The Holdsworth family and ‘Mr Morley’ of Oxford: a mystery solved

There are few things more exciting for a family historian than discovering a whole new branch of your family tree. I’m grateful to Wendy Christie, via a comment on this blog, for providing me with new and intriguing information about my maternal ancestors, the Holdsworths, and for solving a longstanding mystery about one of their number, as well as throwing new light on the story of the family as a whole.

To begin with a recap: John Holdsworth was my 4th great grandfather. Born in 1765, he was the eldest son of my 5th great grandparents, Yorkshire-born farmer Joseph Holdsworth (1735 – 1795) and Elizabeth Collins, née Gibson (1733 – 1809), who were married in 1763. As I’ve related elsewhere, following Joseph’s death in South Weald, Essex, his widow and adult children all moved to London, Elizabeth’s home city, settling in the expanding suburbs of Whitechapel and Stepney.

An early photograph of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire (via chippingnortonmuseum.org.uk)

All, that is, except John, a carpenter and builder, who would eventually make his home in London, but only after spending a number of years living in Oxfordshire. John Holdsworth, by then in his early thirties, married twenty-two-year-old Mary Ann Webb in the north Oxfordshire town of Chipping Norton on 22nd September 1797.

Thanks to the research shared with me by Wendy Christie, we now have more definite information about the children born to John and Mary Holdsworth while they were still living in Chipping Norton. Their eldest daughter Eliza was born there in 1798, William in 1800 and Keziah in 1804. This latter information contradicts the claim made in later census records that Keziah, who was my 3rd great grandmother, was born in the parish of St Clement’s, Oxford. However, the Holdsworths must have moved there shortly afterwards, since their daughter Mary and son Joseph were christened at St Clement’s church in November 1806 and March 1809 respectively.

St Ebbe’s church, Oxford (via oxfordhistory.org.uk)

However, the truly novel information supplied by Wendy relates to the Holdsworth family’s move to yet another Oxford parish, St Ebbe’s, by the time their youngest child was born in 1810. Sarah Parker Holdsworth was baptised there on 22nd December 1810. I already knew that John and Mary Holdsworth had a daughter named Sarah, but I didn’t have a definite date for her birth, nor was I aware until now of her middle name. I’ve written elsewhere about the links between the Holdsworth and Parker families: John Holdsworth’s younger sister Sarah married oil and colour merchant William Parker in Bethnal Green in August 1803. However, this was not Sarah’s first marriage: until his early death in 1799, she had been married to plumber Edward Porter, and they had named their son Edward Parker Porter, hinting at a much earlier connection between the two families. There would also be later marital links between the families. Another Sarah Holdsworth, the daughter of John Holdsworth’s brother William, would marry a Thomas Parker in Stepney in 1821, and their son, another Thomas Parker, married Eliza Roe, William Holdsworth’s granddaughter, in 1853. By giving his daughter the middle name Parker, John Holdsworth was confirming this longstanding family connection, as well as signalling that he remained close to his siblings sixty miles away in London.

Baptismal record for Sarah Parker Holdsworth, St Ebbe’s church, Oxford, 22.12.1810 (via ancestry.co.uk)

Wendy’s research has also uncovered two burial records for the Holdsworth family in St Ebbe’s parish. The first is for William Holdsworth, on 9th November 1809; he was nine years old. The second is for Mary Holdsworth, on 30th December 1810. She was thirty-five years old, so this must have been John’s wife. Since Mary was buried only eight days after giving birth to Sarah, she presumably died from complications following childbirth. This is the first information we’ve had about Mary’s death. It perhaps explains why John returned to London around this time: he was certainly in Stepney by 1812, when records show that he was paying land tax on a property in William Street, in the parish of St George-in-the-East.

Most of John’s children went with him to London, and they stayed and made their lives there. Eliza would spend her life working as a domestic servant, firstly to the family of a Congregational minister and later to a wealthy widow; she never married. Joseph would work as a carpenter, like his father, marrying into a devout Dissenting family and later emigrating with them to Australia. Keziah married shoemaker John Blanch and they lived firstly in Bethnal Green and then in Soho. Their daughter Mary Ann married her second cousin Daniel Roe, son of Keziah’s first cousin Eliza, daughter of John Holdsworth’s brother William; Daniel and Mary Ann were my great great grandparents.

However, one of John Holdsworth’s children would remain in Oxford, or perhaps return there as a young woman. Until now, it was believed that John and Mary Holdsworth had a daughter named Ann, who married a ‘Mr Morley’ and settled in Oxford. This was certainly the claim made in notes left by members of the Holdsworth family towards the end of the nineteenth century. But Wendy Christie’s research finds no trace of Ann Holdsworth. Instead, there is clear evidence that it was actually John and Mary Holdsworth’s daughter Sarah who married a Mr Morley.

The marriage of Thomas Morley and Sarah Parker Holdsworth in the parish register of St Clement’s church, Oxford (via ancestry.co.uk)

On 6th May 1832, Thomas Morley, of the parish of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, married Sarah Parker Holdsworth at the parish church of St Clement’s in the same city. When their first child (or at least the first child we have records for), Anne, was christened at the same church on 29th November 1835, the couple were living in Cowley Road. The parish register describes Thomas as a bookbinder, an occupation that he would pursue for the remainder of his life and pass on to two of his sons. Three years later, when a second daughter, Elizabeth, was born, the family was living in Penson’s Gardens, in St Clement’s, though the baptism took place in the parish church of St Ebbe’s, where Sarah had been christened. A son, William, was also born at the same address, and christened at the same church, in 1840. Another son, Henry, was born in 1842. His younger brother Thomas was born in the parish of St Giles, Oxford, in 1845. Another move preceded the birth of Mary Morley, in 1848, in Adelaide Street, on the edge of the Jericho district to the north of the city; she was christened in the parish church of St Paul’s. Thomas and Sarah Morley’s youngest child, Martin, was born in 1851 in Oxford, but I’m not sure where he was baptised.

I haven’t yet managed to find the Morleys in the census for 1841 or 1851, and it’s possible that there are missing sections in the records, but in 1861 they were living at 24 Walton Street, Oxford, not far from Adelaide Street. Thomas and Sarah were now both 49; Elizabeth was 22 and working as a milliner; William and Henry 20 and 18 respectively and both working as bookbinders, presumably alongside their father; Mary and Martin, at 12 and 10, were too young to be working. As for Thomas Morley, junior, then aged 16, he was already working, as an organist. The Morleys also had a boarder: 72-year-old Hannah Godfrey from Cumnor, then in Berkshire.

A nineteenth-century woodcut of a bookbinder’s workshop

By 1871 the Morleys had moved again, to 17 Long Wall (now Longwall Street) in the centre of the city, close to the High Street. Thomas and Sarah were now 59. Thomas was still working as a bookbinder and employing one man. Their neighbours on one side were a clergyman ‘without cure of souls’, and on the other a retired bookbinder (perhaps a former colleague or partner?) and his family.

