George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer

Nanaimo's Bryant Family

Equally well-known in the Nanaimo of their day, though less active in civic affairs than Mark Bate, were George Robinson's other two nephews Cornelius and Thomas Bryant.

Both were sons of George's sister Sarah, who is recorded in his scrapbook as being born "August 5 1807 at five oClock in the Afternoon". In course of time she grew up and married Thomas Bryant, whom we have met already as one of the witnesses at the wedding of George Robinson and Ann Saunders on 27th October, 1844. It was Thomas Bryant's sad task twelve years later to arrange the carving of Ann's headstone and its shipment to far-off Nanaimo.

Sarah Bryant died 14th September, 1870, and Thomas followed her nine years later. The Colonist for April 13th, 1879, recorded his passing: "At Holly Hall, Dudley, England, on March 1st, 1879, Thomas Bryant, Esq., father of Rev. C. Bryant of Burrard Inlet."

This is also the subject of the final entry in George Robinson's scrapbook: "Thos Bryant died March 1st/79".

Thomas and Sarah Bryant had among their children two sons, Cornelius (born 17th April, 1838) and Thomas (born 4th November, 1851). We have already reviewed the story of the coming of Cornelius to Nanaimo in 1857, in company with his aunt Maria Robinson and his cousins Mark and Elizabeth Bate, and of his being accepted for the post of schoolmaster in place of the first incumbent, Charles Bailey.

Cornelius Bryant - Schoolmaster

Cornelius was paid a small salary by the Hudson's Bay Company, and was expected to gain the rest of his living by collecting fees from the parents of his pupils. A list of the names of these pupils is almost a reflection of the passenger list of the Princess Royal in 1854. Bull, Richardson, Turner, Meakin, Bevilockway, Miller, Sage, Ganner, Gough, and Malpass provided most of the thirty-four pupils. The subjects taught were reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, geography, history and scripture. From what we know of Cornelius' stern and upright character, the lessons were forcefully applied.

Cornelius' parents had been unfailingly active in the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Sarah in particular being for many years a supporter of the church's missionary work and a collector of funds for the British and Foreign Bible Society. It is quite in keeping with his upbringing that two weeks after his arrival, on 15th February, 1857, Cornelius instigated the first religious service held in Nanaimo. He used the Church of England form of worship, and took the part of a Lay Reader in that Church. These services continued on a regular basis, and as soon as they were well established, Cornelius began missionary work among the Indians and founded a chapter of the Band of Hope Temperance Society.

The odd part of all this is that later in life, Cornelius developed a strong antipathy to the Church of England and had nothing but criticism for any of its clergy who were unfortunate enough to cross his path.

The termination of the Hudson's Bay Company's ten-year lease of Vancouver Island and the establishing of a Crown Colony in its place meant that from November, 1859, the Company had no further interest in providing for the education of children. Accordingly, Chief Factor Dallas informed Cornelius late in November that his future salary was a matter to be negotiated between himself and Governor Douglas. He must also give up the Company house he was occupying, but for the time being he could have the use of two rooms in the Mine Agent's house which was being vacated by the Robinson family. One other room in the same house would be reserved for him to use as a schoolroom until other accommodation could be found.

Cornelius was also informed by Chief Factor Dallas that he could continue to do certain clerical work for the Company, including the making up of the monthly pay accounts for the coal mine. For these duties he would be paid, as at present, £6 per annum.

In December Cornelius noted in his journal that he had been awarded a civic appointment which gave him distinction but no pay. "Dec 12 1859 Received from His Excellency Governor Douglas the appointment of Postmaster at this place."

We gather from later comments in his journal that Cornelius was far from happy with the schoolmaster's salary being paid him by the Colonial Government. However he remained at his post while continuing to make representations to the Government about this until in July, 1863, he was able to remark in a letter to Reverend Ebenezer Robson, that Governor Douglas had raised his salary to £200 per year, with which he was much gratified.

His circumstances were now good enough for him to consider taking a wife. The Colonist for March 16, 1864, carried an announcement: "Married - In this city, on the 15th instant, by Rev. J. Hall, at the residence of Mr. David Moote, Mr. C. Bryant, Postmaster of Nanaimo, to Miss Elizabeth A. Murdow, late of Brantford, Canada West. Canada papers please copy."

Following his marriage, Cornelius seems to have become more and more restless under the pressures of his many activities. He informed the Colonial Secretary on 17th October, 1864, that he was no longer able to fill the dual duties of schoolteacher and postmaster, and on 29th December he wrote again to resign officially from the latter post.

