This evening I happened to be in central London and found myself, quite fortuitously, passing by the end of Greville Street, Holborn, where my distant ancestor John Dickson had a baker’s shop; then a few minutes later walking past the Temple church, in whose grounds my great-great-great-grandfather Samuel Hurst Seager is buried, close to the Inns of Court where he worked as a porter; before turning past the church of St Clement Danes, where Samuel’s daughter Fanny was christened in 1814, and up Kingsway, noticing the church of St George the Martyr where she married my great-great-grandfather, law stationer William Robb, in 1836; and finally stopping for a meal at Strada in Great Queen Street, opposite the site of the Wesleyan Methodist chapel where their son, my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb, was christened in 1851.
In my last post I wrote about law stationer and clerk William Seager, who I believe may have been related to my own Seager ancestors.
One of my reasons for thinking this is that William’s homes in Little James Street and John Street, Holborn, were very close to addresses associated with ‘my’ Seagers. For example, Samuel Hurst Seager, older brother of my great-great-grandmother Fanny Sarah Seager, was living at 33 East Street (near the top of the above image; now renamed as Dombey Street) when he registered the death of his father, another Samuel Hurst Seager, in 1837. Samuel junior was 18 at the time and working as a carpenter. However, he was no longer at this address when the 1841 census was taken (the location of all the Seager children at this date remainds a mystery: I suspect my search is being hampered, once again, by a misleading transcription of their surname at Ancestry).
In 1851 Samuel was living with his mother and siblings at 46 Gerrard Street, Soho, and in the same year he married Jane Wild at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The 1856 Post Office Directory finds Samuel, now described as a builder, still at the same address in Gerrard Street.
Jane died some time before June 1860, when Samuel married Sussex-born tailor’s daughter Mary Ann Yeates at the church of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square (see photograph in last post). Samuel and Mary both gave their address as 6 Theobalds Road (just to the north of Red Lion Square), and the witnesses were Samuel’s sister Elizabeth, and John Thomson. It seems likely that the latter was the couple’s landlord. Although they were no longer in Theobalds Road when the census was taken in the following year, a John Thomson is still living there with his wife and children.
John was born in Cromarty, Scotland in 1811 and his wife Mary in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in 1817. They had three children: Henry Alexander, Catherine and Mary. An earlier census, when the family was living in Pimlico, desribes John as a pianoforte maker, but later records give his occupation as cheesemonger, and it’s likely this was his job when Samuel and Mary Ann Seager were living with him. The premises on either side were occupied by a greengrocer and a hairdresser, so it’s probable that No. 6 was one of a row of shops with accommodation above, very much as this part of Theobalds Road is today:
Incidentally, I had forgotten that another person in my family tree was living in Theobalds Road in the 1860s. Staffordshire-born bookbinder Enoch Palmer, the widowed father of Marianne Mansfield Palmer, second wife of my great-great-grandfather William Robb, lived at No. 13 with his daughter Martha, a dressmaker.
It’s possible that Samuel Seager and Enoch Palmer were acquaintances as well as neighbours. They were certainly connected by their association with William Robb, who had married the former’s sister and then the latter’s daughter. And if my theory about the religious affiliations of the Seagers and the Palmers is correct, they may also have been fellow-worshippers at Great Queen Street Methodist Chapel, just a few streets from Theobalds Road (bottom left of map).
About a year ago I wrote briefly about William Seager, whom I had discovered living in Holborn, London, in the 1840s and 1850s. My interest in William, and my suspicion that he might be a relative of my Seager ancestors, was prompted by three factors. Firstly, he worked as a law stationer, and my great-great-grandfather William Robb, who married Fanny Sarah Seager, was a law stationer’s clerk in the same part of London. Fanny was the daughter of Samuel Hurst Seager, who was a porter at the Inns of Court. Secondly, William’s mother Sarah, (who turns out to have been his stepmother) was said to have been born in Birmingham, the birthplace of Samuel Hurst Seager. Thirdly, William and Sarah lived in Little James Street, only a few streets away from addresses associated with my Seager ancestors.
