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IN MEMORIAM
MASONIC BIOGRAPHIES
FAMOUS FREEMASONS
GRAND MASTERS
Robert Burnaby
FIRST PAST GRAND MASTER, 1871
[Robert Burnaby]
Grand Lodge BC & Yukon photo.
30 November 1828 - 10 January 1878
Robert Burnaby was one of the most prominent brethren in early Freemasonry in British Columbia, with the municipality of Burnaby being named after him. He belonged to an old Leicester family, and was born in that county on 30 November 1828. His father was the Rev. Thomas Burnaby, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, rector of Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, 1841-42, Vicar of Blakesley, Northamptonshire, 1847-51, and Chaplain to the Marquis of Anglesea. His mother was Sarah, daughter of Andrew Neares, of Daventry. For seventeen years he was one of the staff of the Rt. Hon. E. B. Lytton, then Comptroller of H. M. Customs. When he was 30 years of age, in 1858, he heard of the gold discoveries in what is now British Columbia, and came to Victoria. With him he brought a letter from Lytton, giving his opinion of Burnaby, and pointing out his good qualities, not to entitle him to any claim to employment in the public service of the colony, but as a voucher for his respectability and for the character and positions he had held in England.
Notwithstanding the reservation in Lytton’s letter, Colonel Moody, on his arrival in the Colony, appointed Burnaby his secretary. As such he was practically Deputy Land Commissioner and head of the office staff, and laid out and saw to the sale of the first lots in the new settlements of Queensborough (New Westminster), Hope and Yale on the Fraser River, and Port Douglas at the northern end of Harrison Lake.
While Burrard Inlet was being surveyed in 1859 signs of coal were discovered. A syndicate composed of Southgate, Burnaby, A. F. Main, and others was formed, and an application made to the government for the land on which the coal was supposed to be, but no coal measures of value were found. This did not convince Burnaby that they were not there, and in October 1863, he obtained a Crown Grant of some 149 acres.
Late in 1859 or 1860 he and a schoolfellow, William Henderson, commenced business as commission agents in Victoria, where Burnaby became, for at time, president of the Victoria Board of Trade.
Aside from 27 December 1871, when he was elected Past Grand Master, two dates stand out in Burnaby’s masonic career. On 20 August 1860 he participated as an installing officer for Victoria Lodge, No. 1085, meeting on the upper storey of the Fearon Building, otherwise known as "Stationers Hall". On 1 June 1863 Burnaby, assisted by brethren from Victoria Lodge, with a charter from the English Grand Lodge and Vancouver Lodge with a charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, laid the corner stone of the Jewish synagogue at Pandora and Blanshard Streets, Victoria.
Burnaby visited England in 1864 (leaving Victoria in January and returning in November), and again in 1866. In 1869 his health began to fail and in the early part of 1874 he returned to England for good. He lingered on, helplessly paralyzed, until he died at Woodthorpe, near Loughborough, in Leicestershire, on 10 January 1878, aged 49 years.
Raised: 30 May 1854
Frederic Lodge of Unity, No. 661, Croydon, England
Past Master: Lodge "Royal Somerset House and Inverness," No. 4, London,
Affiliated : Victoria Lodge, No. 1085

Robie L. Reid, Historical Notes and Biographical Sketches 1848 - 1935. For further information see Robert Burnaby by Bro. G. Hollis Slater, Proceedings. Vancouver : Grand Lodge of British Columbia, 1944, pp. 137-153 ; "In Memoriam" by Eli Harrison, Jr., Proceedings. Victoria : Grand Lodge of British Columbia, 1878, p. 17

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