Tag Archives: Judge Begbie

How E. B. Lytton changed the course of BC history

In 1858, gold miners swarmed to the Fraser River. It was also the year that the longstanding Palmerston government was defeated and E. B. Lytton became the Colonial Secretary, responsible for overseeing the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the past, there had been a push to settle Vancouver Island and the British Parliament had gone so far as to make it a colony, but the mainland was strictly under HBC’s monopoly. There were no settlers there and they liked it that way. As one member of parliament put it, “The Hudson’s Bay Company is by its very existence and its character the enemy of colonization” whose main purpose was to extract the resources of the land and not cater to the whims and needs of the populace.

Until 1858, the Hudson’s Bay Company had an ally in Parliament — the Colonial Secretary Henry Labouchere. That was about to change under Edward Bulwer Lytton.

E. B. Lytton - Colonial Secretary

E. B. Lytton – Colonial Secretary

The new Parliament made its mandate clear that it wanted to colonize the lands that the Hudson’s Bay Company possessed. The first step was to not renew their license which was slated for renewal May 30, 1859. In addition, the government aimed to bring into question the legality of the original Hudson’s Bay Company charter of 1670, this having been assigned to lands which were then under France’s control.

There was no instant communications in those days. It took many months for a ship to arrive with the mail and when it did reach the office of the Colonial Secretary, it took weeks on end for clerks to hand write copies for officials to read and comment on.

While he was waiting to receive an answer, Douglas made decisions as he saw fit. As the head of the HBC’s Columbia Department which oversaw New Caledonia, Douglas took it upon himself to establish mining fees and pricing controls. He also sought to uphold the Company’s monopoly and did his best to keep out the competition. To this end, he used the survey ships that were based in Esquimalt but most of the miners and merchants slipped in without notice.

Trading Rights

E. B. Lytton soon made it clear that the Company’s monopoly only went so far as exclusive trading rights with the Indigenous people and that it could not be the sole provider of provisions, even though Douglas had pointed out all the efforts they had made to accommodate the gold seekers.

Lytton also organized a contingent of Royal Engineers to come to New Caledonia to help build roads and plan towns, to be paid from the colony’s revenue. The other bit of bad news for Douglas came when he received word that Lytton wished to have future administrative appointments come from ‘home’ rather than someone from the Company.

He chose Chartres Brew to be the head of the colony’s civilian police force and Matthew Begbie, a lawyer, was selected to be the judge.

On the day that Begbie was to sail from England, E.B. Lytton boarded the ship to personally hand over the documents to establish the new colony of British Columbia and the appointments of James Douglas as Governor, and Begbie as its Judge. Each document had been signed by Queen Victoria.

British Columbia

Begbie arrived at Esquimalt November 16, 1858. Three days later, on November 19, 1858 the swearing in ceremony and declaration of British Columbia took place at Fort Langley. This marked the end of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s control of New Caledonia.

The following year, Lord Palmerston’s government returned and Lytton was replaced by the Duke of Newcastle as Colonial Secretary.

Although the legality of HBC’s charter wasn’t settled for another 10 years, E. B. Lytton did succeed in terminating their monopoly of New Caledonia and establishing British Columbia.

Had Labouchere still been the Colonial Secretary when the gold rush broke out, things could have turned out much differently.

How the gold rush town of Richfield nearly became Elwyntown

It was bitterly cold in the winter of 1861 and William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz only had time to stake a claim at an unnamed creek before being forced to turn back. He named the creek after himself as a way of marking the claim. Sensing that Dutch Bill had found something big, Ned Stout and three others travelled by snowshoe to ‘William’s Creek’ and they too found gold.

Word soon got out and by the first week of March 1862 many more prospectors soon arrived at Williams Creek. They built shafts on the hillsides and as the ice retreated from the creek itself, it became possible for all claims to be worked. Shacks and business establishments were built close by and a town emerged with stores, restaurants and saloons.

Assistant Gold Commissioner Nind based in Williams Lake was overworked with covering the entire Cariboo district as more mining claims were being registered and disputes needed to be resolved. Nind’s health began to suffer and he requested a leave of absence in early May.

Thomas Elwyn

Thomas Elwyn, the former magistrate for Lillooet, was named Nind’s replacement and upon seeing the amount of work to be done, recommended that the Cariboo be divided into two districts. Peter O’Reilly was assigned the western district while Elwyn was appointed head of the eastern section which included the area of Williams Creek.