The only one of their children still living at home with Thomas and Sarah was Mary, now 21, though she would marry tobaconnist William Nicholson in 1874 and they would settle in the village of Watlington with their son Hubert. Mary’s sister Anne, who would have been 39 in 1871, worked as a school mistress. At that date she was a lodger in the home of bargeman Henry Ashley in Victor Street, Oxford. In 1869, another daughter, Elizabeth, had married Wiiltshire-born house carpenter Henry Moxham, and by 1871 they were living in Streatham, south London, with their first child, Henry junior. [I now realise that this information about Elizabeth’s marriage is incorrect: see this post for the correction.] William Morley had married Mary Ellen Hutt in 1864 and in 1871 they were living at 27 St Giles, Oxford, with their son Frederick William, as well as a female servant and a young boarder. William was now a master bookbinder in his own right.

William’s younger brother Henry had married printer’s daughter Caroline Osborn, also in 1864, and in 1871 they were living at 18 Cowley Road, where Henry was working as a book finisher. I can’t find Martin Morley in the 1871 census records, but we know that he would also work as a bookbinder in Oxford, and in 1873 he married Ann Simmons, with whom he had a number of children.

In 1866, Thomas Morley junior had married Fanny Ann Wilkins, the daughter of a London harness-maker, in Holborn, where he was organist at St Alban’s church. By 1871 they had moved to 3 Barrack Street, Perth, Scotland, where they were living with their three young sons, Arthur, Frederick and William, and a domestic servant. Thomas was working as an organist for a local aristocrat, though I’ve misplaced the details of this appointment. By 1881, Thomas had returned to England, where he was now working as a professor of music, and was living in Harmondsworth, Middlesex, with Fanny, their three older sons, their daughters Elizabeth, Ellen and Grace, all of whom had been born in Scotland, and their youngest son Henry, born three years earlier in Tunbridge Wells.

St John, New Brunswick, Canada, in the 1890s (via new-brunswick.net)

Fanny would die shortly after the census was taken, in Battersea, and four years later Thomas remarried, to Sarah Elizabeth Tipton, in his home city of Oxford. Their daughter Nora would be born in Headington in 1887, and in the same year the family would emigrate to Canada, arriving at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia in July. The Canadian census of 1891 would find the Morleys living in St John, New Brunswick, where another daughter, Ella, had been born in the year after their arrival in the country. Apparently Thomas served as organist at the Mission Church, Paradise Row. A city directory of 1889 finds Professor Thomas Morley living at No.15 Coburg. Thomas did not live for very long after arriving in Canada. The Musical Times of 1st December 1891 announced the death on the 13th November that year of Thomas Morley, ‘organist and composer’, at the age of 46.

As for the other children of Thomas Morley senior and Sarah Parker Holdsworth: Anne was already retired from schoolteaching by the age of 46, and in 1881 and 1891 was living with her parents in Long Wall. She was still with them, at the same address, ten years later. After her parents’ deaths – Sarah died in 1893 and Thomas in 1897– she continued to occupy their house, living on her own means. However, by 1911, when she was 76, Anne was living in Cowley Road, Oxford, with her nephew Frederick William Morley, the son of her brother William. Following in the footsteps of his late uncle, Frederick was also employed as a professor of music.

William Morley and his wife Mary would remain in Oxford, until Mary’s death in 1907 and William’s in 1931. In 1911 William was sharing a house in Headington with his widowed sister Mary Nicholson, née Morley. Henry Morley and his family would also remain in Oxford. In 1911 they would still be living in Cowley Road, with their unmarried daughter Gertrude, the head teacher of an elementary school. The same year found Henry’s brother Martin also still in Oxford with his wife Ann and their unmarried daughter Ethel, a milliner. I don’t know when Ann died, but Martin passed away in 1925 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, at the home of his son Arthur, a tax inspector.

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Archibald Grahame, parliamentary solicitor, and the Robb family

In the last post I wrote about the family connections of John Young (1770 – 1827), the Glasgow merchant and former Receiver-General of Jamaica who was the second husband of Penelope Thomson (1777 – 1847), widow of my 4th great uncle George Robb. John Young signed and sealed his last will and testament at his home at Meadow Park, Glasgow, on 15th January 1827. He died there on the very next day. Young’s will closes with the following statement:

In witness whereof these presents written upon stamped paper by David Craig Clark to Archibald Grahame and Thomas Struthers Writers in Glasgow are subscribed by me at Meadow Park the fifteenth day of January 1827 years before these witnesses Hugh Smith Merchant in Glasgow the said Archibald Grahame Writer there and the said David Craig and George Robb Apprentice to the said Archibald Grahame (sigd) John Young Hugh Smith witness Archd. Grahame witness Dav. Craig witness George Robb witness.

I’m fairly certain that the George Robb who was one of the witnesses to John Young’s will was his stepson, the product of his wife Penelope’s first marriage to my ancestor, George Robb senior. Born in 1806, George Robb junior would have been twenty or twenty-one years old in 1827. We know from the record of the legal dispute concerning the will of his aunt Elizabeth Thomson, that George was working as a (law) writer in 1836. However, he would later change professions and work, firstly as a coal and iron master in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, and then as a veterinary surgeon in Glasgow, before retiring with his wife Jane Sharp Thomson to Essex, where they lived on their inherited wealth.

View of Glasgow in the late eighteenth century

When I first read John Young’s will, I wondered whether the reference to Archibald Grahame, the writer, or solicitor, to whom George Robb was apprenticed, was an error, and that the person meant was actually Archibald Graham Lang, who would become George Robb’s brother-in-law three years later in 1830, when he married his sister Jean. However, I soon concluded that Lang was probably too young  – he was probably about twenty-five years old at this date – to have had an apprentice. Moreover, we know that Lang was employed as a merchant, not as a lawyer. Finally, I concluded that mistakes about names do not usually occur in legal documents!

However, the similarity in names prompted me to search further, and I discovered that Archibald Grahame was a prominent lawyer in Glasgow, working with Thomas Struthers, until their partnership was dissolved in May 1827, just a few months after John Young’s will was signed and sealed, ‘the term on the contract having expired’. It seems that Grahame then relocated to England, where he secured an appointment as a parliamentary solicitor in Westminster. One source refers to him as ‘the talented Parliamentary solicitor in London.’ Graham’s name is attached to a number of cases decided by the House of Lords in the 1830s and 1840s.

This made me sit up and take notice, since I recalled that John Robb, the son of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb (brother of George Robb senior), was employed at one stage as a ‘parliamentary agent’ or clerk, indicating that he too worked for a law firm attached to Parliament. Could it be that John worked for Archibald Grahame, and/or that he acquired his post through the influence of Grahame, who had once been the employer of John’s cousin George Robb junior in Glasgow? If so, does this provide further proof of the connection between my direct ancestors and the Glasgow Robbs, and also suggest that the two branches of the family remained in contact after Charles moved with his family to London, and despite their very different economic fortunes?

