George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer

The Bate Family Of Nanaimo

A far more visible and enduring impression on Vancouver Island's history was made by the children of George Robinson's eldest sister, Elizabeth.

George's scrapbook records that Elizabeth was born 16th November 1805. In course of time she grew to womanhood and married Thomas Bate, who was a well-to-do partner in a Dudley ironworks. They raised three children, Mark (born 11th December, 1837), Elizabeth (born 4th January, 1840) and Lucy (born 13th January, 1843). Thomas Bate died in 1851, and Elizabeth later re-married, becoming Mrs. Thomas. "Aunt Thomas (Mark Bate's Mother)" is mentioned in George Robinson's letter of 3rd January, 1875 to Victor Ernest, the letter reporting regretfully that she "has been very ill for a long time - she has had another stroke, which has considerably impaired her, both physically and mentally..." Finally, there is a notation in George's scrapbook, "Elizabeth Bate (Thomas) died Novr 5th/75".

Her children Mark and Elizabeth came to Victoria from London on board the Hudson's Bay Company's barque Princess Royal 18th January, 1857. Mark, Elizabeth, their cousin Cornelius Bryant and aunt Maria Robinson stayed at Victoria for the next two weeks. They then proceeded to Nanaimo arriving there 1st February, 1857 and took up residence with the Robinsons.

Nanaimo's First Mayor - Mark Bate

Mark was immediately engaged by the Hudson's Bay Company as a clerk, and shortly thereafter was promoted to cashier. When in 1862 the Hudson's Bay Company sold its coal-mining interests to the British-backed Vancouver Coal Mining & Land Company, Mark was retained in the employ of the new owners. A year later Robert Dunsmuir, who had become Manager when George Robinson left for England, resigned the position and Mark became Manager. He remained so until a change in Company structure resulted in a new Manager being sent out from England. Mark seems to have retained most of his former duties, despite a change in title.

Meanwhile he became active in civic matters. The incorporation of the City of Nanaimo was proclaimed 24th December, 1874, and following a brief but strenuous campaign, Mark was elected in early January of 1875 as the first Mayor. This Mayoralty was far from his last; in all he served sixteen terms as Mayor, spanning the years 1875-79, 1881-86, 1888-89, and 1898-1900. During these years he also undertook duties as Justice of the Peace, Chairman of the Board of Education, Chairman of the Literary Institute and Chairman of the Pilot Board. These positions were far more impressive than profitable, for all were purely honorary and none was salaried. With a population of a scant fifteen hundred in the year of its incorporation, Nanaimo was not in a position to pay its elected officials, and the Province was not much more wealthy.

Mark married Sarah Ann Cartwright in 1859. They had a large and loving family. When Sarah Ann died 14th May, 1897, at the age of fifty-seven, she left four grown sons and five daughters besides her husband.

In 1901, Mark took an extended holiday and returned to England. Here he met and married a widow, Hannah Harrison. In 1913 he retired, and in 1927, while on another visit to England, he died. His body was returned to Nanaimo, as he had wished, for burial 19th September, 1927.

Perhaps his most fitting epitaph lies in a newspaper clipping in the scrapbook kept by George Ernest Robinson, George Robinson's grandson. The clipping has since been identified as coming from the Daily Colonist for December 13th, 1925. The clipping is headed "NANAIMO HONORS MR. SAM GOUGH, VETERAN CLERK" and is datelined at Nanaimo, Dec. 12. It relates that:

"At a public meeting held last evening in the G.W.V.A. Hall, Mr. Samuel Gough, city clerk and controller for the past forty-five years, was awarded the Appreciation Medal for this year by Post No. 3, Native Sons of British Columbia...

"The function was originally called by Mayor Harrison for the purpose of presenting the City of Nanaimo with a painting by George L. Southwell of ex-Mayor Mark Bate, Nanaimo's first Mayor. In passing the gift over to the city, his worship stated that Mr. Bate's record was unique in the annals of the province, inasmuch as he had not only been Nanaimo's first mayor when the city was incorporated fifty years ago, but he had remained a citizen since; was returned to the mayoralty many times, and, despite his advanced years, was still taking an interest in the affairs of the city...

"... As the picture was removed form the crate in which it had been shipped across the Gulf, ex-Mayor Bate was among the eager ones who leaned forward for a good view. Acting City Comptroller Hackwood accepted the gift on behalf of the city, and Ald. E.G. Cavalsky replied to the donor. Alderman Cavalsky reminded the audience that Mayor Harrison was the first native of B.C. to occupy the chief magistrate's position, and he thanked His Worship for his kind effort to perpetuate the memory of a pioneer citizen who had laid the foundations of city which had an important position in the Dominion.

"Ex-Mayor Bate stepped forward and expressed appreciation of the generosity to the Mayor of Nanaimo in procuring the picture. As he turned around and glanced for a second time at his likeness in the frame, his face beamed good-naturedly, and the "grand old man", who believes that one cannot be judged by the number of years one has lived, said he could not refrain from mentioning the marked change he saw in the face of the mayor of fifty years ago and the ex-mayor of today.

"He said the mayor's position in those good old days was an honorary one - no money, just work. The work had to be done, and men could always be found who would give the time. At that time he was Justice of the Peace, Chairman of the Board of Education and Chairman of the Pilot Board. None of them carried remuneration. He paid a tribute to the present council, whose activities he was in the habit of following closely...

"Different conditions existed then, he said. The streams and waters and the woods abounded in fish and game, and one could purchase a whole venison from an Indian for a tin of tobacco. `And then the ham' said Mr. Bate, in accents which showed that he relished the memory, `was real ham, so different from the kind that is on the market today'."

