Born in Port Glasgow, Captain Sangster entered the HBC in 1827 as a boy on board the Eagle, which traveled between London and the Columbia. His career took him up and down the coast, to the Sandwich Islands, and occasionally to London. Though he was well-liked and a skilled commander, George Simpson thought him to be “a confirmed drunkard.” He was also considered short in stature.
When he retired in 1851, he purchased 20 acres in Esquimalt and became pilot in general, harbourmaster, Collector of Customs, and Victoria’s first postmaster. He took pleasure in watching for ships rounding Rocky Point, peering through his spyglass on the top of Beacon Hill. He moved into James Yates’ previous house when he became postmaster (1857), and installed a window which mail could pass through so as to avoid seeing people when he had been drinking. He also built a house in Esquimalt which contained a small garden. His health began plummeting in the late 1850s and, on 18 October 1858, he ended his misery by cutting his own throat. Sangster’s Plains are named after him.