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 jointly occupy San Juan Island until their water boundary was settled, they decided their camps should be on opposite ends of the island. Capt. James Prevost, commander of H.M.S. Satellite, selected the site of English Camp 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.

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

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 ordered extra pay for the men preparing the camp for winter. During its peak operations, 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."

 

New commander, Captain William Delacombe, who arrived in 1867, upgraded English Camp considerably. 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 Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany's boundary decision. 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.

 
  • book cover of a book entitled Outpost of Empire featuring a photo of 19th century soldiers

    Outpost of Empire

    Learn more about the history of the Royal Marines who traveled from China to San Juan Island where they lived at English Camp from 1860-1872

  • Black and white photograph of an elderly man holding wool

    Stories

    Jim Crook lived almost his entire life at English Camp and was vital to preserving our history. His is one of many stories we share.

  • photo of a small village by a lagoon by the ocean near major sailing ships in front of a large volca

    The Pig War

    The Pig War crisis in 1859 made San Juan Island a site of imperial struggle and international military occupation.

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