Another unexpected twist in the Robb-Thomson story

In the last post I wrote about my discovery of additional siblings for Penelope Thomson (1777 – 1847), who married Glasgow merchant George Robb in 1805. The will of Penelope’s brother Colin also threw light on the two marriages of their father, saddler John Thomson, enabling me to conclude that his first wife (the mother of Colin, Penelope and seven others) was Penelope McLachlan, who died in 1781. In his will, Colin Thomson also mentioned that the name of his father’s second wife was Elizabeth, thus explaining the name given to their half-sister.

I’ve known for some time that the younger Elizabeth Thomson died in 1847, since it was her disputed will that led to the 1851 court case which provided me with my first insights into the tangled webb of the Robb-Thomson-Young family of Glasgow. Now, armed with both her parents’ names, I went in search of information about Elizabeth Thomson’s birth. I was astonished to discover that she was born on 22 May 1784 in Glasgow, to John Thomson, saddler, and Elizabeth Robb.

I then searched for the marriage of John Thomson and Elizabeth Robb. The only Glasgow-related match I could find in the old parish registers was for a marriage in Edinburgh on 29 July 1783 between John Thomson, merchant in St. Giles parish, and Elizabeth Robb, ‘daughter of the deceased John Robb late bookseller in Glasgow’.  If we allow that a saddler might also be a merchant, and that John Thomson might have taken his business to Edinburgh at some stage, then the date certainly fits with the birth of daughter Elizabeth.

I’ve found details of a John Robb, bookseller, who had a shop on the east side of the High Street, Glasgow, in 1796, and at University Buildings from 1799-1800, and who was the eldest son of ‘deceased bookbinder’ John Robb. Perhaps the latter was the same John Robb who launched the Glasgow Chronicle in 1775 (booksellers often doubled as publishers in the 18th century): the newspaper which survived until 1779 when it was bought over and absorbed into the older Journal.

Booksellers: an18th century caricature by Thomas Rowlandson

 

Finding this additional Robb connection in the Thomson family could have disastrous consequences for my theory that the George Robb who married Penelope Thomson was the brother of my great-great-great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb. Knowing this family’s penchant for marrying their cousins, it’s possible that George was actually a relative of the Elizabeth Robb who married John Thomson, and therefore a member of the bookselling Robb family of Glasgow, rather than the farming Robb family of Aberdeenshire. More positively, it could be that there is a connection between the two families. Or the identity of surnames between John Thomson’s second wife and his son-in-law might just be a coincidence.

The evidence for George Robb, Glasgow merchant, being one of my ancestors has always been circumstantial rather than conclusive. But this circumstantial evidence is quite powerful. In his memorandum of 1880, my great-great-grandfather William Robb wrote: ‘I had also an Uncle George who died many years ago leaving children but I don’t know how many. I had also an Aunt called Penelope’. Another of William’s uncles, another William Robb, was almost certainly the Episcopal minister in St. Andrews, who married George Robb and Penelope Thomson in 1805. It’s hard to imagine why Rev. William Robb would officiate at a wedding in Glasgow, unless there was some kind of family connection.

Then there is the fact that my 3 x great grandfather Charles was married in Glasgow three years before George, in 1802, if his son William’s memorandum is to be believed. This suggests that Charles was living in Glasgow before this date and/or that his wife Margaret Ricketts Monteith was Glasgow-born. None of this ‘proves’ that George Robb, Glasgow merchant, was Charles’ brother, but it reinforces the case already made.

I’m now trying to find out more about Elizabeth Robb’s family, and specifically whether she had a relative named George who might possibly be the person who would marry her step-daughter Penelope Thomson.

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