My Scottish ancestors and the Ricketts family of Jamaica

One of my motives in starting this blog about my Glasgow ancestors and their Caribbean connections was the hope that it might help to solve the mystery surrounding the origins of my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Monteith. She married my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb in Glasgow in 1802 and, after a few years living at various addresses in Scotland, the couple moved with their children, first to Yorkshire and finally to London, some time in the 1830s.

Glasgow towards the end of the eighteenth century

Charles was the brother of Glasgow merchant George Robb who married into the Thomson family, whose connections with Jamaica I’ve explored in earlier posts on this site. I believe that both George and Charles were born in the parish of Auchterless in Aberdeenshire, in 1769 and 1779 respectively. George must have moved to Glasgow as a young man to seek his fortune as a merchant. Given that he was ten years older than Charles, I’ve often wondered if the latter was encouraged to come to Glasgow by his older brother?  There are no records relating to Charles’ time in Glasgow, apart from the record of his marriage to Margaret. However, since we know that Charles would later work as an account and engraver (at Malton in Yorkshire) and as a solicitor’s clerk (in London), is it possible that he came to the Merchant City to be apprenticed as a ‘law writer’ (to use the Scottish term)? A number of men in George Robb’s extended Glasgow family, including (for a time) his own son George junior, would work as lawyers, and as a successful merchant George senior would have had good links with the legal profession.

All the information that we have about Charles and Margaret Robb is contained in a memorandum written by their son, my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888), and added to by his son, my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934). The latter provides the following information about his grandparents:

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

Screenshot 2020-12-06 at 19.34.11

St Mungo’s church, Glasgow, in the early nineteenth century

St Mungo’s is the High Kirk or cathedral of the Church of Scotland, but to date I’ve been unable to find any reference to the marriage in its records. Nor have I found any independent evidence to support the following claim in William Robb’s memorandum:

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 connection with the Jacobite rising rings true, given that my 3rd great grandfather was clearly named after the Bonnie Prince. However, once again I’ve drawn a blank in my attempts to find any confirmation of this connection with the Scottish aristocracy. I’ve failed to find any record of a daughter named Matilda born to any of the men who bore the name of Viscount Stormont in the eighteenth century. As for Margaret’s father John Monteith, there were a number of men with that name living in Glasgow at this period, including one or two who were members of the famous family of cotton manufacturers. But none of those I’ve come across appear to have married a woman named Matilda or had a daughter named Margaret.

However, a possible alternative track for solving the mystery of Margaret’s origins was suggested a few years by an email from Malcolm Sandilands, who has researched the connections between Scotland and Jamaica in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Malcolm wrote with reference 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.

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 at this period. 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’ve written about in previous posts on this blog. For example, Marion Thomson, the eldest daughter of John Thomson, 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 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. In something of a departure from the Glaswegian focus of this blog, I’ve carried out some research into the history of the Ricketts family, in the hope that some kind of link to my 3rd great grandmother and her family might eventually emerge. I’m grateful to Alex von Sinner and other descendants of the Ricketts family, including some living in Jamaica, for their continuing help with my research. What follows is a summary of what I’ve discovered so far:

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 that 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.

William Henry Ricketts married Mary Godwin in 1657 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 three 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.

Celebrating the end of slavery in Spanish Town, Jamaica

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).

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 firstly Mary Cassandra Twistleton, by whom he had two children, and after divorcing her in 1799 married Mary Anne Parker in 14th April 1810 and had three more children. In 1800 he was listed as manager of the Ricketts estates in Jamaica.

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 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.)

Despite this extensive research, and helpful emails from many Ricketts descendants and other family historians, I’ve yet to discover evidence of a connection between any member of the Ricketts family of Jamaica and John Monteith or his wife Matilda. However, there were Monteiths living and working in Jamaica during this period, and I’ll say more about one possibly  intriguing connection in the next post.

John Thomson of Jamaica

In the last post I wrote about the claim for compensation made in 1836, following the abolition of slavery in the British colonies, by George, Elizabeth and Jane or Jean Robb, acting in concert with the estate of their late brother John and with Jane’s husband Archibald Graham Lang. George, Elizabeth, Jane and John were the children of Penelope Thomson by her first marriage to my 4th great uncle, George Robb senior, a Glasgow merchant. The claim related to the May Day estate, in Manchester parish, Jamaica and was in fact one of two counterclaims. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website, the original claim had been made by ‘James McCatty, of Manchester, as executor of John Thompson (deceased).’ In the previous post I speculated as to whether the ‘John Thompson’ referred to here was Penelope’s late father, or her brother of the same name, both possibilities that might have given her children a claim as heirs.

