George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer


We have seen that George Robinson had much trouble with his gang of miners as well as heavy family cares at home. Eight of the miners had broken their contracts and deserted in September of 1855. They were shortly followed by three others - Thomas York, Thomas Jones and Joseph Bevilockway - who appear to have also gone to Bellingham Bay. The loss of such a sizeable part of his work-force would undoubtedly have made George's job more difficult. Happily both groups returned, the first after only two weeks, and the second in January of 1856. It is not unlikely that George interceded with Captain Stuart to keep any harsh sanctions from being taken against them. The Nanaimo Journal, in commenting on their return, simply remarks that all ". . . were engaged again by the Company, having expressed contrition for their past conduct. . ."

There was still the problem of taking care of his young children. We know from later accounts that George had written regularly to various members of his family back in Dudley, in fact that he had waxed lyrical on the beauties and virtues of Vancouver's Island. None of his correspondence from this period has survived, so we do not know just when he sent a plea for others of his family to join him. He begged his sister Maria to come to Nanaimo to look after his household, and at or very near the same time he offered assistance to his nephews Mark Bate and Cornelius Bryant in obtaining work with the Hudson's Bay Company. Mark, son of George's eldest sister Elizabeth, was to have a clerical post while Cornelius, son of George's second sister Sarah, was to be recommended for the schoolmaster's position which was being vacated by Charles Bailey.

Maria, on receiving George's plea, decided that she must go, and started arrangements with the Hudson's Bay Company for passage on the next sailing of the Princess Royal. Mark and Cornelius also accepted the invitation and were to accompany her, and Mark's sister Elizabeth suddenly made up her mind to be included.

There was probably little time between the making of these decisions and the sailing of the Princess Royal. The little party embarked at Blackwall Docks, London, on 19th August, 1856.

Our only account of the voyage is one contained in a rather haphazard journal which was kept by Cornelius Bryant. A transcript of the journal is held in the Provincial Archives. It is far from a daily diary, for Cornelius made entries only when the spirit moved him, but there are numerous entries which we find intensely interesting. To begin with,

". . . At 2.o P.M. today in company with my grandmother, mother, Aunt Maria, Elizabeth and Mark Bate, I left the East India Docks, Blackwall, London on board the "Princess Royal", tugged down the river Thames by a steamer . . . at about 6.15 P.M., having arrived at Gravesend, my grandmother and mother parted with us and bade us good-bye . . ."

"Sunday 31. At 11 a.m. the Captain read Prayers on the quarter deck for the first time on the voyage. A fair wind."

"Monday Sept. 1. Received our first supply of provisions from the ships stores collectively 4 of us we receive 12 lbs. preserved meats and soups in tins, consisting of various kinds of soups and boulli a la mode Beef. 4 lbs. preserved Tripe in stone jars, 12 lbs. flour, good supplies of mustard, pepper and salt, Tea and Coffee, Scotch oatmeal, rice and split peas, 4 lbs. preserved potatoes which we do not use not liking them we generally give away the greater part of them and often the whole of our preserved meats soups & potatoes 4 pints of preserved milk in tins Pickles in jars 4 white lbs. loaf sugar, 4 lbs. Raisens, plenty of suet and Butter, 4 lbs. salt Beef and Pork 16 lbs. sea Biscuit considered good by those who like it. 2 lbs. cheese 1 pint of grog which I would not put in my stomach cooking utensils are found us I generally rise at 6 or 7 o'clock a.m. go on deck for water first thing rain or shine, we have 3 gallons of water per day we take our things to the cook for preparing our meals. meal times 8 a.m. noon and 5.30 p.m."

"Sunday 7th. Prayers by the Captain who in his sermon said that the Ocean is supposed to be 2500 fathoms deep where we now are. . ."

One thing we gather from these entries is that, with the main hold no longer crammed with miners and their families, provisioning on this voyage of the Princess Royal was greatly improved over that of the first voyage. We are also given an indication of the character and interests of Cornelius himself.

Cornelius was a serious young man, barely past his nineteenth birthday. Some three years previously he had taken a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol, which pledge he was to keep rigorously for the rest of his life. He was also much attracted to the Ministry, probably as a result of his upbringing. His mother, Sarah, was a notably pious woman who was active in the missionary work of the Wesleyan Methodists, and Cornelius was strongly influenced by this.

The Princess Royal reached a position south of the Canary Islands, and the passengers saw many flying fish.

