The Commissary at English Camp

Feeding a hundred hungry soldiers at one of the far ends of the Earth was no easy matter

The phrase "An army marches on its stomach," variously attributed to Napoleon and Frederick the Great, was as true on San Juan Island as it was on the battlefields of Europe. At English Camp, the commissary building stored no only foodstuffs but liquor and other supplies.

Commissaries were so important that before setting sail for San Juan Island, Captain George Bazalgette ensured the necessary materials to build a commissary were on board the HMS Tribune. It was among the first buildings constructed at English Camp and still stands in its original location.

Some surviving correspondence illustrates the use and importance of the commissary. Bazalgette's first order right after the completion of the building was to request: "84 tin pannikins, 36 tin plates, 3' dishes, 10 camp kettles, 18 lanterns, 1 measures set, and a small quantity of stationery." He also requested three crosscut saws, 12 spades, 50 pounds of 3-inch nails, 25 pounds of 2.5-inch nails, 25 pounds of shingles, and a small quantity of lumber for building a cooking house.

Royal Marines on shore duty were divided into messes and required to do their own cooking. Rations were issued to individual marines and combined by the messes for cooking. Salt pork, beef, tin meat, oatmeal, hardtack, butter, raisins, flour, dry peas, and beans were issued to the men, along with "rum or spirits." These imported foods were supplemented with fresh or dried vegetables from the garden, fresh meat from hunting, fishing, and mutton from the Belle Vue Sheep Farm. This varied was a far cry from the salt pork, oatmeal, and biscuits the Marines were used to eating on ship.

The Commissary was also a gathering place. One visitor was Bishop George Hill, D.D., who offered services in the Commissary. Entertainments and celebrations happened at the Commissary. In 1866 English Camp was at its peak when 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."