Old photograph of a coffee plantation in Jamaica

I’m now fairly certain that the John Thomson mentioned in the May Day claim was, in fact, Penelope’s brother. Earlier this year I received a comment on my Past Lives blog from Di’allo Virtue Cunningham, a descendant of the John Thomson referred to in the May Day claim, which included the information that the latter had been born in about 1789 and had six children with a certain Catherine McLachlan, a mulatta (Di’allo Cunningham’s 3rd great grandmother Jestina or Jessie Thomson was the youngest of  these children), and a son by the woman he later married, Catherine Gordon McCatty, the sister of the James McCatty who would be appointed as Thomson’s executor. A later email from Di’allo included a copy of John Thomson’s burial record from 1822 (see below), confirming that he was 33 years old at the time of his death. Thomson was buried at Wigton Plantation, which was owned by his wife’s family, the Herons: in my last post, I noted that James McCatty married Anna Maria Heron in 1829, but the ties between the two families seem to have predated this.

Also attached to the email was a baptismal record (see above), from 23rd December 1813, for Archibald and Elizabeth Isabella Thomson, described as ‘quadroons’, in other words, the offspring of a white person and a mulatto or mulatta, and therefore as having one black grandparent. They are said to be the son and daughter of ‘John Thomson Esquire of Glasgow Coffee Plantation in the parish of Vere’, which was in the south of the island. I understand that Thomson had interests in both the Glasgow and May Day estates.

Part of an eighteenth-century map of Jamaica

On the same date (and possibly in the same ceremony) as shown in the record above, the baptism took place of ‘James McLachlan a youth of colour’, said to have been born in the parish of St Andrew, in the eastern part of Jamaica, and described as ‘the son of Ralph Thomson Esq. late of North Brook Estate in the parish of St Andrew’. Di’allo Cunningham believes that Ralph and John Thomson may have been brothers. I think he may be right, though I’ve yet to find a record of Ralph’s birth or any mention of him in the records relating to ‘my’ Thomson family. Alternatively, could Ralph and John Thomson have been cousins?

The McLachlan connection is intriguing. What was the relationship between Catherine McLachlan, the mulatta partner of John Thomson and the mother of six of his children, and James McLachlan, the ‘natural’ son of his possible relative Ralph Thomson?  And what was their connection, if any, with the McLachlan family of Glasgow?

John Thomson senior, the father (as I believe) of the John Thomson who died in Jamaica in 1822, was married twice, his first wife, whom he married in 1765, supposedly being one Penelope McLachlan. When their son Colin, a Glasgow merchant, made his will in 1819, one of the executors, and a principal beneficiary, was a certain Colin McLachlan, who was also described as a merchant in Glasgow. I’ve discovered that a Colin McLachlan married Sarah McCallum in Glasgow in 1781, and that they had a number of children together, including Sarah and Archibald in 1790, and Colin junior in 1796. I’m not sure which of the two Colin McLachlans is referred to in Colin Thomson’s will: the younger man would have been twenty-five in 1819, and his father perhaps about 60. Nor am I sure which Colin McLachlan it was who made his own will in 1822. One of the beneficiaries of that will was an Archibald McLachlan, but the nature of his relationship to the testator is not made clear. Interestingly, another of the beneficiaries of the will was Rev. Archibald Wilson of Cardross, and we can deduce from the document that he was the husband of Colin McLachlan’s sister Margaret, and that they had two children, Colin and Jean. This is of interest because it was Rev. Wilson who officiated at the wedding of Penelope Robb, née Thomson, to her second husband, John Young, a former Receiver-General of Jamaica, in 1813.

Further detective work will be needed to discover the precise relationship, if any, between the McLachlans of Glasgow, the mother of the younger John Thomson’s six Jamaican children, and Ralph Thomson’s Jamaican son.

Caribbean claims and connections

To date, the posts on this site have focused on telling the story of a network of interrelated nineteenth-century Glasgow families across three generations. In the course of writing about these families, I’ve mentioned in passing their connections with the Caribbean colonies, and particularly with Jamaica. The time has come to focus on those associations more closely.

