John Michael Foley

John Michael Foley.

Unfortunately not much is known about him.

Foley came from California to British Columbia in 1858, most likely with thousands of other American miners for the gold rush on the Fraser River.

In May 1864 he applied for a position on the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition. In his application letter he wrote; “I … am thoroughly acquainted with quartz and copper mining and bush travel. I can handle an axe or any other implement usual in mining. I am able to take astronomical observations. Dr. Brown is acquainted with me and can vouch for the accuracy of what I say.” On 1 June he was formally appointed as “miner” of the VIEE. Foley proved to be an excellent bush traveler and even a better miner. Brown sent him on every sub-expedition. Foley knew how to read the country, streams and rivers and was responsible for pretty much all the mineral discoveries and on the spot evaluations.

On 14 June Foley discovered payable gold just above the Sooke River Falls. Subsequently, in the morning of 18 July, at the suggestion of Foley, Lieutenant Leech (temporarily in command of the expedition) agreed to send Foley in charge with MacDonald, Meade and Tomo, back to the westward tributary of the Sooke River. On arrival they named it Leech River. They went upstream and for 3 days Foley discovered even better results of payable gold; the best result being $1 to the pan. A gold rush, he knew, would soon follow.

During his stay with the VIEE Foley showed he was very unsatisfied with the lack of allowed prospecting time and tools he was given. He resented the VIE-Committee for their attitude, lack of practical mining knowledge and their absence of a clear answer about reservations for the VIEE members on discoveries made.

27 July was a turning point for him when, in a quarrel at dinner, he pulled a knife on MacDonald. Perhaps under the circumstances Commander Brown ought to have dismissed him in disgrace and without pay. But as Foley had performed his duty so well hitherto, Brown considered that for their sakes it was better to quiet the matter and discharge him in full. However the private letter Brown wrote (on 29 July, see page 149-150), as his report on the incident, was harsh.

Before Brown wrote; “Foley was a very double faced fellow, a Yankee at the bone, and he only entered the expedition for what he could make of it and finally the gold discoveries upset him.”

In all journals or any other documents there had never been a wrong word about Foley and he was given much respect and responsibility until his leave from the VIEE.

On their sub-expedition from Cowichan Lake to Port San Juan Lieutenant P. Leech wrote; “… for Mr. Foley who is the most experienced man in this branch was with us and he had neither time nor tools to give those Creeks a prospect that would Satisfy himself.”

On 26 July the British Colonist wrote; “Mr. … and Mr. Foley are men of large practical experience, the latter, especially, being an old and successful gold miner in California and British Columbia, and those who are acquainted personally with these two men, express unbounded confidence in both their skill and veracity.”

In one of his later journals Frederick Whymper wrote; “I cannot leave this subject without alluding to the great assistance afforded us in the first discovery by Mr. Foley, then a member of the expedition, a practical miner of considerable experience, who knew more of gold and its whereabouts than any five of the other men.”

On 30 July Foley was back in Sooke where he started a new venture, guiding miners up to the Leech River; it did not last very long.

On 9 December 1864 he wrote a letter from Victoria stating he assigned his interest to others in case any reward from the Government, regarding the discovery of payable gold on the Sooke and Leech Rivers, would come true. On 10 April 1865 he wrote again to claim his reward, from Portland, Oregon. After this letter he hasn’t been heard of and so it is unknown what he did later or where or when he died.


Copyright © July 2014, Bart van den Berk.


[Annotated and edited from the following main sources, in order of usage.]

Brown, Robert, MS-0794, Robert Brown Papers, British Columbia Archives, Victoria, Canada. Vol.1, file 4, Contract for monthly stipend of members of the expedition for five months, 1 June 1864; 2 pages.

Brown, Robert, MS-0794, Robert Brown Papers, British Columbia Archives, Victoria, Canada. Vol.3, file 2, Vancouver Island Exploration Committee: correspondence, 1864-1865; 153 pages.

Brown, Robert, MS-0794, Robert Brown Papers, British Columbia Archives, Victoria, Canada. Vol.3, file 4, Vancouver Island Exploration Committee: applications for positions on exploring expedition, 1864; 80 pages.

Whymper, Frederick, Travel and Adventure in the Territory of Alaska, London: John Murray, 1868, 331 pages.


(Keyword) biography John Foley