Needham, Joseph
b. 1812
d. 1895
Joseph Needham was born 1812 in England and came to Vancouver Island in 1865. Needham was appointed as Chief Justice of Vancouver Island upon his arrival and served in the position until 1870 when he was chosen to act as C.J. in the colony of Trinidad.1 In England, Needham trained as a barrister until Governor Kennedy appointed him C.J. of Vancouver Island.2 Needham planned his arrival to Vancouver Island in July 1865, and by 11 October 1865, Needham swore his official oath as C.J.3
By 20 November 1886, there were reports that the colony of Vancouver Island would unite with the colony of British Columbia, creating a possibility for a change in Needham’s position on the island.4 However, on 14 March 1867, Richard Grenville wrote a despatch to Governor Seymour discussing that under the Act 29 and 30, Needham would be able to keep his jurisdiction in Vancouver Island, while Judge Matthew Begbie would have the primary jurisdiction over British Columbia.5 Although Needham held his position and authority amidst unification, the Daily Colonist suggested that Governor Seymour favoured Begbie as the main chief in charge.6
On 3 February 1870, Needham accepted the commission to become Chief Justice in Trinidad.7 While in Trinidad, Queen Victoria conferred him the distinguished honour of Knighthood on 22 April 1873.8 Needham eventually traveled back to England where he died in 1895 at the age of 83.
During his career, Needham presided over many legal cases, the most well-known of which was the murder of William Robinson, a Black settler on Salt Spring Island. The ‘said’ man to have committed the murder was an Indigenous man, the accused’s name was Tshuanahusset -- also known as Tom.9 Needham sentenced Tshuanahusset to death in July 1869.10 Scholars are still in debate on whether or not Tshuanahusset, the man Needham sentenced to death for Robinson’s murder, truly did commit the crime.
  • 1. Ruth Sandwell and John Lutz, The Murder:Cast of Characters, Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History: Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice, and Settling the Land.
  • 2. Seymour to Carnarvon, 18 March 1867, 4400, CO 60/27, 345.
  • 3. BC Archives, Needham, Joseph, C.J., File GR-1372.100.1231.
  • 4. The Chief Justiceship, The Daily Colonist, 20 November 1866, 3.
  • 5. Grenville to Seymour, 14 March 1867, NAC, 97.
  • 6. The Daily Colonist, 20 November 1866, 3.
  • 7. Trinidad, The Daily Colonist, 3 February, 1870, 3.
  • 8. Sir Joseph Needham, The Daily Colonist, 22 April 1873, 3.
  • 9. Sandwell and Lutz, The Murder: Cast of Characters.
  • 10. Ibid.
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. Needham, Joseph. 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/needham.html.

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