Earliest ancestors

Just a quick look at the earliest ancestor found on each of the four branches (my grandparents) of the family.

For the ROBINSON side, the earliest Robinson is still Philip, born c. 1746 but overall we have Wessel Schulte, born in Niedersarchen, Germany in 1566.

On the CURRIE side we reach the furthest back of all to one Richard Mossop born in Gosforth, Cumbria in 1490. The earliest Currie is David born 1825 in Dumfries.

We haven’t fared so well on the ELLICOTT side, although there is still a lot of data to sort through. So far it’s Robert Ellacott born in 1625 who is at least the earliest of the four names found.

Finally, the LEITH side is the least documented with Francis Foster born in 1785 the narrow ‘winner’, although there is tell of a mysterious “Mr Leitch” who would have been born a bit earlier. Otherwise the earliest Leith is John, born about 1800 in Slaght.

So in terms of generations:

Philip Robinson – is my 5 times great grandfather
Wessel Schulte – 11 times great

Richard Mossop – 13 times great
David Currie – 4 times

Robert Ellacott – 9 times

Francis Foster – only 3 times
John Leith – 4 times


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.

Abraham and the two Rhoda Robinsons

This is by way of an update to this post of some time ago regarding my great uncle, Andrew Joseph Robinson, although he only plays a peripheral role in this tale. This is the story of his second wife Rhoda (née Wise), their two so far unnamed children and her relationship as quite literally ‘the younger model’ with Abraham van Jaarsveld.

It all started when I got back in touch with Nick to catch up and see if he’s made any progress. There was no news but it did prompt him to start looking for Rhoda’s two children, those she had had with Andrew in the early 1950s, mentioned in the divorce papers but not named. A day or so later an email from Nick drops into my inbox with a copy of an email from Jan van Jaarsveld with some detail about Rhoda Robinson and Abraham van Jaarsveld, but also, from an obscure reference in the Strydom family tree, listing Rhoda Robinson (born Wise) as de facto spouse to the same Abraham van Jaarsveld. It was clear quite quickly that either something was horribly wrong with one of these sources or there were two Rhoda Robinsons.

It turns out Abraham van Jaarsveld (b 1881) had previously been married (in 1902) to Leonora Strydom (b 1880) with whom he’d fathered five children; Leonora, Ernestus, Pieter, Abraham and Hermina. It is clear from the communication Nick has had with Jan that he later formed a relationship, possibly marriage, with Rhoda Robinson, 32 years his junior and with whom he fathered a further two, possibly three children; Ernst and Cecil, and possibly Johanna. This Rhoda Robinson was previously unknown to me but looks like she was the daughter of a Robert and Lucy Robinson born in 1913. Robert and Lucy also had a son, Cecil, a year later – fans no doubt of the infamous Cecil Rhodes, but not so far in my tree.

Anyway, Rhoda would have been 41 by the time her younger son Cecil Robinson van Jaarsveld was born in 1954 and one can only wonder how soon after this birth (if not before) the old man, now 72, took up with newly divorced Rhoda Wise/Robinson – 47 years his junior and 15 years younger than the first Rhoda Robinson. It must have been a very strange and distressing situation for Rhoda to have been replaced by what would probably have seemed like quite literally a younger version of herself.

The first Rhoda Robinson as well as Abraham’s first wife Leonora were both still very much alive when Rhoda Wise Robinson appeared on the scene, they died in 1974 and 1998 respectively. Abraham himself died in 1963 and Rhoda Wise Robinson and her children were not named in his will. While we are awaiting the paperwork on that, it seems that one of the Rhoda’s contested the Will before a couple of his children from his first marriage opposed that application. All very murky.

None of which has got us any closer to naming Andrew and Rhoda’s children!