A Jamaican sugar plantation in the early nineteenth century

In some ways the central figure in the family history I’ve been relating is Penelope Thomson (1777 – 1847), the daughter of Glasgow saddler John Thomson (1741 – 1818). Penelope was married, firstly, to George Robb (1769 – c. 1811), the merchant who I believe to have been the older brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb (1779 – 1853). Her second husband, John Young, was a retired West India merchant and Receiver-General of Jamaica. He was the son of a previous post-holder 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 number of Penelope Thomson’s siblings and half-siblings also had connections with Jamaica.  Her brother Thomas Thomson, who was born in 1766, served as an attorney in St Elizabeth parish in Jamaica. He is said to have fathered a mixed-race son named George by his wife Jane White 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.

Slaves working on a Caribbean sugar plantation

Their Jamaican ties meant that members of the Thomson family were, like many other merchants with roots in Scotland, implicated in the iniquitous 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. 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 junior 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.

1835 map of Jamaica

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 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 almost certainly 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 (which kindly cites my ‘Past Lives‘ blog as a source) 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.

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

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 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 name, as I shall outline in a forthcoming post, hints at an association with another prominent Jamaican family?

A brief family history

Given the difficulties involved in keeping track of the complex history of the Robb-Thomson-Young family of Glasgow, exacerbated by their frequent intermarrying and the habit of using the same first names in succeeding generations, I’ve produced a brief summary of what I’ve tried to describe in detail in the preceding posts:

First generation

John Thomson (1741 – 1818) married, firstly, Penelope McLachlan (1745 – 1781) in 1765 and they had seven children:

Marion (b. 1765)

Thomas (1766 – 1803)

Colin (1768 – 1819)

James (b.1770)

John (b. 1772)

Penelope (1777 – 1847)

Margaret (b. 1780?)

John Thomson married, secondly, Elizabeth Robb in 1783 and they had three children:

Elizabeth (1784 – 1847)

Henry (1785 – 1824)

Archibald (1791 -1821)

Second generation

Marion Thomson married Simon Pellance (b. 1765) in 1785 and they had two children:

Elizabeth (b.1786)

John Thomson (b. 1791)

Thomas Thomson married Jane White and they had a son:

George (b. 1803)

Colin Thomson had a ‘natural’ daughter, Ann (b.1800?) with Rita Allinan (?)

Penelope Thomson married, firstly, George Robb (1769 – c.1811) in 1805 and they had four children:

George (1806 – 1879)

Elizabeth (1807 – 1845)

John (1808 – 1830)

Jean (b. 1810)

Penelope Robb, née Thomson, married, secondly, John Young (1770 – 1827) in 1813 and they had three children:

Penelope (1816 – 1874)

Janet (1816 – 1850)

John (1819 – 1846)

Henry Thomson married Jane Sharp in 1810 and they had two children:

John (1811 – 1838)

Jane Sharp (1814 – 1884)

Third generation

George Robb, son of Penelope Thomson and George Robb, married Jane Sharp Thomson (daughter of Henry Thomson) in 1831 and they had three children:

George Meikleham (1833 – 1891)

Jane (1834 – 1887)

Penelope Ann Boyd (1840 – 1900)

Elizabeth Robb, daughter of Penelope Thomson and George Robb, married John Burns in 1836 and they had a daughter:

Penelope (1838 – 1905)

Jean Robb, daughter of Penelope Thomson and George Robb, married Archibald Graham Lang (1801 – 1875) in 1830 and they had nine children:

David Graham (1831 – 1876)

Penelope Mary (1832 – 1869)

Archibald Graham (1834 – 1915)

Marion Elizabeth (b. 1836)

Jean Victoria (1838 – 1898)

Helen Adelaide (b. 1841)

John Calder (1843 – 1848)

Elizabeth Robb (b. 1845)

William (b.1848)

Penelope Young, daughter of Penelope Thomson and John Young, married firstly John Thomson (son of Henry Thomson) in 1832 and they had three children:

Penelope (b. 1834)

Joan (b. 1836)

George (b. and d. 1838)

Penelope Thomson, née Young, daughter of Penelope Thomson and John Young, married secondly William Meikleham (1802 – 1852) in 1844 and they had two sons:

William (1845 -1907)

John Young (1846 – 1908)

Janet Young, daughter of Penelope Thomson and John Young, married Jackson Walton (1808 – 1873) in 1835 and they had two children:

Jackson (b. 1838)

Mary (b. 1841)