The law certainly seems to have been in the Robb bloodstream. Charles Robb himself was described, when living in Malton, Yorkshire, as an ‘accountant and engraver’, but later records, following the family’s move to London, claim that he was a solicitor’s clerk. One of Charles’ sons, George William, was described as an ‘attorney’s clerk’ when he died from influenza in 1847, and of course another son, my great great grandfather William Robb, worked as a clerk to a law stationer.

Jane Grahame, wife of Archibald Grahame senior, National Gallery of Scotland

Returning to Glasgow: Is it mere coincidence that Archibald Graham Lang had a similar name to that of his brother-in-law’s employer? I know very little about Lang’s family background: some sources describe him as the son of David Lang and Marion Graham. One of the sources cited above relates that Archibald Graham was the son of another man of the same name, also a law writer, but later a partner in the Thistle Bank – and then its Cashier. His wife’s name was Jane and she was also a Grahame by birth – one of the Grahame’s of Whitehill- and indeed Archibald senior was in partnership with his father-in-law Thomas Grahame until he joined the Thistle Bank in 1781.

So far, I haven’t managed to find any connection between Archibald Grahame and Archibald Grahame Lang, but I believe the connection must exist. It would explain not only the latter’s name, but also perhaps how he came to meet his wife, Jean Robb, the sister of Archibald Graham’s apprentice George.

John Young of Glasgow and the Mitchell family of Jamaica

I’m continuing to explore the connections between my Glasgow ancestors and the island of Jamaica.

As I’ve noted before, there is strong evidence to suggest that George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who married Penelope Thomson on 15th January 1805, was the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb. George and Penelope Robb had four children – George (1806), Elizabeth (1807), John (1808) and Jean (1810) – before George’s death, which occurred some time between 1810 and 1813, when Penelope married again.

Meadow Park House, Glasgow, in the 19th century

Penelope’s second husband, whom she married on 27th June 1813, was described in the parish register as ‘John Young Receiver General in Jamaica’.  John and Penelope Young would live at Meadow Park House and have three children – Penelope (1815?), Janet (1816) and John (1819) – before John’s death on 16th January 1827. In his will, John Young mentions ‘my cousins John Mitchell Esquire of the City of London, William Mitchell Esquire of the City of London merchant [and] Rowland Mitchell Esquire of the said city merchant’. These three men are nominated, together with Samuel Mitchell, and with John’s widow Penelope, as the executors of the will.

Until now, I’ve been unclear about John Young’s precise connection with the Mitchell family. However, information gleaned from Malcolm Sandiland’s family tree at Ancestry has made me aware that Mitchell was the maiden name of John young’s mother. Janet Mitchell married John Young senior in Glasgow on 19th May 1767. Born in Kilmadock, Perthshire, Janet was the daughter of John Mitchell of Doune (1712 – 1783) and his wife Margaret Ferguson (1723 – 1774). They had at least seven children besides Janet, including William (1742), David (1744), Marjory (1747), Christian (1749), James (1752), Margaret (1757) and John.

Slaves working on a Jamaican plantation

A number of these children would have close associations with Jamaica. The eldest son, William, was perhaps the most prominent. According to the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership website:

William Mitchell …married Catherine Hamilton and they had one daughter. William ‘King’ Mitchell (as he was known on the island) resided in Jamaica for nearly forty years. He was both a plantation owner and an attorney who in his own estimate had ‘perhaps 16 or 18’ sugar plantations under his ‘care’ at various times. He informed a committee in 1807 that he had spent over £30,000 on the erection of a sugar works on one of his own estates which included Windsor Park in St. Catherine, Bushy Park in St. Dorothy, New Hall in St. Thomas in the Vale and Georges Valley in Trelawny. Among others Mitchell did business with and borrowed money from the powerful Jamaica planter Simon Taylor.

Mitchell was returned as an M.P. for Plympton on the Treby interest at the general election of 1796. He was an active member of the Society of West India Planters and Merchants and gave evidence before Parliament’s West India Committee in 1807. He returned to Jamaica in 1798, likely due to the death of his brother James. Although nominally held by Charles Germain, 2nd Viscount Sackville from 1776 to 1815, in real terms James had held the lease on the office of the Receiver-General, a post which brought in commission worth £6,000 per annum average. Mitchell took a place in the Jamaica Assembly in 1798 and managed to stave off a bill which would have replaced the commission system with a fixed salary. William then succeeded as the lessee of the office of Receiver-General and in 1808 he renewed the lease for a further 19 years from Sackville’s younger brother George Germain, although it appears he appointed a deputy to this position. Mitchell’s political influence in Jamaica was strong and he was instrumental in securing the position of Agent for Jamaica for his nephew Edmund Lyon.

During her residence in Jamaica Lady Nugent, the Governor’s wife, met William Mitchell. She described him in her journal noting that ‘Mr. M’s delight is to stuff his guests, and I should think it would be quite a triumph to him to hear of a fever or apoplexy, in consequence of his good cheer. He is immensely rich, and told me he paid £30,000 per annum for duties to Government… He seems particularly indulgent to his negroes, and is, I believe, although a very vulgar, yet a very humane man.’ This description gives an indication of the lifestyle of a wealthy Jamaica planter – the importance of sociability, generosity and a reputation for benevolence.

As a member of the House of Assembly Mitchell had to apply for leave before returning to England, which he did in 1805. Although it had been expected he would only remain a year he was still resident in London in 1808 when he gave evidence to a committee of inquiry on the distillation of sugar. He resided at Upper Harley Street in Marylebone and was well known for the extravagant social gatherings he arranged for the absentee Jamaicans in London. It is not clear if he ever returned to Jamaica.

Mitchell died at Brighton in 1823 having made a will in 1819 which bequeathed all his Jamaican estates and his property in Scotland to his nephew John Mitchell. He also left over £25,000 in annuities and legacies for his wife and other relatives.

Further information on William ‘King’ Mitchell can be found at the History of Parliament Online website. William’s younger brother James, who mentioned in the above account, served as Receiver-General in Jamaica: there are references to him holding this office in 1796. He died in Spanish Town in 1806.

Carshalton House, Surrey, by Thomas John R. Winn (1896 – 1990), Sutton Central Library, via artuk.org

Another brother, David Mitchell, married Anne Hewitt Smith. They lived initially in Jamaica, and later at Carshalton House in Surrey. Four of their sons – John, William, Rowland and Samuel – were left bequests in the will of their uncle William Mitchell on his death in 1823. Presumably these are the cousins referred to in the will of John Young.

William Mitchell’s will also maintains that, according to the terms of the will of his late brother James, he and his heirs and executors are entitled to ‘hold, exercise and enjoy the Office of Receiver General of His Majesty’s Island of Jamaica and to receive all the benefits emoluments and advantages which have arisen or may arise therefrom for the term of nineteen years from the seventeenth day of October one thousand eight hundred and eight’.

