53. HBCA, C.3/20
1880 Left Service HBCA, E.84/1 fo. 6
1881 Cook Prince of Wales London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/18 p. 75. HBCA, C.3/20
1882 A.B. Prince of Wales London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/18 p. 84
1883 Cook Prince of Wales London – Hudson Bay HBCA, C.3/18 p. 91
1884-1885 Cook Prince of Wales over-wintered at Charlton Island HBCA, C.3/18 p. 100. HBCA, C.3/20

Note on the over-wintering in 1884 from Mark Aitcheson (2011/02/27):

The ship was forced to winter over at Charlton Island in 1885 with the crew having to make camp on the island and endure the freezing winter. They survived with the assistance of Indian hunters who were dispatched by the local governor from Moose River. A quote from James’ journal:

“January 22 The Indians arrived here today 2 families of them and have been hunting Rabbits for us – 24 of January the Dog Team arrived here today with provisions for us it was a fine sight to see them coming over the ice all dressed in ribbons and little bells.”


Family Ties:


— sp.

2. AITCHESON, Thomas

— sp. HENDERSON, Helen

3. AITCHESON, James. Born 1826/27 January 1827, burgh of Bo’Ness/Borrowstounness, County of Linithgow/Linlithgowshire [so named until 1921 when the county was renamed West Lothian, then, in 1975, Bo’ness became part of the Central Region], Scotland; christened 12 February 1827, Bo’Ness [“Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XYW9-6FS : accessed 17 Oct 2012)]

— sp.


2. AITCHESON, William ‘‘Uncle Bill’.


Potential sources:

On a 16th-century James Aitchison and his wife Janet Gray, and the difficulty of tracing and individuating Aitchison individuals in Scotland see http://www.canadian-studies.info/main/images/stories/Appendices.pdf

I have come across, but have yet to access Barbara C. Murison, “Riches to to Rags to Rebellion: The Career of James Aitchison, Sometime Resident of Scotland, Upper Canada and Van Diemen’s Land” British Journal of Canadian Studies 4, no.2 (December 1989): 257 – 275.


2 Responses to ‘A Fine Old Tar’: James Aitcheson

  1. Mark Aitcheson says:

    Interesting to see your post … I am related to James and have many of his letters. I had not seen that specific reference though. Would be great to get more info from you.

    • hallnjean says:

      Hi Mark,
      Happy to fill in a blank, however small it might be. Wish I had more on James, but am afraid that what I’ve posted pretty much covers it to date. Would be happy to add any additional insight you might have into his career or relatives. Norma

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