Judge Howay and the Fraser River Gold Rush

Judge F. W. Howay

Judge F. W. Howay (1867 – 1943)

Frederic William Howay was a judge and a leading authority on the early history of British Columbia.

Born near London, Ontario on November 25, 1867, his family moved to British Columbia in 1870, and eventually settled in New Westminster in the fall of 1874.

Howay became a teacher then he studied law at Dalhousie University, after which he returned to New Westminster where he articled at a law firm and later became a judge of the county court.

One of the most significant works he published was the “Early History of the Fraser River Mines” which provided a significant amount of detailed information on the Fraser River gold rush. In his book, Howay included several key pieces of correspondence regarding McGowan’s War. Here is a letter from Justice of the Peace P.B. Whannell:

Fort Yale – 31st December, 1858.
His Excellency James Douglas, Esquire, Governor, etc., British Columbia.

Sir, I have the honor to inform your Excellency that on the 24th inst. one William Foster, a notorious character and gambler, shot one Bernard Rice, a miner, in open daylight and has absconded…He has been hidden by his associates here as well as on Hill’s Bar, among whom is that notorious villain, Edward McGowan.

I have closed up all the Gambling Saloons, appointed three men on the Police Force, and taken on several special contables on pay, as I could not arrange otherwise, and a large force is absolutely necessary here at the present crisis.

I have also to inform your Excellency that Edward McGowan came up this day to this town at the head of a lawless band of ruffians; broke open the Jail and liberated a Prisoner, in the person of Hickson, Constable at Hill’s Bar, whom I committed this day for contempt of Court and insubordination.

Mr. Perrier, Justice of the Peace at Hill’s Bar, issued a Warrant for my arrest for the above act and dispatched a band of Sworn in special constables composed of the most notorious characters in that locality, and of which number was McGowan.

I pronounce Mr. Perrier totally unfit to serve in any capacity under Her Majesty’s Government.

This town and district are in a state bordering on anarchy; my own and the lives of the citizens are in imminent peril. I beg your Excellency will afford us prompt aid. I have applied to Captain Grant for assistance already… An effective blow must at once be struck on the operations of these outlaws…

…the whole of these disturbances at Fort Yale have originated in the acts of [gold commissioner] Richard Hicks, whom I do not hesitate to denounce as an  unprincipled and corrupt Public Officer and a disgrace to the Government under which he has served.

I have dismissed Hickson, the Constable at Hill’s Bar, but the Justice there has put him on again; that man is also in league with McGowan’s party.

P. B. Whannell
Justice of the Peace, District of Fort Yale