by Donald Chaput
Curator of History at the Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles
TRUE, the title may be an exaggeration, but the initial boom for the town of Ensenada in Baja California was linked in a loose but real way to the British Empire’s colony of India. That English is not the spoken language in modern Ensenada is due to diplomatic and political blunders on the part of the two great English-speaking nations participating in this story, England and the United States. Newly available manuscript material now makes it possible to consider these weird inter-ocean activities.1
Modern Ensenada was first settled in 1804, when Sergeant José Manuel Ruiz received Ensenada de Todos Santos as a land grant for his many years of frontier service. Priests at two nearby missions, and Indian leaders of two adjacent villages, agreed that nobody was using the land.2 They were most likely correct, as the land pretty much remained vacant for decades. Ruiz’s son-in-law Francisco Gastelum inherited the property, and aside from an adobe or so, little was built in the region.
When William Walker led his abortive filibustering expedition to Baja California and Sonora in 1855, the Gastelum adobe served as “capitol” of the short-lived government, showing the place as much excitement as it had seen in half a century.3
In 1872 a gold strike in Real del Castillo, in the mountains thirty miles to the east of Ensenada, stimulated drastic changes to all of Baja California. Real del Castillo became the seat of government, replacing Santo Tomas south of Ensenada.4 Meanwhile, the needs of the gold camp were many, and to meet them, two transportation networks were developed, by which some food, supplies, and equipment could be carried to Real del Castillo. Further provisions, as well as heavier mining equipment from San Francisco, and much passenger traffic, encouraged establishment and growth of the port of Ensenada. By the end of the decade there were nearly 100 inhabitants at Ensenada, who were served by a warehouse, and a customs house.5
Because the gold fields were giving out and the location no longer justified any government offices, the capital was shifted from Real del Castillo to Ensenada in 1882. Despite its status as the seat of government, one Mexican historian referred to Ensenada during this era as “just a miserable rancho.”6 Still, a small garrison was added to Ensenada, and by 1885 around 300 people lived in the vicinity.7
In this period, Major George Sisson, a San Francisco engineer, went to Mexico City and discussed investments with Luis Hüller, who had considerable influence with the federal government. They worked out a colonization scheme by which they were granted most of what is now Baja California Norte, which was approved on July 21, 1884.8 This ambitious near-monopoly also included mineral and fishing rights.
To raise funds for development Sisson went East, where he formed the International Company of Mexico, with headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut, and other offices in New York City. Edgar T. Welles was president, Sisson the general manager, and Hüller was resident director. The new firm was officially registered in Mexico City on March 19, 1885.9
Within a few years, the company began to develop Ensenada and several nearby communities. Salt Lake City hotel mogul Major Gabriel Erb moved to Punta Banda across the bay, where he intended to build the “largest hotel in North America.” A dozen or so stores, shops, small factories, and churches sprang up by 1887, railroads were discussed, and Sisson envisioned a University of Lower California which would rival the Smithsonian as a center of learning.10
At the end of 1887 Teófilo Masac arrived in Ensenada as federal inspector; he provided a rosy picture of the Company efforts and Ensenada’s growth. He claimed there were already more than 3,000 people scattered around the bay, and vigorous building construction, two newspapers in operation, and all other activity pointed to a major boom in North America.11
This spurt of initiative in Baja California Norte was linked to a major boom in the United States, especially in the American West. Southern California was pushing itself as the “Italy of North America,” several rail connections to the East had been completed, and in general a feverish real estate boom was on from Los Angeles to San Diego.
But by the end of 1887 and the beginning of 1888, boom times had died in Southern California, and the hard times that followed reverberated to Inter-national Company plans in Baja California. Sisson and crowd became involved with Americans who were plotting a filibustering move in 1888, with the idea of annexing Lower California to the United States. Revelation of the plot discredited the International Company, and the deteriorating business climate convinced the Company to do some shopping.
