George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer

1866 - 1868: Business, Family And Other Events

We have already mentioned in passing that in 1865, George Robinson purchased the Theatre Photographic Gallery from its founder, J.W. Vaughan. At this time he closed out his original premises a city block north of the Theatre Royal and across the road "on Government Street, next door to the San Francisco Baths". The move gave him larger and better premises, and at the same time eliminated one of his most prestigious competitors. We have grounds to suspect that George was making only a modest living from photography, but at least it was a living.

George needed that living, for his family was increasing and there was another mouth to feed at Woodbine Cottage. A notation in his scrapbook announces her arrival:

"Fanny Augusta Robinson Born Jany 11th 1866 - Victoria, Vancouver Is."

Busy though he might be with his business and his family, George had wide-ranging interests. There is little doubt he kept up with the affairs of the world, both through perusal of the newspapers and through correspondence with family members in England. During the next few months he would have been saddened, along with many other Victorians, to hear of the loss at sea of the Norman Morison. This ship, the predecessor of the Princess Royal in carrying Hudson's Bay Company cargoes between England and Victoria, had been sold by the Company after only three voyages. Her deep draft had been found unsuitable for unloading in shallow Victoria Harbour. From 1853 to 1860 she had sailed out of British ports, but in the latter year she had been sold to interests who required her in the Far East. Towards the end of 1865 she left Australia with a cargo for India and somewhere enroute she disappeared with all hands.

Although he had bought out J.W. Vaughan, George had other photographers to contend with. Some were friends and some were rivals. One of the rivals of whom he was apparently not fond was Frederick Dally. Dally had operated a dry-goods store in Victoria during 1863-64, then during the latter year he opened a photographic studio on the south-east corner of Fort and Government streets a stone's throw away from the Theatre Photographic Gallery. It is ironical that the only good, sharp picture we have which includes the Theatre premises is one taken by Dally.

On the other hand, George was on excellent terms with another photographer, Noah Shakespeare. Civic-minded Noah Shakespeare is more often remembered today as an early Mayor of Victoria, as a member of Parliament and from 1868 as city Postmaster. His work as a pioneer photographer spanning some thirteen years is almost forgotten. However, George Robinson thought enough of Noah's capabilities that by 1867 they had joined forces, with George concentrating on outdoor work and Noah handling the studio. Quite possibly stung by periodic advertisements in the Colonist by yet another rival, Gentile's Photographic Gallery, which was situated "Adjoining the Theatre, Victoria. Mr. Ashman, Operator, from London and San Francisco. Portraits and Views Taken, Pictures Copied", George inserted his own advertisement. This ran from the 13th March, 1867 to the 6th April.

Photographic Gallery
At the Theatre
Government Street, Victoria, V.I.
Mr. N. Shakespeare, ... Operator.
Mr. R. devoting his attention exclusively
to outdoor photography.
The art practised in all its branches."

A few months later there was another, and final, addition to the Robinson household. A scrapbook entry immediately below that of Fanny Augusta reads:

"Geo Thomas Robinson (Born) Augt 6th 1867 - (Victoria, Vancouver (Is.)"9

We have no identifiable infant pictures of either Fanny Augusta or George Thomas. Perhaps there were such pictures, but time has removed them, or perhaps it is the old story of the cobbler's wife being ill-shod; since he was earning his living at photography, George Robinson may not have been inclined to take pictures of his own offspring. We are left to speculate.

In early 1868 there were signs that the Queen Charlotte Coal Company had raised some more capital, and were once more preparing to open the mine at Cowgitz. The engineer in charge was John J. Landale, who had also been advertising his qualifications in the Colonist as an expert in civil engineering and mining and giving his address as "Blanshard St., Victoria". We do not know if George Robinson was sounded out for similar employment, but if he was he declined, at least for the present. George was too busy just then, launching a new endeavour of his own. In addition to being a photographer, George was setting up in business as - of all professions! - a dentist. He had also taken up an avocation by applying for membership in the Masons.

Our first inkling of his change of occupation comes from the Victoria Directory for the year 1868 which included an entry for "Robinson Geo., photographer, Theatre Building", and carried an advertisement on page 82,

Theatre Buildings, Government Street"

This much is quite as expected. What is surprising is a flyleaf advertisement in the same publication:

Victoria West.

OFFICE: - Theatre Photographic Rooms."

In those far-off, free-wheeling days, training in dentistry might be desirable, but was not essential. Any man who was engaged in an occupation dealing with close tolerances, manual dexterity and some knowledge of chemicals might decide to become a dentist and "hang out his shingle" accordingly. In point of fact, as we shall see later, George was not the only Victoria photographer to make this transition. His rival, Frederick Dally, later did the same thing, though in a somewhat more formal manner.

The year 1868 also saw George taking up an avocation. He became a Mason.

Rather than the several Masonic Lodges which now exist in and around Victoria, there was but one Lodge, Number 1187 E.R. This had been formed initially in 1858, and had received its formal Charter in 1860 direct from the Grand Lodge of England in London. Thus while George was not a charter member, he was one of the earliest to join what is today Victoria-Columbia Lodge A.F. & A.M. No. 1, B.C.R.

A copy of George's application for membership is held in the British Columbia Archives. It is written in longhand, evidently to a prescribed format.

"I George Robinson being a free man of full age of twenty one years do declare, that unbiassed by the improper solicitations of friends and uninfluenced by mercenary of other unworthy motives I freely and voluntarily offer myself a candidate for the mysteries of Masonry. That I am prompted by a favorable opinion conceived of the Institution and a desire for knowledge and that I will cheerfully conform to all the ancient usages and established customs of the order.

"Witness my hand this eleventh day of February A D 1868 A L 5868

"George Robinson

W.H. Thain"

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