New information about the Robb-Thomson family in Glasgow

In recent posts I’ve reviewed what I know about the family of George Robb, Glasgow merchant, and (almost certainly) the brother of my great-great-great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb. In the process, I’ve made some intriguing discoveries: such as the fact that one of my Robb ancestors was married to the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, and that at least some of this family’s wealth was derived from the ownership of slaves.

Now, in the course of tying up some loose ends, I’ve uncovered some more fascinating pieces of information, which have once again transformed my understanding of the Robb-Thomson family.

Looking for confirmation of the dates when members of this branch of the family died, I happened on the will of Henry Thomson, Glasgow (law) writer and brother of George Robb’s wife Penelope. If you’ve followed my recent posts, you’ll recall that Henry’s two children both married their cousins: his daughter Jane married George Robb junior, son of George and Penelope, while his son John Thomson, a wine merchant, married Penelope Young, daughter of Penelope Thomson by her second marriage to West India merchant John Young.

Henry wrote his will in 1822 and added a codicil in 1824, shortly before his death. There are a number of interesting things about the will, but the most significant is the mention of a Thomson sibling about whose existence I was completely ignorant until now. The document opens with these words:

I Henry Thomson, late writer in Glasgow, now residing there, whereas my only daughter Jane Sharp Thomson is already provided in the one part of the residuary estate of Colin Thomson Esquire merchant in Glasgow my brother in virtue of deed of settlement…

My original breakthrough with this branch of the family had been finding the report of a court case over the disputed will of Henry’s sister Elizabeth, which led me to the conclusion that there were three Thomson siblings: Penelope, Henry and Elizabeth, all the children of saddler John Thomson, though by at least two different mothers. But the mention of Colin in Henry’s will suggests that these three might simply have been the only Thomson children who were still alive at the time of the court case, in 1851.

Merchants' House, Glasgow

Having discovered the existence of Colin Thomson, I went in search of more information about him. Eventually, I managed to track down his will, which appears to have been written in 1816, with an addendum in 1818. This document, which described Colin as a Glasgow merchant lately resident in London, pointed to the existence of yet more Thomson siblings: namely John, Archibald, Margaret and Merion. What’s more, it spoke of Colin’s sister Penelope and her husband George Robb having not three children as I had thought, but four: in addition to George junior, Elizabeth and Jean, about whom I knew, the will also mentioned a John Robb. The will also confirms that Elizabeth Thomson was Colin’s half-sister, and that his father and his second wife, also Elizabeth, were still alive when the will was written.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Colin Thomson’s will is his instruction that £3000 of his money should be invested in government stock ‘the interest of which shall be regularly paid to Ann my natural daughter by a mulatta woman known by the name of Ritta Allinan.’ So far, I’ve been unable to find out anything more about Ann or Rita, but this tantalising reference suggests both that Colin’s work as a merchant probably involved travel to the colonies, and that his involvement with slaves was less ‘arm’s length’ than might have been the case for some of his relatives.

Mary Seacole: perhaps the most famous mulatta woman (daughter of a Jamaican slave and a Scottish officer)

Using the information in these wills as a starting-point, I’ve managed to ascertain that John Thomson, father of both Henry and Colin Thomson, married Penelope McLachlan in Glasgow on 19 May 1765. According to the parish register it was an ‘irregular marriage’, but whether this simply means its was contracted outside the Church of Scotland, or it was a common-law arrangement, I’m not sure.  John and Penelope had nine children. Of these, we know that Thomas was born in 1766, Colin in 1768, James in 1770, John in 1772 and Penelope in 1777. Their other children, dates of birth as yet unknown, were Henry, Archibald, Margaret and Merion.

John Thomson’s wife Penelope died in 1781, and some time after that he married his second wife Elizabeth, though I’ve yet to find a definitive record for this. Colin’s half- sister Elizabeth – whose will would cause so much legal controversy some years later – was obviously the product of this union, but again I don’t have any certain information about her birth.

This family seems to have made a habit of disputing wills. Thanks once again to the Google Books edition of the Scottish Jurist,  I’ve found the report of a dispute between John Thomson, presumably Henry’s son, and the trustees of his uncle Colin Thomson’s estate, which came to court in February 1838. It reveals that Colin was insane for some years before his death in February 1819. Henry Thomson’s will includes provision for an Amelia Hall of London, described as ‘the female attendant of my brother Colin during his illness,’  Henry bequeathing the allowance to her ‘ in consideration of the dutiful and faithful part she discovered in the comforts and concerns of my dead brother’. Presumably the illness referred to is Colin’s insanity.

Like his will, the court case over Colin Thomson’s inheritance reveals a wealth of detail about his business affairs and associates in Glasgow and London, which I’ll write about another time.

It looks as though John Thomson might have lost the court case. Sadly, he would die just ten months later, in December 1838, at the age of 27.

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