Of the four Mitchell cousins mentioned in John Young’s will, I’ve managed to find out most about Rowland. He married Anne Heath, probably in about 1810. They had three children that I know of: Mary Ann (1811), John (1813) and Ellen Kate (1815).  The two daughters married into the aristocracy. Mary Ann married Swiss Baron Charles Alexander de Steiger and they had three children: Anna Maria Charlotte (1833), Rowland (1836) and Albert Alexander (1837), before Baron de Steiger’s death, which occurred before 1841. Ellen Kate married the Hon Frederick Thomas Pelham, later a Rear Admiral in the Navy, and the son of Thomas Pelham, Earl of Chichester.

The Monteith and Thomson families of Glasgow

I’m still trying to trace the family of my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Robb née Monteith, who was born in 1782 and died in 1843. In the last post, I wrote about the Ricketts family of England and Jamaica, with whom I believe there may be a connection, given that other members of the Robb family had links with the colony. However, I’ve yet to find a direct connection between the Monteith and Ricketts families. Frustrated by running up against this brick wall, I’ve turned back to the Monteiths. We still know very little about Margaret’s father, John Monteith, except that he is said to have married a woman named Matilda, who (according to family tradition) was the daughter of Viscount Stormont.

Monteith is a fairly common name and there were a number of prominent John Monteiths living in Glasgow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I’m assuming that my Monteith ancestors were from Glasgow, since that is where my 3rd great grandparents, Margaret Ricketts Monteith and Charles Edward Stuart Robb, were said to have been married in 1802, and we know that Charles was originally from Aberdeenshire. 

Perhaps the most famous John Monteith of this period was the manufacturer of that name, who established a power loom factory at Pollokshaws, to the south of the city. I’m intrigued by this particular John Monteith, in part because he married into the Thomson family. George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who I believe to have been the brother of my ancestor Charles Robb, also married a Thomson, though I’m unsure whether the two Thomson families are linked. John Monteith married a woman named Isabella Thomson, and they had a daughter of the same name. Charles and Margaret Robb named one of their daughters Isabella: a tenuous connection, perhaps, but it may provide an additional clue.

Power loom weaving (via common.wikimedia.org)

Interestingly, John Monteith and Isabella Thomson were first cousins. John was the son of James Monteith, who was in turn the son of Henry Monteith, the son of another James Monteith. According to one source:

James Monteith was a small Perthshire laird in the Aberfoyle area, whose livelihood was under constant threat from the depredations and blackmailing of Highland reivers. After his death his son Henry moved south and set up as a market gardener at Anderston, then a village near Glasgow. He fought against the Jacobites at Falkirk and died ‘a staunch Presbyterian of the old school’. His eldest son James Monteith, who was born in 1734, took up handloom-weaving. He prospered, especially when he began to import fine French and Dutch yarns, and became a cambric manufacturer on a large scale, with a bleach field near his house and warehouse in Bishop Street. 

On 8th October 1754 James Monteith married Rebecca Thomson, the daughter of John Thomson of Anderston, Glasgow, and his wife Isobel Yuill.  As yet, I’ve been unable to discover any connection between this John Thomson and the John Thomson of Hillhead whose daughter Penelope married George Robb. James and Rebecca Monteith had four sons: John (1760); James (1763?); Henry (1765); and Adam (1769).

Robert Thomson senior (via ancestry.co.uk)

Rebecca Thomson had a brother Robert Thomson, who married Christian Strang on 22nd April 1766. Robert and Christian Thomson had three children: Isabella (1765); Robert (1771) and Janet (1773). It was this Isabella Thomson who on 9th January 1785 John Monteith, the son of James Monteith and Rebecca Thomson. John and Isabella Monteith had three daughters: Rebecca (1786); Christian (1788); and Isabella (1791).

Three of the sons of James and Rebecca Monteith followed their father into the cotton manufacturing business:

John Monteith, the eldest, formed his own company in 1801 and established the first Scottish power loom factory at Pollokshaws. James Monteith, the second, was initially a dealer in cotton twist at Cambuslang and in 1792 bought David Dale’s Blantyre cotton mill…He died in 1802. Henry Monteith, the youngest son … took the family business to new heights of success and prosperity. He was trained early in the art of weaving, and by 1785, when he was not quite of age, he was running a large cotton weaving mill, Henry Monteith and Company, at Anderston … In 1802 he established at Barrowfield a factory for producing bandana handkerchiefs, and on the death of James that year he took on the principal management of the business, which encompassed bleaching, turkey red dyeing and calico printing, as well as cotton spinning and weaving…He bought the Fullerton estate of Carstairs, four miles from Lanark, and from 1824 had a mansion built there.

In addition to his success in business, Henry Monteith also achieved fame as a politician:

Unlike his father and brothers, Monteith was a staunch church and king Tory. At the general election of 1818 he stood belatedly for Linlithgow Burghs against a Whig, with the backing of the Buccleuch interest. He secured the votes of Lanark and Peebles, but was beaten by the casting vote of the returning burgh, Selkirk. On the death of George III in late January 1820 he declared his renewed candidature for the district…He narrowly won Selkirk, whose vote, together with those of Lanark and Peebles, gave him victory (at the age of 66) over Robert Owen, the socialist cotton master of New Lanark. 

The pattern of repeated intermarriage between the Monteith and Thomson families is reminiscent of a similar practice between the Robb and Thomson families, also in Glasgow at this period. George Robb married Penelope Thomson in 1805. In 1831 their son George married Jane Sharp Thomson, the daughter of Penelope’s half-brother Henry Thomson. After George Robb senior’s death, his widow Penelope married John Young, and in 1832 their daughter, also named Penelope, married John Thomson, another of the children of Henry Thomson.

If I could establish a link between the two Thomson families of Glasgow – the one that married into the Monteith family, and the one that was connected by married to the Robbs – then I might be closer to discovering the origins of my ancestor Margaret Ricketts Monteith née Robb.

Update

The pattern of intermarriage between the Monteith and Thomson families was even more extensive than I’d realised. Not only did John Monteith marry his first cousin Isabella Thomson, but it seems his brother Adam Monteith married her younger sister Janet Thomson. I’m indebted to the White-Thomson family tree at Ancestry for this information.

The Ricketts family of England and Jamaica

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles’ attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

The above quotation is taken from a memorandum written by my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888) and copied into the family Bible. His son Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934), my great grandfather, added the following information:

Grandfather: Charles Edward Stuart Robb. Born in Aberdeenshire. Grandmother: Margaret Ricketts Monteith. Married at St. Mungo’s Glasgow, 15th October 1802.