By the end of May, 1862 more than twenty businesses were established to serve the needs of the prospectors who numbered over five hundred. Soon though, the deplorable state of the trails made it nearly impossible to bring supplies.

High food prices proved to be too much of a hardship for many miners who had arrived with a small amount of provisions on their backs and little money. Many left the Cariboo altogether.

Those miners who pooled their resources were able to stay and reap the profits of their claims. In one month, Cunningham & Company took out gold at the rate of three thousand dollars every twenty-four hours. Steele & Company’s claims yielded two hundred ounces a day.

On the last day of August, Judge Begbie arrived and the first Grand Jury was assembled in the newly constructed courthouse. Among the topics discussed was a name for the town.  The jury recommended it be called ‘Elwyntown’ after Thomas Elwyn.

‘Elwyntown’ didn’t make it on the map. Instead, Lieutenant Palmer, in his role as Deputy Commissioner of Lands and Works, decided upon the name Richfield.

Richfield retained its significance even as Barkerville grew and the neighbouring towns of Cameronton and Marysville were established in 1863 and 1864.



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.

Judge Begbie hears from over taxed miners

Starting in the summer of 1859, Judge Begbie travelled to Langley, Fort Hope, Yale, and Port Douglas to hear from over taxed miners and merchants who gathered to voice their concerns and grievances.

When Begbie arrived in Langley on June 29th, he got an earful.

First, the people voiced their disapproval of land being sold by auction. This, they felt, was in favour of speculators who could afford to spend money on improvements. As a result, most settlers were forced to buy from speculators. It was required to wait until land could be surveyed first. In comparison, settlers south of the border could get land at five shillings per acre.

The over taxation of miners meant that many left the gold diggings altogether even though many of them were earning from $5 to $20 per day. Why? too many fees to pay. Miners had to pre-pay for their monthly licences, pay for registering mining claims, water rights and many other taxes.

To sum it up, the Grand Jury reported:

“We want a governor…who is unconnected with the Hudson’s Bay Company, or any other company, who will carry out the orders of the Home Government…”

At Fort Hope, Judge Begbie heard that their jail was insecure, that a bridge was needed across the Coquihalla River, and that few people had land of their own, with most of it in the hands of a few.

The trial of Sheriff Chisolm

There were two eventful court cases in the Cariboo in the summer of 1865.

John Perrin, a well-known gold miner from Richfield, was a defendant in a case regarding a disputed claim, Henness v. Perrin. Shortly after the case began, Perrin was approached by Deputy Sheriff Chisolm:

“I was standing by the Cariboo shaft when Daniel B. Chisolm, the Deputy Sheriff, came to me and said he wished to speak to me; he took me aside out of hearing of the men standing around and said if I had any doubts about the lawsuit pending he would put me on a safe track by summoning any jury I chose…in return for a quarter of an interest in the Cariboo claim. The next day I met Chisolm near Barkerville, when he asked me to go with him to the back room of the Spanish woman’s house at Barkerville, where he showed me a list of jurymen and asked me how I liked them; he said for a quarter of an interest in the Cariboo claim, he would summon those or any other that I wished; I told him I would not do it, and left the house.”

When Mr. Walker, counsel for the defence, read out Perrin’s affidavit in court, everyone was surprised including Judge Begbie and Deputy Sheriff Chisolm who was present in his official duty. The trial of Henness v. Perrin continued unimpeded, but it was followed afterward by the trial of Mr. Chisolm.

Dan B. Chisolm was arraigned and the indictment for unlawfully offering to take a bribe to pack a jury. Chisolm pleaded “not guilty.”

Mr. Perrin was cross-examined and gave the same account as in his affidavit. Jesse Pierce testified that he was in the house when he saw Mr. Perrin and Mr. Chisolm go into a back room.
Captain Henness testified:

“I have known Mr. Chisolm since the winter of 1862. The day before the trial of Henness v. Perrin, I called at Mr. Sutor’s office and found Mr. Chisolm there; I said to him have you summoned the jury for the Assizes? He said yes; I remarked that I wanted no favours but I hoped to have good, upright, honest men try the case. Mr. Chisolm said that was always his aim, and he would show me the list, which he then did.”

Messrs. Laumeister, Pearkes and Campbell all testified that they had known Chisolm for a considerable length of time and said he was of good character.

Chisolm testified that Perrin has anxious about the ‘big suit’ as the only person who could throw light on the matter [Cunningham] was dead.

