...continued from page one

However, we're always finding new material because other people refer to him...like in the Bushby diaries (Judge Arthur Bushby was Begbie's registrar and county court judge). Also we change the script every year because we don't want to get bored with it and...because we're working tandem, we're always firing ideas off each other, so the script is fluid. You can't really get bored with the guy because you're always finding [new] things and you don't know what they're going to be.

Branwen Patenaude used to collect a lot of oral history and once had an opportunity to interview this lovely old lady in McLeese Lake who'd been at one of the Assizes that Begbie had presided over when she was a young girl. When Branwen had finally worked her around to the subject she wanted to talk about the old lady said, 'Begbie, that miserable old bugger, don't want to talk about him let's talk about something else.'

So what kind of man was Begbie? Was he a miserable old bugger?

That's really hard, really hard to find any references. But as far as being a miserable old bugger, I think that he was confronted with a situation where there was this great conglomeration of miners descending basically from out of California, but from all over the world anyway; and because California was an unorganized territory, they're looking at doing the same things they did down there, which was running there own mining camps however they felt like it.

When they arrived here I often think that they thought they were going to do the same thing. Begbie figured if you let them start getting away with it then you're going to have anarchy. I think what he decided early on was that he had to impress on them that this was the way the law worked. As far as the criminal actions were concerned; if Fred stabs Joe, then Fred is going to end up in a court, with a jury. In fact down on the Fraser, in one of his early cases, Begbie empaneled twelve Americans to hear a case (which was basically illegal because jurors had to be British citizens) and said, 'I want you guys to hear what happens so you understand what the system is so you can pass the word on; no knives, no pistols and any law that is going to be dispensed is going to come from this bench and no where else', and I think that the word got out.

If he was miserable around the place it was just to get the word out at the beginning that 'this is the way the law is and it's going to be imposed here whether you like it or not.'

So he was a bit of teetotaler in the sense that if somebody committed an injustice then they paid for it.

Yes, I think this is the way he looked at it. I mean, for the crimes themselves the penalties are set, but you have some flexibility. But he didn't really make up the law. People tend to give the impression that he made up the law as he went along and this isn't true. He'd practiced as a barrister for ten years and he'd been in the courts as a lawyer for that length of time in England and its all in the books. It's all in the law books that he carried around on one of his packhorses...

He didn't practice criminal law though...

Not criminal law. He worked in the Chancery Court, 'contracts, wills and other peoples money', but he's aware of the system because he did some court reporting as well. The law would make sense to him. He's already got the mechanisms to interpret the law. The criminal code lays down the penalties, it's just a question of coming up with three years or ten, the jury does the rest.

What about the accusations that Begbie had investments in the Barker Co., which would have been a gross conflict-of-interest?

There are [government] monies which can be dispersed [to the public]. There is no certain evidence that has been found to prove that he had any [personal] investment at all in it. There were monies available to assist miners, particularly at the end of the mining season if they had to leave and didn't have money or else assistance for miners if they were stranded in various places. He's got a reasonable explanation for that as far as we could judge. There's no doubt about it that everybody's done something from time to time that other people don't agree with. But as far we can see, there's nothing really horrendous or skeletous in his cupboard.

Once again, seeing that you have portrayed this character for so many seasons, do you feel that you've developed any sense of repoire with the personality or character of Judge Begbie as he were, and in what way would that manifest itself?

Well, the way that you read the man off the pages, little by little, you find that he's...well, he had a good sense of humour and he was firm and didn't stand for any nonsense. Once you get those things together and that he dealt with the crime as best he could, with the facilities that he had to use... Here, once I get out on the street...you think about all the things you know and you try to portray what you know of the character on the street. If someone sees you on the street, hopefully they're not going to think, 'Oh, there's a guy dressed up like Begbie'. You have to hope that if they talk to you or see you or hear you, not just in the presentation but in passing, that they will say 'Good morning, Judge' and not 'Who are you supposed to be' and of course that depends a lot on what you do yourself.

next page

Return to top of page | Return to Archive