George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer


Thanks to the reports of "John Bull" and "An Observer" in the Colonist, we know that George Robinson was in Nanaimo and was irking the authorities with his political comments in the summer of 1859. We do not know for certain what caused him to decide to leave Nanaimo and return to England in November. There may have been many causes. For one thing, George may have had either a written contract or an unwritten agreement for a five-year term as Mine Agent, in parallel with the five-year terms of the Brierley Hill miners. He may have felt that five years in the job was enough. His criticisms of his superiors in political matters may have caused them to suggest that he would do better elsewhere. The second five years of the Hudson's Bay Company's lease of Vancouver's Island was due to end, and it was certain that there would be no renewal, leaving the future of the mine at Nanaimo in doubt. It is not unlikely that his second wife, Caroline, was pressing for a return home. There may have been other factors of which we have no knowledge.

In any event, having made the decision to return, George had three choices of route. He could go the long way around the Horn, so retracing his arrival on Princess Royal; he could take ship to San Francisco and thence go overland by wagon to the railhead at St. Joseph, Missouri, take the railways to the eastern seaboard and so by ship to England; or he could take passage to Panama, go by rail to Colon on the line which had been finished four years earlier (tickets were $25 per person, payable in gold and in advance), and so by ship across the Atlantic. The last was by far the preferred route.

Thus in Cornelius Bryant's sketchy journal for the autumn of 1859 we read, "Nov 21 - My uncle and Amanda Theresa and Victor Ernest departed hence on the Otter this afternoon about 5.25 o'clock - just as it was getting dusk - for England, via Victoria, San Francisco, Panama and New York."

Our only other record of this voyage is an exhaustive, hand-written eleven-page phrenological report which claims to give a complete character study of the youthful Victor Ernest, based entirely on his cranial configuration. The report is dated at New York December 28, 1859.

Early in 1860, then, George Robinson and his family reached England and settled at Eastbourne, Sussex. There they remained at least long enough for Amanda Theresa and Victor Ernest to acquire a half-sister. In George's scrapbook we read,

"Geo Robinson born May 23rd 1825 - Holly Hall, Dudley
Caroline Robinson Born Octr 19th 1819 - Tunbridge Kent
Married Augt 1858 - San Francisco California
Georgiana Caroline Born Novr 19th 1861 - Eastbourne Sussex"

Caroline Robinson was thus forty-two years of age when her first daughter was born, not an easy age for maternity even with modern knowledge and facilities, and probably a difficult and dangerous birth in mid-Victorian days. However neither mother nor daughter seems to have suffered any lasting trauma: Caroline lived thirty-two years after the event, and her daughter lived to the age of eighty-four.

Shortly after the arrival of Georgiana, the family moved to Kidderminster, where George became manager of the Caldwell Brick Works and where, as we find from later correspondence, Amanda Theresa and Victor Ernest went to school. But this phase was not to last, either. George Robinson, ever restless, could not settle down in England, and made up his mind to return to Vancouver Island. This time he would seek his fortune at Victoria, rather than Nanaimo. It was to be a vastly different Victoria he would see, as compared to the rude Hudson's Bay Company fort of his first arrival in 1854.

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