"Wednesday 10th. This evening a flying fish hopped on deck and was caught. It was eaten next morning."

"Sunday 14th. Prayers and sermon at 11 a.m. fine weather."

"Sunday 21st. No prayers today, it being to wet and squally, as it has been all week. Tropical rains very heavy."

On Tuesday of that week, a shark was hooked and hoisted on board. Cornelius records that "there was terrible work to dispatch him which was at last effected by means of an iron crowbar & by the lashings of itself upon the deck. he was soon cut up and what was fit for food was carried away by the crew."

Next day he states that he "had some of the shark for breakfast this morning which was fat & rich tasted." This speaks well for his having found his sea-legs and for the strength of his stomach.

On September 27th they "crossed the equater this morning at 4 o'clock a.m." and on Sunday October 5th Cornelius records "Hot day, Prayers as usual." However by the following Sunday the weather had changed. "Sunday 12th. Prayers in the Chiefs cabin, it being to cold upon the deck."

The sort of weather which had been encountered by Princess Royal on her first voyage was now repeated.

"Tuesday 14th. Strong gale of wind, Sea runs mountains high sweeping over the decks, vessel going at 10 or 11 miles per hour, loose boxes and cargo all going to loggerheads, talk of a swingle boat, its a fool to it."

"Sunday 26th. During the last week we sighted the east coast of south America. No prayers the weather to rough."

"Friday Oct 31st. The wind blows tremendously, and the water dashes over the vessel in a furious manner, the sea rolls mountains high."

"Saturday 1st November. 3.30 a.m. The gale is stronger now than ever, we are running at the mercy of the waves to and fro. we are under bare poles the sales being all furled and tied close up. the gale is terrific, and piercing cold, but we are now off cape horn. . ."

"Sunday Nov 2. No prayers, the weather being to rough and boisterous."

The weather moderated as they sailed north, after "haveing been it is said 63 deg. south of the equater." By now, that which had seemed strange at first had become commonplace, and the journal entries made by Cornelius become fewer and shorter. However, there was one exception to routine which must have caused all the passengers to wonder just what they were getting into.

"Saturday 13th December. All hands mustered to learn the sword, small Arms and big gun exercises, so that we may be prepared in case of any emergency with Indians, whilst passing through the strait of Juan-de-Fuca."

The possibilities of such trouble were remote, and we wonder if perhaps Captain Trevett and his crew were not enjoying a joke at the expense of the credulous passengers.

On Tuesday, 13th January they sighted the coast of Oregon, some fifty or sixty miles south of Cape Flattery, and next day entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca. On 17th January the Princess Royal anchored outside Victoria harbour, and Cornelius "went on shore at Fort Victoria with Dr. Johnston and Dr. Benson." He remained ashore only briefly, then returned to the ship, which was towed into the harbour next day by the Beaver.

That day, 18th January, was a Sunday. Cornelius wasted no time, but went to attend Sunday services held by the Fort's chaplain, Reverend Edward Cridge. Eleven days later he was interviewed by Governor Douglas concerning his proposed appointment as schoolteacher at Nanaimo. The Governor referred him to Mr. Cridge for an examination, which took place the following day. Cornelius evidently made a good impression, for he later noted the "The Governor was pleased with Mr. Cridge's account of my abilities and expressed his pleasure in giving me the position of Teacher at Nanaimo. For which I thanked him and I also thanked Mr. Cridge for his kindness."

Mark Bate had stayed with Cornelius during the two weeks in Victoria, and both now took passage on the schooner Recovery. They arrived at Nanaimo February 1st, 1857. This portion of Cornelius' journal ends with the entry:

"February 1st. Sunday 4 p.m. Arrived safe at Colvile town (Nanaimo) my destination, and met with a hearty reception."

"Through Waves And Clouds And Storms
He Gently Clears The Way,
Wait Thou His Time, So Shall This Night
Soon End In Joyous Day.
      - Cornelius Bryant."

It seems probable that Maria Robinson and Elizabeth Bate also remained on board the Princess Royal and accompanied Cornelius and Mark to Nanaimo. Maria would then have taken charge of George Robinson's household, and presumably Elizabeth stayed with them. We know that Cornelius and Mark occupied the other end of the Robinson "duplex".

Cornelius commenced his duties as schoolteacher immediately, and Mark was soon employed as a clerk with the Hudson's Bay Company. As for George Robinson, now surrounded by members of his immediate family, he must have been very pleased and, as much as circumstances would allow, very happy and contented.

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