Joseph Despard Pemberton,
Colonial Engineer from 1851 to 1859
Surveyor General 1859 to 1864.

Photograph Courtesy of BC Archives; Call Number A-01910

Born near Dublin, Ireland, 23 July 1821, son of Joseph Pemberton and Margaret Stephans.

Married 1864, London, to Theresa Jane Despard Grautoff (b 1843 England; died 24 Aug 1916, at the age of 74, in Victoria, BC, Canada)

In 1855, Pemberton brought his sister Susan, and his favorite uncle, August Frederick Pemberton, back from England with him.

Returned from England in 1864 aboard the Brother Jonathan with wife Theresa. (source Maritime Plaque Page)

Died 11 Nov 1893, at the age of 72 in Oak Bay, near Victoria, BC, Canada

In 1849, the British Colonial Office had suggested to the Hudson's Bay Company that it submit a proposal for the government and colonization of Vancouver's Island.

A year later, on December 9th, 1850, Joseph Despard Pemberton wrote to The Hudson's Bay Company seeking employment as "…a Surveyor and Engineer of thorough business habits and energy… with reference the Colonization of Vancouver's Island…".  He was 29 years old.

"The certificates of Mr. J.D. Pemberton having been taken into consideration, it was ordered that he be engaged as Surveyor for Vancouver's Island at an Annual Salary of 400 pounds for a term of three years with a premium of such sum as the Governor and Committee may approve at the end of that period not exceeding 500 pounds provided they shall consider his services and conduct perfectly satisfactory. It is understood that he shall make himself generally useful to Mr. Douglas in all colonization business. This engagement is to be a charge upon the Colonization Fund to be held in Trust by the Company. It is also understood that the Company is to provide an outfit of the requisite instruments at a cost not exceeding 100 pounds - to pay Mr. Pemberton's expenses of conveyance to the Island - and that the salary and commencement of the contract shall date from his arrival on the Island".

--The Hudson's Bay Company's Minutes of January 22, 1851

Final instructions were issued to him on February 15, 1851 to proceed by Royal Mail Steam Packet leaving South Hampton on the 17th - only two days later - to Chargres, and from there to cross the Ithmus of Panama, and take the first available ship to San Francisco. From San Francisco he was to "proceed either by the monthly mail steamer… or by an occasional sailing vessel" to the Columbia River where he would probably arrive at Astoria, and thence find his way "either by mail boat or by canoe" to Fort Vancouver. The Officer in Charge there would provide the means of conveyance to Fort Victoria on Vancouver's Island. On arrival at Fort Victoria he was to report to "Mr. Chief Factor Douglas".

So it was that on June 24th, 1851, after an extremely eventful journey of more than four months, Joseph Despard Pemberton moved into the wooden palisaded Fort Victoria to take up His Hudson's Bay Company appointment as Surveyor for Vancouver's Island.

He was to play an integral part in the development of the area, laying out Victoria's town site, surveying from Sooke to Nanaimo, and detailing the topography and natural resources. After serving as Surveyor-General to both the Colony of Vancouver's Island and Fraser's River, he later became a member of the first Legislative Assembly.

--The above info comes from the Pemberton Homes website, which was extracted from an manuscript researched and written by the late Fred Maurice in his retirement, who worked for 52 years at Pemberton & Son and Pemberton Holmes.

Says BC Bookworld Author Bank

PEMBERTON, Joseph Despard

Born in Dublin, Ireland on July 23, 1821, Joseph Pemberton arrived in Victoria in 1851 and soon gained the distinction of having the largest personal library in B.C., a collection estimated as high as 30,000 volumes. His palatial home known as Gonzales was a focal point for Victoria's high society and artists. Often inscribed by Pemberton, copies of books he owned still surface occasionally in antiquarian bookstores. Educated as an engineer and mathematician, Pemberton first worked for the Hudson's Bay Company from 1859 to 1864. He was Vancouver Island's first surveyor-general. He explored the Cowichan and Nanaimo areas, overseeing construction of roads and bridges, and he developed townsites in the lower Fraser Valley. He also published Facts and Figures Relating to Vancouver Island and British Columbia: Showing What to Expect and How to Get There (London, Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1860). Pemberton was a member of the first House of Assembly of Vancouver Island from 1856 to 1859 along with Dr. John Helmcken, Joseph Mackay, James Yates, Joseph Porter, Thomas Skinner, John Muir and Dr. John Kennedy. He continued in politics when the colonies of Vancouver Island the British Columbia were united, elected into the legislative council in 1866, but he retired from politics in 1868 to form an investment and real estate company with his son Frederick. This evolved into the modern firm widely known in British Columbia as Pemberton Securities. He died in Oak Bay on November 11, 1893.


