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Sir John Robinson, 1st Baronet, of Toronto

For his son, a former mayor of Toronto, see John Beverley Robinson.
Sir John Robinson, Bt
Chief Justice of Upper Canada
In office
July 1829 – 10 February 1841
Monarch King George IV
Preceded by Sir William Campbell
Succeeded by (none: Province of Canada created by Act of Union 1840)
1st Chief Justice Canada West
In office
10 February 1841 – 15 March 1862
Monarch Queen Victoria
Preceded by (new office)
Succeeded by William Henry Draper
Constituency York (town)
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada
In office
31 January 1821 – July 1829
Monarch King George IV
Governor Peregrine Maitland
Preceded by new riding
Succeeded by Robert Baldwin
Constituency York, Upper Canada
Chancellor of the University of Trinity College
In office
1852 – 31 January 1863
Preceded by (new title college founded 1852)
Succeeded by John Hillyard Cameron
Solicitor General for Upper Canada
In office
13 February 1815 – 1818
Preceded by G. D'Arcy Boulton
Succeeded by Christopher Alexander Hagerman
Attorney General for Upper Canada
In office
11 February 1818 – 1829
Preceded by G. D'Arcy Boulton
Succeeded by Henry John Boulton
Personal details
Born (1791-07-26)26 July 1791
Berthier, Lower Canada
Died 31 January 1863(1863-01-31) (aged 71)
Toronto, Ontario
Spouse(s) Emma Walker 5 June 1817
Relations Esther Sayre (mother)
Christopher Robinson (father)
Peter Robinson (brother)
William Benjamin Robinson (brother)
Frederick Philipse Robinson (1st cousin)
Major Stephen Heward (brother-in-law)
D'Arcy Boulton (brother-in-law)
Sir William H. Robinson (1766-1836, Commissary-General of Nova Scotia)
Children Christopher (1828-1905) - Toronto lawyer and was chancellor of Trinity University
Sir Charles Robinson (1836-1924) - soldier and writer
Religion Church of England
Military service
Battles/wars Battle of Queenston Heights

Sir John Beverley Robinson, 1st Baronet CB, (26 July 1791 – 31 January 1863) was a lawyer, judge and political figure in Upper Canada.


Robinson was born in 1791 at Berthier, Lower Canada, the son of Christopher Robinson, a United Empire Loyalist of one of the First Families of Virginia, whose grandfather, also named Christopher Robinson, came there about 1666 as secretary to Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia. In 1792, the family moved to Kingston in Upper Canada and then York (later renamed Toronto). After his father's death in 1798, he was sent to live and study in Kingston. In 1803, he moved to Cornwall, where he lived and was educated at the school of the Reverend John Strachan. Afterwards he articled in law with D’Arcy Boulton and later John Macdonell.

During the War of 1812, he served with Isaac Brock and fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights. On the death of John Macdonell, he became acting attorney general for the province at the age of 21. He prosecuted the case of 18 settlers from Norfolk County who had committed treason by taking up arms against their neighbours on behalf of the Americans in a series of trials later referred to as the "Bloody Assize". When D’Arcy Boulton returned to Canada in 1814, Robinson was given the post of attorney general.

In 1817, he was retained by the North West Company in their civil case against Lord Selkirk. When the company decided to press for criminal charges of theft and assault against Selkirk, Robinson prosecuted the case. Although he returned the company's retainer, there were allegations of conflict of interest. Robinson also represented the Crown in the case against Robert Fleming Gourlay, a reformer critical of government policies. Gourlay was eventually banished from the province.

In 1820, he was elected to the 8th Parliament of Upper Canada representing the town of York. Robinson played an important role in the expulsion of Barnabas Bidwell, a former member of the United States Congress who was elected in a by-election in Lennox & Addington, from the Legislative Assembly. Robinson sailed to England in 1822, seeking to resolve problems with funding in the province. This culminated in the Canada Trade Act of August 1822 which established import duties on goods transported between the United States and Upper Canada, and Upper Canada's share of duties collected. During his time in England, he was also called to the bar after completing studies at Lincoln's Inn.

Robinson was the most important member of the Family Compact, an unofficial clique of Upper Canada's elite, who held the true power in the province. One of the more contentious issues dealt with in the 9th Parliament was the naturalization process for persons who had remained in the United States after 1783 and later came to Canada. Robinson supported a policy dictated by the British Colonial Office which required these people to renounce their American citizenship. He was embarrassed when a new colonial secretary reversed this decision under pressure from those who held opposing views. In 1827 Robinson had a disagreement with John Walpole Willis, a puisne judge. Willis took an unusual course of stating in court that Robinson had neglected his duty and that he would feel it necessary "to make a representation on the subject to his majesty's government". Willis also took a strong stand on the question of the legality of the court as then constituted, and this led in June 1828 to Willis being removed from his position by the lieutenant-governor, Sir Peregrine Maitland.[1]

In 1829, Robinson became chief justice of the Court of King's Bench and held this post for 34 years. In 1830, he was appointed to the Legislative Council for the province. In the aftermath of Upper Canada Rebellion, he pressed for executions of the rebel leaders, including Peter Matthews (rebel) and Samuel Lount (to quote: "in his Opinion is was necessary for the ends of Justice, and due to the Loyal Inhabitants of the Province, that some examples should be made in the way of Capital punishments"). Although he opposed the uniting of Upper and Lower Canada, several of his recommendations found their way into the Union Act of 1840. In 1850, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)[2] and created a baronet in 1854.[3]

He was a first cousin of Sir Frederick Philipse Robinson. His brother William Benjamin Robinson married Elizabeth Ann, daughter of William Jarvis (Upper Canada official), and his elder sister Mary married Major Stephen Heward, formerly of the Grenadier Guards and later Auditor-General of Upper Canada. His younger sister Esther married D'Arcy Boulton (1785–1846), the son of G. D'Arcy Boulton, who built The Grange (Toronto) and also served as Auditor-General of Upper Canada. He was the stepson of Elisha Beman, one of the important founders of Newmarket, Ontario. Robinson died in Toronto in 1863.


  • ROBINSON, Sir JOHN BEVERLEY at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  1. ^  
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 21156. p. 3095. 22 November 1850.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 21588. p. 2668. 29 August 1854.

External links

  • Finding aid to the "John Beverley Robinson fonds" at the Archives of the Law Society of Upper Canada
  • The John Beverley Robinson Letterbook Exhibit produced by the Law Society of Upper Canada Archives
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir William Campbell (jurist)
Chief Justice of Upper Canada (1829-1841) and Canada West (1841-1862)
Succeeded by
William Henry Draper
Academic offices
New title
college founded
Chancellor of the University of Trinity College
Succeeded by
John Hillyard Cameron
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
(of Toronto)
Succeeded by
James Lukin Robinson

Preceded by:
William Jarvis

Provincial Secretary of Upper Canada 1817-1838

Succeeded by:
Robert Baldwin Sullivan

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