English Camp

watercolor painting of a ship docked in front of a military encampment composed of numerous wooden buildings with forested land behind it and moody, multi-colored skies.
This artist's depiction shows the Royal Marine Camp at its apex with 27 structures, a formal garden and ample room on the parade ground. The ship is HMS Boxer, a steam gunboat with shallow enough draft to negotiate the waters of Garrison Bay. The Boxer called on a regular basis from Victoria, BC,  bringing mail, food and other stores along with passengers going both ways.

NPS Painting by Richard Schlecht


When Great Britain and the United States in 1859 agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until the water boundary between the two nations could be settled, it was decided that camps would be located on opposite ends of the island.

Shortly after the British and American governments affirmed Lieutenant General Winfield Scott’s proposal to jointly occupy San Juan Island, the Royal Navy started looking for a home for its British Royal Marine Light Infantry contingent.

Capt. James Prevost, commander of H.M.S. Satellite, selected the site on Garrison Bay — 15 miles northwest of American Camp — from among seven finalists. He’d remembered the bay shore from explorations two years earlier as a part of the water boundary commission survey of the island. At that time, one of his officers, Lieutenant Richard Roche, had commented on seeing abandoned Indian plank houses nestled among a vast shell midden.

Roche described the ground as "well-sheltered, has a good supply of water and grass, and is capable of affording maneuvering ground for any number of men that are likely to be required in that locality..." He added that a trail, 11 miles long, led from this area to the Hudson’s Bay farm at Bellevue.

Four men  (two at center sitting and two at ends standing) in front of a wooden porch.
Capt. William A. Delacombe (far Left) poses on the porch of the bachelor officers' quarters with (from left) August Hoffmeister and Drs. Redfern and Potter. Both physicians were Royal Navy physicians. Hoffmeister was the post sutler.

The marines landed on March 23, 1860. They brought along the necessary materials to erect the first building, a commissary (or storehouse) about 40 by 20 feet (which still stands). The camp commander, Captain George Bazalgette, RM, then placed a requisition for "84 tin pannikins, 36 tin plates, 3 'dishes', 10 camp kettles, 18 lanterns, 1 measures set, and a small quantity of stationery."

The command consisted of two subalterns (junior officers), an assistant surgeon and 83 noncommissioned officers and men. After clearing the shore of its thick growth of trees, they erected the commissary and planted a small garden where the formal garden lies today.

Barracks, cooking houses and other vital structures quickly followed, especially after Rear Admiral R. Lambert Baynes visited in June and pronounced the need for extra pay for the men to prepare the camp for winter. By 1866 the camp was at its peak for the enlisted men. One visitor commented: "We may remark here that the neatness, cleanliness and good order observable throughout the entire camp were the subject of general observation."

tintype photograph with a wooden palisade at center with a man working on a garden. In the foreground are two more men with tools. Behind the men are 9 white  tents surrounded by trees.  To the left is a body of water with a canoe resting on the ground.
English Camp as it appeared in late spring of 1860 with bell and marquee tents on the emerging parade ground and a marine detail working the vegetable garden (note the deer fence). Soon Rear Adm. R. Lambert Baynes, RN would order barracks built for the men in anticipation of an early winter.

NPS Photo


With the arrival of a new commander, Captain William Delacombe, in 1867, the camp received a major facelift. New officers' quarters were built to house the captain and his family as well as the camp's second in command. Delacombe also directed that a formal garden be constructed at the base of the hill leading to the officers' quarters.

The marines departed in November 1872, following the final boundary decision of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. They left behind a facility so solidly built that the Crook family (who purchased the site from the U.S. government) occupied several of the structures for more than 30 years.

Cover photograph of a book entitled "outpost of Empire" with a red border around a group of people in military uniform in front of a tree.

Learn about the notorious Bugler Hughes incident, the lime claim flap at Roche Harbor, the only British subject to be locked up in the blockhouse and many other anecdotes in the free e-book, Outpost of Empire: The Royal Marines and the Joint Occupation of San Juan Island. Click here for your free copy.

black and white photograph of a large number of men in military uniform gathered in front of a tree in front of a bay.
The Royal Marines pause for a photograph following an afternoon on parade  in the early 1870's. The blockhouse is in the background. Capt. William A. Delacombe, their commanding officer, stands in the foreground. At far left is a deputation of San Juan citizens, including a U.S. Army officer from Camp San Juan Island.

NPS Photo

Last updated: June 26, 2021

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