This is all the information we have about the early life of my 3rd great grandmother Margaret Robb née Monteith (1782 – 1843). As I’ve noted in previous posts, I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to find any trace of Margaret or her family in online records, which means that the alleged connection to the Scottish aristocracy remains, for now, a supposition unsupported by corroborating evidence.

However, as I also noted recently, my interest in tracing Margaret’s origins has been revived by a message from Malcolm Sandilands, who has been researching the connections between Scotland and Jamaica in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Malcolm writes with regard to Margaret Ricketts Monteith:

From several years of studying Jamaican records, the name strongly hints at some kind of Jamaican connection. The Ricketts family was one of the earliest settled in Jamaica, and also one of the best-connected by marriage.

Glasgow towards the end of the eighteenth century

As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, there were strong links between the family of George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who I believe was the brother of my ancestor Charles, and Jamaica. The family of George’s wife, Penelope Thomson, included a number of men who lived and worked on the island, and George and Penelope’s four children claimed compensation on Jamaican estates following the abolition of the slave trade. All of this makes a connection between the family of Margaret Ricketts Monteith – George Robb’s sister-in-law – and Jamaica more likely, particularly given that her family also seem to have been associated with Glasgow.

I had always assumed that Ricketts must be the name of a Scottish family with whom the Monteiths had intermarried in a previous generation. However, a search for Ricketts in the Scottish parish records produces only one instance: a marriage on 13th May 1770 in Kelso in the Scottish Borders between Richard Ricketts and Mary Ormston, both of them said to be of the parish. I can find no further trace of Richard Ricketts in the Scottish records, leading me to wonder if he was actually English, since most other incidences of the surname occur in England.

There are a number of reasons why parents might use another family’s surname as their child’s middle name. For example, Bowes John Gibson (1744 – 1817), the East India Company merchant who was the brother of my maternal 5th great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson (1733 – 1809), seems to have given three of his sons (George Milsom Gibson, Edmund Affleck Gibson and Carleton Gibson) the names of military and naval personages of his acquaintance.

However, by far the most common reason behind the practice was to honour families with whom there was a connection by marriage. This is certainly true of the Glasgow families that I have been researching recently. For example, Marion Thomson, the eldest daughter of John Thomson, saddler, and the sister of Penelope Thomson who married George Robb, married Simon Pellance and they named their son John Thomson Pellance. Her brother Henry Thomson married Jane Sharp and they named their daughter Jane Sharp Thomson. Jane, the daughter of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, married Archibald Graham Lang and they named one of their daughters Elizabeth Robb Lang.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the family legend cited at the beginning of this post, linking Margaret Monteith’s mother Matilda to the family of Viscount Stormont – whose surname was Murray – we might reasonably conclude that her maiden name was actually Ricketts. I’ve begun to research the Ricketts family of Jamaica, but so far I haven’t come across a Matilda Ricketts, or any evidence of a marriage with a Monteith, though Malcolm Sandilands informs me that the Monteaths of Kepp in Stirlingshire had a number of Jamaican connections. However, I’ve decided to explore the Ricketts family further, in the hope that some kind of link to my 3rd great grandmother and her family might eventually emerge.

Captain William Henry Ricketts

The story of the Ricketts family of Jamaica begins with Captain William Henry Ricards, later known as Ricketts. It is said his commission was mistakenly drawn in the name Ricketts and the family retained that spelling. William was born in Twyford, Hampshire in either 1618 or 1633, depending on which source is to be believed, and served as an officer in Cromwell’s army during the Protectorate. According to one source:

Cromwell wanted to expand his influence and territory, so he sent out an expedition, large enough, it is said, to have included 3000 marines. It was led by Admiral William Penn (father of the founder of Pennsylvania) and General Robert Venables. William Henry Ricketts went with the expedition. Its original purpose was to conquer Hispaniola (Haiti), but that didn’t happen. Rather than go home and admit they were unsuccessful, they decided to attack Jamaica instead. On 10 May 1655, they landed at the capital, Santiago de la Vega, and the Spanish government surrendered the next day, May 11. The city was burned shortly afterwards. Later rebuilt and renamed Spanish Town, it was the capital until 1872 when the capital was moved to Kingston.


Celebrating the end of slavery in Spanish Town, Jamaica

William Henry Ricketts married Mary Godwin and they had eleven children. When William made his will in 1699 he was living in St Elizabeth parish, Jamaica. He died in the following year. William and Mary Ricketts had two surviving daughters, Violetta (b. 1690) and Rachel (b.1692). Violetta never married, while Rachel married Thomas Johnson and they had one son, named Jacob. William and Mary also had the following sons who survived. Thomas Ricketts was born in England in 1659 and died in Maryland in 1722. William Blackiston Ricketts was born in Jamaica in 1672 and died in New York in 1735. John Thomas Ricketts was born in England in 1674 and died in Maryland in 1760.

George Ricketts of Jamaica and his descendants

Another of Captain Ricketts’ sons, George Ricketts, was born in Jamaica in 1684 and died there in 1760. He seems to have been the only one of Captain William Henry Ricketts’ children to have maintained the connection with Jamaica, and he appears to have inherited the Canaan estate in Westmoreland parish, to the west of the island. George also served as a Major-General in the Jamaican militia. He married firstly Sarah, daughter of Raynes Waite of Chertsey, Surrey, in 1714, then Sarah, widow of John Lewis of Cornwall parish, and finally Elizabeth Cleaver. In all, George Ricketts fathered twenty-seven children. These included the following sons:

John Ricketts was born in about 1715 in Cornwall parish, Jamaica. In 1750 he married Anne Crawford in Hanover, Jamaica. She was the daughter of Alexander Crawford of Crail, Fife: the first Scottish connection that I’ve come across in the Ricketts family history. John and Anne Ricketts had at least seven children: George Crawford Ricketts (1751 – 1811), who married Frances Mary Teague Bourke; John Ricketts (b.1752); Alexander Ricketts (b. 1753); William Henry Ricketts (1755 – 1799), who married Ann Elizabeth Beckford; Sarah Ricketts (b.1757); Anne Ricketts (b.1759); and Jacob Ricketts (b. 1761).

A Jamaican plantation in the early nineteenth century by James Hakewill, from ‘A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica’ (via common.wikimedia.org)

Jacob Ricketts was born in 1719 on the Midgham estate in Jamaica. In 1748 he married Hannah Poyntz at the Temple church in London. Their children included James Ricketts, who was born in 1746 but about whom nothing further is known. Another son, George Poyntz Ricketts, was born in 1749. He served as Governor of Barbados, and married Sophie Watts of Berkshire, with whom he had five children: Charles Milner (1776 – 1867); Isabella (b. 1782); Mordaunt (1786 – 1862); Frederick (1788 – 1843); and Edward Jenkinson (b. and d. 1793). George died at Rhode Island in 1800. A third son, Jacob Ricketts the younger, was born in 1750 and was apparently christened at Lewin’s Mead Society of Protestant Dissenters, a Unitarian Meeting in Bristol.

