Burnaby, Robert
b. 1828-11-30
d. 1878-01-10
Robert Burnaby was born 30 November 1828 in Leicestershire, England. Burnaby entered the Civil Service as an adult, and would have an extremely successful career.1 Burnaby travelled to Vancouver Island in 1858, intending to meet with Governor James Douglas as organized by Lytton. He would spend the following twenty years on the Pacific coast, and would leave an enduring legacy.2
Burnaby worked as private secretary for Richard Clement Moody for most of 1858, only taking time to travel to Burrard Inlet in search of coal, and San Francisco.3 The following year, Burnaby started a merchant company called Henderson and Burnaby. Although initially successful, the company failed in 1865 due to economic depression in the region.4 Next, Burnaby started a somewhat more successful real estate and insurance business. In 1863, Burnaby was one of the founders of the Victoria Chamber Of Commerce.5
Burnaby was also an active politician during his time on the Pacific coast. In 1863, he ran for and was elected as the representative from Esquimalt and Metchosin in the Victoria Legislative Assembly.6 Burnaby held the position for the following four years. Then, in 1866, Burnaby met with other prominent Victorian merchants in London to discuss the union of British Columbia and Vancouver Island.7 The merchants agreed that a union would be preferable and reported their conclusion to Lytton.8
Burnaby was notably critical of natives on the Pacific coast. Burnaby once stated, The Indians are very particular about their style of blanket and its quality; quite as much so, indeed, as Ladies are about the fashion of their attire. Burnaby continued, the moment they see you want something they double their demands.9
Burnaby can be considered a sort of Renaissance man. He started with a successful career in the civil service, then started two businesses on the Pacific coast, and enjoyed a successful political career.10 Burnaby was also the president of Victoria’s Amateur Dramatic Association in 1863, and founded the first freemason lodge at Victoria in 1860, and later in British Columbia.11 Burnaby also played a large role in the planned settlements at Hope and Yale in British Columbia.12 Burnaby was extremely socially connected, with prominent friends like Moody, Matthew Begbie, and Henry Pering Crease. Burnaby praised Douglas for his political ability, but believed his hot headedness during the San Juan Island Dispute could have risked a collision.13
Burnaby retired due to declining health in 1869. Then, in 1874, he returned to England seeking treatment for his ailing health.14 He died 10 January 1878 in Leicestershire, England. Burnaby’s name has been given to many locations in British Columbia, notably the Burnaby district and lake, as well as Burnaby Mountain where Simon Fraser University is located.15
  • 1. Madge Wolfenden, Burnaby, Robert, Dictionary Of Canadian Biography.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Douglas to Newcastle, 29 August 1863, No. 36, 10020, CO 305/20, 341.
  • 7. Wolfenden, Burnaby, Robert.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Burnaby, Robert, Dear Harriet…from Robert, British Columbia Historical News 31.2 (1998). 35.
  • 10. Wolfenden, Burnaby, Robert.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Robie L. Reid, Robert Burnaby, Grand Lodge Of British Columbia and Yukon.
  • 13. Wolfenden, Burnaby, Robert ; Burnaby, Robert, Dear Harriet…from Robert British Columbia Historical News.
  • 14. Wolfenden, Burnaby, Robert.
  • 15. Ibid.
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. Burnaby, Robert. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/burnaby_r.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)