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Miner watch story involves New West

Evelyn Benson
Evelyn Benson's book about New Westminster includes a chapter on an encounter between some skinnydipping boys and two escaped prisoners from the BC Penitentiary, one of whom was notorious train robber Billy Miner.
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The most valuable of eight pocket watches stolen this month from the Royal B.C. Museum—and later recovered—has a strong New Westminster connection.

The gold watch belonged to notorious train robber Billy Miner.

He was serving a sentence for trying to rob a payroll train at the B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster when he escaped Aug. 9, 1907, leaving behind $155 and the pocket watch.

The watch and seven others were taken from the museum in Victoria on Jan. 3, but they were returned to their rightful place Jan. 9 after police managed to recover them.

According to New Westminster author Evelyn Benson, Miner managed to scale a wall with another prisoner. They scrambled down The Glen ravine where they came across five boys skinny-dipping in a pond they’d created by damming the creek. The group included the Sangster brothers, twins Lewis and Philip, and the youngest one George, who told Benson the two jailbreakers sat down and talked to them for a minute.

“We called it the Penitentiary Dam, and we were forbidden to go there,” Benson quotes George saying in her book A Century in a Small Town. “We recognized Billy Miner. Us kids had followed the crowd that thronged the train depot the day he was brought to town in handcuffs. We had talked to him many times through the fence. To us he was kind of a hero, I guess. You could tell he liked kids.”

When the two men got up to leave Miner turned to them and looked them all in the eye and said, “Now boys, you didn’t see us today, did you?” They all mumbled “No, sir” in reply.

According to Benson’s account, the alarm alerting the guards of the prison break didn’t sound until after Miner and his cohort left. The boys quickly got dressed and took off not saying a word to anyone.

The Sangster brothers were almost adults before they told their parents about what happened that day.

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