William Driscoll Gosset

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William Driscoll Gosset 1822-1899 Major General (?)


William Driscoll Gosset was the second son of John Noah Gosset and Maria Margaret Driscoll, daughter of Thomas Driscoll. His grandparents were Jerseyman Matthew Gosset and his wife Margaret Durell. He was born in London on 13 April 1822. He had an elder brother William Henry Gosset and four younger sisters, Caroline Anna, Louisa Henrietta, Louisa Henrietta and Elizabeth Marie.

He followed his uncle Major General William Gosset and cousin Major General James William Gosset as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and possibly (see below) in due course became the third member of his family to rise to the rank of Major General in the Royal Engineers.

While a Captain he married his cousin, Helen Dorothea Gosset, in June 1852, at Eton.

He was Surveyor-General in Ceylon during the 1850s and on his return to England, he was immediately posted to British Columbia as Colonial Treasurer.

On the journey out with the senior Royal Engineers officer, Colonel Richard Moody, he encountered Robert Burnaby, who would become Moody’s secretary. The two soon realised that Gosset and Burnaby’s brother had fallen out some time before.

Robert Burnaby wrote in 1858 about their relationship:

"Captain Gossett, who is to my mind an odious man, full of self conceit and irritability, and who, in my opinion has got ‘a tile off’. His first greeting to me was queer. He said something to somebody about Ceylon, so I knew my man and introduced myself. ‘Ah’, he said, ‘I know your brother. He and I are not very good friends’. ‘Sorry to hear that,’ I answered, ‘But that's no reason you and I should not be’, and so we gradually got on, he reserved and bearish, I quiet and civil. When he swaggered and talked as tho' he would patronize me in the new country I made a point of showing that Gov't business was bad and we didn't care for it: but if I could do anything to give him a lift in the way of getting stores over for him I would. So, bye and bye we got to understand each other and are now very fair friends. He is a very clever man, but he was queer when Dick knew him and Ceylon has finished him off.”
William Gosset, standing, and colleagues in British Columbia

Of Mrs Gosset, he wrote:

"Mrs. Gossett is a very tall woman, coarse as a cook maid, tolerably pleasant now she is not sick, which she was from Holyhead to Sandy Hook. They have as fine a boy as was ever seen, who has been in the four quarters of the globe before he is a year old. If he doesn't turn out to be a traveller, who should?"

British Columbia

Columbia detachment of the Royal Engineers was a British military contingent that played a major role in the settlement, development and security of the new British Columbia. Sent at the request of Governor James Douglas to help maintain order during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, the detachment was created by an act of British parliament on 2 August 1858 and commanded by Colonel Moody. The cost of the detachment was borne by the colony.

The corps consisted of 150 sappers, and was later increased to 172. Moody had three captains: Robert Mann Parsons, John Marshall Grant, and Henry Reynolds Luard. The contingent also included Lt. Arthur Lempriere, a Jerseyman and later a Major-General.

McGowan’s War

The Royal Engineers arrived in British Columbia in October and November 1858, just in time to respond to an incident popularly known as "Ned McGowan's War". Twenty-two engineers accompanied Moody and Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie to Yale to face down a group of rebellious American miners. Order was restored without further violence.

Following the enactment of the Pre-emption Act of 1860, Colonel Moody and his engineers assisted the process of settling the Lower Mainland by selecting and surveying the site for the capital "New Westminster". Just a mile outside of the townsite, the Engineer's camp developed into a settlement of its own - the area is still known as Sapperton.

Moody and the Royal Engineers also built an extensive road network, including what would become Kingsway, connecting New Westminster to False Creek and North Road between Port Moody and New Westminster.

The Columbia Detachment was disbanded in July, 1863. Apart from the Moody family, only 22 men and 8 wives returned to England, while the rest, 130 sappers, elected to remain in BC.


Reports of Gosset’s time in Canada suggest that he had retired from the Royal Engineers but Hart's Army Lists for 1866 and 1867 show that William Driscoll Gosset was promoted Brevet Colonel in 1860 and Brevet-Colonel John S Hawkins, commanding Royal Engineers at Woolwich, had been "superseded by Brevet-Colonel Gosset, from Dublin".

Other reports appear to confuse William Driscoll Gosset with his cousin Major General James William Gosset at this time. It cannot be said with any certainty that references to William Driscoll Gosset attaining the rank of Major General are correct.

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