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William Moresby – The right man

October 5, 2013

William MoresbyWilliam Moresby,   the Governor of the Provincial Jail who figured in our last post on the Kennedy libel, first came to our notice with the investigation into the suspicious death of William Davey, the homesteader at the non-Indian Reserve portion of what is now Royal Kwantlen Park.

From notices in the press and biographical material, it appears Moresby had a formidable reputation as an investigator.  A contemporary of John Wilson Murray — the Ontario policeman on whom the fictional detective William Murdoch is said to be modelled — the British Columbia policeman may have outdone his eastern counterpart.

William Moresby was born in London, England in 1847, but spent a few years of his childhood living in Hong Kong. The family returned to England before emigrating to British Columbia, arriving in December 1861. His father, William senior, opened a law office in Victoria. The younger Moresby, age 14, articled to practice law.  
In 1862 William’s mother Ann Moresby took the position of teacher at the Camp of the Royal Engineers at Sapperton, and it was at New Westminster that William Moresby senior died in January 1863. 
Thereafter young William set off for the Cariboo goldfields. He got involved in policing in 1868 and also served as an assistant jailor. Just 21 years old, Moresby would gain years of valuable experience in the field living among miners and settlers of all races, and particularly, as with most pioneers, picking up the Chinook language in his relations with first nations people.
In 1875 William Moresby married a daughter of former Royal Engineer William Henry Edwards, who had arrived in BC in 1859.
In 1878 Moresby was appointed Governor of the provincial jail at New Westminster, where he would remain for the next 17 years, always taking an active role in serious criminal investigations.
As inspector of police on the Mainland, according to the biographer RE Gosnell, Moresby captured over 100 criminals, "of whom twenty-seven were hanged."
In 1895 when the job of warden at the federal penitentiary came open, the British Colonist newspaper touted Moresby as the logical candidate.

"There is a man in Westminster who is declared by all who know him to be the right man for the place — a man who has been tried and not found wanting; a man of iron will and of invincible integrity. . ."

William Moresby took over as warden of the penitentiary on August 1, 1895 and died November 15, 1896 at the age of forty-nine.

"A man of high integrity and courage he commanded the respect and confidence of all with whom he was associated." -Gosnell

A sample of the work of William Moresby –
Columbian newspaper for January 24, 1891 headlines:
"Foul Murder – The Body of an Old man Found at Chilliwack — Foul Murder Suspected"
The facts known:
-found by the river the previous day
-body partly decomposed
-great gash on one side of the head
-no one in locality able to identify the man
-great mystery
-Governor Moresby gone up to look into the matter

Columbian newspaper February 13, 1891 reports that Moresby has identified the victim and arrested the suspects.
"The Murderers Caught — Mr. Moresby Makes a Clever Capture of the Supposed Murderers of Patrick O’Shea.
. . . The detective work done by Mr. Moresby in this case reflects the highest credit on that gentleman, especially when it is considered he had absolutely no clue to begin work on, further than the evidence supplied by the mutilated body itself. Mr Moresby has been living up river for the past two weeks presenting inquiries.. . ."

We note that Provincial Police Superintendent Hussey warranted a book.


It is a curiosity that among the members of Moresby household in the census of 1881 and the census of 1891, are included the names of the inmates of the jail. 

Additional biographical information from:
RE Gosnell, British Columbia – A History and Hester E. White’s article "Charlotte Haynes," Okanagan Historical Society, 1952

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