In amongst some photos a new contact sent me of the Currie family was this; a man holding his hat looking down at what appears to be a flower-decked grave. He doesn’t look like John Tolmie Currie who is in several of the other photos, and he could just be a random mourner, but (and I have no solid reason to believe it) what if this is Philip Joseph Robinson? Wouldn’t that be exciting?
The day after my father died, a book I’d ordered a few weeks ago arrived. The biography of my 4xgreat uncle Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson. Dad would have enjoyed reading it.
A quick reading of the first few chapters reveals some interesting information about the first years of the Robinsons in the Cape, particularly about the character of his father Robert Robinson whose entry looks like it needs some updating.
Sadly my father, Colin Robinson, died today after a long illness. I’ve written up his life story for this site and posted it here.
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.
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.
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…
The problem with finding records in South Africa is just that – finding them. Sometimes you have to approach your problem somewhat obliquely, and sometimes you find a record that may possibly be the one you’re looking for but your uncertainty affects your decision to send for it or not. Sometimes you just forget what you’ve seen.
Such a thing happened earlier this year. As you know if you’ve read this blog, I’m looking for my grandfather’s siblings in an attempt to put a lid on my great grandfather’s story, as well as putting the family back together – if only virtually.
In January I get sent a reference to a record in Durban regarding the death notice of a Cornelius De Jager whose surviving spouse is Pauline Edith. I’m not sure why I didn’t pursue it earlier, after all the name is just switched around, and we did believe she had married a de Jager; it’s just the sort of oblique approach I meant. I did spend a little time looking at Cornelius Duggan De Jager and traced his parentage but could not find any further mention of Pauline, especially not a maiden name, and so still didn’t send for the record.
Anyway, by September (2015) I’ve gathered a number of leads I need to follow up and include the de Jager DN. The other requests come through quickly, they were regarding Andrew Joseph Robinson and his erstwhile wife Rhoda and confirmed a number of things, but the de Jager order didn’t come through for another month.
When it does, it’s all there – Surviving spouse: Pauline Edith de Jager, with “(born Robinson)” squeezed in underneath. They have five children; Douglas, Gerrit, Elma, Melva and Edith. They were married on 6th June 1929 when he was about 28 and she roughly 24. He was born in Prieska, they married in Kimberley and he died in Durban in February 1962.
So Edith/Pauline was still alive in 1962 at least, which starts to narrow the search for her demise, and we also have five children to search for in case they know what became of their grandfather.
We now have a developing picture of the lives of four of granddad’s five siblings; Andrew, Ralph, Connie and now Edith, it’s now just Doris we know so little about.
But there was a small breakthrough; a 1983 death notice for Marthinus Swiegers, looking very much like great aunt Connie’s husband. His pre-deceased spouse (1977) was Constance Louisa, no maiden name unfortunately, and daughter Johanna Louisa. All in all a pretty good fit.
So, of course, I spent some time looking for more on Ralph and Edith and anything on Doris but, alas, again to no avail. Very frustrating when you make a minor breakthrough, get all enthusiastic again but find all the old dead-ends are still there.
Grandfather had five siblings; Andrew Joseph, Ralph Victor, Constance Louisa, Edith Pauline and Doris Magdalene. Tracking them down would both complete the family picture and hopefully someone would also know what became of their father, Philip Joseph Robinson.
We now have a fairly complete picture of Andrew’s life, his three wives and round dozen children, not loved at all by his first family whom he abandoned, his third wife younger than his fourth daughter, and his death in 1973 from aortic and ventricular aneurysms following what must have been a major heart attack. We also now know the names of his children with second wife Rhoda – Brenda and Andrew.
However, the only clue found to PJ’s whereabouts was a memory of him saying his father was in “Pretoria at an old age”, which at least meant we could probably restrict the search to sometime post 1960.
Four to go
As for the others, the picture is far more obscure.
We know that:
- Ralph was born in East Africa in 1905, married Lauretta Twentyman-Jones and had a son, David, and later married Patricia Campbell.
- Connie married someone possibly called Tijn Sweigers and had a daughter, Louisa (see comment, will update soon). We do have a photo (see this post)
- Edith, we think, married Cornelius de Jager.
- Doris came to mum and dad’s wedding, nothing more.
Official records have not yet come to light so we can only hope that as with Andrew, a relative or two finds this or the Ancestry tree and gets in touch.
When you embark upon a genealogical quest you will eventually have to start drawing lines. At some point your tree will start to look more like a hedge unless you limit the number of branches you go down – it is nice to know for example that your second cousin Bob was married to Jean, but you perhaps don’t need to know all of Jean’s ancestors or siblings and their descendants.
You will also, at the start, be hoping that there might be some link to someone famous or notable, someone to start a conversation at dinner perhaps (or maybe only because that will mean an awful lot of work will already have been done for you!).
What this is leading to is that one of the slightly more obscure branches of my tree links in to the Pretorius family, something I hadn’t paid much attention to before. But it would appear that they’re something akin to Afrikaner aristocracy; descendants of Johannes Pretorius who arrived in the Cape in 1666. He was one of the first Dutch settlers and great grandfather of the famous Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius and great-great-grandfather of the first president of the South African Republic, Marthinus Pretorius.
And also, as it turns out, my eight times great grandfather.
This link to one of the most famous Boer families comes on top of being descended from an 1820 settler.
To put that in some context, I suppose it’s a bit like being descended both from a Pilgrim Father and a Son of the American Revolution.
And I’m not sure how I feel about that.