This posed a problem to the Colonial Secretary, who did not have anyone in Nanaimo who would be capable and willing to take on the unpaid post. Cornelius was not relieved of his duties until 23rd May, 1865, when James Trevor arrived from Victoria to take over the books and cash. Trevor had been notified by letter dated 9th May, 1865, that he was to undertake the duties of Clerk to the Stipendiary Magistrate, Nanaimo (W.H. Franklyn, J.P.) and concurrently Postmaster, Nanaimo, "at the rate of $485 per annum attached to each office."

Discovering that his successor was to be paid for the duties he had carried out with no recompense for more than five years, Cornelius wrote immediately to the Colonial Secretary suggesting that he should be paid at the same rate for the period 1st January to 23rd May of 1865. The Colonial Secretary reluctantly agreed, and Cornelius sent a requisition to the Treasury for the amount in question. He had trouble collecting. On 11th September, 1865, he wrote again to the Colonial Secretary.

"Referring to your letter M508/2170 July 20th 1865 in which I was allowed the amount of salary due from Jany 1st to May 23rd 1865 at the rate of $85 per annum, I have to inform you that on applying at the Treasury thro' my relative Mrs. Spence the bearer of this - for the amount of salary due for the above mentioned period, she was told that Mr. Trevor, my successor in the Post office here, had drawn his salary from the 6th of May and that my requisition must be altered from the 23rd to the 5th of May. But as I did not receive instructions to transfer to Post Office books, cash &c to Mr. Trevor until the 23rd May, and as previous to that date he did not have anything whatever to do with the Post Office Department here, I shall be obliged if you will order the amount due me for the time I was actually employed." Cornelius' righteous indignation seems to have borne fruit. James Trevor paid back the disputed seventeen days.

The finances of the infant Colony were still shaky, and education was not its highest priority. The Colonist for December 6, 1867 carried an article stating that the teacher at Nanaimo had received neither pay nor allowance for rent, fuel and other expenses "during the present year to date." It was enough for even the long-suffering Cornelius to think about giving up the life of a pedagogue. He had already returned to the religious beliefs of his youth and had rejoined the Wesleyan Methodist church. Now the call of the church became ever stronger, until in the summer of 1870 he decided the time had come for him to devote the rest of his life to God. The Colonist for June 26, 1870 announced that "Mr. Bryant, school teacher at Nanaimo has resigned and will enter the Wesleyan Church as a missionary." The edition of July 5 followed up with an account of the acceptance of his resignation. Headed "COMPLIMENTARY TO MR. C. BRYANT", it included the full text of a letter dated June 27th, 18970, from the Chairman of the Local Board, Mark Bate. The letter accepted with regret his notice of resignation dated "the 20th inst." and went on to say, "The Local Board take this opportunity of recording and testifying to the faithful, assiduous and efficient manner in which you have discharged your arduous duties during the thirteen and a half years you have held the position ..."

Cornelius' first posting as a probationer in the Methodist ministry was as an itinerant missionary to New Westminster. His next was a return to Nanaimo. From there he went to `Chilliwhack', as it was then spelled. His cousin, Amanda Theresa Robinson, had been living with the Bryants since they were first married. In Chilliwhack she met and married Cory Spencer Ryder, a Canadian of United Empire Loyalist stock, who farmed at Rosedale, some twelve miles north of the city.

Cornelius returned again to Nanaimo in 1875, still as an itinerant missionary, but his probationary period was coming to an end. Since there was no Methodist minister in British Columbia who was then qualified to grant ordination, Cornelius went to California in 1876 to be ordained by Bishop Harris. He returned to Nanaimo a full-fledged minister. His next posting was again to Chilliwhack, and from there he went to Kamloops.

In those days, each minister of the Methodist Church had a responsibility of an area of a hundred square miles or more, which he was expected to cover regularly on foot or horseback or boat as circumstances required. Only a man of unusual endurance could keep up such a pace indefinitely. Even Cornelius' tremendous vitality and motivation began to flag after these years of toil, and in 1886-87 he took a year's leave of absence for rest and recuperation. Some of this time was spent at Dudley, where he earnestly suggested to his brother Thomas that the latter should join him in British Columbia.

On his return from England, Cornelius spent a year at the Bella Bella Indian Mission, leaving before the end of his term because his wife Elizabeth was seriously ill. From 1889 to 1893 he was stationed at Maple Ridge, which was then a small community in the Fraser River valley some twelve miles east of New Westminster. He applied for superannuation in 1893 and retired to a small cottage at Mount Tolmie, near Victoria, where he and his wife spent their declining years on a stipend of $230 per annum. In those days, ministers had just cause to complain about emoluments!

