George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer


Two days before the death of his infant son, George Robinson was involved in a confrontation with a recalcitrant miner.

From various tales handed down by his descendants, we can judge that George was inclined to be both stubborn and irascible. His beloved wife's recent death, the responsibilities for the upbringing of this two small children and the wasting away and evident early demise of his new baby would have been a heavy load. The long working day at the mine would have brought a succession of problems, even though the coal was being dug from open pits on the beach of the small peninsula between what is now Commercial Inlet and Terminal Avenue. George Robinson was understandably touchy. He needed only a small spark to cause an explosion.

The spark was provided by Scottish miner John McGregor. McGregor had been one of the original miners at Fort Rupert, arriving in the brig Harpooner in June, 1849. In May of the following year he was one of the leaders of a short-lived miners' strike, for which he was clapped in irons by Hudson's Bay Company's Captain McNeill, and incarcerated for six days in an unused storeroom at the Fort. McGregor had not absconded to the California goldfields, but had removed to Nanaimo when the Fort Rupert mine was closed. However it is evident that his independent and aggressive outlook had not changed. The Company's Nanaimo Journal reports:

"Tuesday 19th February, 1856. A.M. southeasterly gale with heavy rain. At 7.30 a disturbance occurred between Mr. Robinson and J. McGregor on account of the former taxing the latter with negligence of his duty, and absent one day from his work, as well as leaving before his time twice, both of which accusations appear to be correct - upon arriving at the blacksmith's shop (the dispute having arose at the top of the hill by the Bastion where there were no witnesses to the conversation, but from Mr. Robinson's statement J. McGregor was very insolent) which from evidence elicited from three witnesses (Andrew Hunter, G. Mitchell and J. Stone) was really the case in the shop, J. McGregor having several times used most abusive epithets, such as "Liar", "Hypocrite" &c &c. After some altercation Mr. Robinson left the shop intending as he reports to complain to the officer in charge, Capt. C.E. Stuart, of the conduct of McGregor and to state that he would have nothing more to do with him. John McGregor calling after him in the most provocative and abusive language, Mr. Robinson as he worked away. Mr. Robinson then returned to the Smithy and laying hold of the first thing at hand, which happened to be a heavy hammer dealt McGregor a blow on the head which knocked him down. Mr. Robinson then proceeded to the Gentleman in charge and expressed his contrition for having struck McGregor, but stated that McGregor's language was so very insulting and provocatory that it exasperated him to the deed. After a short while McGregor walked up to the Surgery where his head was dressed by Dr Thomas and who reports the wound to be of a contused character, rather extensive and situated across the crown of the head, not dangerous, at least in its primary character. P.M. heavy rain. 3 P.M. therm. 50°"

Despite his devastating loss of temper, George Robinson was not relieved of his duties. Many years later, he was to tell his family that he narrowly escaped being sent to Fort Victoria to finish his contract with the Company, but in the end he was simply told that any further incidents which included laying out a miner with a hammer would be looked upon most unkindly by the authorities. What was said to John McGregor is not known, and the Journal makes no further reference to the matter. In fact, such entries as were destined to be made concerning George Robinson for the rest of the year would be both infrequent and routine.

"Thursday 14th August, 1856. 7 A.M. Mr. Robinson left here for Victoria in an express Canoe."

"Sunday 17th August, 1856. 9.30 Mr. Robinson returned from Victoria."

"Tuesday 16th December, 1856. Mr. Robinson employs Lazaar6 at work connected with mines and otherwise."

So things returned to normal and relative tranquility descended on Nanaimo. However, events were stirring in Dudley, where George's family lived, and it is to Dudley that we must shortly return.

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