“Here I asked him about the Cunningham estate, as I felt somewhat interested, holding Cunningham’s note for about $300…I told him that I thought a good deal of the claim at the time…I asked him then if he would not sell me a quarter interest, and he said no; this is all that ever passed between us…”

After deliberating for an hour, the jury returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’. Judge Begbie discharged Chisolm saying that he agreed with the verdict, but he censored Mr. Chisolm for his indiscretion in holding a private conference with a party in a lawsuit.

BC Gold Rush Judge Begbie

Judge Begbie

Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie – BC’s first chief justice

Judge Begbie was the first chief justice of British Columbia.

Born at sea in 1819, Matthew Baillie Begbie was educated in England where he became a lawyer. In the fall of 1858, Begbie arrived in British Columbia at the height of the Fraser River gold rush.

As the chief justice of the colony, Begbie oversaw the roles of gold commissioners, who previously had been used to wide-reaching control.

Begbie was required to travel great distances on horseback and there are many stories of his adventures over rough trails in a variety of weather. Before the Dewdney Trail was completed, Edgar Dewdney guided Begbie and his pack horses to Fisherville in the Kootenays for a court hearing.

There were very few established courthouses in those days. Begbie always carried his robes and wore them wherever it was convenient to hold court whether it was in a saloon, roadhouse, cabin or outdoors.

Begbie was careful to follow the jury’s decision in cases of murder, when the punishment was hanging. In matters regarding mining claims, sometimes Begbie was known to disagree with the jury and called for a new trial. Many who were not familiar with British law were not pleased with his decisions.

At a Clinton roadhouse, Begbie sentenced a man for a crime and then later that same evening overheard the fellow’s companions plotting to shoot him. Known to fight with his fists or with law books, the judge listened for a while then emptied his chamber pot over them.

Begbie became fluent in several aboriginal languages including Chinook. After hundreds of their people died of starvation during the winter of 1858, the Upper St’át’imc, whose territory was invaded by thousands of miners seeking gold in Lillooet district and beyond, appealed to Begbie to defend the rights of their people.

In 1863, Dr. Cheadle wrote:

“Passed Judge Begbie on horseback (near Clinton on the Cariboo Road). Everyone praises his just severity as the salvation of the Cariboo and the terror of rowdies.”






Kettles in the gold rush

Copper or brass kettles were an important exchange item for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the fur trade.

Metal containers with lids were more popular than others because the lid permitted food to be cooked more quickly and kept the contents cleaner in the outdoors. They were traded and sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company and were used well into the 20th century.

A variety of sizes of pots was manufactured. At one site where a canoe had dumped its cargo overboard by accident, archaeologists discovered a set consisting of 17 pots of various sizes nested into one another probably to save on space.

During the Fraser River gold rush, a group of gold seekers hired Natives to pack supplies across the short land bridge at Seton-Portage, before setting out across Anderson Lake in a dugout canoe. Partway through the crossing, the guides made an unexpected departure from their intended course, beaching the canoe at their village where one native quickly snatched the gold seekers most prized possession, the camp kettle.

One of the gold seekers, Charles Gardiner from Prince Edward Island, recalled the event.

“I jumped out and gave chase,” exclaimed Gardiner, “but only a short distance until two guns were cocked and levelled at my head…In a few moments the old Chief came down with the kettle in his hand, which we had to buy back. My partner taking the handkerchief from his neck, gave it to the old Chief, who gave it then in our presence to the villain who took our kettle. The Chief then asked for some mucamuc (Chinook term for food). We told him we had none, when again he took the kettle which we had to purchase this second time with flour.”

Judge Matthew Begbie frequently camped outdoors as he travelled around the colony of British Columbia to and from courthouses. Begbie’s kettle, missing a lid, was probably a prized possession as well. Today, it sits in the Quesnel Museum.

The murder of Charles Blessing

In the fall of 1866, the remains of a man were discovered in some bushes near Beaver Pass, between Quesnel and Barkerville, at a point where the Cariboo Wagon road intersected an old trail. Gold Commissioner George Cox, accompanied by Chief Constable Fitzgerald, held an inquest at the spot where the remains were found. Members of a jury witnessed the examination of the body.

The crime had taken place some months before because the body had been reduced to a skeleton but a bullet hole was visible at the back of the skull. An examination of the mouth revealed teeth in good condition with some of the back molars filled with gold. The clothes were still intact and these revealed someone who was quite well-to-do; not your typical gold seeker. The following description was printed in the Cariboo Sentinel in the hopes that someone reading it would recognize the person.

unkown murder

Cariboo Sentinel report October 1, 1866

Gold Commissioner Cox looked through mining licences to find any record of the name C.M. Blessing, but there was nothing.

