George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer


Charles Gale's log relates that on 24th November the Robinsons had been "Busey packing up all day - and getting all ready to leave To Morrow by the Steamer".

"The Steamer" was our old friend the Beaver, on which the Robinsons and their baggage were to be conveyed to Nanaimo. However for some reason the "Servant" who had accompanied them thus far had shifted allegiance, for on 25th November Gale recorded "Landed Mr. Clarke and his Mr. Robinsons servant that was is gone with Mr. Clarke . . ."

Thus exits from our narrative, as quietly and mysteriously as she had come, the nameless woman who had traveled these thousands of miles as the Robinsons' servant. Who was she? Where did she come from? What were her intended duties? Why did she so suddenly leave the Robinsons' employment? Did she continue in the service of schoolmaster Clark at Craigflower School? Did she eventually become Clark's second wife after his first wife died in childbirth? It is all just a small part of the life and times of George Robinson to which in all probability we shall never know the answers.

On another part we have more solid data. Gale's log continues "at 4.30 p.m. the schooner Recovery was Brought alongside for the passengers put every Thing into her. At 7PM she halled off and came to Anchor with the passengers for the cole mines on board. The Norwigens still remain on board. . ."

On 28th November, Chief Factor Douglas could report to Hudson's Bay House in London that "The passengers per the Princess Royal have all been landed and Mr. Robinson with the miners and their families were sent by the Beaver and Recovery to Colvile Town on the 26th inst. with a good supply of potatoes and fresh meat. . ."

We can be certain that all concerned would be most happy with the change in diet, which they would have enjoyed during the day's journey from Esquimalt to Nanaimo.

The Beaver and Recovery, traveling in company, arrived at Nanaimo on the morning of 27th November, 1854, and dropped anchor in the harbour as there was as yet no jetty where they could tie up. The day was cold and overcast and there was snow on the ground. On a rocky eminence overlooking the harbour was as odd-looking three-storey octagonal building from which two small cannon projected; this was the Bastion built the year before by two French-Canadian axemen, Leon Labine and Jean Baptiste Fortier, mainly to protect the settlement from the Indians of the Northern coast - to some extent the Kwakiutl but even more the aggressive Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Near the Bastion, enclosed by a white picket fence, was the Hudson's Bay Company's store, and clustered nearby were the log cabins which James Douglas had ordered built in anticipation of the miners' arrival; four of them twenty-six by fifteen feet and three more thirty feet by twenty. A further three of the larger cabins were under construction.

The miners and their families were relayed ashore in three small boats, landing below the Bastion on a small, rocky promontory which is now known as Pioneer Point. Nearly all the adult population of Nanaimo had assembled to welcome them. In the forefront were Factor Joseph McKay and Surgeon Alfred Benson and behind them were the remaining Scottish miners from Fort Rupert, where mining had ceased the previous year, together with several Hudson's Bay Company employees, building tradesmen and a large gathering of Sne-Ny-Mo Indians.

Much of the remainder of the day was taken up with landing the miners' belongings and getting them brought to their new abodes. Although these were rude and crowded cabins whose only amenities were the rush mats, woven by the Indians, which covered some of the floor, there is no doubt they were like palaces after steerage accommodation of the Princess Royal. Then while women with school-aged children conferred with Mr. Bailey, the Schoolmaster who had been sent from Fort Victoria, the men were shown around the mine workings by Boyd Gilmore, the present overseer.

We can imagine the trepidation of the women on being surrounded by wild-looking Indians. They were reassured by Factor McKay, who told them the only major crime to that date had been the robbing and murder of a lone Hudson's Bay Company sheep-herder near Fort Victoria. The crime had been committed by two young Indians, one of whom was a Sne-Ny-Mo and the other a Cowichan from a tribe several miles southward. McKay had been instrumental in capturing both miscreants, and after their trial and conviction had seen them hung at nearby Protection Island. The site of the execution still bears the name Gallows Point. This demonstration of authority, together with continuing efforts by the Hudson's Bay Company to keep on good terms with the Indians, had brought about peaceful living together of the two races.

McKay was correct, for we know of only two occasions in the years to follow when things looked ominous, and both passed off without bloodshed. On one of these, the killing of a dog owned by a miner started a series of threats and counter-threats which culminated in all white residents being ordered into the Bastion, where they remained for several hours until order was restored. To add point to negotiations the Bastion's cannon were fired, but the gunners were careful not to hit anything. On the other occasion, a fleet of some eighty Haida war-canoes padded into the harbour. The canoes carried a thousand warriors of this fierce and dangerous tribe, all seemingly bent on mischief with settlers and Sne-Ny-Mo alike. However any such ideas were halted by the timely arrival of three British warships whose side bristled with nasty-looking cannon. Canoes and warriors stayed but briefly, and departed without incident.

The anniversary of the landing of the miners is still marked. Exactly one year after their arrival, Edwin Gough and the male members of his family revisited Pioneer Point, and this practice was continued as a tradition which endures to the present day. On 27 November, 1954, the centenary of the landing, a pageant was arranged at which the Yellow Point Drama Group provided a costumed reenactment. Several incidents which had been culled from old letters or passed down in family anecdotes, were included in the by-plays.

"John Thompson" was first to set foot ashore. Waiting to welcome him was "Factor McKay", looking every inch the Joseph William McKay who had been born at Rupert's House on Hudson's Bay twenty-five years before and had served the Hudson's Bay Company all his working life. The Nanaimo Daily Free Press reported that some two thousand spectators watched the re-enactment, and added that "As the pioneers toiled their way up the rock, the realism of the scene gripped the onlookers . . . It was plain that all present were gripped with the drama of the moment and for a few precious instants it seemed to the thousands gathered there that time and ceased to exist and they were seeing the very event which they had come here to memorialize."

Amid the crowd were several hundred people whose ancestors had made the actual journey a hundred years previously. Only twenty years earlier, three of the original immigrants had still been alive. A faded newspaper clipping in the scrapbook kept by the younger George Robinson tells us that at that time John Meakin of Nanaimo, James Hawks of Wilkeson, Washington and his sister Mrs. Roberts of Oakland, California (who would be the Jane Ellen Hawks of the passenger list) still remained.

Yet if by its centenary all who had made the actual landing were gone, we can be certain they were far from forgotten.

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