Richest mine in 1898

Battle for the Le Roi Gold Mine, Part I Whitaker Wright and his golden touch

  • Aug. 22, 2014 10:00 a.m.
Drawing of James Whitaker Wright

Drawing of James Whitaker Wright

In the 1890s, Whitaker Wright, head of the London and Globe Finance Corporation seemed to have the golden touch. His vast business dealings were crowned in 1898 with the purchase of the “world’s richest mine,” the Le Roi in Rossland, by one of London and Globe’s two major subsidiary companies, the British America Corporation.

The Le Roi along with the Centre Star, War Eagle, Idaho and Virginia claims were staked in the summer of 1890 by Bourgeois and Morris. Colonel Topping, the deputy mining recorder in Nelson, was given the Le Roi claim for paying the total recording fees of $12.50 for the five claims. Topping then sold the Le Roi to a Spokane syndicate of businessmen, dubbed the “Spokane Colonels,” headed by Colonel Isaac Peyton.

Whitaker Wright was a very wealthy man in the mid 1890s.  Indeed, his Lea Park estate outside of London had a glorious ballroom, theatre and a vast lake, with a centrepiece tunnel to a subterranean smoking room conservatory where fish, or swimmers, could be viewed from below. The tunnel continued to an artificial island, where exclusive parties were held attracting the cream of London society and potential investors. The message was irresistible. “Everything he touched turned to gold and Whitaker Wright was synonymous with success and magnificence.” This made the collapse of his empire and the resulting fraud trial all the more spectacular!

Leveraging early work as an assayer in America, he built up his career and seized the 1890’s mining boom. He organized specialty companies to buy rich mines, capitalizing them beyond their actual worth and then offering the stock to the British public. Dividend payouts and shortfalls were made up by buying more mines and selling more stock, a scam that was maintained as long as rich new mines passed to his control and could be brought to the insatiable London market.

In 1897, Whitaker Wright heard of Rossland’s Le Roi gold mine and had to have it. Charles Mclntosh, former Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories was appointed a director of the British America Corporation and arrived in Rossland by private railway car rented from the CPR. He purchased the Columbia and Kootenay, Great Western, Josie and the Nickel Plate mines. Purchase of the Le Roi eluded him as it was controlled by way of the Spokane Colonels, who had bought the mine in 1891 from Colonel Topping of Trail.

The Spokane Colonels were shrewd men who knew of Wright’s plans and used the Le Roi as bait to get their own asking price from the British investing public. Greed motivated them to remove and smelt in Northport whatever high grade Le Roi gold ore they could before the sale. A charade of bickering and delays by the Spokane Colonels sabotaged and frustrated the BAC officers in Rossland and Whitaker Wright in London.

One of the more colourful delay tactics saw a court injunction where deputy sheriffs were hired to station themselves at Spokane city limits to stop all trains bound for Canada carrying directors or documents of the Le Roi Company. However, a train snuck out of the tiny station at Mead and only when safely in Rossland was it discovered another company’s seal had been substituted for the Le Roi’s. There could be no company transactions.