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Sunken grave at Old Scow – The murder of Richard Bailey

January 28, 2015

On March 15, 1883 a young man of 20 named Richard Bailey came down from Pitt River to sell his catch of  fish. Henry Herring was at the counter in the Fish & Game store that he kept with his brothers and had known Bailey a long time:

"Bought some fish which he brought to town, for which I paid him $12. Saw him again at 3:30 p.m.  He came into the Palace Saloon, which was kept by my brother."

Herring was one of the last persons to see Richard Bailey alive.

Two weeks later Bailey’s body was snagged with a grappling iron and pulled up from the bottom of Fraser River near Haigh’s Cannery.  Bailey had a hole clean through his chest.

Henry Herring was testifying in the trial of William Robert "Robbie" Robertson, alleged killer of Richard Bailey.

Richard Bailey, who fished for a living, resided at Pitt River. His sister was the widow of William Nickels of Maple Ridge and for a time he had lived with her family opposite Langley.  Another sister was married to John Ross. Ross, called upon to identify the body of Bailey, had broken down with grief at the inquest.


Henry Herring-  fish & game storeHenry Holbrook Herring was a son of Samuel Herring and growing  up on the river bank across from New Westminster knew the Bailey family well.

Sam Herring had once prosecuted  Richard Bailey’s older brother David for breaking a contract to fish for the season. It was  during the salmon run of 1877, when labor was in high demand. 

The judge held the law applied and would have imprisoned Bailey, except it was pointed out that David Bailey was  a  minor, about 18, and no contract could be enforced on him.

Herring's Palace Restaurant ad

Sam Herring died in 1879 and since then the Herring brothers had carried on his fish and game store in New Westminster and supported their mother Hannah in running the Palace Restaurant.  

It’s apparent the Baileys continued to do business with the Herrings. Sam Herring had been known to sue anyone, even his friends.


Richard Bailey had been seen in his canoe later that night on his way home.   Another canoe occupied by three men was seen following him upriver. When Bailey did not arrive home, and later his canoe was found on the river, his family feared the worst. 

In the next days,  a hat was found near the Pitt River railway bridge and later an upside down canoe was found drifting,  not far away, “between Captain Pittendrigh’s farm and Shannon’s logging camp.”  Both items were identified as belonging to Bailey.

William Moresby, Governor of the Provincial Jail at New Westminster, took charge of the investigation. At the inquest in April he told of recovering the body of Bailey.

"Am Superintendent of the jail of Westminster. On the 1st of April, along with JC Hughes, Government Agent, I went with two boats — two boatmen in each — to a place near Haigh’s Cannery called ‘Old Scow,’ and commenced grappling for the body of the deceased Bailey."

(The location as described in this and other evidence indicates Old Scow was a short distance above the Port Mann Bridge of today.)

The men who brought up Bailey’s body testified it was very difficult and they believed it had been tied or weighted down.

The inquest found that Bailey had met his death at the hands of person or persons unknown.  Moresby continued his inquiries.

The three men who were last seen with Bailey were brought in and jailed. It was Robertson, blaming his companions, who led inspector Moresby to the place on the river where the body might be found.

A  Grand Jury — Joseph Sexton Knevett de Knevett was one of the jurors — brought a True Bill against Robertson and the case proceeded to trial.

After considering the evidence the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation for mercy.  The prisoner was sentenced to hang.

Without reprieve, William Robert Robertson faced the gallows in March 1884. 

From the website Capital Punishment, we learn that Robertson was 19 years old.

Many local people believed he was innocent and that his two companions had committed the murder.

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