The Cranford Affair: ‘extortion’ on the Cariboo Wagon Road

Cranford Affair

“Remember the Cranford Affair; and steer clear of extortion and delays”

When the colonial government decided to build the Cariboo Wagon Road, G.B. Wright was awarded a contract to build the section from Lillooet to Clinton in April 1862.

That same month, G.B. Wright met Robert Cranford, Jr. who had just arrived in Victoria  with a ‘considerable quantity of goods’ he had purchased in San Francisco which he intended to sell in the Cariboo. Wright offered to pack goods for Robert Cranford from New Westminster to Lillooet for nine cents per pound. He promised Cranford that his goods would arrive in ten days and in return Cranford would pay Wright for the cost of freight from the proceeds of the sale of goods 60 days after the goods arrived at their destination. Robert Cranford Jr. signed a contract on April 25th.

It took almost the entire summer for most of the goods to arrive. By this time Cranford Jr. realized it was too late to get the supplies to Williams Creek and he was at a loss.

When Cranford Jr. refused to pay, Wright went to the Justice of the Peace at Lillooet and asked that both Cranford Jr. and his brother John be tossed in jail for non-payment of the bill which came to £1,719. Wright suggested they be held in jail pending a bail payment of £2,500. As a result, the Justice of the Peace, who didn’t usually exercise such authority, sent out an order to have the brothers arrested, even though John had nothing to do with the original contract.

From his jail cell Cranford launched his own lawsuit to counter Wright’s. Cranford alleged that Wright had taken the goods that had cost $10,000 and sold them as his own at a time when the market was high. He sued Wright for $25,000.

In December 1862, Judge Begbie heard the case Cranford v. Wright. In the beginning it looked as though the odds were against the Cranford brothers. G.B. Wright had the attorney-general George Hunter Cary, attorney-general of British Columbia, and H.P. Walker acting in his defense. In addition, Judge Begbie used his discretion in favour of certain omissions on Wright’s part.

The timing was favourable for the Cranford brothers, however, because around the start of the trial, The British Columbian editor was imprisoned by Judge Begbie for contempt of court. Begbie objected to an article printed in the December 3, 1862 issue which exposed details of Begbie’s land acquisition in the Cottonwood District.

As a result, The British Columbian used the Cranford case as an opportunity to put Begbie and Wright in the worst light possible.

In court the written agreement was produced which read:

“Agreed with R. Cranford, Jr., & Brother to carry goods for them from Douglas to Lillooet at 9 cts. per lb. during the ensuing season, payable 50 days after delivery, and a proviso if freights fell, rates to be less.”

The lawyer for Cranford pointed out that the agreement had been falsified, with the words ‘& Brother’ squeezed into the margin and ‘them’ altered from the word ‘him’ as it was originally written. Both of the changes had been made in darker ink than the rest of the words.

The colonial government passed the Lillooet-Alexandria Road Toll Act which came into effect September 1, 1862. Any passengers on the road from Lillooet to Alexandria had to pay a half-penny per pound on goods, and one shilling per head on cattle. Wright received twenty-five percent of the tolls collected for five years.

In April 1863, Wright settled out of court with Robert Cranford Jr.