Commander Samuel Robinson series [graphic materials] / Samuel Robinson

Series number
Physical description
18 albums
Administrative history / Biographical sketch

Commander Samuel Robinson, CBE, RD (1870–1958), born in Hull, England, was an early 20th-century British-Canadian mariner, a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve established under the Naval Reserve Act of 1859, and a captain of luxury liners in the fleet of Canadian Pacific Steamship Ocean Service Ltd. during the period spanning the first three decades of the 20th century. In addition, Samuel was the recipient of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, Japan's highest order. He was one of three civilians to ever have received this honour while still living (the only others being members of the Japanese Imperial family).

The Pacific fleet of the Canadian Pacific Railway tended to hire its officers from the Royal Naval Reserves, and much was made of their long and faithful service to the company. Although Robinson's job description was "captain," his title was "Commander" because he had earned that rank during his service in the Royal Naval Reserve. During World War I, Robinson captained the Empress of Asia which transported American troops from New York to Southampton, England.

In his 48 years at sea, 37 with Canadian Pacific steamships, Robinson served on a number of vessels. He was captain of two ships with the same name—the 1891 Empress of Japan and the 1930 Empress of Japan (I & II respectively)—and he was captain of the first of three ships to be named Empress of Canada. In May 1914, he pushed the Empress of Asia and her crew in setting a new world's record for both a single day's steaming (473 nautical miles) and for crossing the Pacific (nine days, two hours, and fifteen minutes).

When the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake struck Yokohama at a little after noon on 1 September 1923, Captain Robinson was aboard the Empress of Australia. He was finalizing routine preparations for a scheduled departure later in the day; but the greatest natural disaster in modern times was about to reorder those priorities. He would be credited with saving the ship, his crew and passengers, and more than 3,000 others during the unfolding catastrophe. Robinson's contributions were minimized in the report he prepared for the Canadian Pacific home office. A group of passengers and refugees who were aboard during the disaster commissioned a bronze tablet and presented it to the ship in recognition of the relief efforts. When the Empress of Australia was scrapped in 1952, the bronze tablet was rescued. It was formally presented to Captain Robinson, then aged 82, in a special ceremony in Vancouver (it can now be found in our collections).

Commander Robinson's career with the CPR steamships was as follows:

  • 1895 Joined the Empress of China as a Junior Officer
  • 1899 Appointed Chief Officer of Empress of Japan (I)
  • 1903 Appointed Captain of Athenian
  • 1906 Appointed Captain of Monteagle
  • 1911 Appointed Commander of Empress of Japan (I)
  • 1913 Commander of Empress of Asia
  • 1916 Commander of Empress of Russia
  • 1922 Commander of Turpitz, renamed Empress of Australia
  • 1924 Commander of Empress of Canada (I)
  • 1928 Commander of Empress of France
  • 1930 - 1932 Commander of the Empress of Japan (II)

Honours, medals & decorations (including but not limited to):

  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Mercantile Marine War Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • Royal Navy Reserve Decoration
  • Imperial Japanese Medal of Merit with Red Ribbon
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
  • Order of the Chrysanthemum (Japan)
  • Order of St John of Jerusalem, the Silver Medal (UK)
  • Lloyd's Medal for Meritorious Service (UK)
  • Medal of Honour with Red Ribbon
  • Order of the White Elephant (Siam)
  • Cross of the Second Class of the Order of Naval Merit (with white badge) (Spain)


Scope & content
Series consists of 18 photograph albums created by Commander Robinson. Commander Robinson is often referred to as "Captain Robinson" throughout this series and elsewhere. This naming convention was retained.
Related materials
See also: City of Vancouver Archives, Vancouver Maritime Museum collection, Series 3: Captain Samuel Robinson records.