Month: January 2017

The problem

By way of setting out what is known and not known about Philip Robinson, my 5th great grandfather.

Philip died on 16th January 1820 aged 73 giving a likely birth year of 1746 (unless he was born in the first two weeks of 1747). He was married to Charlotte Erith on 18th October 1774 and they had 10 children between 1775 and 1794. He worked, I believe, in Chatham Dockyard until October 1883 when he was dismissed along with John Brooks for attempting to embezzle goods from HMS Success. Several entries in the pay books show that he was often in debt as his pay would be paid to a third party to relieve money owed.

So far so good. But still no sign of his birth or his parents.

Looking for birth entries in the parish registers for Chatham and surrounding areas shows a curious anomaly: There are a steady number of Robinsons born in the area, sometimes two or three a year, until 1742 when there are none born for seven years until 1749 when the rate picks up again. Of the few Robinson children born during the 1740s*, those to John and Rebecca include two before 1742 and one in 1749, suggesting that that family may have upped sticks to who knows where for seven years but eventually returned to the Medway area. Rebecca died in 1754 in Gillingham.
(*The other 1740s Robinson children include one in 1749 to John and Elizabeth – the first of several following in the 1750s, one to John and Ann in 1741, and one to the unmarried Rebecca Robinson in 1742).

Just as I haven’t been able to find Philip’s birth anywhere in the parish records, neither could I find a marriage for John and Rebecca until I stumbled across an entry in the London and Surrey Bonds and Allegations (1597-1921) – essentially a database of applications for marriage licenses – for the marriage of a John Robinson and Rebecca Bowen on 28th February 1741. The problem is that this marriage licence was for Dorking, Surrey the home of this John Robinson with Rebecca being from Ewell not far away. The second caveat is that the first child of John and Rebecca in Chatham was born only two months later. It is possible that they married quickly before moving to Kent to take up the opportunity of work in the royal dockyard but when initially searching the Surrey parish records for Robinsons, a stark warning bell is sounded: the first result that comes up is for the marriage of Stephen Robinson and Ann Greentree, once wrongly believed to be ancestors through a similar set of assumptions.

I need to find out what was happening during those missing seven years.

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Today at Kew

What do you call it if your wild goose is caught?

Okay, perhaps “caught” is stretching a point in this instance but I now feel fairly confident that my ancestor Philip Robinson was indeed a rigger at Chatham Yard. I found a little time today to get to the National Archives and trawling both Chatham’s “ordinary” and “extraordinary” pay books for the period, I found that Philip was listed as a rigger for the three quarters before November 1783 (when, you’ll remember, he managed to get himself dismissed for attempting to embezzle supplies from HMS Success) and that before this he had been a rigger’s labourer.

The document retrieval system at Kew does not allow for rapid perusal so I can’t say yet when his employment as a rigger’s labourer started, but I did also notice that he was working alongside one Alexander Erith. Further, if slight, evidence in favour of this Philip being right.

A wild goose is stalked

I can’t help it.

I must find Philip Robinson (1746) and I have a straw to which to cling. There remains the slight (and I mean slight) possibility that he worked in the Royal Dockyard at Chatham as a rigger, at least if this letter is about him and not some other Philip. While I have nothing directly to link my ancestor to the miscreant in the letter, equally nothing I have found so far explicitly rules this out. As a bonus, and if I’m going to chase this wild goose to its full extent, he may have even worked on HMS Victory – built at Chatham and launched in 1765 when Philip would have been about 18.

It seems there are employment records for Chatham at Kew (ADM 42) so there may be more to find, hopefully leading to more information about his background. A visit to Chatham Historic Dockyard itself may also be in order. Of course, I’m fully aware that I must link any new clues directly to what is known or it will remain mere speculation for ever more but nothing ventured…