William Henry Ricketts was born in 1736. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and then at Grays Inn. In 1757 he married Mary Jervis, the sister of John Jervis, the first Viscount St Vincent. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website:

The movements of William Henry Ricketts between England and Jamaica are detailed in a number of accounts of ‘hauntings’ in England which include the experiences of Mary Ricketts nee Jervis (and her brother, John Jervis, later 1st Viscount St Vincent) at their rented house at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire between January 1765 and 1771. In 1772 Mary Ricketts wrote a Narrative, which she left to her children: a version was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and a pamphlet version published by the Society for Psychical Research in 1893.

You can read a chilling account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner here. The children of William Henry Ricketts and Mary Jervis were George St John Ricketts (1760 – 1842); Mary Ricketts (1763 – 1835), who married Admiral William Carnegie, Earl of Northesk (another possible Scottish – and aristocratic – connection?); Captain William Henry Ricketts (1764 – 1805), who married firstly Lady Elizabeth Jane Lambert and secondly Cecilia Jane Vinet, and who drowned off the coast of Brittany; and Edward Jervis Ricketts (1767 – 1859), who married Mary Cassandra Twistleton.

Mary Carnegie née Ricketts, Countess of Northesk, with two of her children

George Ricketts’ posthumous son George William Ricketts, was born in 1760, the year of his father’s death, at New Canaan in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. Having been educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1791 he married Letitia Mildmay, daughter of Carew Mildmay and Jane Pescod of Shawford House, Hampshire, and they had nine children. George Ricketts served as Receiver-General of Hampshire and died in 1842.

Coincidentally, there is a link here with the research I’ve recently undertaken into the part of Essex where I grew up. Five years before George Ricketts married Letitia Mildmay, the latter’s sister Jane had married Sir Henry Paulet St John, Bart, of Dogmersfield, Hampshire, who then took the surname Mildmay by royal warrant, the family being known from that time as St. John Mildmay. In 1795 Jane Mildmay inherited Moulsham Hall in Essex from her aunt Anne, the sister of Carew Mildmay. The Mildmays of Moulsham had a long history stretching back to the sixteenth century, when the estate was bought by Thomas Mildmay, an official at the court of Henry VIII. Sadly, Sir Henry and Jane Mildmay were the last owners of Moulsham Hall: it was requisitioned for military use during the Napoleonic wars and thereafter fell into disuse and was pulled down.

Next steps?

So far, I’ve been unable to find any trace of a connection between the Ricketts family and any of my known ancestors. However, the wills of a number of members of the Ricketts family are still extant – for example, those of Captain William Henry Ricketts, of John and Jacob Ricketts, two of the sons of George Ricketts, of Jacob’s son George Poyntz Ricketts, and of George William Ricketts. I’m hoping that closer examination of these and other available documents may provide clues that will help me in my quest to understand why my 4th great grandparents, John and Matilda Monteith, gave their daughter Margaret the middle name Ricketts.

‘John Robb, late of Scotland, a gentleman’

In the last post I wrote about the links between the Thomson and Robb families of Glasgow and the island of Jamaica, including their involvement in the ownership of slaves. I was particularly intrigued to discover the names of George, Elizabeth, Jane and John Robb in the list of those claiming compensation after the abolition of slavery in 1833. I’m fairly certain that they were the children of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, the latter belonging to a family with numerous Jamaican connections, and the former being (I believe) the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb.

Old House of Assembly building, Spanish Town, Jamaica

I noted that John Robb’s claim to compensation was entered by the administrator of his estate, since John is described in the claim notes as ‘late of Scotland, a gentleman’. The name of his administrator is given as J.G.Vidal. This was John Gale Vidal, whose profile on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website describes him as ‘a resident planter and attorney in Jamaica, long-serving Clerk of the House of Assembly, eldest son and principal heir of John James Vidal and Elizabeth Wade Vidal.’ John James Vidal is described on the Legacies site as a ‘slave-owner and then annuitant of Berkshire Hall estate in Jamaica’ who died in Clifton, Gloucestershire, in 1823. His wife Elizabeth’s maiden name was Allwood; she was born in Jamaica and died in Devon in 1858.

John James Vidal (father of J.G.Vidal)

John Gale Vidal was born in Jamaica in 1792, the eldest of seven children. Two of his younger brothers – Francis and George – became clergymen. John served in the Jamaican militia, rising to the rank of Captain. He became an attorney at the age of 20 and held a number of important offices in the colony up until the time of his death from cholera in 1850.

The fact that a Jamaican attorney acted as administrator of his estate suggests to me that John Robb was either a fellow resident of the island, or an absentee owner with interests there. I’ve yet to find a record of John’s birth, but I believe he was probably born in Glasgow 1808 or thereabouts (his parents married in 1805, and his siblings were born 1806, 1807 and 1810; his father George died in about 1811). Nor have I come across a record of John’s death, but obviously it predated the claim, which was made in 1836, meaning that John was probably a young man in his late twenties when he died. As we have seen from the experience of John Vidal and others, his relative youth would not have precluded John Robb from already having qualified as a lawyer and/or establishing himself as a merchant or plantation owner.

The possibility that John Robb lived and worked in Jamaica before his early death makes the connection between the colony and my direct ancestors closer than I had imagined. Perhaps John’s father George Robb, a Glasgow merchant, also had interests in the island? And if George was indeed the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb, then might the Jamaican connection throw light on the mysterious origins of my 3rd great grandmother Margaret Ricketts Monteith, whose middle names hints at an association with another prominent Jamaican family?

The Caribbean connection

In the last post I summarised what I’d been able to find out about the Thomsons, a family of merchants and lawyers in Glasgow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. My interest in the family arises from the marriage between Penelope Thomson (1777 – 1847), daughter of saddler John Thomson (1741 – 1818), and George Robb (died c. 1811), who I believe was the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb (1779 – 1853). I noted that a number of Penelope Thomson’s siblings had connections with the Caribbean colonies, and particularly with Jamaica.

Penelope’s brother Thomas Thomson, who was born in Glasgow in 1766, served as an attorney in St Elizabeth parish in Jamaica. He is said to have fathered a mixed race son named George and had him baptised there in 1803. Thomas Thomson died in the same year, at the age of 37, in Bermuda, where he had travelled for his health.

Another brother, Colin Thomson, who was born in 1768, was a merchant in Glasgow, but as a young man spent time in Jamaica, also in St Elizabeth parish, where he is recorded as serving in the local militia in 1788. He may also have lived and worked for a time in St Kitts, before his return to London and eventual death there in 1819. We know from his will that Colin fathered a daughter named Ann by a mulatta woman.

Archibald Thomson, the youngest of the Thomson siblings, was until his death in 1821 the proprietor of the Hillhead estate in St Elizabeth parish, Jamaica, and the owner of a considerable number of slaves.