The case of James Erith and the revolting settlers

James Erith had spent some months petitioning the colonial office to be allowed to lead a party of settlers, first to America and then to the Cape when that opportunity opened up for 1820. It was clear he was keen to be something of an empire builder and also that he saw his role as a leader of men, not a foot soldier. He eventually secured passage for himself, his wife Jane and their two young daughters, his cousin Robert Robinson and his young family, along with eight other young men all of whom were to be indentured to him for some years after settling. For this he raised the princely sum of £105 (well over £4000 today) paid to the government to set against expenses, tools and rations until the settlement was established.
Thomas Baines painting of the landings
His party, aboard HMS Brilliant arrived at Algoa Bay on 15 May 1820 and it may be that they were already in dispute but the cracks were definitely showing as early as that June when there were complaints to the provisional magistrate, C. Trappes, that rations had not been drawn, they were infested with vermin and the whole party was suffering with bowel complaints due to unclean water. Twice Mr Trappes intervened to settle the differences between the party and Erith, once on behest of the men and then because Erith claimed his party were in a state of mutiny!
excerptEventually forced to intervene again, Trappes called a day to hear grievances and even found work for some of the party in order that they might afford some shoes, and gave out rations charged against Erith’s account.
Some ten weeks into the settlement, the authorities (and who knows what unrecorded conversations took place) decided that parcels of land had been wrongly allocated and that as a result, several parties had to move. Erith’s party was told to relocate to Waay Plaates, which Erith describes as having been abandoned both by the Dutch because of its proximity to the native border and thus at a great risk from cattle raiders, and also by Mr Damant because it was rocky and barren. He was not at all happy. Erith decided to sit it out on his original allocation citing conflicting authority and that the move was motivated by nothing more than private revenge, accusing Trappes and the Landdrost, Rivers, of oppression and injustice. He resisted attempts to move him, claiming illness, firing on those sent to evict them, and destroying wagons. Eventually authority prevailed, knocked down the house Erith had built, evicted him and released his party from their obligations.

There followed several years of correspondence from Erith and Jane, his wife, claiming redress for losses suffered, relief from destitution, and legal grievances against all those involved in what they saw as the architects of their misery.
They eventually sought leave to return to England, separately, he to continue his grievance, she because she was destitute. In September 1827 James is in Lambeth, still petitioning, still complaining:
It’s not yet clear whether Jane and the children did return to England, but it appears that James died in 1868 back in South Africa.

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.


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.

Quick update – Mary Ann Foster

So far it seems Mary Ann Foster has managed to cross continents unrecorded.

Thanks to some help from Rootschat, I’ve found that at the time of her father’s death in 1898 Mary was living in Cheltenham, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. I still believe she was a nurse, but have also discovered she wasn’t trained at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and can still not find her on any list of Australian nurses bound for the Cape.

The next time we know her whereabouts is August 1902 when, presumably because of her impending nuptials, she asked for and received confirmation of her birth record from the Victorian State Statist, Richard Treacey. This shows that she was in South Africa shortly after the conclusion of the Anglo Boer War and, it can be surmised, she hadn’t just arrived if she had got engaged that summer.

So, sometime between 1898 and summer 1902 she crossed the Indian Ocean. There’s a searchable index of passengers leaving Victoria to foreign climes and as far as I can see, she’s not on it. There is a Miss Foster bound for Fremantle and it is possible that she travelled there first (her sister Matilda was married and living in Perth) which is great, but passenger lists for those leaving Western Australia are not so easily found. Update: I found the arrival manifest which has been digitised on the WA archives site, and while the Victoria archive suggests a Miss M Foster left Melbourne on the Wollowra, she’s not listed when it gets to Fremantle. So frustrating.

Noticing things

It’s funny what you notice when you’re not really looking.

I’ve been both a bit disheartened after Kew and busy with other things, so haven’t been actively looking for anything in the family history for weeks. However, some time ago I made a list of things I should be doing in this field, one of which was to track down the nursing credentials of Mary Ann Foster. I had another cursory look today and there’s still nothing showing on any of the records of Australian nurses at the Boer War. A bit disappointing but not unexpected.

Anyway, I started to look at it from another angle given that there were a number of nurses who travelled to South Africa from Australia but were not part of any official party. Passenger lists are an obvious option and I was about to start searching for them but then I got distracted. Just going over things known, I was reading the reports of her father’s demise when it struck me that she wasn’t there – the reports only mention her younger sister Margaret and later the husband of her older sibling, Sarah, as pall-bearer. Mary Ann would have been 26 by this time and although still single could, in theory, be anywhere in the world, so the chances that she would show up on any official Australian list of nurses becomes more slight not better. Just the sort of puzzle one needs to kick-start the research juices.

The game is afoot!

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


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.