Robert Birnie was born in Astoria, Oregon on February 7th, 1824. Birnie was the son of Scottish immigrants. In 1841, he was
appointed a clerk in the Hudson’s Bay Company and sent to California in the Yerba Buena area. While on business in San Francisco
in 1848, he saw the first lot of gold dust brought down by W. L. Brannam. After a few successful mining expeditions, Bernie
experienced some losses. He married an heir of the Welch family in 1850 and tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at farming in
Contra Costa County. After his failed attempts in farming, Birnie turned to real estate in the city of Oakland.