I’m revisiting the story of my Robb ancestors’ connection with Glasgow, in the hope of discovering more about their origins, and particularly about the background of my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Monteith. According to family records, she married my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb in the city in 1802, but as yet I’ve found no official evidence of their marriage, nor any independent confirmation of Margaret’s family background.
A map of Glasgow and surrounding area in 1818 (by Lizars, W. & D., engravers)
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fairly certain that George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who married Penelope Thomson in 1805, was the brother of my ancestor Charles Robb, and that their marriage was celebrated by another brother, Rev William Robb, an Episcopalian minister in St Andrews. I’ve begun to wonder if the Thomson family, into which George Robb married, might hold some vital clues to the origins of Margaret Ricketts Monteith. A year ago I received a message via Ancestry from Malcolm Sandilands in Alexandria, Virginia. Born in Jamaica and raised in Scotland, Malcolm has been researching the historical connections between the two countries, including the stories of the many Scottish merchants who traded with and owned property on the island in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Malcolm’s research, which he kindly shared with me, threw further light on the history of the Thomson family, and also alerted me to the existence of the Anglo-Jamaican Ricketts family, who may have been connected to my ancestor Margaret Ricketts Monteith in some way.
I want to explore the Ricketts connection at some point in the future, but in this post I’ll try to summarise what we now know about the Thomson family, which includes the new information helpfully supplied by Malcolm Sandilands.
The story begins with John Thomson of Glasgow, described variously as a saddler and a merchant. From later records, we can deduce that he was probably born in about 1741.
On 19th May 1765 he married Penelope McLachlan in Glasgow, in what the parish records describe as an ‘irregular marriage’. This may have had something to do with the impending arrival of their first child, Marion, who was born on 30th May, just eleven days after her parents’ wedding. I haven’t been able to discover anything about Penelope’s origins, though there were a number of Glasgow merchants with the surname McLachlan, including some trading with the American and Caribbean colonies.The name McLachlan occurs in the will of John and Penelope’s son Colin (see below).
In addition to Marion, John and Penelope Thomson had at least five other children: Thomas, born in 1766; Colin in 1768; James in 1770; John in 1772; and Penelope in 1777. There was also a daughter named Margaret, but I’m unsure whether she was the product of John Thomson’s first or second marriage.
Penelope Thomson née McLachlan died in 1781, and on 23rd July 1783 John Thomson married Elizabeth Robb, daughter of bookseller John Robb and his wife Elizabeth Fairbairn. The wedding took place in Edinburgh, though both families seem to have been from Glasgow. I’ve yet to find any evidence of a connection between this branch of the Robb family and the George Robb who would John Thomson’s daughter Penelope in 1805.
John and Elizabeth Thomson had at least three children together: Elizabeth, born in 1784; Henry in 1785; and Archibald in 1791. Jones’ Directory for 1787 includes an entry for John Thomson, saddler, selling saddlery and harness, on ‘East Side Saltmarket, a Little Below the Well’.
John Thomson died on 11 April 1818 at Morton Bank near Glasgow, the cause of death being old age. He was 77 years old. John died intestate but his effects were valued at £265 12s 2d. On 16th April he was buried, like other members of the Thomson family, in ‘John Thomson’s lair’ in the Ramshorn kirkyard in Glasgow.
THE CHILDREN OF JOHN THOMSON
Marion Thomson was married on 14th August 1785, in another ‘irregular’ marriage, to merchant Simon Pellance, whose carpet warehouse was on Havannah Street in Glasgow. Simon and Marion Pellance seem to have had two children: Elizabeth, born in 1786; and John Thomson Pellance, born in 1791, who seems to have inherited the family business.
According to a record dated 1800, when he was 34 years old, Thomas Thomson served as an attorney in Jamaica. He was associated with St Elizabeth parish, in the south of the island. According to Malcolm Sandilands’ family tree at Ancestry, Thomas may have been married to a woman named Jane White. He had a mixed race son named George baptised in St Elizabeth parish in 1803. In the same year the Scots magazine reported Thomas Thomson’s death ‘in the island of Bermuda where he had gone for his health’.
Eighteenth-century map of Jamaica
Colin Thomson was a merchant in Glasgow, but he seems also to have had business (and personal relations) in Jamaica. There is a record of him serving in the parish militia in St Elizabeth parish in 1788, when he would have been twenty years old. Malcolm Sandilands believes that Colin may have moved from Jamaica to St Kitts, where there are references to someone with the same name active between 1798 and 1808.
