Born in Camster, Scotland on March 23, 1842, Robert Brown arrived in Victoria in 1863 at age 21 as a botanical seed collector for the British Columbia Botanical Association of Edinburgh. Governor Arthur Kennedy placed him in charge of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition of 1864 that crossed the island at several points but never ventured further north than Comox. During this expedition, Robert Brown became an important explorer of Vancouver Island and one of the better chroniclers of indigenous culture in the 1860s, although he frequently used terms such as "savagery" and "barbarism." Reviewer Clarence Karr noted in BC Studies No. 85, "Brown seemed unable to accept the Indians' time-honoured desires to take part in their annual harvest of food if that meant that they would be unwilling to work for the expedition irrespective of the wages offered." Brown nonetheless managed to provide one of the first written records of a potlatch, at Alberni, and he also provided some of the first accounts of new Euro-American settlements at Cowichan, Chemainus, Comox and Nanaimo.

While Brown was concerned with scientific matters, other members of his entourage were, to his disappointment, equally concerned with finding gold. His expedition is chiefly remembered for its discovery of gold at Leech River, a river named after his second-in-command. A brief gold rush ensued. Brown's River, west of Courtenay, is named for him--reportedly at the insistence of his travelling companions. Brown made other exploratory forays before returning to Britain to become a journalist in London. He died in London on October 26, 1895. He is not to be confused with Robert Brown (1773-1858), the botanist who collected specimens in Australia during the first half of the 19th century and became first keeper of the botanical department of the British Museum.


On the Formation of Fjords, Canons, Benches, Prairies, and Intermittent Rivers (London: Royal Geographical Society, 1869)

On the Geographical Distribution and Physical Characteristics of the Coal Fields of the North Pacific Coast (Edinburgh: Neill & Company, 1869)

Vancouver Island: Exploration, 1864 (Victoria: Harries and Company, 1865)

First Journey of Exploration across Vancouver Island (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1987)

Robert Brown and the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition (UBC Press, 1989), edited by John Hayman.

[BCBW 2004] "Early B.C." "1850-1900" "Natural History" "Gold" "Classic"