ROBINSON, SIR ROBERT, captain in the Royal Navy; prominent theorist on the fishery at Newfoundland; governor of Bermuda; b. c. 1624; d. 1705.
A ship-owner of unknown origins, Robinson obtained a naval commission in October 1652. He had a long, active, and successful career in the Royal Navy, serving with distinction in the second Dutch War. He achieved command of a Channel squadron in 1668 and was knighted for his naval services in 1675.
Robinson first came to Newfoundland in 1661 at the time of Lord Baltimore’s attempt to establish proprietary government. He returned as commodore of the annual convoys in 1665, 1668, and 1680. From 1668 onwards he submitted many drafts on the trade and fishery, and played a prominent part in the long struggle for influence between the planters resident in Newfoundland and the West Country merchant interests. He was strongly in favour of the appointment of a governor to administer the fishery and to secure the settlements against military attack by the French. He petitioned Charles II for the post of governor in 1669, and carried on his campaign for civil government over many years.
Throughout the late 17th and early 18th centuries many similar requests and proposals for civil government were made, but none were successful. The power remained in the hands of the Western Adventurers, who were violently opposed to the establishment of a permanent civil governing body. The only outside authority they tolerated was that of the seasonal commodore of the convoy, who was to help the fishing admirals to keep order in the various ports, but not to interfere in fishing matters; the commodore’s post was thus a naval one, and not the civil position advocated by Robinson and, in later years, by Sir John Gibsone and Commodore Kempthorne.
In 1682 a commission for Robinson’s court-martial was issued after he had allegedly allowed the dispersal of the incoming convoy from Cadiz, but apparently no trial took place. In 1686 he was appointed governor of Bermuda. During an unhappy term of office there he was constantly charged with financial corruption, and was recalled at his own request in 1690. His active career was now over, though he put forward further tracts on Newfoundland in 1693 and 1696 – merely restatements of his earlier views – and asked, without success, to be restored as governor of Bermuda. He died, on a rear-admiral’s life-pension, at the age of eighty-one.
PRO, Acts of P.C., col. ser., 1613–80, 1680–1720; CSP, Col., 1661–68, 1669–74, 1675–76, 1677–80, 1685–88, 1689–92, 1699, 1700. Charnock, Biographia navalis, I. C. B. Judah, The North American fisheries and British policy to 1713 (University of Illinois studies in the social sciences, XVIII, nos.3–4, 1932, distributed 1933). Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld. Prowse, History of Nfld.