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On Brownsville Hill – The suspicious death of Michael Davey

July 9, 2011

On March 3rd , 1891, it was reported to the Brownsville Constable John Beaton that Michael Davey, the rancher at the top of the Yale Road hill, adjacent the Indian Reserve, was dead after a bout of drinking with his neighbours Robert Wilkinson and John Devine.
 
Michael Davey had taken up residence on the Brownsville hillside in 1885, where he applied for Section 21.  His application to complete a Crown Grant in 1890 was supported by affidavits from James Wilson of Section 25, Tsp 38, and John W Stein, who stated he had known Davey since arriving in Surrey, at Mud Bay, in early 1884.

Davey’s house had burnt down in his first year on the hill, and he had rebuilt a small house, 12 x 18 feet, with lean-to, where he lived alone. He had a garden of 3 acres with 18 fruit trees, but no stock. He described his property as:

"all dead fir timber land, having had a number of summer fires running through it, so that the timber is worthless, except perhaps for fuel in part, besides several dead cedars here or there suitable for rails, etc."

Sect 21 B5N R2W Not long before he died Davey had applied to have the 40-acre Indian Reserve in Section 21 included in his holdings. He argued that no one lived there and the land was unused. The Department refused, stating that the land had been allotted by Superintendent Sproat, June 20, 1879, "as a general graveyard for several Indian tribes and others temporarily residing near New Westminster."
Sect 21 B5N R2 W  Michael Davey Crown Grant  

An inquest into the death of Davey appeared to be a formality, but something of the circumstances aroused the suspicions of the astute Governor of the Provincial Gaol, William Moresby, who decided to investigate further.
Eschewing his training as a lawyer, English born William Moresby had gone to the Cariboo at an early age and in 1868 entered the Police. He was assistant jailer at the New Westminster Gaol in 1878 and later Governor.
Moresby found evidence of strychnine poisoning and a routine inquest turned into a murder investigation. Witnesses called included John Stein, Justice of the Peace, who owned the prosperous farm at the base of Brownsville Hill.

Moresby determined that the only person known to have purchased strychnine in the past few months was Mrs Stein. She kept the poison in a window near the road, where it might easily be seen by passers by, but no positive link with the death was established.

Wilkinson and Devine were taken to the Provincial Gaol where they would be held without bail for nine months and finally released.

Michael Davey died intestate. His property was subdivided and in July it was put up for sale by the county administrator.  The property, comprising the block partially occupied by the present Royal Kwantlen Park, was advertised as—

 

"situate within a short distance of the south bank of the Fraser River, opposite New Westminster, [and] commands a beautiful view of that city, and is near the towns of Liverpool and South Westminster.  Through this property the Yale Road passes."

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