Another link with Jamaica was provided by Penelope Thomson’s second husband John Young, who had previously served as Receiver General of the colony. He was the son of a previous postholder of the same name, and connected via his mother to the Mitchell family, a number of whom were prominent sugar plantation owners in Jamaica.

A Jamaican sugar plantation in the early nineteenth century

Their Jamaican ties meant that members of the Thomson family were, like many other merchants with roots in Scotland, implicated in the slave trade. Their names are listed among those who claimed compensation after the trade was abolished. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website:

In 1833 Parliament finally abolished slavery in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. The slave trade had been abolished in 1807, but it had taken another 26 years to effect the emancipation of the enslaved. However, in place of slavery the negotiated settlement established a system of apprenticeship, tying the newly freed men and women into another form of unfree labour for fixed terms. It also granted £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers to the former slave-owners. 

The Legacies project has published a list of Scottish former slave owners who claimed compensation in the 1830s. As I’ve noted before, it includes Archibald Graham Lang and his wife Jane or Jean née Robb, who was the daughter of Penelope Thomson and her first husband George Robb. Their claim is numbered 107 and relates to the ‘May Day’ estate in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica, which was to the east of St Elizabeth parish.

Also associated with this claim are the names Elizabeth, George, Jane and John Robb. I believe that these were the four children of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, and that the name of Jane, who by this time had been married to Archibald Lang for three years, has been counted twice by mistake. The claim was made in 1836 when George Robb would have been 30 years old, Elizabeth Robb 29, and John perhaps 28, if still living (though see below). By this date their mother Penelope was twice a widow: her first husband George Robb senior had died in 1811 and her second husband John Young had died in 1827.

Slaves working on a Caribbean sugar plantation

The details of the claim itself are illuminating. Made on 4th April 1836, it relates to ownership of 66 slaves and is for a total of £1299 14s 6d. The notes in the Parliamentary Papers, reproduced on the Legacies website, read as follows:

Claim from James McCatty, of Manchester, as executor of John Thompson (deceased). Counterclaim inter alios from Herbert Jarrett James, ‘for his taxed bill as Master in Chancery’, withdrawn conditionally on Messrs Hawthorne & Shedden receiving £900 from a Mr Morrice (the agent of the claimant). Counterclaim also from George Robb, Archibald Graham Laing & Jane (his wife, formerly Jane Robb, a spinster), and Elizabeth Robb, all of Scotland, by J.G. Vidal, as administrator of John Robb, late of Scotland, a gentleman. 

From this we learn that the compensation claim made by Archibald Graham Lang or Laing and his wife, together with the other Robb siblings, was actually a counterclaim against the estate of the late John Thompson (elsewhere spelled Thomson). We also learn, incidentally, that John Robb had died by 1836, and that the claim was made in part on behalf of his estate.

Could the John Thomson named here be the father of Penelope, Thomas, Colin and Archibald, and the grandfather of Jane, Elizabeth, George and John Robb? Alternatively, might it be his son, born in 1772, about whom we know very little? Without further information, it’s difficult to determine whether the claim by Lang and his Robb in-laws was as descendants and heirs of John Thomson, or whether they had an interest in the estate in their own right. Certainly, the inventory published on the death of John Thomson senior in 1818 makes no mention of any property in Jamaica, and he died intestate. A John Thomson of Montrose, late of Jamaica, made his will in 1814, but James McCatty’s name does not appear in that document.

Apparently James Ingham McCatty, the executor of John Thomson’s will named here, was born in 1799 and married Anna Maria Heron in 1829. They had eight children, of whom at least one – their daughter Anna – was born in Manchester, Jamaica. So ‘of Manchester’ in the claim notes probably refers to the Jamaican parish, rather than the English city.

Information elsewhere on the Legacies site describes McCatty as a ‘resident planter’. He is listed as the claimant for two other estates in Manchester parish, both of them as executor for John Thomson. There is one claim for the Woodside estate, which had 45 slaves, and two claims for the Glasgow estate, for 27 and 57 slaves respectively.

Archibald Graham Lang’s profile on the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership site describes him as a partner in the firm of Wighton, Gray, who had premises at 221 Buchanan Street in Glasgow. In addition to the Jamaican claim, Lang’s name is associated with two claims in Trinidad: No. 549, made with two other partners in his company, and Thomas Roxburgh of Port of Spain, trading as Gray Roxburgh, and No. 1898, for the Friendship estate, of which Lang is described as joint owner. The list of Scottish former slave owners describes Archibald Graham Lang as a merchant and as an absentee claimant.

The Thomson family of Glasgow

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.

JOHN THOMSON

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 marry 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, would 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.

The Robb family in Glasgow

In the last post I announced my intention to revisit my Robb ancestors’ connections with Glasgow, in an effort to discover more about the family background of my 3rd great grandparents Charles Edward Stuart Robb (1779 – 1853) and Margaret Ricketts Monteith (1782 – 1843). Charles and Margaret were married at St Mungo’s church in Glasgow in 1802, and I’ve always assumed that the location was chosen because Margaret’s family lived in the city. According to the memorandum written in 1880 by her son William (1811 – 1888), Margaret was the daughter of John Monteith and his wife Matilda. William made the additional, astonishing claim that Matilda was the daughter of Viscount Stormont ‘who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6’. As mentioned in the previous post, every effort to find evidence to support these claims has so far proven fruitless.

A map of Glasgow in 1804

Despite the fact that the Robb family were originally from Aberdeenshire, I believe that my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb also had a family tie to Glasgow. I’m almost certain that he was the brother of Glasgow merchant George Robb, who died in the city in 1811. This theory, though lacking final proof, is based on the following premises. Firstly, there is William Robb’s statement, in the memorandum already mentioned, that he had an Uncle George ‘who died many years ago leaving children but I don’t know how many’ and also ‘an Aunt called Penelope’. Glasgow merchant George Robb married Penelope Thomson in the city in 1805. William Robb’s memorandum doesn’t state unequivocally that his Uncle George and Aunt Penelope were married to each other, nor is it beyond the bounds of possibility that there was more than one couple named George and Penelope Robb living in Scotland at that time. However, that brings us on to the second piece of evidence.

The parish records for Glasgow note that on 15th January 1805, George Robb, a merchant in Glasgow, married Penelope Thomson, daughter of John Thomson of Hillhead, in the parish of Eastwood, and that the ceremony was conducted by ‘Mr William Robb, Episcopal Minister in St. Andrews’. Why would a Glasgow merchant ask a minister from St Andrews, more than seventy miles away, to officiate at his wedding? I believe it was because Rev. William Robb was George’s brother, and that he is the person referred to by his namesake, my great great grandfather, in his memorandum of 1880, as ‘my Father’s eldest brother Revd. William Robb’. The memorandum claims that the latter was ‘for some time Professor of Greek in the College of St Andrews, Fifeshire’, something for which I’ve been unable to find any independent confirmation, though we know that William was a minister in the town. There seems little doubt, however, that he was the person who married George Robb and Penelope Thomson.

