Appearing in Victoria at almost the same time as William Kierski, W. F. Herre’s “book and paper stand” was located on Yates Street between Wharf and Government (1). A Jewish Frenchman who came to Victoria after first operating a book store in San Francisco (2), he announced his presence in Victoria on August 3, 1858:
While researching Herre (whose first name I have yet to discover), I came across this amusing newspaper report from May 22, 1860:
A case was called on in the Police Court yesterday morning, which attracted a great crowd thither. It seems that Sergeant Carey has had the bookstore of W. F. Herre, on Yates Street, under his surveillance for some time, suspecting that gambling was being carried on in the rear apartments. On Sunday night last, Carey, in company with officers Dillon, Andrews, Whalen, and Druren, went to the rear of the house, and having peeped through the blinds, discovered a party of men playing cards. The posse then proceeded to the front door and demanded admittance, which being denied, the door was broken open and the following named parties arrested: W. F. Herre, proprietor of the house; N. Koshland, E. Marks, Hennry Barr, and E. Vaenberg. (3)
Herre was charged with keeping a gambling house and fined £20 (4).
Herre’s sideline business was also reported in the San Francisco papers: “Herre…vends newspapers and periodicals ostensibly,” the article read, “but privately he has a very nice little back room, where, in spite of the law and the excessively obnoxious penalty attached thereto, gentlemen have been known to lay down more than they took up cards” (5).
(1) Victoria Gazette, August 3, 1858; First Victoria Directory (Victoria: Edward Mallandaine & Co., 1860), 72.
(2) Madge Wolfenden, “Books and Libraries in Fur Trading and Colonial Days,” British Columbia Historical Quarterly 11, no. 3 (July 1947): 163; Cyril Edel Leonoff, Pioneers, Pedlars, and Prayer Shawls (Victoria, Sono Nis Press, 1978), 17; Daily Alta California (April 15, 1855): 1.
“The first bookstore in Victoria was Kierski’s,” wrote Glennis Zilm in her 1981 thesis about the history of trade book publishing in BC in the nineteenth century (1). “Little is known about Kierski’s,” she added, and with that, Kierski’s story seems to have rested in silence ever since.
And little wonder. Unearthing anything about Kierski has been a bit tricky, even in this Google age.
In her thesis, Zilm included an image taken from an 1858 issue of the Victoria Gazette in which Kierski’s first initial is shown as “L.” But flipping through the original pages of the Gazette at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections (a marvellous experience that I highly recommend), I discovered that his initial appears as a “W” in all later instances. Hmmm.
With the “Wm.” to work from (see the above ad), presumably short for “William,” I started googling and trying every source I could think of. Soon I found evidence of Kierski & Brother, booksellers and stationers in San Joaquin County, California, around the same period. It couldn’t be a coincidence, I thought.
Kierski & Brother, I then learned, were William and John S. Kierski, immigrants of Prussia who started their American lives in New York before setting up shop in Stockton, California, in about 1856 (2).
No mention of a stint in Victoria, though.
Fast-forward over months of periodic yet unsuccessful searches for more information, and a grainy online image from an October 1858 issue of the San Joaquin Republican finally provided the missing link. William Kierski’s time in Victoria had been brief (about four months), but there is no doubt that the Stockton bookseller is the same person as the first bookstore owner in Victoria:
“BACK AGAIN,” the article reads. “Our old neighbor, Mr. Wm. Kierski, has returned from Fraser river, or rather Victoria, where he has been engaged in business for some months. He went at the right time, and has done a good business as a newspaper dealer, and what is more, had wit enough to sell and return at the right time. Mr. Kierski brings some eight or ten ounces of the different varieties of gold dug from Hill’s, [unclear] and Murderer’s Bars. The specimens are [unclear], though not as bright as the gold dug upon the lower bars in this State. He intends to return when he learns of the discovery of dry diggings and [coarse?] gold. The only specimens of the latter that he has seen in that country are the [unclear] stamped with an American eagle.”
The sale referred to above of Kierski’s Victoria business was to T.N. Hibben, whom the VictoriaGazette announced as the successor to W. Kierski on October 9, 1858. The San Joaquin Republican may have felt that their man Kierski was wise to get out of Victoria when he did, but Thomas Napier Hibben would go on to become the premier bookseller in British Columbia for the next several decades.
Meanwhile, William and John Kierski remained in the book and stationery business in Stockton until at least 1875, judging by ads in the San Joaquin Republican. They also published a number of maps, such as Map of the City of Stockton and Environs in 1861 and A Map of the Seat of the War in Europe in 1866(3). There is no evidence to suggest that either of them ever returned to Victoria for those “dry diggings.” John died in 1894 (4) and William in 1903 (5).
(1) Glennis Zilm, “An Overview of Trade Book Publishing in British Columbia in the 1800s with Checklists and Selected Bibliography related to British Columbiana” (master’s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1981), 59.
(2) Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002), 349.
(4) Obituary in San Francisco Chronicle (May 30, 1894): 10.
(5) Obituary in San Francisco Chronicle (July 23, 1903): 10.