The role of gold commissioners

In 1858, after news of the Fraser River gold rush had reached the British Parliament, the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton wrote:

“…it would seem desirable to appoint if you have not already done so Gold Commissioners armed with the powers of Magistrates.”

Gold commissioners were expected to act as the district’s land recorder, coroner, postmaster, justice of the peace, Indian agent, and revenue officer, as well as its stipendiary magistrate.  Gold Commissioner Richard Hicks recalled:

I came to Fort Yale when great excitement existed … the population amounted to upwards of five thousand and included some of the worst California could produce . . . I had to perform every office and work – even to grave digger. My hands were full night and days.  I worked hard.

Scandals broke out when it was discovered that some of the gold commissioners, including Richard Hicks, had profited from their position. In 1859, Chartres Brew, who was the Chief of Police, was also given the title of Chief Gold Commissioner. At the time, Governor James Douglas wrote:

“Matters were becoming complicated from the want of an active and intelligent Chief to supervise and instruct the Assistant Gold Commissioners. I was hampered by not having trustworthy and capable men at my disposal…”