Elizabeth died 4th October, 1901. Cornelius went to live with his son Wesley in Vancouver, and here he died 11th May, 1905, as he was preparing to attend a Wesleyan Methodist church conference. He is buried beside Elizabeth in the Nanaimo cemetery.

Thomas Bryant - The Younger Brother

Like Cornelius, his younger brother Thomas was first a school teacher. After emigrating to British Columbia in late 1888, he taught school at Chilliwack for a short period, then moved to Nanaimo. After a further few years teaching, he left the world of pedagogy and took the post of storekeeper for the New Vancouver Coal Company, in which he stayed for several years. It was in this position that we met him previously as he notified the Nanaimo Free Press in March, 1895, that George Robinson had died at Inkberrow, Worcestershire.

In his old age, Thomas wrote two letters to Rev. William Hall, a Methodist minister at White Rock, B.C., which are now held in the Provincial Archives. Both letters are in response to queries from Mr. Hall regarding his family's part in the early days of Nanaimo, and both are headed "Holly Hall, 787 Albert St., Nanaimo". Let us first take some excerpts from the letter of October 10th, 1929.

"In an old Wesleyan Methodist magazine for March 1840, I find this notice among the `Recent Deaths' - Jan 18th at Woodside, in the Dudley Circuit, in his 63rd year Mr. Joseph Robinson - ".

(Speaking of George Robinson) "... in the early 1860's ... his son became a fellow pupil with me at the same school ... " (This would be Victor Ernest Robinson).

"Mark Bate's mother was the eldest in the family, George Robinson was the youngest, hence Mark and Cornelius were cousins and were about two years old when their grandfather died. Mark's father died before I was born, his mother (Aunt Betsy we called her) married again. ... Mark had two sisters both of whom came to V.I., the eldest Elizabeth married Mr. Horne, but the other sister, Lucy, came out at a latter date and married Mr. Peter Sabiston. ... "

"In regard to Mark's employment at Nanaimo. He was employed as far as I know by his uncle George about the mines. Most likely in the office, as he afterwards became Superintendent. He relinquished that position not long before my arrival and became the Government Agent for Nanaimo. He died about two years ago in his ninetieth year. ... "

The second letter, dated November 25, 1929, is in reply to a letter from Mr. Hall requesting information about Thomas himself.

Thomas stated that he was born November 4th, 1851, at Holly Hall, Worcestershire. He went to school at Brierley Hill, Staffordshire, a little more than a mile from his home. His mother and father were both staunch members of the Wesleyan Methodist Society. His mother died September 14th, 1870, a blow which he felt very keenly.

He had evidently studied to become a teacher, for in January, 1871, he opened a new school at Bagslate, Lancashire. A year later he became headmaster at Garforth Wesleyan School near Leeds, Yorkshire. In 1875 he moved again, to be headmaster of a school at Driffield, Yorkshire, and in 1878 he made another move to become headmaster of Newlyn Day School near Penzance, Cornwall. At that time he married Mercy Marcia Mason. His father died March 1st, 1879, another trying time in his life. Shortly afterward, he moved to the Wesleyan School at Dudley, again as headmaster. This move did not prove to be a happy one, for he found himself in continual conflict with the School authorities and examiners. In spite of this, he set himself the goal of securing the coveted First Class Certificate, and in 1888 he achieved this goal.

When Cornelius had paid his sabbatical visit to Dudley in 1886-87 he had noticed that Thomas was unhappy with conditions at the School, and had spoken earnestly to him about emigrating to British Columbia. Cornelius was sure that means could be found to apply Thomas' experience and qualifications to the British Columbia teaching community.

The achievement of his ambition of obtaining the First Class Certificate, combined with the harassment of the School authorities, finally persuaded him to take the plunge. Late in 1888 he resigned his position at Dudley and took passage to Nanaimo, from whence as we have seen he resumed his teaching career at Chilliwack.

This letter ends with the implication that a further letter will follow to detail Thomas' career after he reached British Columbia, but either this final missive was never written or no copy of it reached the Archives. More's the pity, for it would have made interesting reading.

Thomas Bryant died at Nanaimo on the 14th of July, 1933. Oddly enough, the Colonist gave his death much greater coverage than the Free Press did. Its issue of July 18, 1933 reported his demise, and added that "Mr. Bryant came in 1888 to Chilliwack, where he resided for a short period before coming to Nanaimo. He taught school here in the early days, and for many years was storekeeper for the old Vancouver Coal Company."

With this, we end our account of George Robinson's sisters, their husbands and their sons and daughters, and of their places in the history of Vancouver Island.

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