HUTCHINSON, ROBERT, merchant, officeholder, and politician; b. 19 Jan. 1802 in Charlottetown, P.E.I., son of Samuel Hutchinson and Elizabeth Wilder; m. 24 May 1829 Susanna Harvie, and they had two surviving daughters; d. 30 April 1866 at his home in Charlottetown.
After the death of his father in 1803, Robert Hutchinson was brought up by his mother who kept a tavern in Charlottetown. At an early age Robert opened a dry goods and groceries store in that town. In 1829 he was appointed jailer of Queens County jail. During the 15 years he occupied this post he continued his business across the street but resided in the prison with his wife who acted as matron. In 1844, when his father-in-law, Nicholas Harvie, was appointed jailer, Hutchinson advertised the opening of a new store.
A Conservative by family tradition, Hutchinson appreciated the relationship between politics and office in Prince Edward Island. In 1847 he joined a number of influential merchants, magistrates, and members of the legislature from Charlottetown in petitioning against the reappointment of Governor Sir Henry Vere Huntley, whom they accused of identifying with George Coles*’ Reformers and of naming to office “persons unqualified by education or position in society.” Under the new governor, Sir Donald Campbell*, Hutchinson was appointed a justice of the peace for Queens County and a commissioner for prison discipline and for adding hard labour to prison sentences.
As magistrate he gained a reputation for “painstaking and judicious” application of the law. He resigned his magistracy in February 1852 on grounds of unconstitutional interference by Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman in commuting without reason or notice the prison sentence of a woman tried before him. Reappointed, he joined 11 other magistrates who in November 1853 resigned in protest against the conduct of Edward Whelan at a public meeting and his “unfit” appointment as a jp. Although the governor chose to keep Whelan on the roll of magistrates, Hutchinson returned to his office, probably during 1854, and held the position for life.
Hutchinson’s involvement in municipal administration began in 1837 with his election as a town assessor at the annual meeting of Charlottetown residents, which took place under the authority of the Pump and Well Assessment Act passed in 1833 and revised in 1843. He was elected the town’s assessment treasurer from 1837 to 1845, 1st lieutenant of Fire Engine Company no. 2 from 1844 to 1846, and captain from 1846 to 1853. In addition he served as commissioner to superintend the erection of a wharf (1843), member of the board of health (1847), and commissioner for furnishing cornmeal for the relief of destitutes (1848).
In the early 1850s, when local newspapers were advocating the incorporation of Charlottetown, Hutchinson, with the majority of citizens, opposed what he saw as the burden and expense of municipal institutions. By 1855, however, the population of the town had reached 6,500 and rural assembly members felt overburdened with city affairs. An act for the incorporation of Charlottetown passed the legislature in March 1855 and the first council elections were held in August. Robert Hutchinson’s extensive civic experience made him the unopposed choice as first mayor.
In his initial year in office Hutchinson set up the officers and machinery of civic government and directed the formulation of the first by-laws; some 32 had passed by August 1856, The independent manner with which Hutchinson proceeded irked some of his Conservative friends who accused him of selling out to the Liberals. At the 1856 council elections Hutchinson found himself running on the Liberal ticket for mayor. He won but the bitter residue of a partisan contest surfaced in public accusations by William Henry Pope* that Hutchinson’s victory resulted from an anti-Irish, anti-Catholic appeal, charges that cannot now be substantiated or disproved. During Hutchinson’s mayoralty the small budget allotted by the assembly to Charlottetown prevented substantial public improvements. The streets were partially lighted by gas and sidewalks laid out and gravelled, but Charlottetown lacked sewage and water systems for many years.
In 1857 Hutchinson did not intend to stand for office, but was hastily nominated on the eve of election day. He lost to Thomas Heath Haviland. Hutchinson’s two-year régime was marked by competence, if fussiness. The Examiner suggested the principal complaint against him was that “he made too much a hobby of his office (all that was human of him was absorbed in his ministerial functions),” but praised his “patience, perseverance and industry.”
In January 1859 Hutchinson was appointed to the Island Legislative Council. As councillor he promoted the abolition of imprisonment for debt and provision to Charlottetown of a site for a public market house. After the council was made elective in 1862 Hutchinson retired, devoting himself exclusively to his mercantile affairs.
Charlottetown City Hall, Charlottetown City Council, Minutes, 1855–56. PAPEI, P.E.I., Executive Council, Minutes, 1770–1867 (mfm. at PAC). P.E.I., Supreme Court, Estates Division, liber 7, f.2.9 (mfm.). PRO, CO 231/26, 77. St Paul’s Church (Charlottetown), Baptismal records, 1777–1826, book 3; 1827–53, book 2; Charlotte parish, Marriage register, 1827–53, book 1. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1845; Legislative Council, Debates and proc., 1859–63; Journal, 1859–63. Examiner (Charlottetown), 1855–66. Haszard’s Gazette (Charlottetown), 1853–56. Islander, 1847–66. Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser (Charlottetown), 1844–45. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 1837–53. The Prince Edward Island calendar . . . (Charlottetown), 1844–45, 1847, 1855–63. Canada’s smallest province (Bolger). MacKinnon, Government of P.E.I., 275–79.