Facts and Figures Relating to Vancouver Island and British Columbia: Showing What to Expect and How to Get There (London, Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1860).

[BCBW 2003] "Early B.C." "1850-1900"


The good folks at Find A Grave have a lovely picture of Joseph's grave site.  Click on the picture to go there; click the back button on your browser to return


A young Mrs. Joseph D. Pemberton
Joseph Despard Pemberton home "Gonzales" in Victoria,
taken in the 1860s
Photograph Courtesy of BC Archives; Call Number A-07779
Mrs. Joseph D. Pemberton, 1870
Photograph Courtesy of BC Archives; Call Number A-01912
circa 1865
Photograph courtesy of BC Archives; Call Number A-01911


The 1901 Victoria City Census 05/15/20 (Division 05/page 15/ line 20) says this about Theresa and her family.

9th house Rockland Ave


Census location Surname Given Name Sex Relation Status Birth Date Age Place of Birth Emmigration Religion
05/15/20 Pemberton, Theresa J. f head w 25 Dec 1843 57 ENG to Can: 1864 CE
05/15/21 Pemberton Ada G. f dau s 23 May 1867 33 BC   CE
  Remarks: HOW4, p.38: Ada G. Pemberton, mar H.R. Beaven. MRI: Hugo Robert Beaven mar Ada Georgina Pemberton, 11 Sep 1902, Victoria.
05/15/22 Pemberton Sophia T. f dau s 13 Feb 1869 32 BC   CE
  Remarks: MIV1: Sophia Theresa Pemberton mar Canon Arthur Beanlands (d.6, p.18, l.1). MRI: Arthur John Beaulands mar Sophia Theresa Pemberton, 11 Sep 1905, Victoria. HOW4, p.38: Sophia Theresa Pemberton mar Canon Beanlands, rector of Christ Church, Vic. for 25 y.
05/15/23 Pemberton Harriet S. f dau s 13 May 1871 29 BC   CE.
  Remarks: MRI: William Curtis Sampson mar Harriet Susan Pemberton, 14 Apr 1909, Victoria.
05/15/24 Pemberton  Joseph D. m son s 21 Nov 1873 27 ENG to Can: 1874 CE.
  Remarks: HOW4, p.38: Joseph Despard Pemberton jr, b.Victoria, 12 Nov 1877, 2nd s.o.Joseph D. Pemberton & Theresa J.D. Grautoff, mar 1 Dec 1904 at Victoria, Helen Mary Yoder Baiss (d.6, p.2, l.23), d.o.James & Susan Baiss. DRI: Joseph Despard Pemberton, 30 Aug 1916, 42, Jordan Meadows.
05/15/25 Pemberton William P.D. m son s 11 Nov 1877 23 BC   CE.
  Remarks: HOW3, p.743: William Parnell Despard Pemberton, b.Victoria, 12 Nov 1877, s.o.Joseph D. & Theresa J.D. Pemberton.

Thus, with a bit of extrapolation from the above, and a little help from the Pemberton Homes page, and the City of Victoria web page, the 6 children of Joseph Despard and Theresa Jane Pemberton are:

Frederick Bernard Pemberton
(birth & marriage info for Fred is from The City of Victoria - Fort Victoria Brick Project Name List)
b 26 April 1865
m 1892
Mary Ann Dupont Bell
d 7 Nov 1947, Oak Bay, BC
Ada Georgina Pemberton b 23 May 1867, BC
m 11 Sept 1902, Victoria
Hugo Robert Beaven
d 27 July 1958, Oak Bay, BC
Sophia Theresa Pemberton b 13 Feb 1869, BC
m 11 Sept 1905, Victoria, BC
Arthur John Beaulands, rector of Christ Church
d after 1930
Harriet Susan Pemberton b 13 May 1871, BC
m 14 April 1909, Victoria
William Curtis Sampson
d 15 May 1949, Oak Bay, BC
Joseph Despard Pemberton Jr b 11/12 Nov 1877, Victoria, BC
m 1 Dec 1904, Victoria, BC
Helen Mary Yoder Baiss
d 30 Aug 1916, Jordan Meadows
William Parnell Despard Pemberton b 11/12 Nov 1877, Victoria, BC
m 14 Feb 1928, Victoria, BC
Caro Eileen M. Rant
d 27 Jan 1951, Victoria, BC

And finally, for those of you who like these things, the following is an excerpt from a book written by one of Pemberton's daughters, H. S. Sampson, entitled My Father, Joseph Despard Pemberton: 1821-93.