London connections were pursued rapidly, and early in 1888 the International Company was listed on the London Stock Exchange with typical accompanying ballyhoo, claiming 17,000,000 acres of land, all kinds of water, several “lively” towns under construction, and so forth.12
Practically at this same time, February of 1888, Sisson was meeting in Mexico City with Sir Edward Jenkinson. Sir Edward was chairman of a British firm with huge interests in Chiapas, and which was eager to enlarge their Mexican holdings. Because Sisson and the International Company were in financial and political trouble the obvious out was at hand. In the following five months all holdings of the International Company of Mexico were transferred to the Mexican Land and Colonization Company, Sir Edward Jenkinson chairman.13
One of Sir Edward’s first moves, in the autumn of 1888, was dispatching Buchanan Scott from London to continue the survey of the Peninsular Railway (Texas, Tijuana, Ensenada). Plans changed at once, and upon arriving in Ensenada, Scott found that he was now general manager of the Mexican Land and Colonization Company. A few employees fluent in Spanish and well known in Baja California were retained as administrators, such as Max Bernstein and Louis Mendelson, but the new Company was in-deed managed by Scott, with British interests at the fore.14
For the next three years British personalities and points of view held sway in Ensenada, and it is relevant to see how the leaders’ background fit in with the colonization plan. Sir Edward was indeed a veteran of colonization. After education at Harrow School near London he was assigned to India in 1856 as a civil servant and was a veteran of the India Mutiny, for which he was decorated. In subsequent decades he moved up the administrative ladder, retiring in England in 1880.15
In 1882, because of his administrative experience, and because of his colonial knowledge, Sir Edward was posted to Ireland as the right-hand of Lord Spencer, the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Later, Sir Edward also served as Undersecretary for Police and Crime. He was admitted as a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1883, and in 1888 was created a Knight in that order.16 It was in this period that he first invested heavily in Mexican lands, and in 1886 became president of the Mexican Land and Colonization Company. For thirty years, then, Sir Edward Jenkinson had been mostly “in the colonies,” was an obvious success, and by the mid-1880s had a personal stake in Mexican lands and colonization.
Turning to his India past, Sir Edward tapped a trusted servant of the crown to run the empire in Baja California Norte. Buchanan Scott, a native of Scotland, was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy and entered India service in 1871. He was an officer of engineers specializing in railroads; he surveyed and organized rail construction in the Punjab and other northern India locations. Scott was also a veteran of the Afghan War, where he was in charge of transportation and supplies. His experience and reputation were such that by 1887 he was Deputy Consulting Engineer for Railways in the government of British India. Scott was a Captain in the Royal Engineers, and a Companion in the Order of the Indian Empire when in 1888 he was selected to head the operations in Lower California.17
Captain Scott did not throw away his career. He accepted the position as outlined by Sir Edward, but he had the foresight to obtain a leave of two years from the British authorities in India. Then, Scott married Ethel Metcalfe, daughter of Charles Metcalfe, a prominent civil servant in India. With a new bride, Scott headed for a new continent, and Captain Buchanan Scott, late of His Majesty’s Corps of Royal Engineers in India, arrived in Ensenada in August of 1888 to take over a colony with a brilliant future.18
Scott’s first year in Lower California was a near miracle. Mexican, United States, and English accounts agree that Scott brought forth order from chaos. He paid most of the old International Company debts, pushed surveys, construction, and colonization as much as he could, did his best to secure clear title to various disputed lands, and in general gave the London firm credibility. The Lower Californian praised him as “far superior to any manager the company has had.”19 Sir Edward had cause to be proud of his India Army choice.
Despite Scott’s success, disaster struck, even in his first year. M. Sanchez Facio was charged by the federal government in Mexico City to investigate the doings in Baja California Norte. Every aspect of company activity brought his censure. And, he made little distinction between the old Sisson International Company and the new British firm. They were all scoundrels.