In the months leading up to the discovery of the body, Barkerville’s barber, Wellington Moses had been doing his own inquiries about a man who had gone missing.

On May 28, 1866, Moses shared a stagecoach with a well-to-do New Englander to Soda Creek. Moses was returning from a winter in Victoria and Charles Blessing said he was looking for an adventure; it was quite obvious he didn’t need the money. Moses remembered the unusual gold nugget pin he was wearing; he’d never seen anything quite like it. They caught the sternwheeler to Quesnel, arriving in the evening. At the Brown and Gillis’ Saloon, they ran into a Texan gambler named James Barry who admitted being down on his luck.

After Blessing paid for their drinks, it was agreed that Blessing and Barry would start the next morning along the trail for Barkerville since Moses had decided to stay in Quesnel another day to collect money he was due.

Weeks passed and Moses resumed cutting hair at his barbershop in Barkerville. It wasn’t until he saw James Barry that he was reminded of Blessing. He asked Barry what became of their travel companion, but Barry was vague, telling him that Blessing complained of sore feet and wanted to turn back. On one occasion, Moses remembered, Barry sat in his barber chair wearing a distinct nugget pin. It looked familiar.

That day, Moses closed up his shop and made a few discreet inquiries and discovered that Barry had arrived in Barkerville on June 2nd and was able to pay for a room at Wilcox’s for $12 a week which he paid with a $20 bank note. Moses was suspicious but he didn’t go to the police.

One day, Bill Fraser, one of his long-time customers from Victoria, showed up at the barbershop. The topic turned to James Barry and Fraser recalled how he had travelled with him just that spring from New Westminster to Quesnel before they parted company. He remembered Barry making remarks that suggested that he had been in and out of jail. He was also wearing a Colt six-gun and cartridge belt and he never let it out of his sight.

As soon as he read the description in the paper, Moses decided it was time to go to the Chief Constable Fitzgerald and tell him what he thought. As soon as news went around Barkerville, Barry was nowhere to be found. Fitzgerald instructed Constable Sullivan to find Barry and bring him in.

Sullivan rode his horse for 120 miles to the steamboat landing at Soda Creek and it was here he learned that Barry had crossed the Fraser River two days before and had taken a stagecoach to Yale.

At this time, the Collins Overland Company had just finished stringing a wire to Quesnel. An operator at Soda Creek tapped out a message to the BC Police at Yale. Twelve hours later when Barnard’s stagecoach pulled into Yale, a police officer was waiting for Barry.

In the summer of 1867, James Barry was led into the Richfield courthouse to face Chief Justice Begbie and a jury of Cariboo miners. At the trial, the prosecutor brought forward the gold nugget pin and asked Barry where he got it from. He said he had bought it from a man in Victoria. The prosecutor then asked Wellington Moses how did he know it belong to the murdered man.

Moses pointed out that when you looked at the gold nugget pin in a certain way, you could see the profile of a man’s face. It was this profile he had seen as he put the barber’s cape under Barry’s chin. Judge Begbie looked at the nugget closely and sketched it in the margin of his notes.

On August 8, 1866, James Barry was hanged outside the Richfield courthouse for the murder of Charles Blessing. Afterward, Moses helped to raise funds to give Blessing a decent burial. They placed a headboard and a fence around Blessing’s grave. It is a provincial historic site.

Disputed Claim part 2

Judge Begbie

Judge Begbie was in his hotel room when he heard a clattering noise on the street below and Billy’s familiar shout to the horses as the stagecoach stopped in front of the hotel. Begbie parted the drapes to look out the window.

“I don’t believe it,” he muttered to himself.  It was almost seven o’clock in the evening although it was deceptively bright outside, given the northern latitude of the gold rush town, Van Winkle.

Billy had just stepped down from his seat by the time Begbie made his way outside.

“I got delayed, your honour,” Billy said.

“There is no need to point out the obvious.  See me tomorrow morning at breakfast.”

“Thank you, sir. The horses won’t forgive me unless I get them settled down.  I could use a nose bag myself.”

Begbie patted him on the shoulder and then strode off in the direction of the Fairburn Hotel where his dinner guest was waiting for him.

