Journalist D.W. Higgins immortalized the Golden Wedding in text. (T.W. Paterson collection)

Journalist D.W. Higgins immortalized the Golden Wedding in text. (T.W. Paterson collection)

T.W. Paterson column: This ‘Golden’ wedding must be the wildest wedding ever

Things really got out of hand when police had to be called — two guests were re-enacting the Civil War

Things really got out of hand when police had to be called because two guests were re-enacting the Civil War.

It has to have been the wildest wedding ever — a ceremony that none who attended ever forgot and from which some never recovered!

It all began in the fall of 1862 when the more prosperous Cariboo miners wintered in the gentler clime of Victoria. Among them was Bill Lovidge, owner of the Never Sweat Mine on Williams Creek, said to be the richest in all of Cariboo.

The other leading actors in this drama were the Shoolbers, a prosperous husband and wife team in dry goods, furs and millinery goods who’d arrived from the Old Country with three employees and a servant. Unfortunately, within a month of their arrival the milliner and dressmaker eloped to Puget Sound, thereby evading their year-long work contracts with the Shoolbers.

The salesgirl didn’t tempt a suitor until Bill Lovidge hit town. For him it was love at first sight; for her the chance to marry money. After a two-hour courtship they announced their engagement.

In vain Mrs. Shoolber pleaded with Lovidge to wait until the woman had fulfilled her contract. He gallantly offered to buy his fiancee’s freedom. Mrs. Shoolber shyly mentioned $1,000. Bill didn’t bat an eyelash. Then there was the matter of her passage money and miscellaneous expenses, a further $500. No problem, said Bill.

As final provision of his settlement with Mrs. Shoolber, Bill allowed her to provide the wedding gown. Total damages came to the princely sum of $2,500, but Bill wasn’t concerned. After all, he owned the richest mine in Cariboo. Mrs. Shoolber just had to draw up a demand note for that amount and he’d sign it.

The bridegroom’s suit also cost a small fortune as she and the tailor, according to journalist D.W. Higgins, “loaded on their charges as with a trowel”. As Bill was between dividends she guaranteed the account.

The banquet arrangements for 100 guests took all of two weeks to complete. Scheduled to begin at 7 o’clock, the harried caterers didn’t appear with the first entree until an hour later, by which time the guests had attacked a veritable well of whisky, wine and beer, and were well-primed.

Years later Higgins described the bride as stunning in her costume, Bill outlandish in tall black hat with narrow brim, light brown sack coat without tails, red vest, flaring necktie, paper collar, a pair of shepherd’s plaid trousers and white gloves which he refused to remove, much to the bride’s embarrassment.

“To top everything,” Higgins recounted, “Lovidge wore eye-glasses…a very ill-behaved pair [that] had a disagreeable habit of dropping from the bridge of Bill’s nose into the soup, from which he fished them out with his spoon and, having dried them with the napkin, returned them to their proper resting place. This operation was repeated half a dozen times…until Bill’s face wore a fat expression of greasy contentment.”

Most, including Bill, had forsaken the food (ill-prepared and cold) for their drinking glasses. As, it seems, had most of the waiters who betrayed their tippling with numerous crashes of falling dinnerware, muffled oaths and the occasional thump! of a body striking the floor. One of the St. James Club’s owners filled in as a bouncer, evicting waiters as required.

When two of the many Americans present began to re-enact the Civil War, crockery and glassware were shattered and tables were upset. Women screamed and one fainted before the belligerents were encircled by encouraging spectators. The Northern sympathizer, a Barkerville miner named Joe Perkins, was the best-dressed man there in his claw-hammer coat, ‘biled’ shirt, corduroy trousers and boots.

But within moments of clinching with Bill Savage there was a loud tearing sound. Perkins swore, released his hold on Savage and clawed at his backside. His frantic groping confirmed that his prized coat had been torn up the middle, from waist to neck where it was held in place by just the collar.

As Perkins fought to cover himself, the rest collapsed in laughter. The more he tried to repair his coat, the more his efforts revealed that his shirt was false — present only where it showed in the front, and secured at the back to his long underwear by tape.

“The poor fellow turned round and round in pursuit of his divided skirts…but the tails kept ever one lap ahead until, falling behind hopelessly in the race, he paused and, glaring across at his late antagonist, who was pounding the table in his mirth, shouted, ‘Durn you, Bill Savage, wait until I catch you outside!’”

The humiliated Perkins ran from the hall, the torn tails of his coat flapping behind him. It was, a guest told Higgins, the funniest thing he’d ever witnessed.

Throughout all this, Bill had remained king on his throne, determined not to leave or to pass out while a drop of drink remained. His poor bride, who hadn’t touched a drop, cringed in her seat until 2 o’clock when two of Bill’s cronies, not quite as drunk as their fellows, half-carried, half-dragged him away, followed by Mrs. Lovidge in tears.

Those guests capable of regaining their feet reached into their pockets for the rice they’d had the foresight to bring. Bill Savage, he of the coat-tearing battle, who’d neglected to arm himself with rice before the ceremony, looked about for a substitute. His bleary gaze fell upon a gigantic, half-eaten rice pudding and, plunging both hands into the sticky pulp, he withdrew a quivering mass of pudding and launched it at the retreating couple.

The flying mess found its mark on the heads and clothing of the groom, his hapless bride and his aides. As one, the foursome (Bill having suddenly revived) turned on Savage and, with the help of other guests, mauled him unmercifully. They then threw him into the street — where Joe Perkins was waiting to exact his revenge — as Bill became embroiled in a free-for-all with his guests. A riot ensued and the Golden Wedding, as it became known, was formally ended by the arrival of police.

The honeymoon ended as quickly when it was learned that Bill Lovidge, like Bill Perkins’ starched shirt, was a phony. His mine had been salted. Bill had been given $5,000 credit by Victoria merchants, mostly by Mrs. Shoolber, and, aware that debtors could be imprisoned in Victoria, he skipped across the border to resume his former trade as a butcher in San Francisco. The owners of the St. James Club were bankrupted. Shortly afterwards the Shoolbers followed them into liquidation and merciful anonymity.

Not so the Golden Wedding, however, which journalist Higgins later immortalized in his memoirs, first in the Victoria Colonist of which he’d been editor and publisher, then in what are two highly collectible books, The Mystic Spring and The Passing of a Race.