Begbie, Matthew Baillie
b. 1819
d. 1894
Matthew Baillie Begbie is said to have been born on May 9th, 1819 on a ship in the Cape of Good Hope.1 He attended the University of Cambridge and was called to the bar in 1844.2 In 1858, Begbie's name was put forward for the position of the Judge of British Columbia.3 Upon his acceptance, he arrived in Victoria on November 16th 1858, and was appointed to the Executive Council of British Columbia in 1859.4
Governor James Douglas worked closely with Begbie, and consulted him on matters of policy and administration—their relationship nearly resembling that of proconsul and consul than that of judge and governor.5 Begbie was appointed as the first Chief Justice of the province of British Columbia in 1871.6
In court, Judge Begbie was described as an autocrat of autocrats, hard, irascible, and given to handing down the most extraordinary judgements.7 Posthumously, he became known as “The Hanging Judge,” but popular opinion is divided on this title.8 Biographer David R. Williams argues that Begbie was stern, but the criminal law of the time was also stern and Begbie could do little to soften its rigours, and he asserts that Begbie from his earliest days in British Columbia admired Indians as a race and liked them as individuals.9 However, Begbie's inflexible application of English Law on Indigenous communities resulted in a disproportionate number of executions of Indigenous Peoples: 22 out of the 27 people he sentenced to death were Indigenous.10
Begbie was known to act as a law unto himself, and as there was no Court of Appeal nearer than London, he generally got his way.11 One example of this is Bebgie's sentences following the Chilcotin War, in which a group of Tŝilhqot'in individuals killed men who were working on the Bute road in 1864.12 Although the Tŝilhqot'in were protecting their territory from encroachment, Judge Begbie sentenced six Tŝilhqot'in Chiefs to death.13 In a conversation with James Douglas, Begbie revealed his approach to sentencing practices: My idea is that, if a man insists upon behaving like a brute, after fair warning, and won't quit the Colony, beat him like a brute and flog him.14 Begbie established a British law in Canada that prioritized justice for European settlers but not for Indigenous Peoples. This disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous Peoples continues today.15
Begbie spent the last 15 years of his life working on litigation, criminal, and civil cases; he died in Victoria on June 11th, 1894.16
  • 1. David Ricardo Williams, Begbie, Sir Matthew Baillie, Dictionary of Canadian Biography 12, 2003.
  • 2. Welcome, Nobody Knows Him: Lhatŝ'aŝʔin and the Chilcotin War; David R. Williams, Chancery Barrister, '…Then Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 17-18.
  • 3. David R. Williams, Chancery Barrister, '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 27.
  • 4. David Ricardo Williams, Begbie, Sir Matthew Baillie, Dictionary of Canadian Biography 12, 2003.
  • 5. David R. Williams, The Early Years, '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 17-18.
  • 6. David R. Williams, Legislator and Politician, '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 162.
  • 7. Sydney George Pettit, Matthew Baillie Begbie, (Victoria: publisher not identified), 1948, 3.
  • 8. David R. Williams, 'The Hanging Judge,' '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 129-130.
  • 9. David Ricardo Williams, Begbie, Sir Matthew Baillie, Dictionary of Canadian Biography 12, 2003; David R. Williams, Begbie and the Indians, '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 100.
  • 10. David R. Williams, 'The Hanging Judge,' '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 141.
  • 11. Sydney George Pettit, Matthew Baillie Begbie (Victoria: publisher not identified), 1948, 2.
  • 12. Welcome, Nobody Knows Him: Lhatŝ'aŝʔin and the Chilcotin War.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. David R. Williams, 'The Hanging Judge,' '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 141.
  • 15. Government of Canada, Indigenous People in the Federal Correctional System, 5.
  • 16. David R. Williams, The Last Circuit, '…The Man for a New Country': Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney: Grays Publishing), 1977, 273.
Mentions of this person in the documents
People in this document

Douglas, James

Places in this document

British Columbia

Bute Inlet Road

Cape of Good Hope

London

Victoria

The Colonial Despatches Team. Begbie, Matthew Baillie. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/begbie_mb.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)