I’ve now discovered more information about William Seager. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to determine yet whether he’s a relative, but having visited the Holborn area last week (see the photographs below) I find it hard to believe that, living so close, he was unaware of the other Seagers living in the area. The account of William’s life that follows is accurate, to the best of my knowledge.
William Seager was born in 1809 in Portpool Lane, Holborn (to the east of Grays Inn Gardens), and baptised on 23 July 1809 at St. Andrew’s church. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Seager. I haven’t yet found any definitive record of his parents’ marriage or of their births, though we know from Thomas’ burial record that he was born in about 1770. Thomas and Elizabeth had another son, Thomas, also born in Portpool Lane. He was christened at St. Andrew’s on 18 August 1811 but died less than a year later and was buried on 5 April 1812.
Thomas’ wife Elizabeth must have died before 1822, when he married for a second time. It was his second wife, Sarah Reddell, who was born in Birmingham: there were a number of people of that name baptised at St. Philip’s church (where Samuel Hurst Seager was also christened) between 1781 and 1784. At this stage, I’m unsure whether Thomas Seager was also originally from Birmingham. If so, there’s a chance he might have been a relative of Samuel Hurst Seager.
Thomas and Sarah were married at the church of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square, on 4 August 1822. (This was the church where my great-great-grandparents, William Robb and Fanny Seager, would be married fourteen years later).
Thomas Seager died in 1839 and was buried at St Andrew’s, Holborn, on 8 September. He was 69 years old and his address was said to be James Street. It’s almost certain that this was Little rather than Great James Street, since that’s where his widow Sarah and son William can be found in the census record two years later. Since Sarah is described as an ironmonger, it’s probable that this was also Thomas’ occupation, and that the Seagers’ home in Little James Street also served as their shop. (The Post Office Directory for 1848 lists a Mrs. Sarah Seager, ironmonger, at 2 Little James Street, Bedford Row, London.) At the same address were Sarah Cole, 55, a servant, Charles Cordery, 18, and Eliza Austin 20, both porters (in the shop?) and Louis Hastings, 70, described as ‘independent’. The novelist Charles Dickens lived in neighbouring Doughty Street from 1837 to 1839 (his house, at No. 48, is now a museum).
In the 1851 census, William, now 41, and Sarah, 68, are still at the same address, which is said to be next door to a chandler’s shop at No. 1. The Seagers appear to share the premises with writing clerk James Dolman and his wife Mary, and widower John Thomas, a tailor. The Seager household also includes a servant, Martha Gambol, 55, and an errand boy, 16-year-old Samuel Clarke. If the numbering of properties in Little James Street was similar to today, then the Seagers’ house was at the lower end of the street, near the junction with Grays Inn Road.
Views of Little James Street, near Grays Inn Road: 25 March 2011
William Seager must have got married some time between the 1851 census, which describes him as unmarried, and 1858, when the record of his marriage to Emily Adelaide Ashley describes him as a widower. However, despite there being a number of possibilities in the records, I’ve yet to find definite evidence of William’s first marriage.
Emily, the daughter of Thomas Ashley (described in the register, like William’s father, as a ‘gentleman’), was actually a neighbour of the Seagers, and at least twenty years younger than William. The 1851 census finds her living at 3 James Street, with Liverpool-born tailor James Lake Langley and his Suffolk-born second wife Harriet Tetsell Currey. Emily is said to be their neice, but I’ve yet to determine which of the two was her blood relative. We know that Emily was born in either Bow or Stepney, but I haven’t managed to find a record of her birth or baptism. Interestingly, among the others living at No. 3 were one William Coppinger, 52, described as ‘Assistant to Ex(ecutive?) Committee of Gt. Exhibition of 1851’: the census was taken in March and the exhibition ran from May to October.
