Vancouver Island Masonic History Project

Alexander Rocke Robertson (1841-1881) was a member of Victoria-Columbia Lodge No. 1 in Victoria.

He was a lawyer, Mayor of Victoria (1870-71) and served in Cabinet as Provincial Secretary under Premier John Foster McCreight (1871-72). He was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in 1880.

In 1881 he injured his knee while swimming and became lame. Doctors amputated his leg and he never recovered from the surgery. He died in Victoria on 1 December 1881.

Here are some webpages with more information about Alexander Rocke Robertson:

Alexander Rocke Robertson, circa 1870. (Photo: BC Provincial Archives)
Alexander Rocke Robertson, circa 1870. (Photo: BC Provincial Archives)

Here are the reports of Alexander Rocke Robertson’s death, obituary and funeral in the British Daily Colonist newspaper:


The painful suspense and great anxiety which has been manifested among all classes of this community for several days past with regard to the illness of Mr. Justice Robertson culminated yesterday afternoon in his demise. Although there was cause for alarm from the time that operation was performed on him Saturday last, yet up to Tuesday afternoon no particularly unfavorable symptoms developed themselves. He then began to sink rapidly under the shock which his system had sustained. For a short time yesterday afternoon he seemed to rally slightly, but it was only the last flickering of exhausted nature, for at 3:40 p.m. he departed calmly and peacefully to the spirit land, exemplifying in death as throughout a blameless life all the beautiful traits of an eminently Christian character. The effect of the shock following the operation upon that highly sensitive organization was such that no recuperative energy supervened. The deceased gentleman, as will be remembered, returned to this city from his judicial circuit in Yale and Lillooet, districts about a month ago, suffering from lameness, and was at once ordered by his medical advisers to give the limb perfect rest. From that time he did not rise from his bed. It is needless to say that the distressed and heartbroken widow and large family of seven interesting little boys have the heartfelt sympathy and condolence of the people, not only of Victoria, but of the province in their irreparable and overwhelming bereavement.

The Honorable Alexander Rocke Robertson was born in the town of Chatham, Ontario, where his father was in extensive practice as a physician. He studied law in Chatham and Toronto, and after passing most successfully as a barrister entered into the law firm of MacDonnell & Robertson in Windsor. In the spring of 1864 he came to this Province and while editor of the Daily Chronicle fought a well contested but uphill battle against the exclusiveness of the Law Courts which for a time prevented his admission to practice his profession in the then colony of Vancouver Island. [note: only British barristers were permitted to practice in the colony of Vancouver Island. Robertson was trained in Ontario and this did not qualify.] Failing, however, in gaining admission here he proceeded to the then separate colony of British Columbia where he gained the object he sought for in vain in this city and spent a most successful season or two in Barkerville. By the time he returned to the lower country the disabilities under which he had labored were removed and he was admitted to practice here as well as on the mainland. Early in 1868 he returned to his native town where he married and returning to this city continued in the successful practice of law until confederation. He was then one of the first appointed as Queen’s Counsel in the newly formed Province of British Columbia by Sir John A. MacDonald‘s former administration. Soon after this, when Mr. McCreight formed his cabinet in [18]71, Mr. Robertson took office as the first provincial secretary under responsible government with a seat in the legislature for the electoral district of Esquimalt. In this capacity he framed the school act which with some modifications is still in force, and put into place the machinery of the B.C. school system. Declining reelection in the summer of [18]75 he henceforth devoted all his energies and great legal ability to the practice of his profession. He rapidly reached the position of leading counsel in the province and less than one year ago was raised to the bench by the present Dominion Government under the new Judicature Act. The deceased judge was an eloquent and powerful pleader and a lawyer of great legal acumen. To the judges and his brother practitioners Mr. Robertson while at the bar always exhibited that courtesy and independence of character which won from them all the highest admiration. As a practitioner he was justly regarded by his professional brethren as a conscientious, able and painstaking lawyer. Many of the younger members of the bar who are now ascending the ladder of life will recollect in the deceased judge one who has been to them an instructor both in the knowledge and ethics of their profession. To them he always pointed out that the study of the great masters of the law, pursued with a sincere and constant vigor, and backed by honesty, industry and sobriety, in the individual, would in the result, lead to the approbation of a good conscience, the esteem of the community, and possibly to the summit of a lawyer’s ambition – the ministration at the altars of the sanctuary of justice. By his death the Province has lost one of its foremost and most useful public men that too at the early age of 40 years.