Dud Moreland, land speculator and mining investor, shook Begbie’s hand and they settled down for dinner which consisted of venison, several glasses of wine, and sponge cake.

There were a few other tables occupied by other diners, but they were far enough away that conversation was possible without being overheard.

“Are you still living in that old HBC tent when you’re on the trail?”

Begbie stretched out his legs, “it’s a matter of necessity. There are only so many roadhouses and most of them are accommodating miners, not justices.”

Moreland nodded, “of course I was just thinking of while you are up here in the Cariboo, you would want a house of your own so you could have your own library and your valuables wouldn’t get damaged by the rain.”

“That is true, it was only yesterday that the stagecoach driver was delayed and as a result I didn’t have access to my seals.  He only just arrived in town.” He declined to add that he had sent a messenger on a fruitless journey to get the Assistant Gold Commissioner, William Cox to affix the seal.

“Terrible! I’m sure your seals are in safe hands with Billy. What did you say these seals look like?”

“They’re brass or some similar kind of metal, why do you ask?” Begbie furrowed his eyebrows at the thought that his judgement hadn’t been made official.

Moreland clasped his hands together, “I’m quite sure they’ve arrived safe and sound.” He smiled.

“I have twenty acres in the Cottonwood District that I’ve been considering selling…”

John Robson, publisher of the British Columbian, sat at the nearby table and was so desperately trying to eavesdrop, he stopped chewing. He was certain that he heard Moreland mention the paltry fee of two bits1 per acre. Two bits! Absurd that land in such a coveted area would be selling so cheaply.  And what was this business of the court seals?

After his dinner and while Begbie and Moreland had moved on to stronger spirits, Robson slipped out of the hotel and went to find Miles and Frederick, the two miners with whom he had interviewed earlier that day .

Stagecoach Driver Billy heard the sound of footsteps near the barn where he was resting after hanging up the reins and harness. He opened one eye and watched a man in a wrinkled suit come around the front of the stagecoach to where the boot was kept.

Billy approached the man from behind just as he put a hand on the leather straps which held the boot together.

“Get off!” Billy shouted.

The man started for a moment. “Mr. Billy. I’m Frederick Malone, the new assistant gold commissioner. Mr. Begbie requested his documents for the next case.”

Billy shook his head, “I can’t give them out. If Judge Begbie wants to give them to you, he’d have done so himself. I won’t do it.”

The man offered him some money, but Billy wouldn’t take it. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a need for money it was a matter that taking it would bring trouble eventually.

“You bring Judge Begbie around,” Billy said.

The man turned as if to walk away and then out of nowhere Billy felt a blow to his head from behind.


1 Two bits equalled twenty-five cents.

Disputed Gold Rush Claim

Notice for Miners Meeting

Notice for Public Meeting (Cariboo Sentinel newspaper, 1866)

Two miners, Miles and Frederick, entered the office of the  Gold Commissioner in Richfield and sat down opposite William Cox, Assistant Gold Commissioner.

“Begbie overturned the jury’s decision,” Miles said bitterly.  “If he had gone with their decision at least we would get half, now who knows?”

William Cox nodded, “so I heard.” They were a rough and ragged bunch but Cox respected them; he never questioned their intelligence or their qualities as being less than his own.

“Your paperwork is still here. I agreed with you in the beginning and I still do now. But  with this new Gold Act, I don’t have the authority to bring some common sense resolution,” Cox said.

“Begbie said he will hold a trial next Tuesday to make his decision and I can hardly think it will be in our favour. We expected that the law would protect our interests, after all we were the ones who recorded our claim and paid all our dues and obligations. Doesn’t that account for anything?” Frederick said.

“We’ve invested all our money, plus we still owe money to Macdonald Bank, not to mention the labour.  I can’t believe that all our work is going to be tossed out,” Miles said.

“You could try appealing it in Chancery court,” Cox said, trying to sound hopeful.

“How is a miner supposed to operate in the Cariboo when the odds are stacked against him? This is the third time that Borealis has done this dirty trick – coming in as soon as someone hits bedrock, they file a complaint in court saying that they recorded something somewhere,” Frederick said.

Cox agreed. Disputed claims were a common occurrence in the Cariboo.  In the first year, there was enough gold to fill your pan even if someone else came alongside. Eventually, though the obvious nuggets got plucked and miners had to work harder to get the same results.

Assistant gold commissioner, William Cox, reminisced about the days early on in the gold rush when he could resolve mining disputes in simple terms like the time he got the miners to run from the Richfield courthouse to the disputed claim – winner take all.

