Material Detail

Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice and Settling the Land: A Historical Whodunnit

Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice and Settling the Land: A Historical Whodunnit

This site includes a complete collection of historical documents and images related to a famous murder case in British Columbia. When three Black men are murdered in the space of 18 months around 1868 on bucolic Salt Spring Island, alarm bells go off. Who is killing the Blacks of Salt Spring? A year later an aboriginal man was charged, tried and hanged in short order for one of the murders, that of William Robinson. But did he really do it? Visitors can look at the collection of archival materials and develop their critical thinking skills by analyzing the evidence provided. Students are encouraged to come up with their own interpretations of primary documents, rather than relying on other people’s analyses. Educators have access to a Teachers' Guide and experts’ interpretations of the mystery. The site is available in English and French.


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Naomii Brack
Naomii Brack (Faculty)
7 years ago
This is a great learning tool for investigation research discovery.
Used in course? Yes
Angela Wartel
Angela Wartel (Faculty)
10 years ago

I really liked how engaging and thorough the resource was.  I believe it would be a great learning tool!

Time spent reviewing site: 30 minutes
Lester Andrist
Lester Andrist (Student)
10 years ago

This is an excellent resource and badly needed. The material offers a way for students to wade into the process of archival research, which is often too time intensive to approach during a semester. This site allows instructors to give students a taste of this work, without taking time away from the teaching of other important research methods.

Technical Remarks:

The site works well and the links appear to be in good order

Time spent reviewing site: 10 minutes
Brittany Kupka
Brittany Kupka (Student)
14 years ago
I think this would be such a fun, interactive way to teach a very intricate lesson. I'm getting my multiple subject teaching credential so I don't know if it would be appropriate for k-5 grades, but the upper grades could benefit from a lesson like this. From my experience, kids love playing "detective" so this would be a way to access that information for them.
jennifer cancilla
jennifer cancilla (Student)
14 years ago
When reviewing this material the first thing that caught my eye was the title Who Killed William Robinson? I decided to explore this site to find my self really intrigued. i spent about 30 min or so exploring the information provided. the material really got me thinking who really killed william robinson.. gathering up all the facts made me wonder did the jury put an innocent person to death, the fact that there were 3 murders that were not connected but all in the same area seems kind of strange. i think that students will learn something from this material and really get them involved with the cold hard facts in this murder case. in this information race is still a problem and discrimination is still going on today. this is very effective and i think many other students will gain knowlege of William Robinson and the issues of race gender and justice.
Kimberly Jones
Kimberly Jones (Student)
15 years ago
This was an amazing site. I was just looking at all the articles on merlot and found this site and it was so interesting to read. It makes you wonder who really did do the killings, was someone put to death that was not guilty? And what happened to the real killers.
Mandy Hays
Mandy Hays (Student)
17 years ago
I spent about 25 minutes reviewing this site and looking at the different
historical documents and records of the trial, and I thought it was great for
the way it covered all aspects and went into detail about the mystery behind the
death of William Robinson. This is a very relevant topic to study, as we are
still fighting battles that involve race and justice and the combination of the
two, and it really proves that it's ingrained in the history of this country and
we ought to remember it.
Cathy Simpson
Cathy Simpson (Administrator)
19 years ago
MERLOT Web Site: Who Killed William Robinson?

Overview: After a 20 minute navigation of the web site, I was impressed how this web site invited viewers to explore original historical documents about the unsolved murder case of black American William Robinson in British Columbia in 1868. The documents included newspaper stories, inquests, trial documents, private correspondence, diaries, paintings, artist's reconstructions and photographs. The site invited learners to interpret the raw materials of the past to develop an historical understanding about what actually happened in the past. The overall goal of the site was to define and understand the role of primary sources in historical research. The primary audience was college-level students, but this site could easily be used by high school students.

Strengths: The site is an excellent teaching and learning tool. Through reviewing some primary sources, learners are invited to engage in historical research whose goal is to interpret the sources to be able to draw some substantiated conclusions about who did murder William Robinson. The accessibility to excellent primary sources is well done, and the task encourages the learners to engage in critical thinking.

The navigation throughout the site is clear and easy to follow, too. The menu bar at the top and the references on the left are easy to use.

Concerns: My concerns are only a few. One portion of the site requires using a password that only the designers of the site can provide in order to view certain interpretation sections. The designers do, however, include their email address on the site, so a learner can email them requesting the password. The site might be more effective if the learning objectives were clearly posted on the website as part of the beginning of the task.

Technical Remarks:

I was impressed by how easy it was to have ready access to primary sources in a clean, simple web site design. The enlargement of the tumbnail images and maps was well done.
Pia Marks
Pia Marks (Staff)
20 years ago
I spent about 45 minutes exploring this resource, and thoroughly enjoyed the
experience. It provides a window into 19th century
colonial life in British Columbia by looking explicitly at a historical murder
mystery. The murder provides an engaging context from which to explore what
amounts to a treasure trove of primary source information surrounding the case
itself as well as more general sources which
anchor the story in a specific time and place.
Information about the settlement of BC and Canada, the importance of land, the
dispossession of aboriginal people, justice, racism,
family life, relgion etc in 19th century Canada can be explored via the primary
source material.

It is student-centred in its approach -- users can choose their own path through
the materials, and draw their own conclusions from the vast array of primary
source information available.

Critical thinking skills are engaged in the final section, "Interpretation"
which provides links to secondary source material, documenting how historians
have traditionally viewed the case. Part of the excellence of this resource is
that the learner has direct and immediate access to the primary source material
on which the interpretations were based, enabling them to critically evaluate
the conclusions drawn by the experts. This section is password-protected --I
assume passwords can be obtained from the authors.

I think this is an excellent resource for history instructors--excellent
quality, a well-designed interface, an archive of primary source
material available to the learner to explore as s/he needs it. Discovery is left
entirely up to the learner. The interface is simple to navigate and
instructions are clear and readily

Technical Remarks:

The interface is simple to navigate and instructions are clear and readily
Tracy Penny Light
Tracy Penny Light (Faculty)
21 years ago
This site provides students with an opportunity to "do" history by examining
historical documents related to the murder of William Robinson. The site is
designed to entice students into history with an invitation to solve this murder
mystery. It teaches critical thinking skills, and provides students with an
opportunity to learn to think historically as they examine the collection of
archival documents provided. The site is designed to be used in conjunction
with in-class lectures/discussions and the designers provide teachers with a
guide on how to use the site which includes sample exercises. The guide can by
obtained by emailing the creators. Overall this is a wonderful site which
allows students to learn to interpret history in an engaging way.