Foremost in every good word and work he was for many years the beloved superintendent of St. John’s Sunday School, and was always conspicuous for liberality of thought and feeling towards all denominations of Christians while himself a devoted and consistent member of the church of England.

As a member of the Masonic fraternity of this city, the organization has to mourn the loss of an esteemed brother and worthy supporter of the principles of the order.”

(Source: British Daily Colonist, 2 December 1881, page 3)

“POSTPONED – In consequence of the lamented death of Mr. Justice Robertson, we are requested to state that the militia ball has been postponed for the present. Due notice will shortly be given of the [new] date.”

(Source: British Daily Colonist, 2 December 1881, page 3)

“Signs Of Mourning

The death of Mr. Justice Robertson in the prime of vigorous manhood and in the midst of his usefulness and great influence for good has cast a gloom over the entire city. The sad event is looked on upon more in the light of a provincial calamity than the simple calling away of a fellow citizen however much esteemed. It is said that death loves a shining mark and in this particular case the adage is strangely verified. Yesterday flags were half mast in every quarter of the city at an early hour. The city hall flag was one of the first hung out in respect to the departed lawyer who served the city well for a year as Mayor and for many years as city barrister.  At the Dominion offices, the American Consulate, Government buildings, Mechanics Institute, several of the hotel and many other places, also on H.M.S. Rocket, the shipping and steamers flags were drooping. Messrs. Davie & Pooley, Messrs. Drake & Jackson, Mr. Theodore Davie and other lawyers had crepe emblems of mourning on their entrance doors. The funeral will take place to-morrow at 2 p.m. from the residence and at 2:30 from St. John’s Church. The Sunday School which the deceased gentleman superintended for many years is expected to be at the school building in time to attend at the church.”

(Source: British Daily Colonist, 3 December 1881, page 3)

“Funeral of the Late Hon. Justice Robertson

The last sad rites to departed worth were performed on Sunday afternoon over the remains of the universally esteemed judge of the Supreme Court of this Province just deceased. No single demise in British Columbia has excited so much genuine regret, and probably no funeral yet held has been attended by such a number of sympathetic mourners.

Although the afternoon was cold and chilly a vast concourse of people on foot and in carriages assembled at ‘2 o clock at the Judge’s late residence, corner of John­son and Vancouver streets. For more than half-an-hour before and after the time appointed for the procession to leave a steady stream of people passed around the bier in the drawing-room to take a last look at the features so widely-respected and so well-known throughout the length and breadth of the province. The lid of the metal casket, a very handsome one, was only decorated with the name and age of the deceased, a small cross and the well-known emblem of the Masonic fraternity. It was covered and surrounded with wreaths and crosses of choice flowers and immortelles, made and sent by loving hands as the last mark of esteem to a departed friend.

At about 2:10 the mournful cortege formed under the marshalship of Mr. F. Richards, senior, citizens on foot leading. These wore followed by about 150 masons consisting of members of Victoria and B. C. and Vancouver and Quadra Lodges and a large number of visiting brethren; the Grand Lodge being represented by the Most Worshipful Grand Master Coote M. Chambers and Deputy Grand Master Henry Brown. Then followed the hearse, and four mourning coaches, one of which contained his Lordship the Bishop of Col­umbia, Rev. Mr. Jenns and other clergy­men. Next in order came all the members of the law society that were in town, and then the Mayor and all the Municipal Councillors; then the carriage of the Hon. J.W. Trutch, and that of the Lieutenant Governor, containing his Honor and pri­vate secretary. Between 60 and 70 carriages filled with citizens and people from the surrounding country brought up the rear, the whole procession extending fully three-fourths of a mile, and taking twen­ty minutes to pass a given point while en route to St. John’s Church. Here a vast assemblage of people were in waiting, while the church itself was crowded to its utmost capacity long before the procession arrived. The coffin was borne to the chancel by the following pall-bearers;—