William and Emily were married on 22 August 1858 at the church of St Philip, Clerkenwell. At the time, the couple were living at 39 Baker Street, but by the time of the 1861 census three years later, they had moved back to the family property in Little James Street, and William’s stepmother Sarah had moved into an almshouse off Grays Inn Road, where she would still be living in 1871.
I had great difficulty finding William and Emily Seager in the 1861 and 1871 census records, and only succeeded in doing so by browsing through all the records for their likely enumeration district. The problem was caused, as is often the case, by avoidable transcription errors at the Ancestry site. In the 1861 records, ‘Seager’ is transcribed ‘as ‘Leager’, and in the 1871 records as ‘Teager’.
In 1861, William, 51, now described as a law clerk, and Emily, 27, were at 2 Little James Street with one servant. They shared the house with a meat salesman, a goldsmith and a mariner. Emily’s uncle and aunt, James and Harriet Langley, were still next door at No. 3, with another niece, Elizabeth Fulcher. (In another example of sloppy transcription, James’ surname is given as Langley and his wife’s as Longley).
William and Emily had one daughter, Harriet Adelaide Sarah, born in 1869. By 1871, the Seagers had moved to the next street, into what were probably grander premises at 3 John Street. They shared the premises with a number of clerks, and had a servant and a boarder of their own. William seems to have achieved some status locally: he was the census enumerator for his district. In this record, his wife used her middle name, Adelaide.
William died on 7 November 1874 at the age of 66. The probate register describes him as being formerly of Little James Street, Bedford Row, but late of 3 John Street, Bedford Row, which is where his widow and executrix Emily was living. His effects were under £300. William’s stepmother Sarah Seager died in the same year.
Two years later, on 2 November 1876, Emily married oil merchant Samuel John Fowler of 54 Leather Lane, at St. Andrew’s, Holborn. In the 1881 census Emily, 44, can be found at the house in John Street, where she is described as a ‘householder’. Athough she is said to be married, Samuel is not present. Instead, the house is also home to a number of boarders: Francis Fowler, 31, an architect, and presumably a relation of Samuel’s; William Schutke and Franz Uscher, commercial clerks from Germany; and Edward Depnall, another commercial clerk, from Leytonstone. Emily also had a young lodger, the artist Charles Napier Kennedy, who would soon achieve distinction as a painter of portraits and mythological scenes. Meanwhile, Emily’s daughter Harriet, now 11, was a boarder at Grove House School in Hammersmith High Road, run by another artist, Alfred Davis, and his family.
By the time the 1891 census was taken, Emily, 53, was a widow for a second time, but was still living in John Street with two servants and a number of boarders. Daughter Harriet had married wine merchant Hugh Maltby in the previous year, and they were living at 10 Beaufort Gardens, Loampit Vale, Lewisham, with one servant. In that same year, they had a son, Hugh Owen Maltby.
Ten years later, Emily (who was now calling herself Adelaide again) had retired to 51 Moor End Lane, Thame, Oxfordshire, where she was said to be living on her own means. By this time Harriet, 31, Hugh, 47 and their second child, Irene Adelaide, 5, were living, with a cook, at 110 Tressilian Road, Brockley. Meanwhile son Hugh Owen, 9, was at a school in nearby Breakspear Road.
In 1911, the Maltbys were still at the same address. Hugh senior was now an oil rather than wine merchant and Hugh junior, 19, was ‘assisting in the same business’, while Irene, 15, was still at school. They had one servant. Meanwhile, Harriet’s’ mother Emily, now 73, had moved from Thame to Myrtle Villa, Woodfield Lane, Ashtead, near Epsom in Surrey, where she lived with a servant.
Harrriet died at the age of 52 on 7 May 1922, at Park Lodge Nursing Home, Tressilian Road. Adminstration of her estate was granted to her husband and son, both described as storekeepers, and to her daughter Irene. Her effects were valued at £9514 20s 2d.
