BRITTON, James R.

From Islapedia

BRITTON, James R. (1877-1907), native Californian and son of Monterey clergyman, James Britton, J. R. became a part time journalist, notary, and member of the Board of Trade in Pasadena.

From May 13-May 18, 1897 Britton cruised from San Pedro Harbor to Santa Barbara Island where he camped with biologists Joseph Grinnell, and Horace and Harry Gaylord. Britton devoted his time on the island to archaeology. He reported a “decaying beacon of the U.S. Coast Survey” on the island, the hut of a craw fisherman built of lath and canvas, and “a wooden trough and trying pot of cemented stone about which hangs an odor of seal oil, for within a decade Santa Barbara Island has been a favorite sealing place.” In addition, he reported:

“Scattered about are skulls and hoofs of sheep put on the island as a business venture some years ago. For a time they throve; but a dry year came, the grass withered, and visiting fishermen found the poor brutes too weak from starvation to stand. Many died and the remainder were removed.”

After Santa Barbara Island, Britton, Grinnell and the Gaylords also visited San Nicolas and San Clemente islands.

In 1903, Britton married Pasadena resident, Louise B. Slenank of Chicago, and Barnard College graduate.

Britton died young at age 30. The 1910 census lists Louise Britton, 31, his widow, living in Chicago with her parents. They had no children.


[original in SCIF archives; pages removed from original] [Britton file]



In the News~

May 11, 1897 [LAT]: “The expedition under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences will leave tomorrow (Tuesday) for scientific research on the Santa Barbara islands. A schooner has been chartered, and fully equipped. The party will consist of Joseph Grinnell, Horace Gaylord, Harry Galyord and James Britton. They will probably be joined later by Professor Hoag of Throop, and F. S. Daggett. The plan is to spend the first week on Santa Barbara Island, the second on San Nicolas, and about two weeks on San Clemente.”


June 11, 1897 [LAT/P]: “Messrs. H. D. Gaylord, Joseph Grinnell, J. R. Britton and Horace Gaylord of the Pasadena Academy of Sciences expedition to the Santa Barbara islands, returned late last night, bringing back many interesting and valuable relics. They have been gone thirty days and their finds were so valuable that another expedition will be sent out within a few days. They set sail from San Pedro May 11 on a fishing schooner and visited San Nicolas and San Clemente islands, besides the Santa Barbara group, finding many evidences of former Indian occupation, especially on the first named islands. In the collection of insects, birds and mammals brought back are three species hitherto unknown to science. Such a great quantity of relics was secured that they could not bring them all, and they will be brought by the second expedition. A hermit was found living on San Clemente. Otherwise the islands are uninhabited.”


April 23, 1899 [LAT]: “An Old Prospector’s tale of the Laguna Prieta by a special contributor, J. R. Britton…”


May 14, 1899 [LAT]: “A forgotten industry. How seals were killed about Santa Barbara Island. By a special contributor, J. R. Britton. During a recent cruise among the Santa Barbara Channel Islands I was surprised to find that Santa Barbara, the smallest of the group which includes Santa Catalina, San Clemente, San Nicolas and Santa Barbara, has been an extensive sealing place within a decade or so. The try-pot and other evidences of the exterminated industry are still to be seen high and dry upon a shelf of rock on the beetling east coast, and the oily odor still hangs about them. Sitting there one may easily lead himself to believe that he sees Chris and Bob and Jack and Tom coming in in a skiff from their schooner anchored some few hundred yards off the coast. As the skiff nears the rocks Bob swings her about stern on, and yells, ‘Steady, there!’ and she rides bouncingly in on the wave and lightly bumps the rocks. Chris jumps ashore with a rifle in one hand and a water can in the other. Jack and Tom follow suit, the skiff receding and advancing with the waves until grub and utensils are all landed. The island is about one-half by four miles in area, and is uninhabited save for short periods during crawfishing season. Years ago sheep were placed on the island, but they perished during drought. There is no fresh water. It has the most rugged of coasts. Here is a tunneled arch large enough for a fishing sloop to pass through. The waves seem to prove that the island is hollow, for they surge into little portholes and are shot out of others rods away, with tremendous booms and discharges of smoke-like spray. Here are smaller arches and tunnels through which bits of green ocean gleam a hundred yards from the eye. There are wells fifty feet deep through lava rock, and caves equally tall and receding to darkness. In these caves the cow and pup seals lived the year round, and were visited by the bulls from the north in the fall, the bulls returning north in the spring. The sealers go up the coast in the skiff and along the rocks and shoot the seals with rifles. The bodies are thrown in the skiff, and when a load is secured it is taken to the try-pot. The blubber is ‘tried’ into oil and the tusks and whiskers are sold to Chinamen who make various uses of them… The men get candles and climb around into the caves. They are greeted by a medley of flopping and screaming, bellowing, barking and whining. By the flickering candle-light the pups are clubbed to death and dragged to the try-pot. After a time, when seals became scarce, the dealers fell to killing the cows too, and thus the animals were exterminated…”


March 8, 1902 [LAT]: “At the regular monthly meeting of the [Pasadena] Board of Trade yesterday afternoon the following new members were received: J. R. Britton…”


July 4, 1903 [LAT]: “…The opening of the men’s singles [tennis] brought out the old-timers in force… J. R. Britton…”


October 9, 1907 [LAH]: “James R. Britton died at his temporary home in Altadena last night. He had been in ill health for several years. Mr. Britton took up newspaper work after leaving Throup thirteen years ago. Besides his newspaper work he did many short stories and special articles for magazines. He leaves a mother and a widow. He married Miss Louise Slenank of Chicago.”