His Lordship Chief Justice Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie; Honorable Mr. Justice Crease, puisne judge of the Supreme Court; Hon. Joseph W. Trutch, ex-Governor of the province and now agent of the Dominion government.; Hon. Allen Francis, United States Consul; Hon. Peter O’Reilly, ex-County Court judge and now Indian Commissioner; Hon. Roderick Finlayson, ex-Mayor of the city; Hon. Robt. Beaven, Minister of finance; W. C. Ward, Esq., Manager of the Bank of British Columbia; E. Crow Baker. Esq., Secretary of the Board of Trade; and John Jessop, Esq., ex-Superintendent of Education.

A portion of the beautiful burial service of the Church of England was read by the rector, Rev. Percival Jenns, in a most impressive manner, although with a voice quivering with emotion in spite of all his efforts to suppress it. The very efficient choir, of which the deceased judge was for a long time an hon­ored member, sang the 178th and 317th hymns to music eminently befitting the mournful occasion. The coffin was taken back to the hearse amid the reverberation through the sacred edifice of the intensely solemn notes from the organ of the “ Dead March in Saul.” The procession was then reformed in the same manner and proceeded to Ross Bay cemetery where the burial service was completed by the rector of St. Johns. Want of sufficient daylight prevented the reading of any portion of the Masonic burial service, but the emblematical sprig of “cas­sia” [note: should read “sprig of acacia”] was thrown upon the coffin by each member of the large Masonic representa­tion present. Thus the honored dust of the deceased judge was laid to rest by loving friends, while near by the wild waves are singing constantly a requiem o’er his grave.

Mr. C. Hayward conducted the funeral with his usual unobtrusive efficiency and good taste.

Affecting allusions were made in nearly all the churches on Sunday morning to the great loss which the province has sustained by the premature death of Mr. Justice Robertson. At the cathedral after preaching from the text Luke xii, 40,  Be ye therefore also ready, the Bishop of Columbia concluded as follows: I cannot finish without allusion to the very sad event of the last week in the removal from amongst us of Mr. Justice Robertson. How can words sufficiently express the sympathy we feel for the afflicted widow and her youthful family thus suddenly de­prived of an excellent husband and father in the very prime of life, in the midst of usefulness and in a justly earned position of importance and of honor. What has happened is the will of God and we bend in submission to the decree of the all wise, all loving God and Father. He has prom­ised to be, He will be more than spouse to the widow, more than father to the fatherless. Our departed brother was a good man in all relations of life, and such men are ill spared, for they are the true strength and support of society, and they shed lustre on the community in which they live and on the profession to which they belong. Only recently was there a universal approval of his appointment to the office he held, and all felt the fullest confidence that lie would sustain the high reputation of our Supreme Court for pure and impartial justice. But he was a good Christian, a devout churchman, never missed from his place in the house of God nor from the communion except for urg­ent necessity. His manly form was often seen in this church on Friday evening. Not only thus was he a quiet example of Godly living, he was an active guide as well. Deeply interested was he in the spiritual welfare of others, and especially of the young, being for many years super­intendent of St. John’s Sunday School, through which many families have been blessed by his good influence. In him many have lost a dear and personal friend, but all have lost a true friend, in one who not only set a pure example but was active in promoting the best good of those around him. So sudden and unexpected a death of one occupying a foremost station produces wide spread feeling, but there have been other like shocks of late in smaller circles not less unexpected or distressing. They teach the lesson of our own life’s uncertainty, they are a voice from Heaven, prepare to meet thy God. This is the good probably intended — that the living should learn wisdom and live more soberly, righteous­ly and godly ill this present life. Doubtless our loss is his gain. He could say “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” During his painful illness our dear friend’s faith never wavered, but was firm and constant in God and in his Saviour. Almost the last words he uttered while conscious and after partaking of the holy communion were, “Thank God for this peace.” We may thankfully believe he was prepared and ready for the glad call to the paradise of God. “Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not..”