April 1844

Pemberton accepted these terms and signed his new agreement on October 8, 1855.13  He must have left for home immediately, as he was back at Fort Victoria by the middle of December.

On many occasions my father's occupation might better have been described as that of an explorer rather than, or in addition to, that of a surveyor.  Thus in October, 1856, he was  instructed by Governor Douglas to explore the country between Quallchum (Qualicum) and the Alberni Canal.  Crossing the Island by way of Horne Lake (which had been discovered some months before by Adam Horne, storekeeper at Nanaimo for the Hudson's Bay Company), he explored both the Canal and Barkley Sound.14  The following September he crossed the Island a second time.  Accompanied by Lieutenant T. S. Gooch, of H.M.S. Satellite, and a party of seven, he left Cowichan Harbour on September 4, and reached Nitinat, on the West Coast, on the 19th.15  Each man carried a 60-lb. pack, in addition to arms and ammunition, through the dense forest and undergrowth.  Ammunition and food both gave out, and when they arrived at their destination, weak and exhausted, they were received by the Chief of the fierce Nitinat Indians, who had just gained a victory over his enemies.  The bloody heads of the vanquished, mounted on poles, with long hair waving in the wind, was not an encouraging sight for exhausted men.  Pemberton stepped boldly forward, and in the name of the Great white Queen demanded food and canoes to convey him and his party back t Victoria.  Receipts were given in the form of leaves torn from his note-book, and these were later duly honoured by the Hudson's Bay Company.

Pemberton had ample opportunity to apply his training and experience as a civil engineer.  He not only surveyed roads, but supervised their construction.  In addition, he designed and built bridges and a considerable variety of public buildings, including the first schoolhouse in Victoria, and the original Victoria District Church.  The gold-rush to the Fraser River temporarily extended these activities and responsibilities to the Mainland, for when Douglas decided to build a town at Derby,  on the site of Old Fort Langley, it was to Pemberton that he turned for the expert assistance needed in surveying the townsite.  Pemberton himself summarized thus the extent of the work:--

Here 3000 building lots were laid out, of which 342 were sold in twp days, for £13,000., on which a deposit of ten per cent. was paid.  A court-house, jail, parsonage, and church were built, and 400 or 500 people were about to commence operations, when another capital was announced.16

It was in 1858 that my father, like James Douglas, severed his connection with the Hudson's Bay Company.  His contract expired on December 16, and as the Company was surrendering the Colony of Vancouver Island to the British Government within a few months, it had no further need for his services.  Douglas, however, was happy to retain him on behalf of the Colony, and after serving for a time as Colonial Surveyor, he was appointed Surveyor-General of Vancouver Island in July, 1860, a post he held until October, 1864.  His new duties were many and varied.  He laid out the roads in Sooke and Saanich.  In 1859 he was one of a committee of six (the other members being two officers of the Royal Navy and three ship-captains) who selected the sites for the lighthouses on Race Rocks and on Fisgard Island, Esquimalt harbour.17  Subsequently he supervised the construction of (though he did not actually design) both lighthouses, which were completed and n operation by December 1860.  Later he was a member of a committee of seven appointed to consider the question of the improvement of Victoria Harbour.  The other members including Captain G. H. Richards, R.N., and Captain W. A. Mouat, of the Hudson's Bay Company.  The committee's report is dated February 28, 1862.  Careful drawings were made to the harbour and suggested improvements.  When the House of Assembly voted money for dredging the split, Pemberton went to England to purchase machinery for a dredge and tug.  There he found that the diving suit had replaced the diving bell, and in order to be able to instruct the workers in the use of the former he took diving lessons in the Victoria Dock, London.

