ROBLIN, DAVID, lumber merchant and politician; b. 19 April 1812 in Adolphustown Township, Upper Canada, fifth of the nine children of John Roblin and Mary Moore; m. in 1832 Pamelia Hawley, and they had ten children; d. 1 March 1863 at Napanee, Canada West.
John Roblin, an Adolphustown farmer and Methodist lay preacher, died when David was still a child. Largely “self-educated,” David opened a small general store in Richmond Township in 1832, moved his business to Napanee in 1841, and during the next decade expanded into the timber trade and speculation in United Empire Loyalist scrip with considerable success.
Like most Upper Canadian politicians of the period, Roblin entered politics through municipal channels. He was Richmond Township’s first reeve (1841–57), and served as first warden (1849–57) of the United Counties of Frontenac and Lennox and Addington. He used his considerable municipal influence to promote the passage of the Grand Trunk Railway legislation, the construction of the Addington Colonization Road, and the rebuilding of the county courthouse and jail in Kingston. His political influence also gained him such dividends in the 1850s as a large timber limit in Frontenac from the Francis Hincks* administration, a Grand Trunk Railway sub-contract to build a bridge over the Napanee River, and an appointment as company arbitrator for the GTR in April 1854.
Roblin was not simply a political “railwayman,” however, for Reform zeal ran through the family. Both his father and his cousin, John Philip Roblin*, sat in the assembly. David contested Lennox and Addington unsuccessfully in the 1844 and 1851 elections against the Tory incumbent Benjamin Seymour. Throughout his political career Roblin labelled himself a Reformer, and he was an admirer of Marshall Spring Bidwell*, Peter Perry*, and particularly Robert Baldwin*, whom he described in 1861 as “that good and great man, the lamented and ever-to-be revered champion of our liberties.”
Victorious in the elections of 1854, Roblin, along with such colleagues as John Ross*, Angus Morrison*, and Sidney Smith*, was persuaded by Hincks to join the new Liberal-Conservative coalition. Though he continued to identify himself as a Baldwin Reformer, he supported John A. Macdonald* loyally on every major issue, including Macdonald’s unpopular stand against representation by population.
Roblin survived the 1857 election, but the eclipse of his personal and political fortunes was already under way. Two unsuccessful legislative attempts, which he supported, to separate Lennox and Addington from Frontenac (in 1858 and 1860) alienated both his Addington supporters and the Kingston political triumvirate of Macdonald, Alexander Campbell*, and Sidney Smith. His lumber business, which had suffered severe losses in the 1857–58 depression following the collapse of the London, England, timber market, continued to decline, leading to the loss of his Frontenac timber limits and all his property except for the family home. In the election of 1861 he was defeated by the official Conservative candidate, Augustus F. G. Hooper, a Newburgh merchant. Ill and bankrupt, Roblin retired from politics and died in 1863.
In 1857 Macdonald wrote of Roblin: “When I was in straits, he stood by me like a man & I can never forget him.” Yet for all Roblin’s faithful support of the Liberal-Conservative coalition, he continued to have a Reform identity, which was undoubtedly the root of his eventual defeat for it satisfied neither Clear Grits nor Conservatives in a period when the polarization of parties made the separate existence of the Baldwin Reform group both meaningless and irritating. The Toronto Globe, for example, castigated Roblin as a “Reform renegade,” at the same time that the Conservative Chronicle and News of Kingston labelled him one of Macdonald’s “most pliant instruments.” Indeed it was the support of such coalition Reformers as Roblin that provided the precarious edge the Conservatives enjoyed in the assembly throughout most of the decade after 1854.
Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc. (Napanee, Ont.), IV (Roblin family papers), A (David Roblin papers); V (John Stevenson papers) (copies at PAC). Napanee Standard (Napanee, [Ont.]), 1854–63. W. S. Herrington, History of the county of Lennox and Addington (Toronto, 1913), 151, 157, 206, 223, 275, 317, 341, 401–3. J. A. Eadie, “Politics in Lennox and Addington County in the pre-confederation period, 1854–1867” (unpublished ma thesis, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., 1967); “The political career of David Roblin,” Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc., Papers and Records, (Napanee, Ont.), XIV (1972), 48–63.