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Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the son of Christopher Dunkin and Mary Ann (née Smith), he was educated at King's College. He studied law with his father and was called to the bar in 1835. In 1840, he married Elizabeth Boulton; they had three sons: John Henry (1841–1911), Edward Boulton (1843–1912) and James William Dunkin(1845-?). His brother Charles also served as a member of parliament for Hants County from 1857 to 1865. Dunkin ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the provincial assembly in 1830 but was elected five years later representing Hants County where he served until 1861 when that constituency became part of Kings County which then included present day Colchester North Riding). He resigned his seat on November 27 after being appointed judge for Kings District Court serving until 1870 when it became part of Nova Scotia Supreme Court which sat at Windsor under Chief Justice Sir Alexander Bannerman who had been one of Dunkins students while attending King's College Law School .