A Not-So-Savage Land

The Art and Times of Frederick Whymper, 1838–1901

By (author): Peter Johnson
ISBN 9781772032208
Softcover | Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Book Dimensions: 8.5 in x 9 in
256 Pages

About the Book

A richly illustrated exploration of the art, life, and historical impact of artist Frederick Whymper, who documented the landscape of the North American west.

Before the advent of photography, the topography of the colonial North American landscape was recorded by travelling artists hired to reproduce what they saw with unadulterated realism. One of these artists was British-born Frederick Whymper, a young man whose honest vitality and unabashed worldview are evident in work he leaves behind.

Throughout the 1860s, Whymper sketched his way from California to British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, and Siberia. He was the first to sketch the Fraser River route from New Westminster to Cariboo gold country. As the official artist on Alfred Waddington’s road through Chilcotin territory, he was the first to report the 1864 Chilcotin War to the press. He travelled with the crews of Western Union Telegraph Company as they laid overland cable from New Westminster to Petropavlovsk. He was the first European artist to paddle over 1,600 kilometres on the Yukon River, recording its vibrant role in the life of its surrounding people.

Whymper’s art appeared in newspapers, journals, scientific reports, and books. His unaffected illustrations and anecdotes of places still seen as wild and exotic by his contemporaries became a realistic lens through which we can now view the major events of his time. Containing dozens of rarely seen sketches, watercolours, and photographs, A Not-so-Savage Land is a fascinating look at the man whose visual documentation had a profound impact on the political and economic development of the colonial west.

About the Author(s)

Born in Cheshire, England Peter Johnson immigrated to Canada with his family in his early teen years. Educated in Canada, he has taught history, English, and creative writing for over thirty years in a variety of locations, from Canada’s west coast to the prairies to across the Atlantic Ocean to Dublin and London. An avid long-distance touring cyclist, Peter has bicycled through England, the Maritimes, Quebec, and Vancouver Island. As a summer instructor, secondary-school teacher, and creative writing workshop facilitator, Peter’s love of education and his nomadic spirit inform his belief that teaching is about taking students to places they don’t yet know they want to go.


"Frederick Whymper was an artist on the scene at a crucial moment in the history of the Pacific Northwest. His drawings, paintings, and engravings, as well as his writing, record a number of chapters that took place in quick succession, between 1862 and 1875. Through the diligent research of Peter Johnson, now Whymper’s story is told for the first time." —from the Foreword by Robert Amos
“Johnson argues persuasively that the time is now to appreciate this intrepid and multi-talented artist who captured the spirit of a frontier and, as Johnson puts it, "strove to transcend the limitations of language and make what is often indescribable more clear."—Chris Allan, Alaska History
“Peter Johnson has once more delved into a long-neglected aspect of our colonial past. His new book reveals the extraordinary life story of an artist who witnessed and recorded for posterity some fascinating episodes during the early days of British Columbia and its environs. He tells of adventures, places, and times that we need to know more about. "—Michael Layland, Ormsby Review
“Whymper's drawings and paintings of native life and early coastal geography, before the mass arrival of European and American settlers, and his close relationship with all those he met along the way resulted in some fine visual accounts of genuine historical and ethnological importance."—Delta Optimist