What's inSight Summer 2014

Page 28

A Closer Look

A Vice-Regal Mystery By Dr Lorne Hammond, Senior History Curator & Colleen Wilson, Textile Conservator


ur story began when I was contacted by a donor who wondered if the Royal BC Museum would be interested in a donation of an unusual uniform. The uniform included an ornate gold-threaded jacket and a feathered bicorn hat embroidered with the initials, “T Mc R”. Could this uniform have belonged to a Premier or a Lieutenant-General of British Columbia? Where did it come from? In 1946 young “Tuck” Hutch was asked to clean out the sub-basement of an old Vancouver hotel and get rid of its contents. In a rusty abandoned box he found a gold sword, a gold-threaded uniform and a feathered bicorn hat. Fascinated, he took it home and posed in it. His girlfriend (who later became his wife) their friends and later Tuck’s grandchildren, wore it for costume parties. The uniform had modifications: some gold brocade was cut off and changes were tried and abandoned. The hat’s feathers proved too brittle for use in a bride’s hair ornament and broke. Generations of the family posed in and loaned the garment, as seen in many of the photographs the family have shared with me. From emails I studied the digital images, I began investigating the mystery of whose garment it was. No, it was not Premier McBride’s, as I learned he had no middle initial. 26

What’s inSight

Summer 2014

We had a real mystery. I had a suspicion, but no proof. I explained my idea to the family and we received a wonderful and very kind donation to our collection of the uniform that the family had cherished for over half a century. The family privately published a book about this story and donated a copy to us, a first in my experience. Research took me to a guide on London’s military button makers. Contracts changed constantly and makers often moved, but most put their name and address on the back of the ornate buttons. I soon had a five year window. The hat had initials. They might be those of the Hon Thomas Robert McInnes (1840-1904). I checked official photographs for the embroidered chest patterns, which also vary a great deal. I found a possible match. Digging deeper I learned that McInnes and his family lost almost everything when fire destroyed Government House in May 1899. Accounts tell us a staff member rushed in and tossed his Vice-Regal uniform out a second storey window, at no small risk. The garment bag we had did indeed have smoke stains. Born in Nova Scotia the Hon Thomas Robert McInnes was a Harvard educated physician who

practiced at the Royal Columbia Hospital in New Westminster. Appointed by Prime Minister John A. McDonald to the Senate, he later became our sixth LieutenantGovernor (1897-1900). He promoted mining in Atlin but proved unpopular after removing two premiers and alienating the Legislature. Pressure built on him to resign, but he refused. The political deadlock in British Columbia created a constitutional crisis in Ottawa. For the first time in Canadian history a LieutenantGovernor was removed from office with the agreement of the Prime Minister and the Governor-General. The former Lieutenant Governor moved into a Vancouver hotel and later went for a one-year Pacific cruise. He returned in ill health, to die in Vancouver of a heart attack on


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