Matthew Begbie – The Hanging Judge
The onslaught of thousands of people into the Cariboo gold fields of the 1860’s was by most accounts, from the law & order standpoint, pretty peaceful compared to the California rush a few years earlier. This fact can be attributed in part to a few good government officials. Chief of these was judge Sir Matthew Begbie. For years he rode on horseback through the vast interior of British Columbia, often sleeping in a tent which by day served as his chambers.
Matthew Begbie became known as the ‘hanging judge’ although very few executions ever took place. He was a no nonsense kind of guy, so when it came to dealing with a convicted murderer he was bound by the law at the time to automatically hang the quilty party.
Judge Begbie was quoted as saying “my idea is that if a man insists upon behaving like a brute, after fair warning, and won’t quit the colony; treat him like a brute and flog him”
He was a fair and impartial judge who on occasion gave government money to those who deserved a helping hand – case in point – Begbie gave help to Billy Barker and his company just before they hit the big pay-streak on Williams Creek in 1862.
In the opinion of many historians this judge really did not deserve the moniker – ‘hanging judge’