Robinson news

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.

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…

Finding Edith

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.

It’s frustrating

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.

One down, four to go

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.

One down

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.

Famous skeletons

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.

Erith’s story

Mocavo have finally proved useful. They have digitised a whole raft of South African journals and official records including several volumes of “Records of the Cape Colony”, among which we find nearly all the correspondence relating to James Erith’s disputes with his party and the colonial government. Erith was the lead member of the party of settlers joined by Robert Robinson and his young family but said party also fell apart with disputes and recriminations soon after landing at Algoa Bay.

It’ll take a while to read and extract the story to tell but it’s quite an exciting development.

Stay tuned.

Glimmers

Not much, but I found a website detailing some of the descendants of James Robinson, principally through his daughter Adelaide and her marriage to Henry Havill. I’ve emailed the owner in the hope we can exchange a bit of info and I can get a better picture of the Robinson family in Kent.

Still absolutely no sign of the earliest Philip’s birth though.

Frustrated and a bit disappointed

The trip to Kew turned up very little at all.

The day started brimming with hope even through the remnants of the rush hour traffic. I arrived at 10am, registered for my readers card and started searching. I had a number of references to look at prepared in advance but as you’ll see below they were frustratingly unrevealing. It was also a very long wait for document retrieval, which I wasn’t prepared for. I ended up leaving just after 6pm not much the wiser. It’s a lovely place though, and everyone was very helpful.

I found no sign of Philip Joseph Robinson’s court martial. I looked through four thick ledgers of handwritten records and found nothing. There were also two ledgers in the catalogue listed as “wanting”, meaning they were supposed to be in the archive but somehow hadn’t arrived from the originating body. This didn’t help the growing sense of frustration. Could he have been in them? Probably never know.

There was no sign of Ralph’s East African birth either. If he was born there it was not registered with the British authorities, which still leaves the possibility of PJR being some part, albeit temporary, of the post-war Afrikaner migration and therefore of a Dutch Reformed Church baptism coming to light. More work needs to be done on this.

I could find nothing to add to James Edwards’ met police record. Too much of this record set is missing – there are very few complete service records available and I couldn’t find any correspondence relating to his dismissal.

One of the things I managed to find was the Will of William Robinson. The reason I was looking relates to the 1820 migration to the Cape. Before some of the parties of 1820 Settlers left England bound for South Africa they would meet up, presumably for updates and questions. The Erith Party, of which Robert Robinson was a member, met on Newington Causeway above the Crown and Anchor public house. Another group, curiously, met at Robinson’s Tobacconist on nearby George Street, which has niggled away as possibly being of importance but of which I can find no trace. There was, however, a Robinson’s Tobacconist on Tooley Street, just round the corner, but I now know at least that this was nothing to do with us, which I suppose is a positive of sorts. It’s proprietor was this William Robinson whose only son it turns out was Thomas. Not a Philip to be seen.

The day’s only faint sliver of hope was a letter

letter

Coming out of Chatham Dockyard on 15th November 1783 it says:

 “We beg leave to acquaint you that we have this day discharged John Brooks and Philip Robinson, Riggers belonging to this yard, for attempting to embezzle the articles mentioned on the otherside [of the letter] out of the Success [a ship], but it is not in our power to place three times the value thereof against their wages agreeable to your warrant of 24th October 1783 by reason that both of them sell(?) their pay…”

Which allows the ever so slight possibility that if this is our Philip (born c.1747), known to be resident in the Chatham area at that time, he may have come to Kent from elsewhere, perhaps even through the Navy. Not that it is possible to prove any link yet, there is no clue as to who his parents were as they are not mentioned on anything yet found. But it’s something and it means the day was not a complete washout.