In September 1858, just a month after the mainland colony was formed, Governor James Douglas issued the first Gold Fields Act. This was done in order to bring order to the Fraser River gold rush. The Gold Fields Act was tweaked and changed as time progressed. Here are some rules from the Gold Fields Act of 1859.
- “The ordinary claims on any bench diggings shall be registered by the gold commissioner and can be either one hundred feet square or else a strip of land twenty-five feet deep at the edge of the cliff next to the river, and bounded by two straight lines carried as nearly as possible in each case perpendicular to the general direction of such cliff across the level bench up to and not beyond the foot of the descent in the rear; and in such last mentioned case, the space included between such two boundary lines when produced over the face of the cliff in front as far as the foot of such cliff and no farther, and all mines in the space so included shall also form a part of such claim.
- The gold commissioner shall have authority in cases where the benches are narrow, to mark the claims in such manner as he shall think fit, so as to include an adequate claim. And shall also have power to decide on the cliffs, which, in his opinion, form the natural boundaries of benches.
- The gold commissioner may…allow any free miner to register two claims in his own name, and allow such period as he may think proper for non-working either one of such claims. A discoverer’s claim shall…be reckoned as one ordinary claim.
- All claims shall be subject to the public rights of way and water…as the gold commissioner shall from time to time direct…
- The water taken into a ditch shall be measured at the ditch head…[by way of] a trough…not more than 17 inches below the surface of the water in the reservoir, all measurements being taken inside the trough and in the low-water or dry season.”
The Gold Fields Act also was the drive behind the judicial system and regulations for gold mining in British Columbia.
An Assistant Gold Commissioner presided over locally based Gold Commissioner’s or Mining Courts. He had jurisdiction to hear all mining or mining-related disputes and to deal with them as he saw fit. By doing so, the Gold Commissioner’s Court allowed suitors to avoid the costly delays associated with Supreme Court actions and jury trials.
A locally elected Mining Board replaced the Californian-style Miners’ Meetings. During the California gold rush, miners made their own rules which governed behaviour and settled disputes. In British Columbia, the decisions of the Mining Board could be overturned by the Assistant Gold Commissioner, who also possessed the power to dissolve the board at his pleasure.