Described as a ‘swashbuckling judge’, Chief Justice Matthew Begbie profoundly shaped BC. Sir Matthew Begbie and his friend BC governor Sir James Douglas have ‘larger-than-life’ statues at the BC Legislature entrance. As founding fathers of BC, both Begbie and Douglas were Scots born in the tropics who became bilingual in French while studying in England.
As a child, I first heard of Begbie while on vacation at Barkerville. Actors still pretend to be Judge Begbie, telling of life when Barkerville was the biggest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco.
After five years at Cambridge and fourteen years as a lawyer, Begbie was sent to BC at age 39 in response to the 1858 flood of 30,000 American miners from San Francisco. BC was literally birthed through gold-diggers who panned $543,000 of Fraser River gold in one year. Most miners stayed a year or less, never putting down roots in BC’s ‘boom or bust’ beginnings. While a few struck it rich, most came up near empty, spending their gold on wine, women and song.
Without Judge Begbie establishing order on the BC frontier, all hell would have broken loose. Leading American mining journals in 1863 were already referring to the Fraser River as ‘Our Territory’. Begbie showed unusual strength and stamina in his work, often travelling by foot and sleeping in a tent so damp that his books mildewed. Six feet four inches tall with a Van Dyke beard, a gaucho hat, and a long black cloak, Begbie was a commanding figure.
A deeply spiritual man and long-time church-choir member, he loved to read the Anglican Evening Prayer service by campfire, singing hymns before going to his tent. Even when holding court on a stump under a tree, he wore formal robes. For twelve years, Begbie was BC’s only judge, travelling two-thirds of the year, and sometimes doing double-duty as a postman! Because of Begbie’s firm fairness, incidences of violence and highway robberies, all common below the border, were extremely rare in BC.
The ‘hanging judge’ expression was never applied to Begbie during his lifetime, but rather was an overstatement. As historian David Williams puts it, Begbie was ‘an extremely humane, literate, generous, humorous and fair-minded man’. He abhorred the taking of life. While vacationing, Begbie met an American former jurist. The American said: ‘You certainly did some hanging, judge.’ Begbie memorably replied: ‘Excuse me, my good friend. I never hanged any man. I simply swore in good American citizens, like yourself, as jurymen, and it was you who hanged your fellow citizens.’ In the BC Place Names (1997) book, it states that Judge Begbie ‘by firmness, impartiality and sheer force of personality maintained British law and order…’ Angered by the acquittal of an armed robber, Begbie said to the prisoner: ‘The jurymen say you are not guilty, but with that I do not agree. It is now my duty to set you free and I warn you not to pursue your evil ways, but if you ever again should be so inclined, I hope you select your victim from the men who acquitted you.’
Judge Begbie, conversant in four different aboriginal BC languages, had a real heart for the First Nations people whom he praised as ‘a race of laborious independent workers.’ Begbie also advocated for the Chinese miners who often suffered from racism. He was concerned that legal justice be fair and speedy, regardless of race, colour, or wealth. Begbie was known as ‘the salvation of the Cariboo and the terror of rowdies.’ Fellow pioneers agreed that Judge Begbie was ‘just the man for a new country’. “My hair is white, but my hand is strong, and my heart is not weak. If I punish only a little,” said Begbie, “it is not because I am weak, nor because I am afraid, but because I wish to change your hearts.” “
When Judge Begbie died in 1894, his two favorite hymns were sung: ‘Just as I am’ and ‘I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say’. Since the death of Governor Douglas in 1877, Judge Begbie had indisputably become the first citizen of BC. The size of the Victoria funeral procession was unprecedented with military bands and marching troops, but all that Sir Matthew Begbie wanted on his gravestone was ‘Lord be Merciful to Me a Sinner’.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the North Shore News/ Deep Cove Crier
Sandy Brown and her family have just moved to Spokane, Washington where her husband, Scott, is pastoring a new church. With a fresh start, Sandy is determined to devote more time to her four children. But, within weeks of settling in their new life, the Brown family is plunged into turmoil.
Sandy receives shocking news that her children aren’t safe, which brings back haunting memories of the trauma she experienced as a girl. Then, the unthinkable happens…
A brutal attack puts Sandy on the brink of losing everything she’s loved. Her faith in God and the family she cherishes are pushed to the ultimate limit.
Is healing possible when so many loved ones are hurt? Are miracles really possible through the power of prayer? Can life return to the way it was before?
Blue Sky reveals how a mother’s most basic instinct isn’t for survival… but for family.
If you’re a fan of Karen Kingsbury, then you’ll love Blue Sky. Get your copy today on paperback or kindle.
-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.
To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.
– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.