Now they had Judge Begbie to overrule anything that was decided in the Mining Courts.  When Cox had first arrived in the Colony, there was the Court of British Columbia, then it became the Supreme Court of Civil Justice of British Columbia which oversaw all civil and criminal cases. Small Debts Courts came later and then sprouted up County Courts and Chancery Court.

Judge Begbie was well-educated but he had never sat before in a court room when he was appointed the Chief Justice of British Columbia. Cox had heard rumours that Begbie was a distant cousin of Governor Douglas; nothing would surprise him there.  Most of Douglas’ inner circle was related in one way or another.

The day after Begbie overturned the jury’s decision in the case of Borealis vs. Frederick & Company, six hundred miners and residents gathered in front of the Richfield courthouse to discuss the administration of the Colony’s mining laws. Some of the miners were among those who had been involved in the gold rush in California and many were familiar with the style of these miner meetings where their resolutions were in effect the first types of laws for miners.

Speakers stood on the steps and the others in the audience let them know their opinion.

“Judge Begbie set aside the jury’s decision and by doing so he is telling each one of you that you don’t have the intelligence or the common sense to judge your peers! We want justice but we want it done impartially.”

“The law has destroyed confidence and is driving out labour, capital and enterprise out of the Colony!”

“There is no way that someone can get a proper redress in a court system without an appeal process. We need a Court of Appeal!  Judge Begbie is partial and dictatorial. He can’t be allowed to have the final say!”

The crowd carried on for several hours until they came up with a couple of resolutions included among them that they wanted a Court of Appeal to be established.

Matthew Baillie Begbie would rather ride his horse along the Cariboo Waggon Road all the way to Lillooet than suffer through the slow ride of the stagecoach, which in his opinion was far too slow and cumbersome.  There were certain things that he carried at all times and this included his robes and a bible necessary for swearing someone before his impromptu court which could occur anywhere, wherever he felt it was necessary.  His luggage, reference books, papers and the court seals followed behind in the stagecoach, usually arriving about two or three hours later.

At Bridge River, stagecoach driver Billy was easing the horses along the narrow, precipitous trail when his eye caught some movement just beyond a rock bluff ahead.

Two men stood in the path, blocking the horses.

Pulling the reins, Billy brought the horses to a halt. Everything was silent except for the sound of rushing water below.

“What do you want?” Billy yelled out gruffly. “Nothing here!” he shouted as he pulled out his musket and levelled it at them.

“We need to talk to you.” One of them replied as they kept walking towards the horses.

Billy cocked his gun. He knew he couldn’t shoot without spooking the horses, but if he got down from his seat, they could overtake him and leave him stranded or worse.


Judge Begbie stood outside the back of the court house wearing his judicial robes. Where was his stagecoach? Luckily he had read the particulars of the case the night before so his memory was still fresh, but there were no notes to reference once he got started.

Everyone rose as Begbie entered the room, carrying with him some blank sheets of paper on which to make notes.  He sat down and banged the gavel, “Gavan Company vs. Tiller Company”  was in session.

There were five people in the court room, including a lawyer who rose on behalf of Gavan Company, whom he recognised from Victoria.

Of all the cases, this one had to include a lawyer, he mused.

The lawyer blustered on for almost half an hour without referencing a single piece of evidence for which Begbie was grateful while the frowns on the faces of the miners representing themselves stretched downward with every passing minute.

While Begbie managed to scratch out some notes with the small pot of ink that was thick like molasses, one of the miners approached the stand.

The miner who called himself ‘Lightning’ Frank Underhill, passed along various sheets of paper, several of which had been filed by the Assistant Gold Commissioner, William Cox.

Begbie looked at the names on the claim. “Who is ‘Tinker’ Brown? I think that Mr. Cox should have put your proper names on the form, rather than your nicknames.  I award the disputed claim to Gavan Company.”

The lawyer bowed slightly as Begbie banged the gavel, announcing the court was adjourned.

Afterward, Begbie sent a messenger from Barnard’s Express with the papers. “Instruct Mr. Cox to affix his seal to this judgement.”

Leaving in a cloud of dust, the messenger rode the horse at a fast clip all the way to Richfield.

William Cox refused and handed back the paper. “Judge Begbie will have to find his own seals.  Why would I use my own seals to give credence to this ruling when it overrides my own recording? I object.”

With that, the messenger was on his way back.

(to be continued)