Sir John Beverley Robinson (1791-1863) was a leading member of the Family Compact and of the Tory party of Upper Canada and chief justice of Upper Canada for 33 years.
John Beverley Robinson was born on July 26, 1791, at Berthier in Lower Canada. He was the second son of the American loyalist Christopher Robinson and was educated for some years at Kingston and Cornwall under the tutelage of John Strachan, the future bishop of Toronto. Beginning in October 1807, Robinson read law for 3 years in the office of D'Arcy Boulton, then the solicitor general of Upper Canada.
In 1812 Robinson received a commission under Gen. Sir Isaac Brock and was present at the capture of Ft. Detroit and at the battle at Queenston, where Brock lost his life. From late 1812 until the end of the war in 1815, Robinson was the acting attorney general of Upper Canada, and for much of this period he was the only crown officer in the province. On Feb. 6, 1815, he became the solicitor general, and in September he sailed for England to study law in Lincoln's Inn and to qualify for admission to the English bar.
Robinson returned to Canada late in 1817 and was appointed attorney general on Feb. 11, 1818. In 1821 he entered actively upon a political career, being elected to the Legislative Assembly for York. He was appointed to the Legislative Council as well and from 1828 to 1840 was its speaker. Robinson had, by the mid-1820s, become one of the leaders of the Tory party and a prominent member of the Family Compact, an early Canadian power elite. On July 13, 1829, he was appointed the chief justice of Upper Canada and held this office until 1862.
Robinson opposed the union of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and in 1840 he published a book on the issue entitled Canada and the Canada Bill. Nevertheless he continued to hold the office of chief justice in the new union until, in 1862, he was appointed the first president of the Court of Error and Appeal. In 1853 he was elected chancellor of the University of Trinity College in Toronto and in 1854 was made a baronet.
Though often given to defending the status quo in political and social matters, Robinson acted in most cases with logic and common sense. A man of presence and of marked ability, he served the people of the colony ably for many years. He died at his home, Beverley House, in Toronto on Jan. 31, 1863.
The major biography of Robinson was written by his son, Charles W. Robinson, The Life of Sir John Beverley Robinson, Bart. (1904), which, although uncritical, contains valuable passages from many of Robinson's letters and journal entries. D. B. Read, Lives of the Judges (1888), is useful. For the earlier period of Robinson's life, Gerald M. Craig, Upper Canada: The Formative Years, 1784-1841 (1966), offers a recent interpretation.