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Begbie's first 'situation' occurred in January
of 1859, some six weeks after landing at Esquimalt. At first it seemed like
it was quite serious, later however, it turned out to be more farce than
fatal, although it was a test of Begbie's mettle nonetheless.
The problem began when a man named Whannell,
Justice of the Peace at Fort Yale and an ignorant and shallow man, received
a complaint of assault from another fellow by the name of Dixon. Apparently
Dixon had been attacked by two American miners and wished to press charges.
Whannell threw Dixon in gaol so that he would be handy when he caught the
accused, he then issued a warrant for the arrest of the two Americans.
Eventually the Americans were caught, but
instead of bringing them to Whannel in Yale they were remanded at Hill's
Bar a short distance away, where another J. P., named Perrier was in charge.
It this point Perrier decided he was going
to do the prosecuting and sent a constable to collect Dixon from Whannell's
gaol. When Perrier's constable arrived, Whannell refused to release Dixon
and instead threw the constable in prison too. When Perrier heard about
this he deputized Ned McGowan to arrest Whannel and collect Dixon and the
constable. McGowan, along with between a dozen to fourteen heavily armed
men, went to Yale and arrested Whannel.
Begbie meanwhile was at Fort Langley with
Colonel Moody and heard reports that the miners in Yale were in open revolt.
Begbie, Moody and a separate party of soldier-engineers were sent to the
scene with the result that a trial was brought against Ned McGowan for assault
against Whannell and another man, Dr. Fifer. For the Fifer charge, Begbie
fined him £5 and on all other charges he was cleared. Begbie had harsh
words for Whannell and Perrier and assured all the American miners present
that British law would be impartial to their citizenship; Americans and
others were to receive the same treatment under the law as British citizens,
which brought great cheer to them. This incident was by way of circumstances,
Begbie's first introduction to the miners and they to him. It demonstrated
to them - them being the Americans - that now that they were on British soil
they were to behave and abide by Her Majesty's common laws.
It wasn't until March that Begbie, along
with his court registrar, Arthur Thomas Bushby, set off on his first circuit
from New Westminster. As had been done in England for centuries, Begbie
traveled a 'circuit' or route along which he stopped and held Assizes or
court at usually (but not always) predetermined locations. This first trip
was as much an exploration and fact-finding mission as a judicial circuit.
Begbie needed to know where the activity was and hence where to set up the
Assizes, he also wanted to map the area and collect information for Gov.
Douglas back in Victoria as to the state of the colony. On that first trip he
made it as far as Quesnellemouth before returning to the Coast.
During these trips he would record myriad details of the weather, longitude &
latitude, pastures, locations of water and fording points at streams, types
of flora found and even local species spotted. Over the duration of his
36 years on the bench in British Columbia, Judge Begbie traveled to almost
every region of the province. He was an outdoorsman and an adventurer and
during the treks he always took advantage of the bounty that the land had
to offer him, fishing; hunting and even scavenging for edible flora.
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