Hans Christen's Lost Cave of Gold At Leechtown

by

C
.L. Nicholson
 

The Leechtown area of Vancouver Island is the focal point of several fascinating legends of lost gold and buried treasure.  This historical mining town was located at the junction of the Leech and Sooke Rivers in the Malahat District of Vancouver Island at approximate coordinates 4829'30"N - 12342'40"W.

Leech River and the mining community of Leechtown that sprang up on the flats above the confluence of the Sooke and Leech rivers were named after Peter John Leech.  Peter Leech was a lieutenant and astronomer attached to Robert Brown's Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition of 1864.  Lieutenant Leech, a native of Dublin Ireland, came to British Columbia with the Royal Engineers in 1858.  When the Royal Engineers disbanded in 1862, Leech branched into civil engineering eventually becoming the city engineer or Victoria.  Lieutenant Leech died in Victoria on June 6th, 1899.

On July 17, 1864 Lieutenant Leech reported his discovery of gold to expedition leader Robert Brown.  Brown's party had proceeded to the mouth of Sooke River by ship; "I have to report for your information that we have found indications of gold on the Sooke River, at a point about six miles from the Inlet and about a quarter of a mile above the canyon.  Mr. Foley estimates the average to be about eight cents to the pan.  The largest prospect was about twenty-five cents."


Robert Brown sent further details of Leech's gold discovery in a letter to Governor Arthur Kennedy.
  In his letter Brown writes; "The discovery which I have to communicate is the finding of gold on the banks of one of the Forks of the Sooke River - about twelve miles from the sea in a straight line and in a locality never hitherto reached by white men and in all probability never seen by natives.  I forward and eighth of an oz (or thereabouts) of the coarse scale gold washed out of twelve pans of dirt, in many places 20 feet above the river, and with no tools but a shovel and gold pan.  The lowest prospect obtained was about 3 cents to the pan - the highest $1 to the pan, and work like that with the rocker would yield what you can better calculate than I can, & the development of which with what results to the Colony you may imagine.  The Diggings extend for fully 25 miles and would give employment to more than 4,000 men.  Many of the claims would take 8 to 10 men to work them."

When Governor Kennedy publicized Leech's gold discovery hordes of enthusiastic miners flocked to the area.  In less than a month of the gold discovery the bustling mining town of Leechtown had already been established.   By mid September 1864, Leechtown boasted several stores, saloons and hotels.  By the end of September 1864, the town site had been surveyed and thirty-one lots were put up for sale at the land office in Victoria with a list price of $100.00 per parcel.

In November 1846, an estimated 1,200 miners were working in the area.  On December 10th 1864, Richard Colledge, the Government Gold Commissioner at Leechtown reported that $2,690 had been collected for miners' licenses. 

The Ministry of Mines Report for 1874 offers an insight into the amount of gold taken from the area;  "Before leaving the subject of gold deposits in the Province, it is necessary to remark that in 1864, gold was discovered on the headwaters of the Sooke River, which empties into the Straits of San Juan de Fuca, about 12 miles below Victoria.  The district attracted considerable attention at the time, and from one hundred fifty to two hundred thousand dollars worth of gold was taken out, chiefly by removing the surface soil and picking out the crevices of the rock on which the gold had been deposited.  The diggings have, however, gradually been deserted, and are now only visited from time to time by stray parties of miners, chiefly Chinese."

One of the 1,200 prospectors who flocked to Leechtown in the 1864 was a Swede named Hans Christen.  Hans Christen was not your typical prospector, he was a trained geologist with a degree from the University of Copenhagen.

Christen, following his geological sense, set up his base camp on the east side of the upper Leech river near the base of what is now known as Survey Mountain.    Not long after establishing his base camp an extremely violent winter storm blew in from the Pacific Ocean.   The howling wind and torrential downpour was so violent that it panicked his pack mule. The terrified mule broke its tether and bolted from the camp site during the night.  

When the storm subsided the following morning, Christen set out to track down his missing mule.  He found the distressed animal taking refuge from the storm inside the entrance of a small cave.  The cave entrance was just large enough for the mule to enter and totally concealed by thick under brush.  Had the mule not recognized Christen and revealed it's location to him, Christen may never have recovered the mule or discovered the cave. 

After securing his mule Christen examined the immediate entrance to the cave.  Just inside the entrance he found a vein of gold 24 inches wide extending well into the depth of the cave.

Christen returned to his camp with his mule but was so overwhelmed with his discovery that he was unable to sleep that night.   Tired and overexcited he tripped in the blackness of the night striking his head on a large rock rendering himself unconscious.  When he regained consciousness Christen headed back to his newly discovered cave of gold but was unable to find it. 

Some stories say that Christen was a heavy drinker and was drunk when he found his mule.  In celebrating his discovery he went on a frenzied alcohol binge that latest several days.  When his booze supply ran out and he sobered up he simply could not remember where the cave was. 

Despite all his efforts, Christen searched unsuccessfully for the elusive cave until his dying days.  Why Hans Christen could not relocate the cave of gold remains unknown although either the head trauma he received when he struck his head on the large rock or alcoholic induced amnesia are probably the most likely contributing factors.

Christen was so obsessed in trying to find the cave again that he spent the winter of 1864 - 1865 trudging through the cold wet under brush rarely taking the time to eat properly or warm and dry himself.  By the spring of 1865 Christen had become so ill that he was hospitalized in Victoria.  Hans Christen died of Tuberculosis in a Victoria rest home in late 1865.

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