“It was the mystery of the year 1880!
All Vancouver Island talked of it: everyone had his own solution.”
So opened an article written by James K. Nesbitt, for The Daily Colonist, Victoria, June, 1950, seventy years after the mysterious event. This Weekend Magazine article explores the unsolved disappearance of a retired Royal Navy Captain.
The article continues:
“Baldwin A Wake, for long time a prominent resident of Victoria, a retired Naval officer, disappeared at sea off Nanaimo, and his small sloop was found washed ashore, and his valuable treasures buried.”
“Was Captain Wake murdered by the Indians? Such things did happen. These were Indians known to be unfriendly, living on small islands. Had pirates captured Capt Wake? Were they holding him for ranson on some desolate, isolated island? Had he merely been washed over board in a storm? No one ever knew. The body of Capt Wake was never found.”
On January 16, 1880, retired Royal Navy Captain, Baldwin Arden Wake, departed from Nanaimo Harbour, in his small sloop, with the plan to sail to his settler homestead on Valdez Island. This destination was never realized.
The first details of his mysterious disappearance, and the discovery of his damaged sloop were reported in The Nanaimo Free Press, January 17, 1880.
Capt. B.A Wake, formerly a post captain with the British Navy, but lately a settler on Valdez Island, a short distance from Dodd’s Narrows, arrived in this city a week ago last Monday in his sloop. He stayed around town for a few days, and about last Saturday started on his return home, which he has not reached. His son arrived in town last night to learn what had become of his father, and brings the unfortunate news of his non-arrival. It is feared that he has met with some mishap or has been blown out in the gulf. We are inclined to think that the old gentleman, who was possessed of indomitable courage and perseverance, has ventured too far this time. It is just possible that he may have been blown on island in the gulf. (Later-news was received in town last night that the sloop had gone ashore on Thetis Island with the mast broken off close to the deck, and the sails dragging in the water. This seals the old gentleman’s fate.
The mystery deepened. Evidence was revealed about a robbery to the sloop in the The Nanaimo Free Press, January 21, 1880.
The wind-at the time was blowing light from the northwest. Capt Wake had on board his sloop six boxes or cases of family effects, such as plate, clothing, books which had arrived from England. On rounding Jack’s Point, the sloop was seen in a “gibe”, as though struck by a sudden squall of wind. Nothing further was heard until on Friday eve, when Mr. Wake, son of Capt. Wake arrived in town and stated that his father had not arrived at home. On Saturday, Constable Stewart went to Thetis Island in the Steamer Nellie Taylor and there found the sloop. Mr. Curran, a settler on that island, tated that he found the sloop adrift on Sunday night. It was found that the mast had been broken short of close to the deck, and that the small house of the sloop had been carried away. The sailwas trailing in the water at the side of the sloop and was fastened to the boom as though a reef had been taken in the sail.
Nothing was found of the boxes or their contents, although the stove and stove pipe remained intact. In a small bay, a short distance from where the sloop was found, some of the broken boxes were found on the beach, but none of their valuable contents. The covers of some books were found, and strange to say, the glass of a looking glass was found intact, although the frame could not be found anywhere in the vicinity. It is quite evident that a robbery has been committed, but whether the robbers found the sloop abandoned or put the gentleman out of the way is at present a mystery. We incline to the option that the Captain either met his death at the hands of the elements, for it came on rough and cold that night, or the “jibing'” of his sail. The robbery was committed after the sloop was found adrift. No trace has been found of the body of Captain Wake.
Further information about the disappearance of Captain Wake was revealed in The Daily British Colonist, January 24.
More information about the robbery of goods from the sloop, and further speculation about the disappearance of Captain Wake were disclosed in The Nanaimo Free Press, January 31.
In a bay on the north end of Thetis Island, he found a quantity of the silver plate buried on the beach, just above the high water mark, buried by covering it with the soil and then placing large rocks hereon. A short distance from the plate he found a large East Indian shawl and still farther on two dresses. Tracks were seen in the snow. No trace was found of the other articles, or of the body of the old gentleman. Mr. Wake is now of the opinion that the fatal mishap occurred after passing through the rapids, and that after the sloop was dismasted, she drifted with the northwest wind to the northern point of Thetis Island. It is now plainly apparent that a robbery of the goods has taken place, otherwise why should they be so carefully cached? The mystery still remains unsolved as to whether Capt.Wake lost his life in defending his property from the ravages of pirates, or whether he succumbed to the intensity of the cold or the fury of the elements, and thus left the goods an easy spoil for any persons feloniously disposed. Mr. Wake will again renew the search, and it is to be hoped that the guilty parties will not remain long unshackled.
George Wake, Captain Waks’s son, offered a reward for information leading to any clues about the disappearance of his father.
Whereas on Saturday the 10th Inst.Captain Wake, RN, left Nanaimo in his sloop in order to proceed to his home On Valdez Island, and whereas on or about the 12th Inst.the said sloop was found near Thetis Island abandoned and in a sinking position, the above reward will be paid to any person or persons who shall recover the body of the said Captain wake, who is supposed to have been drowned, and bring it to the Court house, Nanaimo.
George Wake, Nanaimo, January 20th, 1880. $50 Reward
Two years later, in 1882, a settler on Thetis Island found some human bones near the beach where Captain Wakes’s sloop was discovered. A coroner from Nanaimo who evaluated these bones, concluded that they were not of Captain Wake.
One hundred and twenty-two years later, the mystery remains unsolved!