Harriet’s mother Emily a year later on 21 May 1923 at the age of 86, at 110 Tressilian Road, Brockley. Administration of her estate was granted to her grandson, Hugh Owen Maltby. Her effects were valued at £1015 5s 8d.
Harriet’s husband Hugh died in 1937 at Balmaine Park Gate, Blackheath, and his executors were his son Hugh, now described as a drysalter, and daughter Irene. I’m not sure whether Hugh or Irene ever married; telephone directories find the former living in Brockley and the latter in Bromley in the 1930s. Irene might be the Irene A. Maltby who died, aged 59, at Battle in Sussex in 1955. Hugh died in Greenwich in 1981; he was 90.
In the last post I speculated about the background of my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Bowman (1801 – 1842), whose granddaughter Louisa married my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb. In this post, I’ll say more about Robert and his wife, my great-great-great-grandmother Caroline Reed.
Robert Bowman and Caroline Reed were married on 20 January 1828 at St. Mary’s church, Whitechapel. Both were said to be living in the parish. Robert signed his name and Caroline inscribed her mark. The witnesses were John Doughty and Charlotte Wylie.
We know from later census records that Caroline was born in 1797 or 1798 in Stepney or Mile End Old Town. Searches for her birth records have thrown up one or two possibilities, the most intriguing of which is the christening of a Caroline Bowman Reed, daughter of William and Rebecca Reed, at St. John of Hackney on 10 March 1799. Is the middle name just a coincidence, or is it possible there was an existing link between the Reed and Bowman families, and that this explains how Caroline came to meet her husband Robert?
I haven’t been able to find a definite match for the marriage of William and Rebecca. There are a number of possibilities outside London, but the only candidate in the London area around the right date is the marriage between William Reed and Rebecca Thippin (?) which took place in February 1794 at the church of St. Dunstan in the West. I’m hoping that further research will uncover more details of the Reed family and their possible connection with the Bowmans.
Robert and Caroline Bowman’s first child, my great-great-grandfather John, was born on 19 December 1928 and baptised on 11 January 1929 at All Saints church, Poplar. The family’s address is given simply as ‘Bow’. In my last post I stated that John was the eldest of five children, but I was relying on census records and hadn’t checked the International Genealogical Index records at the Family Search website. This has revealed an additional sister Sarah (named after Robert’s mother?), who was born on 30 October 1830 at Pleasant Row, described by one source as one of ‘a series of rundown and overcrowded courts’ in the Jacob’s Island district of Bermondsey, and baptised at St. Saviour’s church, Southwark, on 21 November.
A third child, Robert, was born at the same address on 7 November 1832 and baptised on 2 December at the same church. Sarah died in 1834 at the age of 3 years 6 months and was buried at St. Saviour’s. By this time the family was living in Park Street, not far from Borough Market.
By the time their son Joseph was born in the September of the following year, Robert and Caroline Bowman had moved to Barrowfield Lane, Edmonton. Joseph was christened at All Saints church on 18 October (see previous post).
They had moved again by January 1838, when their daughter Charlotte was born. Her baptismal record at St Botolph without Aldgate states that the Bowmans were living at 8 Harrow Alley, just south of Aldgate High Street. Another daughter, Maria, was born in the following year at the same address and baptised on 18 December at the same church.
The 1841 census finds Robert, Caroline and their five surviving children still in Harrow Alley, but now at No. 4. The census official was rather slapdash with names, using mostly abbreviations and getting some wrong: Charlotte is mistakenly called Caroline, Joseph could be read as James, and Maria becomes Mary. As elsewhere, Robert senior is described simply as a ‘labourer’.
Robert died early in the following year in Harrow Alley and was buried on 12 January at St. Botolph’s. He was 40 years old. His youngest child Maria died later in the same year, on 7 October, at the age of 3. Her address is given as ‘East London Union’, which was a workhouse with premises in Aldgate, suggesting that the Bowman family were thrown into poverty on Robert’s death.
