Friday, June 7, 2013

Robson Rebels

When the gold rush had started in 1858 and this gold colony was formed, British authorities had denied the colony any sort of representative institutions. John Robson supported the liberal institutions that would prepare British Columbia for responsible government.

Governor James Douglas had "absolute powers" and Robson, along with his New Westminster friends, complained that Douglas - who was governor of Vancouver Island as well - governed the mainland with his cronies from the island. Robson opposed the tariff policy, which forced "the entire commerce" of British Columbia to pass through Victoria. He called for improved navigation on the lower Fraser River, construction of roads, removal of tonnage duties on goods taken upriver and designation of New Westminster as a terminus of ocean transportation.
Robson became somewhat of a local political hero in New Westminster when in early December of 1862, judge Matthew Baillie Begbie briefly jailed the newspaperman. Robson had published an anonymous letter accusing the judge of taking a bribe. Robson's next editorial -"Voice from the Dungeon!" - described the colonial press as virtually enslaved. This incident confirmed John's belief that Begbie was "wholly unfit to administer, alone and unassisted, the Judiciary of the Colony".

Gradually Robson moved from attacking Begbie to demanding a general reform of the judicial system. He also participated in local politics in New Wesminster, being elected to municipal counsel in 1863. He served as president there from 1866 to 1867 but local politics was never his main preoccupation.

Initially, Robson's complaints concerning the colony's affairs were directed at Governor Douglas. Robson had hope for the future when Douglas was replaced in 1864 with Frederick Seymour. Seymour had instructions to create a legislative council and a third of those members were to be elected. Robson was generally pleased with Seymour's 'able and liberal' administration. When Seymour was leaving to go to England in 1865, John publicly told him "We have still virtually to submit to the humiliation of 'Taxation without Representation'."
In November of 1865, the Quesnel district allowed Chinese people to vote and the people of the district showed their contempt of the government by electing a 'petty government official'. This behaviour upset Robson and in 1866, he was forced to admit that perhaps the colony was 'not yet ripe' enough for full representative institutions.

Robson believed that the colony of Vancouver Island had "rotten institutions", "a bankrupt exchequer", a "self traducing policy" and "tricky and unscrupulous politicians". He felt that the union between the mainland and the Island would be a mistake and could not admit that it was financially sensible because the population and the revenues of both colonies were diminishing while the expenses of servicing debts and maintaining large civil services remained high. The combined debt of the two areas reached $1,389,830 by 1865 and the population, excluding First Nations, was approximately 10,700.  In 1866, Robson grudging accepted the union designed by Seymour because by it Vancouver Island became an integral part of British Columbia.
I hope you are enjoying this rather long segment on B.C.'s premiers. I am not only finding out where some of Vancouver's streets got their names but also about the people who formed this province.. I have never been that interested in politics - and present day politics still don't interest me - but I admire what these men went through to create the world I live in today.

And there is so much more to tell you on John Robson. Which I will do on Monday and probably beyond. Thank you Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online for the information.

Have a great weekend and I hope you find the beauty around you.

I thought this piece of graffiti suited John Robson, don't you?

, , , , ,,,


  1. Great insights, Karen! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. As well, thank you for your support.