GAGGIN, JOHN BOLES, public servant; b. probably in 1830 or 1831 in County Cork (Republic of Ireland); d. 27May 1867 at Wild Horse Creek, Kootenay district, B.C.
A former lieutenant in the Royal Cork Artillery militia and a member of a “most respectable” Anglo-Irish Protestant family, J. Boles Gaggin arrived in Victoria, Vancouver Island, on 10 April 1859. In June he was appointed chief constable at Yale, B.C., and on 4 Oct. 1859 magistrate and assistant gold commissioner at Port Douglas, the southern terminus of the Harrison-Lillooet trail to the gold mines. Here he also served as justice of the peace, county court judge, deputy collector of customs, and sub-commissioner of lands and works. Governor James Douglas* praised him for his “commendable promptness” in seeing that the trail was kept open, and the people of his district declared themselves “perfectly satisfied” with his decisions as a magistrate.
“A favourite with all classes on the mainland,” according to his obituary, Gaggin was apparently too open-hearted and generous for his own good. H. P. P. Crease* once admonished him: “Try and keep out of good companie, you old ‘father of the fatherless.’” Dr W. B. Cheadle’s diary records the kindness shown to travellers by this “regular jolly Irishman from Cork,” but adds that “‘The Judge’ turned out a ‘whale for drink.’” Douglas also considered him “zealous and well disposed, but deficient in judgment,” and other officials found him far from reliable.
On 23 Nov. 1863 Douglas suspended Gaggin on a charge of tampering with his accounts, and sent a fellow magistrate, Philip H. Nind, to investigate him. On 12 December Nind exonerated Gaggin completely. Nevertheless the governor did not lift the suspension until 3 March 1864, and even then he declared it “in the interest of the public service” to remove Gaggin from Port Douglas to temporary duty at Lillooet. Touched to the quick by this reflection on “an honorable name transmitted to me untarnished through generations” Gaggin appealed on 14 March 1864 to the Colonial Office, but the officials there left the problem to Douglas’ successor as governor, Frederick Seymour. Despite Gaggin’s “faults as a public officer,” Seymour felt he had been “treated without sufficient consideration for his character,” and offered to restore him to his former appointment. But Gaggin now asked for reasons of health to be left at Quesnelle Mouth (Quesnel) where Seymour had placed him on 14 June. Soon the accounts there were “in great confusion,” and Gaggin was ordered back to Port Douglas where, because the new road through the Fraser canyon had by this time almost superseded the old Harrison-Lillooet trail, his duties were much lighter than before.
In January 1866 the magistracy at Port Douglas was abolished. After some misgiving on the part of the acting colonial secretary, Gaggin was appointed magistrate for Kootenay but placed under the direct supervision of Peter O’Reilly, who had charge of the entire Columbia and Kootenay district. On 8 June 1866 Gaggin arrived at Wild Horse Creek, where he found “first rate fishing and shooting” and few official duties. O’Reilly reported privately that he “found Gaggin remarkably well & as kind as ever” and that Gaggin had “knocked off the drink in toto, excepting Larger beer.”
In November 1866 the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island were united, and in the necessary reduction of the civil list Gaggin was dismissed. He had been ill for some time before he died at Wild Horse Creek on 27 May 1867, it was thought from the shock of hearing that the Kootenay district constable had been murdered that same day. The two lie buried side by side in the cemetery at Wild Horse Creek.
PABC, Henry Maynard Ball, Journal, 1865; B.C., Colonial Secretary, Correspondence outward, 1859–67 (letterbook copies); A. T. Bushby, Diary, 1874; Colonial correspondence, W. G. Cox correspondence; J. B. Gaggin correspondence; P. H. Nind correspondence; Peter O’Reilly correspondence; Crease coil., Henry Pering Pellew Crease, Correspondence inward, 1862–63; Private miscellaneous letters, 1864–65; O’Reilly coil., Peter O’Reilly diaries, 1859–67. J. B. Gaggin’s commission as ensign in the City of Cork Regiment of Militia of Artillery, 20 Jan. 1855, and as lieutenant in the Royal City of Cork Regiment of Militia of Artillery, 1 Aug. 1855; and testimonials signed by the bishop of Killaloe and Ireland, I Jan. 1859, Lord Bandon, 15 Nov. 1858, and Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. Wood, 2 Dec. 1858, are also at PABC. PRO, CO 60/17, James Douglas, “Confidential report upon the character and qualifications of the principal officers of this government,” enclosure in Douglas to Duke of Newcastle, 18 Feb. 1863; CO 60/17–18, dispatch no. 18, James Douglas to Duke of Newcastle, 8 April 1864; CO 60/19, dispatch no.33, Frederick Seymour to Edward Cardwell, 5 Sept. 1864 (mfm. at PABC).
B.C., Blue book, 1859–67. W. B. Cheadle, Cheadle’s journal of trip across Canada, 1862–1863, ed. A. G. Doughty and Gustave Lanctot (Ottawa, 1931; repr. Edmonton, 1971). Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle, 12 April 1859; 3, 15 Aug. 1860; 15 April, 4 July 1867. Hart’s army list, 1856. Cranbrook Courier (Cranbrook, B.C.), 4 Dec. 1952. M. A. Ormsby, “Some Irish figures in colonial days,” BCHQ, XIV (1950), 63.