By the time of the 1851 census, however, Robert’s widow Caroline was living at 3 Somerset Court, Aldgate, not far from Harrow Alley, and working as a charwoman. Still living at home were sons John, 22, now working as an umbrella frame maker; Robert, 18, a light porter; and Joseph, 15, an errand boy. Charlotte, 13, was still a ‘scholar’.
In November of that year Caroline’s eldest son John married Elizabeth Jane Larke at St. Philip’s church, Bethnal Green. At some point in the next few years, John’s brother Joseph married his first wife Elizabeth.
Their sister Charlotte died early in 1854 at the age of 16. Interestingly, her burial on 22 January is recorded in the register for Wycliffe Congregational Chapel, confirming my suspicion (see my last post) that the Bowmans were Nonconformists. Charlotte’s address is given as 3 Somerset Court and the cost of her funeral is said to have been 10s 6d. Wycliffe Chapel was in Philipot Street, between Commercial Road and Whitechapel Road, about 15 minutes’ walk from Somerset Court (and a few streets away from Little Alie Street Baptist chapel where my mother’s Holdsworth ancestors would have been worshipping at around the same time). It’s probably just a coincidence that the minister at Wycliffe at this time was Rev. Andrew Reed.
When the 1861 census was taken, Caroline Bowman, 64, was living at 2 Little Somerset Street, Aldgate, with her unmarried son Robert, 27. She was still working as a charwoman and he as a painter. Ten years later, she can be found living with her son Joseph, his second wife Jesse, and their children, at 1 Crown Place, Mile End Road. She died there four years later, in 1875, at the age of 78.
After spending some time on the Glasgow branch of the Robb family, I’ve turned my attention back to London and the Bowmans. Louisa Bowman (1856 – 1905) was my great grandmother: she married my great grandfather, Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934), in 1877. I’ve written about Louisa’s family before, but I’ve been prompted to revisit the Bowmans by some new findings by my recently-discovered second cousin, Mike Robb, which in turn have spurred me on to further digging around in the archives.
Since we now have more information about the Bowmans, I’ve decided it’s time to set down what we know about them in roughly chronological order. But first, a reminder of Louisa’s origins. She was born at 15 Pell Street, between Cable Street and Ratcliffe Highway, in the parish of St. George in the East, the second of the six children of umbrella frame maker John Bowman and his wife Elizabeth Jane Larke. John was the eldest of the five children of labourer Robert Bowman and his wife Caroline Reed.
Until now, the only definite records we’ve had for Robert Bowman were his marriage to Caroline in 1828 and the census record for 1841, which shows Robert, Caroline and their children living in Harrow Alley, Aldgate. Robert is said to have been born in Middlesex and to be 35 years old, but we know that the 1841 census officials had a habit of rounding ages up or down to the nearest 5 or 10. At the time of the next census in 1851, Caroline would be described as a widow, but until recently it was unclear when Robert died. Now the record of his burial has come to light, revealing that Robert Bowman of Harrow Alley was buried on 12 January 1842 at St. Botolph without Aldgate.
The burial register gives no indication of the cause of death, but it helpfully provides us with Robert’s age at the time of his death, which was 40. This means that he was born in about 1801 or 1802. Using this information, I searched for records of his birth and came across the baptismal record for a Robert Bowman, born on 14 August 1801 and baptised on 20 September at All Saints church, Edmonton. This Robert was the son of Joseph and Sarah Bowman. Other records suggest that he was probably their fourth child, and that before Robert they had three daughters: Charlotte (1793), Hester (1798) and Elizabeth (1800). All were christened at All Saints church and Elizabeth’s christening record informs us that Joseph was a labourer and the family lived at Wood Green, Tottenham.
