The Eventful Life of Philip Hankin

Worldwide Traveller and Witness to British Columbia’s Early History

By Geoff Mynett

Categories: Biography, BC History
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773861197, 240 pages, September 2023

Bestselling author Geoff Mynett presents the fascinating life of Philip Hankin, British Columbia’s own proverbial “rolling stone” and witness to the shaping of a province in flux.


Today’s explorers of Vancouver Island may be familiar with the name “Hankin”—Hankin Island lies off the coast of Ucluelet within the famous Pacific Rim National Park; Mount Hankin looms amidst the dense forests of central Vancouver Island; and nestled in the San Juan Islands, Hankin Point sits on the easternmost tip of Shaw Island. The man behind the name is Philip Hankin, a little-known but fascinating figure who led an eventful life marked by immense swings in fortune.

In 1849, at just thirteen years old, Philip Hankin, then in England, entered the Royal Navy and engaged in the navy’s campaigns to suppress the trade of enslaved people on the coasts of Africa. His naval career brought him to Vancouver Island in 1858, where he helped survey the coastline on the Royal Navy’s HMS Plumper and Hecate. In his journeys on the Indigenous homelands of the Nuu-chah-nulth and Huu-ay-aht Peoples in what is now Vancouver Island, and the Lummi, WSÁNEĆ and Tulalip Peoples to the south, Hankin learned several Indigenous languages, a skill that would prove pivotal in his career. After leaving the navy at age twenty-eight, he walked from Yale to Barkerville to try his hand at prospecting. In this, despite family connections to Billy Barker, he failed miserably. Broke, he returned to Victoria, where within months he was appointed Superintendent of Police for the Colony of Vancouver Island, but the merger of the colonies in 1866 left him again jobless. He served as colonial secretary in British Honduras and also in British Columbia. Hankin was at the centre of BC politics in the years before BC’s accession to Canada in 1871.

In his memoirs, Hankin reflected on his eventful life: “I have had many ups and downs and have travelled several times around the world… although I have been somewhat of a rolling stone, yet, I have gathered some moss.” In The Eventful Life of Philip Hankin, bestselling author and historian Geoff Mynett tells the story of the adventurous and often tumultuous life of this resilient “rolling stone."


“Geoff Mynett has delivered an enticing biography of Philip Hankin, a significant figure in Canadian history who is less well known than he might be. Pulling together Hankin’s time in the Royal Navy with the beginnings of British Columbia as the distinctive place it was and is into the present day, the text makes a charming contribution to our understanding of how Canada came to be. And in doing so, what a pleasure it is to read.”

—Jean Barman, author of On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia