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Law and Order

BC ARCHIVES F-03512 "The Hanging Tree"
Because of the number of people coming to the Cariboo for the gold rush, a system of law and order was introduced to protect the interests of many people. The citizens of newly established communities needed protection of basic rights such as safety, equality and property. The gold miners needed protection from large claim owners as much as the claim owners needed to protect their land claims.

The first order of business in the new mining communities was the establishment of mining licences in order to bring some system of control to an area away from the protection of civilization . Sir James Douglas, Governor of the British Columbia and Vancouver Island colonies, set up a system where one could only mine for gold if one purchased a mining licence. This immediately regulated the main source of income in the Cariboo, gold. Governor Douglas was also the first to hire policemen to bring authority into an otherwise rowdy area and drew up mining regulations which served as laws by which to maintain order.

Governor Douglas furthered his authority by appointing Thomas Elwyn as the chief of police in the mining town of Yale. Elwyn also became assistant Gold Commissioner and attended various other positions of authority. The Cariboo became more civilized and law abiding as people such as Douglas and Elwyn became major authority figures during the Cariboo Gold Rush.
BC ARCHIVES PDP00805 "Judge Begbie holds court"

Justice became and important part of the Cariboo's law and order system and a number of courts were established to bring fairness toCariboo citizens. A Gold Commissioner's Court decided on matters about gold mining such as how much a digger was owed for his services on a gold claim. It protected unpaid workers, settled gold disputes and issues of property rights for gold mining. In towns where gold mining was the main livelihood, the Gold Commissioner's Court was perhaps the most important court in the justice system.
BC ARCHIVES A-08953 "Judge Begbie "

In addition to the Gold Commissioner's Court, there was a civil court for non- mining disputes; a bankruptcy court for businesses who had to close because they could not make enough money; and a police court which dealt with serious crimes such as robberies and even murder! The most famous figure of the courts was Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie who brought respect, order and justice into his courtroom. Often remembered as the "hanging judge", Sir Begbie was a fair and honest judge. His nickname, though intimidating, was a result of the law during his time. A person who was found guilty of murder was hanged because that was the punishment under the law. One man who was accused and found guilty of stealing gold dust from his employer's gold claim was sentenced to three years in "the chain- gang", where criminals were chained together and forced to do manual labour such as road construction.

Last updated November 30, 1998.
Produced by Industrial Art Internet Group Ltd. 1998-1999