“… he had More Fun than any Other Man in B.C.

English: Matthew Baillie Begbie, image from th...
Matthew Baillie Begbie, image from the British Columbia Archives http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reposted and updated post from November 19, 2012.

November 19 was an important day for British Columbia. On this date in 1858, the mainland was made a separate colony. James Douglas, who was already Governor of Vancouver Island, was sworn in as Governor of British Columbia at a ceremony at Fort Langley, which was intended to be the capital.

The colony creation  was necessary because thousands of American gold miners were arriving, and there was a danger that the United States might try to take over the territory unless it were governed by Britain.

One of the most remarkable figures in Canadian history presided at the swearing-in ceremony. He was Matthew Baillie Begbie. Bruce Hutchinson, in his book The Fraser, wrote, “And in his twenty-six years of judging, riding, walking, feuding and praying he had more fun than any other man in British Columbia.”

Douglas had asked the British Government to send him a judge to help keep order. Begbie proved to be the ideal man for the job, although he had no experience as a judge, and very little as a lawyer. At the time of his appointment he had no law practice,  but was a reporter for the Law Times.

Matthew Begbie wanted to leave Britain because his brother had stolen his fiancé!

Begbie, “a government on horseback,” held courts everywhere. Although he was ruthless, he was known to be fair, and the miners understood his sense of justice. His bête noire was juries who failed to convict men of murder when Begbie felt they were guilty. On one occasion when the jury brought a verdict of “not guilty” in the case of a man who had sandbagged a companion in a drunken brawl, Begbie said, “You can go, and I devoutly hope the next man you sandbag will be one of the jury.” Actually, his bark was worse than his bite. He disliked having to sentence men to death and had a chaplain at his side when he had to do so.

November 19 was also chosen as the date when the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island would be united in 1866. Historian Dr. Margaret Ormsby believes the choice of November 19 was sentimental than coincidental.  Margaret Ormsby is the author of British Columbia: A history.

If you would like to read more about today’s post, I suggest going to The Other Blokes Blog, and the Manitoba Historical Society, and finally, there’s an interesting article at Canada.com.

15 comments

  1. My great-grandfather, Paulus Aemilius Irving, worked with Matthew Baillie Begbie in BC’s early days. Paulus was the son of Aemilius Irving of Toronto, a famous lawyer at the time, and left because “Ontario already has quite enough lawyers!” BC was a pretty lawless place back then, and has a fascinating history.

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  2. Gold rushes, and other get-rich-quick schemes, have factored into our nations’ expansions, as well as redistribution of populations all over the world (South Africa is another good example of mineral wealth attracting people from all over a continent). Tough on the Central Planners. Of course, silcon and high tech industries may be the gold-rushes of the 21st century. Dot-Com, anyone?
    Oscar

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  3. On one occasion when the jury brought a verdict of “not guilty” in the case of a man who had sandbagged a companion in a drunken brawl, Begbie said, “You can go, and I devoutly hope the next man you sandbag will be one of the jury.”

    ~ I confess to thinking this very thought myself!

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