As yet, I have no definite proof confirmation that this is ‘our’ Robert Bowman, but there are a number of factors pointing in that direction. One is the location. Robert and Caroline Bowman would move around London during their married lives, and their children were born in a number of different boroughs, including Bow, Southwark and Aldgate. Their third son Joseph was born at Barrowfield Lane, Edmonton, and (like his father?) baptised at All Saints church, suggesting a possible family connection with the area. Then there are the naming patterns. As well as naming one of his sons Joseph (after his own father?), Robert Bowman also had one of his daughters christened Charlotte, perhaps in honour of his sister?
Sarah Bowman’s maiden name was Foreman and she and Joseph were married at All Saints church on 6 August 1780. I’m not sure when Joseph died but a Sarah Bowman died at the Post House, Edmonton in 1837 and was buried on 31 March. She was 76 years old, which means she would have been born in 1761.
I haven’t been able to find out what happened to the Bowmans’ three daughters. At first I thought that Charlotte had married Thomas Hucks in Southwark in 1822, but there’s a Bermondsey-born Charlotte Bowman who looks like a better candidate. However, we know that Robert and Caroline Bowman would live in Bermondsey at one point, so it’s possible that the Bowmans of that area (of whom there appear to be many) were related.
Some of the biblical first names favoured by the Bowmans – Joseph, Sarah, Hester – suggest a Nonconformist background. We know that Edmonton, Tottenham, and the north London suburbs generally, were popular refuges for Dissenters in the 17th and 18th centuries. This suspicion that the Bowmans were Nonconformists is borne out by another piece of new evidence, which I’ll reveal in the next post.
In my last post I wrote about the death of John Thomson (1741 – 1818), the Glasgow saddler who was the father of the Penelope Thomson who married my probable ancestor George Robb. His will revealed that John’s second wife was Elizabeth Robb, and it seemed likely that she was the daughter of Glasgow bookseller John Robb.
This theory has received some support from other sources of information that I’ve managed to find. A list of Scottish booksellers mentions a James Robb, bookbinder, bookseller and stationer in Glasgow between 1748 and 1767, and specifically in ‘Salt Mercat’ (Saltmarket) from 1768 – 73. Two John Robbs are mentioned in the details below this heading, though I’m not quite sure of their relationship to James. Another listing has John Robb, ‘eldest son to deceased bookbinder John Robb’ in the ‘fourth shop below the Old Vennel East side of High Street’ 1796 and in University Buildings from 1799-1800.
I’ve yet to work out the relationships and chronology of the bookselling Robb family, but it’s interesting to note that John Thomson also had premises in the Saltmarket. Jones’ Directory for 1787 has John Thomson, saddler, selling saddlery and harness, on ‘East Side Saltmarket, a Little Below the Well’.
Thomson also appears to be mentioned in John Robb senior’s will. He died in 1778 and the inventory of his estate includes what appears to be an outstanding debt:
There was adebted and owing to the said defunct at the time of his death foresaid the sum of fifteen pounds seven shillings and sixpence sterling contained in a bill drawn by John Thomson upon and accepted by the deceased John Robb and Isobel Muir spouse thereafter relict of William Muir late Provost of Rutherglen…
Of course, this might be a different John Thomson. But given that Robb and Thomson were both merchants in the same Glasgow street, and that (if my theory is correct) the latter would marry the former’s daughter five years later, it seems at least possible it’s the same person.
John Robb’s will also usefully supplies the name of his widow, Elizabeth Freebairn. Using this information, I’ve been able to find out that John and Elizabeth Robb were married on 23 May 1736 in Glasgow, and that they had at least five children: Margaret (born in 1738); Isobel (1741); Elizabeth (1742); another Isobel (1745), suggesting that the first one died at a young age; and John (1752). The latter is presumably the person who took over the bookselling business from his father.
If the Elizabeth Robb who married John Thomson really was the daughter of John Robb, bookseller, then she would have been 41 when they married in 1783, and 42 when their daughter Elizabeth was born in the following year. But then, John Thomson was himself 42 and a widower, and the couple’s ages perhaps explain why they only had one child together.
