Sometime during the morning of June 1, 1885, while working on his portion of the Bluebell Mine, Thomas Hammill was shot in the back. He died within an hour of being discovered.
Six months later, at a courtroom in Victoria, the murdered man was described in quite glowing terms by some of the men who worked for him. And, said one of the witnesses, he didn’t know of anyone who held anything against Hammill, except the accused, Robert Sproule.
Later, a witness for the defense, claimed to have known Hammill when he was in Colorado, and claimed he was notorious for being a claim jumper, even back then.
In 1884 Judge Begbie of the Supreme Court of British Columbia supported this assertion, describing Hammill’s actions at Big Ledge in the preceding year as “simple claim-jumping.” The judge ruled against Hammill and returned the Bluebell claim to Sproule.
So what kind of man was Thomas Hammill, really? Like Sproule, he seems almost to have had almost a split personality. Competent, ambitious, likeable (to some at least), and quite possibly unscrupulous. Early in 1882, he joined the employ of John C. Ainsworth of Oakland California, thereby irrevocably tying his destiny to the convoluted actions about to unfold north of the border.
More about Ainsworth in the next post...