Sanchez Facio wondered how this new colony would benefit Mexico. For example, of the 1,375 people in Ensenada, only 28% were Mexicans. The same percentages held for Punta Banda, San Quintin, and other Lower California locations. The great developments there had been exaggerated, Bernstein and others had been perpetrating frauds, and land questions were confused, and the colony was a bundle of mismanaged ideas, a bad idea from the start. The Sanchez Facio report was published early in 1889 in San Francisco as The Truth About Lower California, and had a deadening impact on investment and further colonization.20
Shortly after Sanchez Facio’s report appeared in print, Scott wrote in Sir Edward in a thoroughly pessimistic vein: “Facio’s report has blighted our hopes.”21 Scott had good reason to feel poorly about Lower California’s destiny. Along with the Sanchez Facio report came consistently disturbing evidence that the big boom in California and Lower California had come to a halt.
Throughout 1889, though, one positive factor temporarily saved the Company from total collapse. Early in the year gold was discovered in the Santa Clara District at EI Alamo, about fifty miles southeast of Ensenada. The Company held a number of claims there and promptly began to work them. Just as in the period of the Real del Castillo gold rush, Ensenada again became a major shipping point. Instead of collapsing because of the land boom’s collapse, the Company and Ensenada were temporarily reprieved by El Alamo. Thousands of prospectors and miners from Los Angeles and San Diego flocked to the district, where dozens of mills and stores, plus a newspaper, were quickly established.22
The leading Company mines were the Princesa and Telemaco, and Scott had a direct hand in their management. Some ore was crushed on the site, and the richer ores were sent to San Francisco for processing.23 Near the end of the year, Sir Edward informed the board of directors that he had just received a telegram from Scott announcing 548 ounces of gold from processing 300 tons of quartz.24
Such mining success was only good enough to put the Company prospects on hold. To insure the future, a vigorous move was needed, one that would either pour new capital or colonists into the region, or one that would bring a complete change of government.
Just before Scott made his appearance in Baja California, there had been a filibustering attempt by the “Order of the Golden Field,” a San Diego-San Francisco land grab that turned into ludicrous folly. But the cause was not dead, and participants in that abortive plot were to try again, led by Walter G. Smith, a prominent journalist from San Diego. Secret meetings were held in San Diego and Ensenada, and a plot was devised to kidnap Governor Luis Torres and other officials while attending a dance in Ensenada. A “Council of Fifteen” was nominated to head the government in the new land, a colorful flag was designed, and recruiting of “troops” was begun.25
Naturally, such a plot would have no chance of success without the participation or consent of Scott and the Mexican Land & Colonization Company. At the time, many newspapers in the United States accused Scott of joining the conspirators, but never showed any proof.
The San Diego Union blew the whistle on the affair on May 21,1890, the tale was out, and the governments of both Mexico and the United States reacted quickly to discourage the filibuster. The Department of Justice sent an investigator from San Francisco to San Diego to interview “conspirators,” and soon sordid detail was piled on fantastically impossible scenarios.26
One can pick any number of tales, but the one published in San Francisco and Ensenada after the investigation is typical of the power of the imagination. According to the saga, the London firm sent Scott to Ensenada with sinister motives: to provoke strife and dissension. “English capital and interests would then be jeopardized and the intervention of the mother country was to be invoked.” They had in view to pursue “the same policy that was followed by the East India Company when Great Britain acquired vast possessions in Asia.” At the crucial moment, English men-of-war would show up at Ensenada, and as soon as the new government declared its independence, the war vessels “were to enter the harbor and recognize the new nation.”27
The two filibustering attempts in Lower California have their attractions, but are not of prime importance here. The way in which the London firm was drawn into the second filibuster however, is of interest, and the company’s position is worth examining. The London and “colonial” thinking bring in unusual slants not always present in Mexican-United States border situations.