My research into the bookselling Robbs of Glasgow has yet to turn up a George Robb, so perhaps I’m safe in believing that the latter was, indeed, my Aberdeenshire ancestor transferred to Glasgow, and that the shared surname was just a coincidence? Either that or, as I’ve suggested before, there might be some connection between the Aberdeenshire and Glasgow branches of the family. If the latter, then it’s interesting to note a possible historical echo: in his retirement, my father opened Robb’s Bookshop, in Chelmsford, Essex.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this latest post in my series on the second generation of the Robb-Thomson-Young family in Glasgow, I turn to Elizabeth Robb, the second child of Penelope Thomson’s marriage to George Robb, merchant, the brother of my 3 x great grandfather Charles.
The old parish registers for Glasgow include the following record:
John Burns merchant Glasgow and Elizabeth Robb residing in Barony, lawful daughter of the deceased George Robb Esq. merchant Glasgow, married at Glasgow the 16th day of August 1836 by the Rev. Nathaniel Paterson minister of St. Andrew’s Parish Glasgow.
I understand that John and Elizabeth only had one child. Penelope Burns was born in Glasgow on 26 January 1838. The witnesses were Elizabeth’s brother George, and Alexander Burns. This record describes John as a manufacturer rather than as a merchant.
This is, in fact, the last definite record we have for John and Elizabeth. I’ve failed to find them in the 1841 or 1851 census records, though we know from the report of the court case concerning Elizabeth Thomson’s will that Elizabeth Burns had died by the latter date.
The same court report states that Penelope Burns was now (i.e. July 1851) living in America. Since she would only have been 13 at this date, it seems likely either that John, Elizabeth and Penelope emigrated when the latter was very young and that Elizabeth died there, or that John and Penelope emigrated after Elizabeth’s death. However, I’ve yet to find any documentary evidence to support either possibility, though emigration or travel would account for the absence of Scottish records for the family after 1838.
Some time ago, I wrote about Penelope Burns’ life in America, based on the US records I’d been able to find. I can now add somewhat to this story, though with the cautionary note that I’m still not absolutely sure this is ‘our’ Penelope. The Federal Census of 1880 finds a single, white, Scottish-born woman by the name of Penelope Burns working as a teacher of languages, and lodging, together with a number of other teachers, in the home of Eli Thayer in Worcester, Massachussetts.
Although the census record describes Thayer as an inventor, he was also a member of the US House of Representatives and a leading figure in the anti-slavery ‘Kansas Crusade’. Most relevant to our story, Eli Thayer also founded Oread Institute, a school for young women in Worcester. Presumably, Penelope Burns and the other teachers lodging with the Thayer family worked at the school. In fact, a history of the institute lists Miss Penelope Burns as an honorary member of its association, membership of which was open to ‘any person who taught at the Oread Collegiate Institute at any time between 1849 and 1881.’
The only discrepancy between these records and what we know of Penelope, daughter of John and Elizabeth Burns, is her date of birth, which the 1880 census gives as 1841. However, a record in the 1900 Federal Census, which appears to be for the same person, gives her date of birth as 1838. This record finds teacher Penelope Robb, 62, lodging in Pleasant Street, Worcester. The Worcester Directories of 1888 and 1889 give the same address for Penelope.
This later census record raises another doubt, since it gives the date of Penelope’s immigration to the US as 1872, when we know that she was in America by 1851. Perhaps the earlier visit was only temporary? She was naturalised as a US citizen in 1880, the record again sowing doubts about her age. According to the Naturalisation Index, Penelope was born in 1840, rather than 1838. However, the fact that she gives the same birthday – 26 January – suggests that this is probably the same person, and that she was in the habit of shaving a couple of years off her true age.
As with her father and mother, I have no information about the date or place of Penelope Burns’ death.
At the end of my last post about George Robb (1806 – 1879) and his wife Jane Sharp Thomson (1814 – 1884), I mentioned that I had discovered new information about their daughter Jane. Until recently, I assumed that the last record we had for Jane was the 1851 census, when, aged 17, she was living with her parents and siblings in Hope Street, Glasgow.
