William Barker (prospector)
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William Barker (1817–1894), also known as Billy Barker, was an English prospector who was famous for being one of the first to find a large amount of gold in the Cariboo of British Columbia. He also founded Barkerville which is preserved as a historic town.
Because railways had begun to replace canal transport, Barker, in the 1840s, decided he would try his luck in America. He left his wife and child in England in penury and his wife died in the workhouse in Doddington, Cambridgeshire in 1850. He made little in California, but when the California Gold Rush ended, he moved up to British Columbia with many fellow miners as part of the British Columbia gold rushes. His party discovered gold in the Williams Creek area, and his fellow crew member "Dutch Bill" Wilhelm Dietz was the first to find a good amount of gold in the Creek Valley area.
In 1862, Barker decided to search for gold down river, close to Stout's Gulch. Many people said he was crazy for doing this, but, after a short period of time, they pulled out about 60 ounces (1,700 g) of gold at about 52 feet below ground. Barker's claim turned out to be the richest in the area and the settlement of Barkerville was set up around his claim. He pulled out roughly 37,500 oz of gold in his life. It was said that Barker smoked as many as 30 cigarettes a day, finding it hard to deal with the stress of having that much gold, and the progressive symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
In 1863, Barker married the widow Elizabeth Collyer; she died on 21 May 1865 at the age of 38. The previous year Barker had sold his shares in the claim that had made him famous, since most of the "lead" gold had been cleared out. He may have thought he had made enough to live comfortably and still invest in further ventures, but his fortunes declined. His reputed generosity may also have contributed to his impoverishment.
He died penniless in a Victoria nursing home on 11 July 1894 with symptoms of Parkinson's disease and/or possible cancer in his jaw. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery but there has been talk of moving his grave to Barkerville, which is preserved as a historic town.
- "Billy Barker won't be leaving after all". Victoria Times Colonist. March 1, 2008.