First, Sir Edward Jenkinson. There is not the slightest shred of evidence that he knew of or approved any filibustering plot. Official investigations, in Mexico and the United States, cleared Sir Edward of such allegations. Still, one can be misled by the fact that the Mexican Land & Colonization Company had interests in Lower California. But this was not their major effort. The Company controlled 450,000 acres of rich coffee and mineral land in Chiapas, with options to work 5,000,000 acres more. Sir Edward would have been foolish to jeopardize the Chiapas venture for the poorer prospects along the northern border.28
Also, dozens of reports and letters exist from Captain Scott to Sir Edward in the period in question, and at no time does Scott recommend, nor even discuss, such a scheme.29
Scott, though, is another matter. Investigations claimed, and contemporary and later accounts stated that Scott knew of, participated in, in fact encouraged the filibustering effort of 1890. He did indeed, without the knowledge of Sir Edward. What Scott had in mind can now be ascertained, and it is more subtle than war vessels in the harbor of Ensenada.
Scott was frustrated. The end of the boom, and Sanchez Facio’s report, both came soon after his arrival from India. In a short time, Scott performed wonders in Lower California, but only the gold rush at El Alamo saved the Company from disaster. Scott wanted a freer hand, as this letter to board member Cuthbert Quilter in England early in 1890 indicates:
It is utterly impossible for people in London to comprehend the situation in the same manner as a person on the spot … you must place more reliance on the Manager you send out here, and not refer every little thing to London.30
The whole business about English war vessels off the coast of Ensenada is easily explained. When Scott learned of the conspiracy, he gave encouragement, and offered the men use of several of the Company vessels that plied between San Diego and Ensenada, the “Manuel Dublan” and “Carlos Pacheco.” These were, of course “English,” in that the English company owned them, but to convert these merchant vessels to men-of-war provides a measure of the press coverage of the filibuster affair.31
Scott, for the record, despised Mexicans and hated his English-speaking cousins from the United States. Mexicans were corrupt, inefficient, and slow. And Americans? When planning to develop the mines at El Alamo, Scott wrote to Sir Edward to send out engineers from England, as Americans “have no honor or right principles in them.” In a letter to board member Quilter, Scott wrote “send out an honest man from England to superintend the mines, as you cannot trust an American.”32
Here was Scott’s view of the situation. Nothing good would happen under Mexican rule. American rule, fraught with problems with fraudulent Yankees, was preferable to further Mexican influence. Regarding rumors of annexation of Lower California to the United States, Scott wrote to Quilter, encapsulating his thinking:
If such should occur then the Company will make millions, but under Mexican rule, you may be able to get back your money with interest if carefully managed.33
Historians who have considered the filibuster agree that Company management, especially Scott, was in on the conspiracy, but they agree that Sir Edward did not know about the plot and would not have approved of it. The Lower Californian, which condemned Scott for his role, was careful to report that Sir Edward cabled to Washington, D.C., denying that the Company was involved. Pablo Martinez in his History of Lower California, brands Scott a conspirator but excludes Sir Edward from the charge.34
Here we enter another realm of folklore, the sacking of Major Buchanan Scott after the conspiracy was revealed. This was indeed another “empire” situation. As mentioned earlier, Scott, while in India, had obtained a two-year leave of absence to put the Lower California projects in shape. Sir Ed-ward was initially pleased with Scott’s performance as general manager and asked him to stay for another year. In January of 1890, Scott wrote to Sir Edward, thanking him for his confidence, and reporting that he had just written to India asking for such an extension.35
At the same time, Scott wrote to Cuthbert Quilter in London saying that he had to report to Bombay by August 1 if extension approval were not forthcoming. However, Scott added that if things went well in Lower California, he would be willing to resign his commission and throw in his lot with the Company:
If he [Sir Edward] is not satisfied with my efforts he is at liberty to send out someone to relieve me about the first of May.36
This is what happened. Scott asked for an extension from India, and it was not granted. At the same time, the fiasco of the filibuster meant that Baja California would not be annexed to the United States, and for his participation in this business Scott no longer had the confidence of Sir Edward Jenkinson. The pieces fell in place, Scott’s two-year leave was up, and on May 10, 1890, Major Buchanan Scott and wife Ethel left Ensenada for England, enroute to Calcutta.37 He was fortunate that he had not resigned his commission, as the blowup of the filibuster attempt meant that he was out of a job in North America.