For a time my father served the old Crown Colony in a political as well as in a professional capacity.  He was a Member of the original House of Assembly of Vancouver Island, elected in 1856 and dissolved in 1859.  Looking over the minutes of the House, it is evident that there was frequently an element of comedy in its proceedings.  Adjournments for lack of a quorum or for lack of business were not infrequent, yet the Assembly sat almost continuously.  One motion passed provided that any Member being fifteen minutes late after the hour of meeting should be fined the sum of $20.  Upon another occasion petition was brought forward written in French, but was rejected because the House declined to receive petitions written in a foreign language.

Pemberton, while serving as Surveyor-General, became a Member f the Executive Council of Vancouver Island in September, 18 63, and of the Legislative Council in April 1864.  He resigned all his appointments in October, 1864, following his marriage, as his duties as Surveyor-General took him from home very frequently.

After the Union of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia in 1866, he returned briefly to the political scene.  ON January 14, 1867, he was appointed member of the Legislative Council, representing Victoria District, for the session 1867, and he served again, 1868.

In conclusion, a few more personal notes may be permitted.

It would be interesting to now just when my father decided to settle permanently in Vancouver Island.  We do known that his first glimpse of the Gonzales estate--a gentle slope, with a glorious view of the Olympics; a lake-covered bottom, with an Indian stalking deer--decided him to make it his future home.  The first portion of the property was purchased in 1855.  The improvements then in existence were described some years later n a memorandum by Dr. W. F. Tolmie:--

These consisted of a log dwelling house 30X20 [feet], a barn, some small outhouses, a calf park, and a log park, wherein to lasso cattle, besides about five acres of enclosed tilled land.18

In 1856 Pemberton was joined by his sister, Susan Frances Pemberton, who came out in the same vessel as Miss Emmeline Todd (afterwards Mrs. Newton and later still Mrs. Mohun).  Miss Pemberton lived in the fort for a time, and then moved to the Gonzales estate, where, with true Irish hospitality, she and her brother welcomed all and sundry.  Dances were given in the old log-house, the rooms being lighted by candles with potatoes serving as sconces, and in every available corner would be a shake-down for those coming from a distance.  At other times a picnic would be decided upon, the farm-horses commandeered, a hearty meal prepared, and a day of merriment spent in one of the beautiful glades or seaside spots surrounding Victoria, at which archery was the favourite pastime.  Private theatricals and concerts made the winter evenings pass pleasantly.  Good plays were produced, amongst them The Rivals, in which my father took the part of Sir Lucius O'Trigger.

After twelve years in Victoria, Miss Pemberton returned to Europe in 1868.  She had been for some years Lady Principal of Angela College, and the following testimonial evidences the esteem in which she was held in the little city of those days:--

Dear Madam:

We cannot allow the occasion of our resigning the position of Lady Principal of Angela College to pass without expressing our very sincere regret that in consequence of failing health the most valuable and important of our local institutions is about to be deprived of a headship that has been so watchfully and efficiently exercised.

The present condition of the Ladies College in point of numbers is an evident and satisfactory proof, not only that the educational privileges of that establishment are of a character to evoke the grateful support of the parents in this Colony, but also, of the high esteem in which you have been deservedly held and the perfect confidence that has been felt with the healthy tone imparted by our superintendent.

Accept our grateful thanks for the able and conscientious manner in which you have fulfilled your many and serious responsibilities our repeated expressions of sincere regret for the cause which has led to your resignation and our earnest prayer that Almighty God who has hitherto strengthened you in the past may still have you in his holy keeping and bless you with what degree of health and spiritual blessing as many best enable you to fulfill. . . .

This is, unfortunately, where our photocopy of the original ends.  Should you have the rest of this letter, or more info on Susan Pemberton, or both, please drop us a line.

Footnotes from H. S. Sampson's My Father, Joseph Despard Pemberton: 1821-93.

(13) An official copy of this agreement in the Provincial Archives.

(14) For a brief report on this expedition, dated December 15, 1856, see Pemberton, Vancouver Island and British Columbia, pp 147-8

(15) For a brief report on this expedition, dated November 12, 1857, see ibid., pp 148-50.

(16) Ibid., pp 51-2.

(17) See John T. Walbran, British Columbia Coast Names, Ottawa, 1909, pp. 179, 412.

(18) W. F> Tolmie to Thomas Fraser, Secretary of the Hudson's Bay Company, November 13, 1861.  Transcript in the Provincial Archives.