Later in his memorandum, my great great grandfather notes that ‘on my Father’s death in 1853 I found among his papers a letter from Bishop Law, Primo of Scotland telling him of the death of my Uncle [William] which happened about 1838.’  In the previous post, I mentioned that the only copy of William Robb’s memorandum that I’ve seen is contained in a number of typewritten sheets that came into my hands more than forty years ago. Presumably, the original was handwritten. I believe that some minor errors may be the result of mistakes in the transcription process. For example, the presiding bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church is known as the Primus, not Primo, and we know from other sources that Rev William Robb died in 1830, not 1838. The reference is probably to Bishop David Low, not Law, though the latter never (to my knowledge) held the office of Primus. In Scotland, only the Episcopal church has bishops (hence its name), and there was only one Episcopal minister named William Robb active in the country at this period.

Rev. David Low, LL.D., D.D. (1768–1855), a Scottish Episcopal clergyman who served as Bishop of Ross between 1819 and 1850

So, although circumstantial rather than definitive, there is strong evidence that George Robb, Glasgow merchant, was the brother not only of Rev. William Robb but also of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb. In forthcoming posts, I plan to revisit what we know about George Robb of Glasgow, and the Thomson family into which he married. I’m hoping that, in doing so, I may be able throw some light on the mystery of Charles Robb’s marriage and the origins of his wife Margaret.

The Monteith connection

In the previous two posts I explored the life of Alice Martha Stormont Timpson née Robb (1857 – 1895), the wife of Alfred Newton Timpson (1846 – 1921) and the daughter of my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888) by his second wife Marianne Mansfield Palmer (1830 – 1883).

I was interested in the way that Alice and her descendants perpetuated the memory of their Scottish ancestors, in the names that they gave their children. One of Alice’s own names, Stormont, commemorated the tradition that her grandmother (her father William Robb’s mother) Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the daughter of John Monteith and his wife Matilda, who was in turn said to be the daughter of Viscount Stormont. Alice would name one of her sons Sidney Stormont Timpson and another Howard Monteith Timpson. Another son, Spencer Cuthbert Timpson, named his daughter Margery Stormont Timpson.

As I’ve mentioned a number of times before, I’ve been frustrated by my failure to find any evidence that would either confirm or disprove the story of my Robb ancestors’ connection with Scottish nobility. The only source for the story is the extract from the family Bible that first set me off on my genealogical quest many years ago. In the early 1970s, when I was a teenager, Edna Robb (1915 – 1955), the unmarried daughter of my grandfather’s brother Thomas Bowman Robb (1887 – 1963), who had emigrated to New Zealand as a young man, visited Britain to meet her relatives and to explore her English and Scottish roots. We met Edna at a family party in East Ham, at which I remember her telling us that she had visited Scotland and brought back evidence of the Robb family’s Scottish ancestry. Edna left behind a few typewritten sheets, of which I was given a copy, and which formed the basis of the first ever Robb family tree that I drew up – at the age of sixteen.

Edna Robb is fourth from the left (next to my grandfather Arthur Ernest Robb) in the back row of this photograph, taken at the family gathering in East Ham in 1972 (I’m on the extreme left of the same row).

I reproduced the content of the document in a post a few years ago. It consists of memoranda written by both my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934) and his father William Robb, and it includes this statement, apparently written by William in 1880:

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

Despite extensive enquiries, I’ve never been able to discover where Edna obtained the document, or who transcribed them, or who was (or is) in possession of the original. Together with other Robb family researchers, I’ve been able to confirm the truth of most of the claims made in the document, particularly about William’s generation and those that followed. It has also been possible to substantiate some of the statements made about earlier generations: for example, that my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb’s older brother William was a minister in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

However, finding evidence to support some of the other claims about the Robb family’s Scottish history has proven more difficult. For example, the document states that my 3rd great grandparents Charles and Margaret Robb were married at St Mungo’s, Glasgow, on 15th October 1802. I believe this is a reference to Glasgow Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk. However, neither I nor any other researcher has been able to find any trace of the marriage in the extant church records.

Engraving of Glasgow cathedral

Nor have I been able to find any reference in the public records to a John Monteith who married a woman named Matilda, not to mention any evidence to support the claim that she was the daughter of a viscount. I assume that the Monteiths were from Glasgow, since that was where their daughter was married. There were a number of prominent men named John Monteith living in the city in the second half of the eighteenth century, but I haven’t been able to discover a definite link between any of them and my Robb ancestors.

I believe that another of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb’s brothers was the Glasgow merchant George Robb (1769 – 1811), and some time ago I suggested that there was an indirect connection between George and a John Monteith who was involved in the wine trade.  George Robb was married to Penelope Thomson and I believe they are the uncle and aunt referred to by William Robb in his memorandum:

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…

Penelope Thomson had a half-brother named Henry, a Glasgow law writer, whose son John worked as a wine merchant in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Apparently John Thomson’s business partner was a certain John Monteith. It’s likely that this John Monteith would have been too young to be the father of my 3rd great grandmother Margaret, but perhaps there is a family connection of some kind?

Then there is the more famous John Monteith of Anderston who established the first Scottish power loom company at Pollokshaws, Glasgow in 1801. He was the son of cotton manufacturer James Monteith and the brother of James Monteith junior, also a cotton dealer, and of Henry Monteith, who eventually took over the family business and was elected to Parliament in 1820. However, I’ve yet to find any evidence that this John Monteith was married to a woman named Matilda or had a daughter named Margaret; and once again, the dates may be too late for our purposes.

There is, of course, the possibility that my great great grandfather got his facts wrong, or that he misremembered what his mother told him about her family background. After all, he seems to have been mistaken in his claim that his uncle, Rev William Robb, was a professor of Greek at St Andrews. I can find no evidence of this, though we know that the Rev William was a minister in the town. Just recently, I came across a record at Ancestry that intrigued me. On 12th July 1776, a man named John Monteith married a woman named Martha Stormont in Glasgow. Might this be ‘our’ John Monteith, and could William Robb have got the name of his grandmother wrong, and could the connection between Martha Stormont and Viscount Stormont be fanciful?  The marriage took place in the ‘Associate Session’ in Glasgow: the ‘Associate Synods’ broke away from the main Church of Scotland in the 18th century. I believe that John Monteith of Pollokshaws was a member, so this marriage record may refer to him.

On the other hand, how likely is it that my great great grandfather William Robb would get the name of his grandmother wrong? He may never have met her, but his own mother Margaret did not die until William was thirty years old, so surely the information she passed on to him would have been reliable? Not only that, but Charles and Margaret named their eldest daughter Matilda, a name that William also gave to one of his daughters – presumably in honour of Margaret’s mother.

I’m planning to revisit my research into the Robb family’s Glasgow connections in forthcoming posts.