After a month in England the Scotts sailed for India where Scott was assigned to put in a new railway in Baluchistan. Mrs. Scott wrote a letter to Ensenada, to the skipper of the “Manuel Dublan,” gave some details of Scott’s fascinating frontier assignment, and said of the filibustering scheme:
My husband is far too busy to have time to think about it, and knows the people in California too well to take the trouble.38
Such bitterness was in keeping with Scott’s low regard for Californians.
The Mexican Land & Colonization Company struggled along for a few years, but was gradually parted with its London backers. By the turn of the century Ensenada, although not dead, was a quiet coastal community, not having lived up to its land boom era promise. Sir Edward Jenkinson died in London on March 1, 1919, and although he had overseen some minor successes for the Company in Chiapas, the Lower California episode went on the record as brief and burdensome.39
Scott went on to greater glory in India. In 1892 he left railway work and became Mint Master at Bombay. In 1896, with the new rank of lieutenant-colonel, he was appointed Senior Mint Master at Calcutta. A colonel in 1900, retired in 1905, Scott was created a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire for his many decades of services.40
Sir Buchanan Scott, R.C.I.E., died at Wimbledon, near London, on June 8, 1937. The London Times printed a half-page obituary, including a photograph. His New World career was succinctly contained in the following sentence:
In 1888 he was made a C.I.E., and for nearly two years he was lent by the Government of India to administer a large property in Mexico.”
Such fleeting reference to the short life of the Mexican Land & Colonization Company is probably fitting. Just as the two-year hitch became a footnote to Scott’s career, so did the Company’s ill-fated policy lead to their rapid departure from Lower California. Ensenada today is a thriving port city, and hundreds of thousands of people now live on lands once part of the “colonization” scheme. However, these developments are part of 20th century reality, not connected to dreams of empire that included London, Chiapas, Bombay, and Calcutta.
1. Papers of Sir Buchanan Scott, in the Archives, Guildhall Library, London. These consist of a letter-press book of 187 pages, Scott to the home office in London from Ensenada, for the years 1888-89, plus more than a dozen photos taken by the Scott family in and around Ensenada. The ink in the letter-press book has faded badly, and much of this valuable collection is difficult to read.
2. Papers of 1804-06 of Ruiz and Governor Arrillaga from Monterey concerning the land transaction are in the Abel Stearns Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, California, Box 89.
3. The Walker episodes are summarized in Pablo Martinez, History of Lower California (Mexico, 1960), Chapter XXXV.
4. The best chronology of the Real del Castillo rush can be found in the files of the San Diego Union. See especially issues June 29, and December 21, 1871; July 4, July 11, and August 15, 1872. For an overall view, see Don Meadows, “A Forgotten Capital of Baja California,” Westerners Brand Book, Los Angeles Corral (Los Angeles, 1953), pp. 103-08.
5. A good recent summary is in William Mason, “Ensenada’s Boom, 1870-1890,” Terra, XXV (September-October, 1986), 6-11.
6. Martinez, History of Lower California, pp. 443-57 for Ensenada section.
7. Mason, Terra, XXV (September-October, 1986), 6-11.
8. This is covered well in Report Made by the Secretary of Public Works on the Colonization of Lower California (Mexico, 1887); pp. 75-80 are translations of the official documents filed in Mexico City.
9. Ibid. See also Description of Lands in Lower California (San Diego, 1887), Huntington Library, Rare Book #335373.
10. Report Made by the Secretary of Public Works, p. 96, contains plans for the university.
11. The above Report was prepared by Masac; on p. 102 he signed as “The Inspector Teofilo Masac. – To the Minister of Public Works.”
12. The four-page prospectus is filed in the Guildhall Library, London. A microfiche copy is available there in Jacket 24.