In later life Colin Thomson lived in London and in his final years was said to be insane. He was cared for in his final illness by a woman named Amelia Hall. Colin made his will in 1816, leaving money to Ann, his daughter by a mulatta woman named Ritta Allinan or possibly Allison. He died in February 1819.
Colin’s daughter Ann Thomson seems to have married Glasgow merchant James McEachran at Cardross in March 1819, shortly after her father’s death. He was the son of Archibald McEachran and Janet McLeod. Archibald may have been the man who was a planter in Bladon County, North Carolina, serving the Loyalist cause in 1776 and settling in Jamaica by 1783. James and Ann McEachran had three children : Janet, born in 1820; Margaret Thomson in 1822; and Archibald in 1826.
I don’t have any definite information for James Thomson after his birth in August 1770, or forJohn Thomson junior after his birth in 1772, or any information at all about Margaret Thomson.
Penelope Thomson married Glasgow merchant George Robb in Eastwood in January 1805. George and Penelope Robb had four children: George, born in 1806; Elizabeth in 1807; John in 1808 (?); and Jean or Jane in 1810.
The names of all four children were listed in a claim for compensation, relating to the parish of Manchester, Jamaica, following the abolition of slavery in the 1830s. The same claim includes the name of Glasgow merchant Archibald Graham Lang: he married Jean or Jane Robb in 1830.Archibald and Jean Robb had seven children: David Graham, born in 1831; Penelope Mary in 1833; Archibald Graham junior in 1835; Jean Victoria in 1838; Helen Adelaide in 1841; Elizabeth Robb in 1845; and William in 1848.
George Robb junior married his cousin Jane Sharp Thomson, daughter of his mother Penelope’s brother Henry, in 1831 (see below). Elizabeth Robb married Glasgow merchant or manufacturer John Burns in 1836. They had a daughter, Penelope, in 1838. I have no further information about John of Elizabeth, though the latter died before 1850. Later records find Penelope Burns living in America, where she seems to worked as a teacher and remained unmarried.
George Robb senior died in 1811 or thereabouts. Two years later, his widow Penelope married John Young, formerly Receiver-General in Jamaica. According to Malcolm Sandilands’ family tree, John was the son of another John Young and of Janet Mitchell, and his uncle James Mitchell had held the post previously. A number of members of the Mitchell family were prominent members of the Jamaican planter community.
John and Penelope Young had three children together: Penelope, born in 1816; Janet in 1817 (?); and John in 1819.
Penelope Young the younger married William Meikleham, a lawyer and clerk to the Senate of Glasgow University, in 1832. They had two sons – William in 1845 and John Young in 1846 – before William senior was declared bankrupt and fled to America to escape justice.
Janet Young married Lancashire-born merchant Jackson Walton in 1835. They had two children: Jackson junior, born in 1838; and Mary in 1841 . Janet died in about 1850 and Jackson married again to Eliza Ann Nicholson, with whom he had twelve more children, two of whom became famous painters , and another an architect.
John Meikleham Young died in Glasgow in 1846. His father John Young had died in 1827 and his mother Penelope young, formerly Robb, née Thomson, died in 1847.
Sugar plantation in Jamaica
Henry Thomson worked as a law writer in Glasgow. He married Jean or Jane Sharp in 1810 and they had two children: John, born in in 1811; and Jane Sharp, born in 1814.
Henry and Jean’s son John Thomson worked as a wine merchant. In 1832 he married his cousin Penelope Young, daughter of his father’s half-sister Penelope Thomson and her second husband John Young. They had three children: Penelope, born in 1834; Joan in 1836; and George in 1838. John Thomson died in 1838.
Jane Sharp Thomson married her cousin George Robb junior, son of Penelope Thomson and her first husband George Robb senior. George worked as both a law writer and a coal and iron manufacturer, before becoming a veterinary surgeon. George and Jane Robb had three children: George Meikleham Robb, born in 1833, who became an artist and lived in the English Lake District; Jane Robb, born in 1834, who married George Glennie Forbes, Deputy Cashier at the Bank of England; and Penelope Ann Boyd Robb, born in 1840, who remained unmarried and moved with her parents to Essex. George Robb died in 1879 and his wife Jane in 1884.
Archibald Thomson lived in Jamaica, on an estate named Hillhead after the area of Glasgow where he was born. The slave register of 1817 records that he owned a considerable number of slaves in the parish of St Elizabeth, while an almanac of 1820 names him as the proprietor of an estate, owning 81 slaves and 18 head of livestock. He died at Hillhead, Jamaica, in 1821.