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DUNLOP, ROBERT GRAHAM, ship’s captain, jp, office holder, and politician; b. 1 Oct. 1790 in Keppoch, Scotland, second son of Alexander Dunlop and Janet Graham; m. 4 July 1836 Louisa McColl; d. 28 Feb. 1841 at Gairbraid, near Goderich, Upper Canada.

Sent to sea at 13 as a cabin-boy in the Royal Navy, Robert Graham Dunlop rose to the rank of lieutenant during the Napoleonic Wars in a distinguished career that featured exploits on land as well as at sea. Following the war, he attended lectures at the universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh, captained mercantile voyages to the East Indies, and returned briefly to the Royal Navy (being promoted captain before retiring in 1823). In 1833 Captain Dunlop emigrated to Upper Canada. He made the trip out with his famous younger brother, Dr William Dunlop, who was already well established in the Goderich area and who had recently been appointed general superintendent of the vast Huron Tract by the Canada Company.

Shortly after his arrival at Goderich, the captain was appointed a justice of the peace and a commissioner of the Court of Requests, and the following year he briefly commanded the Canada Company’s ill-fated steamer Menesetung. The brothers jointly owned the farm that surrounded the doctor’s estate, Gairbraid, but they seemed content to leave its development to others in the manner of gentlemen farmers. To assist in the management of what was widely regarded as an unruly household, the brothers arranged for the emigration from Scotland of Louisa McColl, an illiterate dairymaid. She served the household well but her unmarried presence in a house of men was a scandal to some. Legend has it that the brothers decided which should wed her by three tosses of the doctor’s two-headed penny. The captain’s wedding to her was later solemnized by the Anglican priest Robert Francis Campbell.

In the summer of 1835 Captain Dunlop, standing as a constitutionalist, won a by-election to become Huron County’s first member in the House of Assembly, soundly defeating reformer Anthony Jacob William Gysbert Van Egmond and Canada Company employee William Bennett Rich. Although wary of the power and privilege of the tory “family compact,” Dunlop was nevertheless devoted to the patriotic preservation of the British connection and generally supported the provincial administration. He also strongly believed in the development of Upper Canada through immigration and public works. During the Executive Council crisis in early 1836 [see Robert Baldwin*], he stood solidly behind Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head*. In the crushing defeat of the reformers at the general election later that year, Dunlop was returned unopposed. While attending the 1836–37 session, he became closely acquainted with Orangeman Ogle Robert Gowan*. Probably as a result of this friendship, Dunlop joined the Orange lodge in 1837 and the following year was the only non-Irish member of its provincial executive. Even though Robert, unlike his Presbyterian brother, had become an Anglican, he still favoured dividing the clergy reserves amongst the leading Protestant denominations; however, in February 1837 he simply avoided a related issue by absenting himself from the debate and vote concerning the Anglican rectories created by Sir John Colborne* the previous year. During the rebellion that erupted in December 1837, the captain, though less involved than his brother, took an active interest and was named colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Huron militia, which was never actually formed. Following the rebellion, Captain Dunlop moved resolutions to thank the sheriff of the Home District for his timely presence on Yonge Street and to grant 100 acres to all who took up arms against the rebels; on the other hand, he also tried to limit the disarming of suspects to three years.

Throughout his career in the assembly the captain showed a constant interest in Huron County affairs, supporting the Huron Fishing Company and improvements to Goderich harbour. He was also in favour of increased immigration, an extended franchise, improved jails and better treatment of the insane, the establishment of mechanics’ institutes and a geological survey, and the anti-slavery campaign. When attending the assembly in Toronto he participated in local activities, giving, for example, a series of lectures in the winter of 1836–37 on the utility of education for Toronto blacks.

Although Robert Graham Dunlop represented Huron County until the close of the final session of the Upper Canadian assembly in February 1840, after 1838 his health declined and he kept mainly to Gairbraid. He died there in February 1841, mourned by all as a quiet, kindly gentleman of well-proved loyalty.

Peter A. Russell

NLS, Dept. of mss, {{mss }}929296, 9303. The Dunlop papers . . . , ed. J. G. Dunlop (3v., Frome, Eng., and London, 193255), 2: 23340, 25668; 3: 173, 176, 18586, 189, 197, 219, 224, 228, 23334, 236, 28788. British Colonist, 17 March 1841. Christian Guardian, 11 Jan. 1837. Patriot (Toronto), 7, 10, 14 July 1835; 5 July 1836. Gates, Land policies of U.C. C. [G.] Karr, The Canada Land Company: the early years; an experiment in colonization, 1823–1843 (Ottawa, 1974). Robina and K. M. Lizars, In the days of the Canada Company: the story of the settlement of the Huron Tract and a view of the social life of the period, 1825–1850 (Toronto, 1896; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1973). I. A. Stewart, “Robert Graham Dunlop: a Huron County anti-compact constitutionalist” (ma, thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1947).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Peter A. Russell, “DUNLOP, ROBERT GRAHAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 27, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dunlop_robert_graham_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dunlop_robert_graham_7E.html
Author of Article: Peter A. Russell
Title of Article: DUNLOP, ROBERT GRAHAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: August 27, 2014