A century ago

SOOKE HISTORY: Richard Kemp and the Royal Navy

Richard Kemp wasn't the only Sookie who deserted the Royal Navy

It may have been pretty rustic, but good fun nonetheless, for this group enjoying an outdoor meal near Kemp Lake a century ago. The man standing on the right is Richard Kemp, whose friendly nature attracted friends from around the district and visitors from Victoria, as most of those pictured here were.

Dolly Sehl is identified as the girl at the end of the table. The Sehl family arrived in Victoria in 1860 and we notice that a daughter called Dolly is frequently mentioned in local activities. Here she seems to be industriously wielding a knife. No fine bone china cups here, these Sunday visitors were drinking their coffee in the more practical enamel mugs.

Many folks make their homes in the Kemp Lake area nowadays but when Richard Kemp took up land in the late 1800s, there was quite a distance to walk to find neighbours. Others within walking or horseback distance though, were the Ted Gordons, the Fletchers, Arthur Floyer, Thomas Tugwell and John Fogan Charters.

When Richard Kemp pre-empted Section 28, west of Kemp Lake, folks knew his background was the Royal Navy. Jean Robinson, a longtime museum volunteer who collected a great deal of Otter Point history when the museum began in the 1970s, made these comments: “Deserters … It is known that the British Navy, when its base was in Esquimalt, lost many a good man  … for reasons known only to themselves. A number of these men became highly respected residents of Sooke. The man who gave his name to Kemp Lake was one of these but the rest will remain nameless …”

The first British naval base on the Pacific coast was at Valparaiso, Chile, but then relocated to Esquimalt. The Royal Navy operated the Esquimalt dockyard base from the 1840s until 1910 when it was taken over by the Canadian government.

A century later we know there are many respected members of the Royal Canadian Navy living in our area, though in the current world, their method of arrival did not involve “jumping ship.” Our newer navy folk probably have just as much fun with an outdoor picnic as did Richard Kemp and his friends so many years ago.

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Elida Peers is historian of Sooke Region Museum.