John Robson (March 14, 1824 - June 29, 1892)

John Robson was a newspaperman and politician who supported British Columbia joining Confederation. He served as the province's premier from 1871 to 1873, and from 1882 to 1892.

John Robson was born in Perth, Upper Canada (now Ontario), the son of John Robson and Euphemia Richardson. Robson attended grammar school before becoming a merchant. In 1859, he joined the Fraser River Gold Rush to British Columbia. Although he proved unsuccessful as a prospector, he stayed on in the New Westminster area to become the editor of the newspaper the British Columbian, founded in 1861 (he would buy the paper a year later). Robson married Susan Longworth in 1854.

Like his contemporary and rival on Vancouver Island, Amor De Cosmos, Robson used the British Columbian to criticize the upper class of New Westminster, though he believed it cost him a printing contract with the government. He was once thrown in jail by a judge for printing a letter hinting that the judge had taken bribes, an action which only seemed to increase Robson's popularity in the colony. In 1869, he moved the newspaper's offices to Victoria. By that summer, the paper had been purchased by the Daily British Colonist, which Robson joined as political editor.

Robson also pursued a career in politics, serving as a member of the New Westminster Council (municipal) from 1863 to 1867, and as a member of the Legislative Council of British Columbia from 1866 to 1870. As a supporter of Confederation, he joined Amor De Cosmos in the Confederation League in 1868. That September, he was a delegate to the Yale Conference, where resolutions were passed in favour of responsible government and Confederation. In 1870, as a member of the Legislative Council, Robson took part in the Great Confederation Debate in the provincial assembly. He was opposed to Clause 15, a negotiating term that stated British Columbia could enter Confederation without responsible government institutions.

Governor Anthony Musgrave initially asked Robson to be a part of British Columbia's delegation to negotiate union with Canada in 1870. Musgrave then changed his mind and asked Robson to step aside in favour of John Sebastian Helmcken. Robson was bitterly disappointed at not being included in the delegation. He sent Henry Seelye to Ottawa to report on the negotiations for the paper and to lobby for responsible government.

After Confederation, Robson served in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia from 1871 to 1875 and then again from 1882 to 1892. He was premier from 1889 to 1892. He was ahead of his time as a proponent of female suffrage, but he remained opposed to enfranchising some ethnic groups. While still premier, he travelled to England in 1892 to discuss an imperial loan and immigration matters. On June 20, he caught his little finger in the door of a cab. Blood poisoning set in and he died nine days later.


  • British Columbia and Confederation. Ed. George Shelton. Victoria : Morriss Printing Co. Ltd., 1967. 250 p.

  • Roy, Patricia E. "Robson, John". Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. Ed. James H. Marsh. 3rd print ed. Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. P. 2030.

  • Roy, Patricia E. "Robson, John". Dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1990. Vol. 12, p. 914-919.

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