Begbie to Lytton
1st Decr 1858 To the Right Hon. Sir E.B. Lytton Bart &c &c &c

I have the honor to inform you that having left Liverpool on the 11th Sept. I proceeded from New York on the 7th Octr so as to overtake the West India Mail [packet] of the 17th Septr at Panama and proceeded thence with the mail to this place where I arrived on the 16th Novr ulto having arrived at San Francisco on the 31st Octr, the Mail, owing to detentions & circuitous route adopted, not having been delivered here until the 18th day after its arrival at San Francisco. I shod have had the honor of addressing you earlier but that it was impossible to have overtaken the next mail (viz) that wch left San Francisco on the 20th ulto. I therefore determined, being summoned rather hastily by the Governor to attend him into British Columbia the next morning, to defer writing until the next mail; and now a similar irregularity having again occurred (for the South Mail has not yet arrived) it will be impossible to be in time for the mail of the 5th inst, and no communications can leave San Francisco until the 20th inst.
Immediately after the arrival of the Steamer in Esquimalt I was summoned as I have mentioned to attend his Excellency up Fraser's river and on the 19th ulto the Act of Parlt the establishment of English law in the Colony and the proclamn of Indemnity for the interim Acts of the Officers here were duly proclaimed. Also the revocation of the Charter of the Hudson's Bay Compy wch had been previously published in Victoria.
His Excellency having considered that I could be of more service at Victoria than on the main land for the present, I have continued here, having returned with him on the 22nd ulto.
The cases for decision in British Columbia as far as I can learn are not numerous or important, except two charges of murder wch I am anxious to try as soonManuscript image as possible. In relation however to these and all other trials there is a great difficulty owing to the absence of any English barrister or attorney and the presence of one or two from Canada & one or two from the United States. As it is impossible to prevent surreptitious practice, if open practice be not permitted, and as it seems equally impossible that any decision shod give satisfaction generally (which I take to be a very important point in the present circumstances of the Colony) I propose, subject to His Excellency's sanction to issue an order of Court enabling all qualified Colonial & United States practitioners to practice in British Columbia, under certain regulations—the order only to continue in force for 6 months. It is with great reluctance that I shall feel myself driven to pick a course, but until English practitioners arrive some measure will probably have to be taken from pure necessity. 1
I have some doubts as to the nature of my commission upon the following points.
1. Whether my Court will be a Court of record—so as to have power of fine & imprisonment in cases of contempt.
2. Whether I can act as a justice of peace in British Columbia. In Canada I observed the style of the Court to be the Queen's Bench. 2 If this Court were so styled there wd be little doubt on these two points—but it might raise a doubt as to the Equitable jurisdiction wch I intend (until otherwise instructed) to exercise.
3. As to Admiralty jurisdiction.
4. As to ecclesiastical jurisdon in cases of wills & administrations. I propose to assume the jurisdiction.
5. I have been interrogated since my arrival here whether I have jurisdon in divorce cases. This I at present, & until otherwise instructed, certainly do not propose to assume or exercise and if I may express my views I shod be reluctant to be clothed with it.
6. No Seal of the Court is provided; nor any instructions for making one. I shod feel much obliged if you think proper to have one sent from home with suitable device & inscription. There is no means of making an inscription & I shod hardly know what device or inscription [illegible] 3 I propose until further instructed to exerciseManuscript image on the civil side of the Court all the authorities & jurisdon vested in Chief Justice Cameron, in Vancouver's Island, 4 under the order in Council of the 4th April 1856 (constituting the Supreme Court of Civil Justice here) except as to the Seal.
This town seems extremely thriving. Roads are rapidly progressing and there are good stores—all prices reasonable—the accounts of the gold diggings unvarying. I have heard none suggest lower than £5 per diem wch when provisions can be conveyed up country will pay the miner very well.
All the neighbourhood here is as quiet by night & day as any other country town in Her Majesty's dominions; at least that has been so since my arrival.
I have the honor to be Sir
your most obedient humble servant
Matt. B. Begbie

To the Rt Hon Sir E. Lytton Bart
&c &c &c
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Merivale
One wd imagine that the prejudices of [a Prof]essional Education wd not have suffered Mr Begbie to allow Aliens to practise before him unless it were that the necessity of the case required it. A suitor will hardly be satisfied with less than some one to appear, plead & act for him. The O. in C.—4 Apl /56—whh constitutes the Court in V.C. Island prevents Page 25 any other person from so acting on behalf of a Suitor, but I can find no such restriction in the O. in C. of 2 Sepr /58 providing for the admn of Justice in B. Columbia.
Mr Begbies brother has called here to say that the Judge is in the greatest distress for a few Law Books. Smith's mercantile Law, & Chitty's Blackstone is the extent of the Legal Library in the Colony. 5
ABd 31 Jany
1. As to books. Mr Blackwood will find that some steps have been taken. But I do not know in what stage the matter is.
2. As to seal. The preparation of one was authorized the other day.
3. As to admitting foreign counsel. I think it is to be regretted. But I do not see how Mr Begbie could well have avoided it.
4. As to his doubts. I am afraid he will be troublesome on this score. The remedy for all such doubts is in the hand of the Legislature of Vanc. I. and of the Governor in Brit. Col.
5. It is most essential that he should be warned not to write except through the Governor. Delay is far better than habitual infraction of this rule, and I fear all the B. Columbia civil servants will follow the same bad example.
HM Jan 31
C Feby 1
I agree. Let his doubts which seem to me important be solved: the rest as Mr M. suggests.
EBL Feb 5
Other documents included in the file
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Draft reply, Lytton to Douglas, No. 24, 14 February 1859.
Minutes by CO staff
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My reason for suggesting this mode of answering Mr B. is this: He is evidently a lawyer of the "ingeniously doubting" class, though I daresay he will make none the worse judge. Now to answer his "doubts" is not in our province, for the Secy of State is not a lawyer, & Mr Begbie would think but little of our answer, and to consult the Law Advisers, really not worth while, where the doubts, if substantial, can be removed merely by Mr B & Govr D. enacting their removal.
Manuscript image
Mr Merivale
Do you approve this emendation? You were not aware that a V. Admiralty Court was already established in B. Columbia.
ABd 14 Feb
  1. = Begbie Order of Court.Begbies Order of Court, issued in accordance with Douglas's Proclamation of 24 December, is in British Columbia, List of Proclamations. Note that it does exclude Canadians??
  2. Court of Record and of Queen's Bench. Difference??
  3. = seal The file copy is a carbon copy of the original in which the carbon evidently shifted so the last word or two of this sentence ran over the preceding line, making them undecipherable.
  4. = Cameron's jurisdiction OC 4 April 1856, establishing Supreme Court of Civil Justice on Vancouver Island. INFO needed ?? Journals of Colonial Legislatures. Vol. 1.
  5. Smith's Mercantile Law is unidentified. For Chitty's Blackstone, see Douglas to Lytton, 27 October 1858, 12726, CO 60/1, p. 320. Smith not in law library bibliographies.
People in this document

Begbie, Matthew Baillie

Begbie, Thomas Stirling

Blackwood, Arthur Johnstone

Cameron, David

Carnarvon, Earl

Douglas, James

Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer

Merivale, Herman

Organizations in this document

Colonial Office

Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty

Places in this document

British Columbia


Fraser River


New York


San Francisco

Vancouver Island