13. This is summarized in a two-column article from London reprinted in the Lower Californian (Ensenada), November 21, 1889.
14. Ibid., in an article adjacent to the above article.
15. Who Was Who, 1916-1928, (London, 1929), p. 554.
16. From Sir Edward’s obituary in London Times, March 4, 1919, p. 12.
17. India List, Civil and Military, January, 1880 (London, 1880), p. 40 as asst. eng., 2nd grade; p. 247 gives his rank as of 1871 and as assigned to the Department of Public Works. The India List (London, 1885), shows that he was promoted to captain on August 2, 1883. A complete run of the India Office publications are in the Guildhall Library, London. Other details are from his obituary in London Times, June 10, 1937, p. 18.
18. Lower Californian, November 21, 1889.
19. Ibid., May 2, 1890.
20. The Sanchez Facio book, which includes 2 maps, is in the Huntington Library, Rare Book #184.
21. Scott to Jenkinson, February 27, 1889, Buchanan Scott Collection, Archives, Guildhall Library, London.
22. The rush at Alamo in the Santa Clara District was covered almost daily in the Los Angeles and San Diego newspapers. The most detailed coverage, though, was in Ensenada’s Lower Californian; see especially issues of September 26 and October 31, 1889. The Los Angeles Times of March 7, 1889, has an informative article, plus a map showing Real del Castillo and the Santa Clara District.
For both mining districts, some historical as well as geological information is in Memoria de La Comisión del Instituto Geológico de Mexico que Exploró la Regíón Norte de la Baja California (Mexico, 1913).
23. Scott to Jenkinson, December 10, 1889, Archives, Guildhall Library. The Lower Californian, March 14, 1890, reported that the Princesa Gold Mining Co., Ltd., was registered in London and that Sir Edward was a subscriber.
24. Lower Californian, November 21, 1889.
25. For summaries of the plots see Martinez, History of Lower California, pp. 443-57, and Andrew F. Rolle, “Futile Filibustering in Baja California, 1888-1890,” Pacific Historical Review, XX (1951), 159-66.
26. An article from the San Francisco Chronicle of June 5 was reprinted in the Lower Californian, June 12, 1890.
28. The extent of the Chiapas holdings is stated in Lower Californian, November 21, 1889.
29. Based on my reading of the legible entries in the letter-press book, Archives, Guildhall Library, London. Newspaper accounts refer to Scott as both captain and major. He was promoted to major in the Army of India in 1889, while working in Baja California, probably an unusual circumstance in British military practice.
30. Scott to Cuthbert Quilter, January 8, 1890, a loose letter in the front of the letter-press book, Archives, Guildhall Lib.
31. The British “navy” as reported in the Lower Californian, June 12, 1890, was really only two of the four steamers owned by the company; Pacific Historical Review, XX (1951), 162.
32. Scott to Jenkinson, December 10, 1889, letter-press book, Archives, Guildhall Library; Scott to Quilter, January 8, 1890, in front section of letter-press book.
33. Scott to Quilter, January 8, 1890, quoted above.
34. Lower Californian, June 19, 1890; Martinez, History of Lower California, p. 454.
35. Scott to Jenfcinson, January 29, 1890, letter-press book, Archives, Guildhall Lib., London.
36. Scott to Quilter, January 8, 1890, loose letter in letter-press book, Archives, Guildhall Lib.
37. There are confusing reports about when Scott left Ensenada. The Lower Californian reported on May 9, 1890, that the couple was to leave “tomorrow.”
38. Letter from Mrs. Scott in ibid., December 4, 1890.
39. Obituary in London Times, March 4, 1919, p. 12.
40. Obituary, London Times, June 10, 1937, p. 18. Further career details are in Who Was Who, 1929-1940 (London, 1941), p. 1206.
41. Times, June 10, 1937, p. 18.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS on pages 153 and 154-155 are courtesy Natural History Museum, Los Angeles. All others are from Guild Hall Library, London.