In St. John’s Mr. Jenns took his text from the 2nd lesson, II. Peter, 1, 15

“Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my deceasing to have these things always in remembrance.” After showing how calmly the apostle looked forward to his death as setting the seal upon the teaching of his life and being willing to endure all things for the glory of God and the salvation of men, he referred to the death of Mr. Justice Robertson in the following words: “As with the apostles, so to a large extent it is with every good man. It is a mistake to sup­pose that a man’s usefulness ceases when his natural life is taken. It often happens that a man does more good in death than during life, yet he then puts to the proof what he has taught during life. When all goes smoothly it is comparatively easy to serve God, and the querist may ask ‘doth he servo God for naught,’ but if when racked with pain and continued suffering it can be borne without a murmur, and in perfect childlike trust the preciousness of religion stands in bold relief. All this has been illustrated in a remark­able manner in the life and death of our lamented brother Mr. Justice Robertson.

A man whose unobtrusive piety was such that it had a magnetic influence on all who came in contact with him. Though possessed of unusual reasoning power, he had a faith as perfect as that of a little child. To suppose that his influence among us has ceased because he is withdrawn from us would be a great mistake. Such men are the salt of the world; they keep it from moral corruption. They are the light of the world a light that death has no power to extinguish. That light will continue to shine among us for many and many a year. Can the men who were with him when he was young and knew the purity of his life forget the fine ex­ample that he gave them? Can the hun­dreds of children who passed through our Sunday schools during the, years that he was superintendent forget the winning manner in which he urged them to follow Christ and became his disciples indeed? What an example he set to the parents of those children, so many of whom are never seen in the house of God. So much was his time occupied when at the Bar that often it was one or two o clock in the morning before he could leave his office. Yet he never was absent from Church. Ho never spent a Sunday afternoon without an effort to win young souls to Christ by giving religious instruction. And he never turned his back upon the Lord table. Is this man dead? Being dead he yet speaks. But while he was with us men thought this nothing strange But then the time came when it seemed that he was to reap the rewards of faithful service. Ho became the chosen of his own city and was appointed its own magistrate. All legal matters in the municipality were to be referred to him. The Dominion Government honored him and at last he rose to that position which the ambition of every barrister, he was raised to the Bench. Barely at that time forty years of age, there seemed before him a long life of usefulness and happiness. But no sooner had he entered upon his new career than a cloud arose, at first so small that it was scarcely seen. But its approach was with steady increase. For live long months he never was free from pain. Other men would have murmured and querulously asked ‘why should God afflict one who had done so much good and so little harm.’ But not a word of complaint ever passed his lips. He told me he had suffered frightful agony, yet not one word of discontent. At his own request on Wednesday lie received the Holy Communion, and with the exception of a few parting words to those he loved his last words were, “Thank God for this peace.” The usefulness of such a life has no end, for it had been so ordered that after his decease men should have those things in remembrance.”

(Source: British Daily Colonist, 6 December 1881, page 3)

Alexander Rocke Robertson, circa 1880. (Photo: BC Provincial Archives)
Alexander Rocke Robertson, circa 1880. (Photo: BC Provincial Archives)

Alexander Rocke Robertson is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

Alexander Rocke Robertson grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)
Alexander Rocke Robertson grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)
Inscription on Alexander Rocke Robertson grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)
Inscription on Alexander Rocke Robertson grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)

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