I was in Glasgow last week, for a work-related conference. I was only there for one night, which didn’t allow time for any family history research. However, as I walked from Glasgow Central Station to my hotel in George Square, and then to the conference venue in nearby Ingham Street, I was aware that I was in the heart of the eighteenth-century Merchant City that would have been very familiar to my Robb ancestors.
Exchange Place, Glasgow: entrance to the Merchant City
Although my father’s family were originally from Aberdeenshire – they owned a property in Fisherford, in the parish of Auchterless – they also had a close connection with Glasgow. According to the memorandum written in 1885 by my great great grandfather, William Robb, his parents – Charles Edward Stuart Robb and Margaret Ricketts Monteith – were married in the city. William claims that the wedding took place on 15th October 1802 at St. Mungo’s church (now Glasgow Cathedral), though I’ve yet to find a record of the event.
How Charles Robb came to be in Glasgow, and how he met his wife Margaret, remains a mystery, as do Margaret’s origins. I certainly haven’t been able to confirm or deny the family tradition, recorded in William Robb’s memorandum, that she was the only daughter of John Monteith and his wife Matilda, and that the latter was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was, in William’s words, ‘engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.’
George Square, Glasgow, at twilight
One clue may lie in what I’ve managed to discover about Charles’ older brother George, who (I believe) worked as a merchant in Glasgow, marrying saddler’s daughter Penelope Thomson there on 15th January 1805, the ceremony being conducted by another Robb brother, William, who was an Episcopalian minister (and poet) in St Andrews. I wonder if Charles followed his brother George to Glasgow, and whether he originally came to the city to study the law? We know that later in life Charles would work as a solicitor’s clerk, as would at least two of his sons, and that another son – my great great grandfather William – would find work as a law stationer’s clerk. The law seems to have been in the Robb blood: George’s son, George Robb junior, worked initially as a law writer – or solicitor – before switching careers and becoming a veterinary surgeon, and there are numerous other associations between the Glasgow Robb and Thomson families and the legal profession.
George Square, Glasgow: early morning
Charles and Margaret Robb must have left Glasgow soon after they were married. By 1805 they were in Aberdeen for the birth of their daughter Matilda; in 1806 and 1807 they were in Alloa, for the birth and death in infancy of their son George William; and in 1808 they were in Kilmarnock for the birth and death after just a few weeks of their daughter Isabella Maria. By 1810, when their son Charles Edward was born, they had left Scotland, and were in Whitby, in Yorkshire; by 1811 they would be in Richmond for the birth of another George William; my great great grandfather William was also born there, in 1813; his younger brother John was born in Malton in 1816, as was the Robbs’ youngest child, Elizabeth, in 1820. By the mid-1830s at the latest, the family was in London, which would become their permanent home.
As I’ve noted in recent posts, I’m still trying to find independent confirmation of the relationship between my great great great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb, and George Robb, Glasgow merchant, as well as attempting to throw some light on the mysterious origins of my great great great grandmother Margaret Ricketts Monteith. I suspect there is a link of some kind to trade with the West Indies – the Ricketts family were plantation owners in Jamaica, and I’ve found records of George Robb’s children, and his Thomson relatives, seeking compensation following the abolition of the slave trade. After George died in about 1812, his widow Penelope married John Young, a West Indies merchant who had been the Receiver-General of Jamaica.
Perhaps next time I visit Glasgow, I’ll have more time to explore the places where my ancestors lived and worked, and to make progress in solving in some of these family history mysteries.