I’m incredibly grateful to Angela Reynolds in New Zealand for her exhaustive researches into my NZ Robb relatives (see this post). I’ll try to summarise Angela’s findings here, but since she has kindly provided me with an address for a surviving relative, Trevor Holtham, I’m planning to write to him to confirm the information that she has so helpfully provided.

A quick recap: Thomas Bowman Robb, born in West Ham in 1887, was the son of Charles Edward Robb and Louisa Bowman, and thus an older brother of my grandfather, Arthur Ernest Robb, and an uncle to my dad, Peter Ernest Robb.

It’s unclear when Thomas emigrated to New Zealand (though see the fascinating piece of family gossip at the end of this post), but we know that he was working as a fireman and living at 137 Office Road, Merivale, a suburb of Christchurch, in 1911. (Coincidentally, Merivale is also one of the places associated with the author Ngaio Marsh, related to me – and to Thomas – via the Seagers – see the two posts below this one).

Thomas married Eva Bennett at St. Augustine’s Church, Cashmere Hills, Christchurch on 22 July 1912 (another address associated with the Marsh/Seagers – they must have been almost neighbours – I wonder if the two branches of the family knew each other?). Eva is described as a machinist and her address given as Cashmere Hills . Eva was born in England in 1889. Angela has found a person matching her name and age travelling on a ship to NZ in 1912 (the year of her marriage), and suggests therefore that the couple may have known each other back in England (which backs up the family gossip that I’ll come to shortly).

Thomas and Eva had two daughters, both born in Christchurch: Mabel Eva in 1913 and Edna in 1915. At some point the family left Christchurch (South Island) and moved to Masterton (North Island), where they lived for some years in Renall Street and later at 10 Macara Street. On retiring from the fire service, and probably following his wife’s death in August, 1949, Thomas Robb worked as a salesman. 

Mabel married Leslie Churnside Holtham, a carpenter, in 1937 and their son Trevor Thomas Holtham was born in 1938. They lived in Pahiatua, close to Masterton and to Palmerston North. Edna did not marry and worked as a nurse and later a matron at a mental hospital. Both she and her father are recorded as living in Waitarere Beach, Levin, so perhaps they shared a house in later years.

Thomas Bowman Robb died, age 76, on 20 July 1963, in Palmerston North. Mabel died on 10 October 1992, also in Palmerston North/Feilding. Edna died, age 79, on 13 February 1995.

Trevor Holtham married Glenys and apparently both are still alive, in retirement, and living in Feilding. I’m hoping Trevor won’t be too surprised to receive my letter, and that he can tell me more about the NZ branch of the Robb family, as well as pointing me towards any of the family history documents that his aunt Edna uncovered on her trip to England and Scotland in the 1970s.

Now for that piece of family gossip. My dad talked to his elder sister Grace about my New Zealand quest. She told him what she believes is the reason for Thomas Bowman Robb’s emigration. Apparently, while still living in England, his girlfriend of the time became pregnant and claimed that Thomas was the father. He vigorously denied it, even when his father (the fervently Wesleyan Charles Edward Robb) made him swear on the Bible. Still, the young woman persisted in her accusation and, as a consequence, Charles instructed his son to leave the country, working his passage by sea and jumping ship at some far port. Hence his eventual arrival in New Zealand, and perhaps also the reason why it has proven difficult to find any trace of him in the usual passenger lists. Moreover, it seems that at some point Thomas returned to England to collect his future bride, Eva – perhaps explaining their short engagement in NZ – though it’s unclear whether this was the same girlfriend (very unlikely) or someone else, and if the latter, what the nature of their relationship was before Thomas’ untimely banishment by his father.