I had thought that, unlike her brother George and sister Penelope, Jane did not follow her parents when they retired to Essex some time before 1861, as she appeared to be absent from all the census records for the family from that date onwards. I wondered if she had stayed in Glasgow and married there, or perhaps (like so many of her family) she had died at a young age.
In the course of reviewing what I knew about George’s family for the last post, I searched at Scotland’s People for details of a marriage involving a Jane Robb, after 1851. There were a number of possibilities, some of which proved to be obvious dead-ends. However, one marriage looked more likely than the others. On 15 June 1854, George Forbes, a banker in the parish of Marylebone, London, married Jane Robb, residing in Barony parish. The wedding took place at Graham Castle, Ardrossan, and was officiated by Rev. John Thomas Boyle, curate of Trinity church, Ayr. (Two points of interest there: Ardrossan is next door to Saltcoats, where Jane was living with her parents in 1841, and Holy Trinity, Ayr, is an Episcopal church. If the Robbs were Episcopalian, this might explain why their baptisms are absent from the old parish registers.)
I then searched on Ancestry for census records for George and Jane Forbes, and the first one I found was for Little Friday Hill, Chingford, Essex in the 1861 census: the same address as Jane’s parents. When I first found George and Jane Robb at this address, and saw that the next entry was for George Forbes and his wife Jane, I assumed they were simply next-door neighbours and their Scottish origin was simply a coincidence. Looking at the record again, I realised that these were in fact two households in the same building. One household consisted of George and Jane Robb, their two children George and Penelope, a housemaid and a cook; the other of their daughter Jane, her husband George Forbes, and their housemaid.
The Robbs’ move to Essex might be explained, in fact, by Jane’s marriage to George Forbes, and by the latter’s occupation, since by this date he had risen to the status of Deputy Cashier at the Bank of England.
I now knew that George Forbes had been born in Scotland: but where? Some further internet searching revealed George to be the son of Rev. Patrick Forbes, D.D. of Aberdeen, and to have been born in 1825. This helped me to find George’s baptismal record. Rev. Dr. Forbes, minister of Old Machar and Professor of Humanity and Chemistry at King’s College, Old Aberdeen, and his spouse Mrs. Mary Glennie, had a son born on 2 January 1825, baptised by the Rev. Dr. Glennie (Mary’s father) in the presence of Dr. Ogilvy, Old Aberdeen, and Dr. Knight, Marischal College.
How did George Forbes, born in Aberdeen and living and working in London by the time of his marriage, meet Jane Robb of Glasgow? The clue might lie in a record from the 1851 census, which finds 24 year old writer’s clerk George Forbes of Aberdeen, lodging at a house in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, just a few minutes’ walk from the Robbs’ home in Hope Street. It’s easy to imagine how a promising writer’s clerk might meet the daughter of a former ‘writer’, a number of whose relatives worked as lawyers and merchants in the neighbouring streets of the city.
George Forbes did not remain Deputy Chief Cashier for long. By the time of the 1871 census, he had attained the enviable position of Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. In fact, he was the first person in that role whose signature and title appeared on bank notes. By that time George and Jane were living at Thornton House in Bromley, Kent. They had no children but could afford to employ a parlourmaid, a housemaid and a cook.
I understand that George may have been ill for some years, and it seems that he and Jane returned to live with her parents, now at Mistley Abbey, Essex, at some point. It was there that George died, at the age of 49, on 25 May 1874. He left effects to the value of less than £1500.
The 1881 census finds his widow Jane, a person of independent means, as a visitor at the Grange, Elstree, Hertfordshire, the home of banker Frank May and his family. May was George Forbes’ successor as Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, holding that position from 1873 until 1893, when he was forced to resign after certain ‘irregularities’ came to light.
I haven’t been able to find out when Jane Forbes nee Robb died.