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McGowan's War
The Circuit


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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