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Memorable Manitobans: Robert Semple (1776-1816)

Click to enlarge

Robert Semple
Click to enlarge

Colonial official.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, his father, Robert Semple, Sr. came from Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1774. Because of his loyalist sympathies he left Boston shortly after Robert was born to go into business in London, England. Robert Semple, junior, travelled extensively in Europe, Africa, South America and the West Indies at the time of the Napoleonic Wars as a merchant (and probably as a British spy) and wrote a number of travel books and a novel, Charles Ellis, or the friends (1807).

Through Lord Selkirk he was appointed Governor of the Company’s Territories in Hudson Bay in 1815, in succession to Miles Macdonell. He arrived at York Factory in August 1815 with settlers from Sutherlandshire, Scotland. He arrived at the Red River Settlement to face the hostility of the North West Company. He soon ran into conflict with Colin Robertson, who persisted in calling him “Mr. Simple.” Robertson found him both too conciliatory and too contemptuous of the Métis. In March 1816 he captured and destroyed Fort Gibraltar, the Nor’­Westers’ post at Red River.

He was killed leading a party of armed settlers (20 of whom were also killed) by a group of Métis under Cuthbert Grant at the area known as Seven Oaks on 19 June 1816. Lord Selkirk and the Hudson’s Bay Company always referred to the skirmish as a “massacre,” although evidence of who was the aggressor and what actually happened at Seven Oaks is not at all conclusive. Although a number of the Grant party were tried in Upper Canada for murder on Selkirk-initiated indictments, not surprisingly, none were ever convicted.

He is commemorated by Semple Avenue and Governor Semple School in Winnipeg.

See also:

Events in Manitoba History: Battle of Seven Oaks (19 June 1816)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Governor Semple School (150 Hartford Avenue, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Seven Oaks Monument (Main Street, Winnipeg)

Robert Semple, Dictionary of Canadian Biography V, 749-751.

Sources:

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 13 October 2013

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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