Excerpt: Biographical dictionary of well-known British Columbians : with a historical sketch

This section is from the year 1890, authored by J.B. Kerr and published by Kerr and Begg. It is no longer held under copyright.

Dunsmuir, Hon. Robert, born in Hurlford, Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1825, died on April 12th, 1889, at Victoria, British Columbia. His father and grandfather had been coal masters, and he was brought up to their business. He was educated at Kilmar nock Academy.

In 1847 he was married in Kilmarnock to Joanna, daughter of Alex. White. He came to Canada in the early fifties, as a coal expert, and was employed by the Vancouver Coal Co., and remained in their employ for a number of years. In his explor ations for himself he discovered a rich vein of coal at Wellington, which, it is needless to state, subsequently amassed him a great fortune. In his early operations he was assisted financially by Admiral Hornby, Capt. Egert, and Lieut. Diggle, of the Royal Navy, the conditions on his part were, that he should own half the mine and have entire control of the operations. The mine was opened successfully and developed with such profit to Mr. Dunsmuir that he was enabled to become sole owner, buying out one partner after another, the last being Lieutenant Diggle, to whom he paid a cheque of 8750,000 or $800,000 in full of all claims. His mining property made him very wealthy and consequently very influential, and he died probably the best known man in British Columbia, and certainly the richest in the Province, if not in all the Dominion.

Mr. Dunsmuir, while rich, was also very enterprising, and few large enterprises and industrial projects undertaken in the Province, but were largely assisted by him. Besides the mines at Wellington and Comox, of which he was sole proprietor, he was president of and the largest shareholder in the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway and its extensive coal, timber and farming belt ; he was one of the most extensive owners of quartz claims in the Province ; he was one of the large shareholders in the Matsqui Dyking Co., the Albion Iron Works and the Canadian Pacific Navigation Co., and an extensive owner of real estate, besides numerous other investments. He also was one of the promoters of the proposed Canadian Western Railway, to which the Provincial Legislature at its session in 1889, granted a charter and a subsidy of some fourteen million acres of land. In fact, it may be said that there was not an enterprise of any magnitude in the Province in which he was not financially interested.

Although politically Hon. Robt. Dunsmuir did not enter the arena until a comparatively late period in his career, his prominence in parliament, was scarcely less than in business circles. He was elected to represent Nanaimo in 1882, and returned again at the general election of 1886, succeeding as President of the Council the late Premier, Hon. William Smythe. He was neither a politician nor a statesman, judged by the usual standard of what constitutes a success as such, but he was a very practical, hard- headed and level-headed legislator, who knew what he wanted and usually took the shortest road to its accomplishment.

Personally there were many estimates of his character. He had in life many enemies and many ardent and admiring friends, a fact which denoted strong individuality in his makeup. Brusque and energetic in his manner, he was at the same time genial, kind- hearted and generous, and numerous are the acts of a benevolent character recorded of him in life.