Which illustrates, if nothing else, that nostalgia is always with us! The painting of Mark Bate which was presented to the City of Nanaimo on that long-ago evening in the Great War Veterans Association Hall is now on display at the City Hall, after years of seclusion in the Mayor's office, but how few citizens are aware of its history.

Elizabeth Bate (Mrs. A.G. Horne)

Now let us return to Mark's sister Elizabeth, whose wedding appeared in the March 15th, 1959, issue of the Victoria Gazette: "MARRIED - At Nanaimo, Feb. 22, by Rev. Mr. Dawson, A.G. Horne, of Orkney, to Miss Elizabeth Bate, of Dudley, Staffordshire, England."

The groom, Adam Grant Horne, was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1831. Twenty years later he arrived at Fort Victoria on the Hudson's Bay Company's brig Torrey to enter Company service as a clerk. After a few months at Fort Victoria for indoctrination and training, he was posted to Fort Rupert as a trader. Following several years at Fort Rupert, he was transferred to Nanaimo, where he met and married17 Elizabeth Bate. Early in the following July, as as recounted previously, he was involved in the staged election of John Swanson: "Mr. Horne, storekeeper to the H.B. Co. and a `non-elector', seconded the nomination."

During the years 1859-62 the Hornes lived in a house on the corner of Commercial and Bastion Streets in Nanaimo. There is an hiatus in the record for the next few years, until the Colonist for December 18th, 1877, tells us that the Hudson's Bay Company had closed their store at Comox, some sixty-five north of Nanaimo. Mr. Horne, after ten years in the post of storekeeper for the Company, was remaining at Comox as he intended to set up his own business. This venture did not last, largely because Mr. Horne became aware that schooling for his growing family was inadequate at Comox, and late in 1878 he moved them to Nanaimo. They took up residence in a house which was later numbered 149 Wallace Street. The house next door was occupied by Elizabeth's sister Lucy, now Mrs. Sabiston.

The Horne family continued to grow, finally reaching eleven children of whom eight survived to adulthood. Adam Horne joined Peter Sabiston and two other men in opening a coal mine a short distance north of Nanaimo. it became famous as the Jingle Pot Mine, a name commemorated today in Nanaimo's Jingle Pot Road. He also opened a business under the name A.G. Horne & Sons, and operated it until he retired in 1893.

Adam Grant Horne died 9th August, 1901, in his 71st year, and his wife Elizabeth followed him 6th July, 1905, in her 66th year.

Lucy Bate (Mrs. Peter Sabiston)

The final member of the Bate family to come to Nanaimo was Lucy, the younger sister of Mark and Elizabeth. She arrived on Vancouver Island in 1862 on board the Princess Royal, the last member of George Robinson's kin to take passage on that gallant barque. Some time between 1862 and 1878 Lucy married Peter Sabiston, who with his brothers John and James comprised the well-known pioneer Sabiston family.

Peter came originally from Stromness, Orkney Islands. He had arrived at Fort Victoria on the Norman Morison in 1851 to be a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company. He would have been eighteen years old at the time. His first posting was to Fort Simpson, from whence he was sent to Nanaimo in 1858. Not long afterwards he left the Company and struck out on his own as a construction contractor. He put up several houses in and around Nanaimo, and in1866 he won the contract for building a new, large Presbyterian church. He also erected some bridges and a railway trestle in the Nanaimo area. In 1871 he joined Adam Grant Horne and two other men in developing the Jingle Pot coal mine. After the mine was sold to two other developers (who in turn sold it to Robert Dunsmuir) he went into the hotel business, operating in turn the Royal, Miners and Commercial hotels.

Peter and Lucy had no children of their own, which must have been a matter of sorrow to them. Eventually they adopted a six-year-old orphan, Aggie Powley, who is reputed to have been a beautiful little girl, and raised her with as much affection as if she had been born to them.

Peter was not destined for a long life. The Colonist for September 28th, 1892 noted in a paragraph of Nanaimo news, that "Peter Sabiston, of the Commercial Hotel, is lying dangerously ill of pneumonia," and two days later recorded his passing.

"Peter Sabiston, proprietor of the Commercial Hotel, died at an early hour this morning, of pneumonia. He had been ailing a few weeks. He had been a resident of this city many years. He was well and favorably known. He was a native of Stromness, Orkney Islands."

The Nanaimo Free Press for the same date, September 30, 1892, furnished other details. "DIED - In this City on Sept 29th, 1892, Peter Sabiston, a native of Stromness, Orkney Islands, aged 59 years... The funeral will take place from his late residence, Wallace Street, on Sunday Afternoon, Oct. 2nd, at 2:30 o'clock. Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend."

Lucy remained in Nanaimo in loved and respected widowhood for a further thirty-five years. Her adopted daughter, the former Aggie Powley, had married an American citizen and returned with him to the U.S., but Lucy avoided the lonesomeness of a widow living by herself. She shared her house with a housekeeper and companion, Bella Muir. There are still a few Nanaimo residents who recall her as a bright, cheerful, active person who showed signs of failing health only in the final few years of her life. A brief account in the Colonist for November 10, 1927, recorded her passing. Datelined at Nanaimo the previous day, it announced that: "The death occurred at her home last evening of Mrs. Lucy Sabiston, eighty-four, following a residence in Nanaimo of sixty-five years. Mrs. Sabiston was born in Harthill, Dudley, England, and came to Nanaimo on the Princess Royal in 1862."

In recognition of her long years of help and companionship, Lucy willed her house at 163 Wallace Street to Isabel Muir, who was usually known by her nickname, Bella. Bella later cemented her ties to the Robinson kin by marrying one of the Horne family.

And so we conclude our historical notes on the Bates of Nanaimo.

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