Jackson Walton married, secondly, Eliza Ann Nicholson (b. 1826) in 1844 and they had twelve children:

Gilbert Nicholson (b. 1846)

Barbara Anderson (b. 1847)

Thomas Balfour (b.  1849)

Helen (b. 1850)

Anne Eliza Mary (b.1852)

William Gandy (b. 1853)

Richard (b. 1856)

Dora Gandy (b. 1858)

Edward Arthur (1860 -1922)

Hannah More (b. 1863)

Constance (1865 – 1960)

George Henry (1867 – 1963)

Janet Young and Jackson Walton

Continuing my account of the next generation of the Robb-Thomson-Young family of Glasgow, I turn now to Janet Young, the middle child of Penelope Thomson by her second marriage to John Young.

Janet, who was born in about 1817, married Jackson Walton on 12th October 1835 in Glasgow. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Nathaniel Paterson of St Andrew’s church, the same minister who would marry Janet’s half-sister Elizabeth Robb and John Burns in the following year.

Jackson Walton, described in the parish register as a merchant, was born on 1st December 1808 at Longsight Hall, Fallowfield, then a rural village on the outskirts of Manchester, the son of John and Mary Walton. The Wikipedia entry for one of his sons describes Jackson as ‘a Manchester commission agent and a competent painter and photographer’.

Jackson and Janet Walton had two children. According to later census records, their son, also named Jackson, was born in about 1838 in England and their daughter, Mary, in 1841 in Glasgow.

The 1841 census finds Jackson, Janet, Jackson junior, and Mary, living on the north side of Raise Street, Saltcoats, in Ayrshire, less than a mile from Janet’s half-brother George Robb and his family at Parkend House. As mentioned in an earlier post, George was working as a coal and iron master at this time. Jackson Walton is described as an agent, which raises the possibility that he and George were working for the same company.

Like many of her relatives, Janet died at a young age, though we do not have any definite information about her death. She was certainly dead by November 1844, when Jackson Walton married his second wife, Eliza Ann Nicholson, a Quaker, in Old Machar, Aberdeen. The record describes Jackson as a wine merchant living in Chapel Street, while Eliza is said to live in Silver Street. They were married by the Rev. Sir William Dunbar, Baronet, in St Paul’s Chapel. Since St Paul’s was an Episcopal church, Jackson’s Anglicanism presumably trumped Eliza’s Quakerism on this occasion. For more on the controversial and schismatic Rev. Dunbar, see here.

The same clergyman baptised Jackson and Eliza’s first child, Gilbert Nicholson Walton, in the following year, and their daughter Barbara Anderson was born in the same city in 1847. A third child, Thomas Balfour, was born in 1849 in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, and their daughter Helen was also born there in 1850. The 1851 census finds the Waltons at East Clyde Street, Helensburgh, with Jackson’s mother Mary, as well as a house servant and a nursemaid. Jackson is now described as an annuitant, perhaps from his first wife’s legacy.

Ten years later, in 1861, the Waltons were living at Glanderstone House, in Neilston, Renfrewshire, where Jackson is described as a ‘partner in saw mills’, as is his 23-year -old son Jackson junior. They have five more children: Anne Eliza Mary, born in 1852; William Gandy, 1853; Richard, 1856; Dora Gandy, 1858; and Edward Arthur, 1860. All were born in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, except Edward, who was born in Neilston. As well as a general servant and a groom, the household also includes a visitor, one Walter Guy Buchanan, a managing clerk and sawyer.

According to one source, the Waltons settled in Glasgow in 1862, ‘Jackson becoming first a manufacturer of steam boiler coverings and later a manufacturing chemist, neither successfully.’ The 1871 census finds the family in Arlington Street, Glasgow, where Jackson is described as a manufacturing chemist employing four men.

Jackson Walton died in 1873 at the age of 65, apparently leaving his family in reduced circumstances.

Edward Arthur Walton  ‘Self Portrait’

Jackson and Eliza’s son George became a famous architect, while Edward and Constance become painters of some renown.  The  following extract from the entry about George Henry Walton in the Dictionary of Scottish Artists makes reference to the accomplishments of his siblings:

George Henry Walton was born in Glasgow on 3 June 1867, the youngest of the twelve children of Jackson Walton, a Manchester commission agent, by his second wife, the Aberdeen-born Quaker Eliza Ann Nicholson: the painter Edward Arthur Walton, born near Barrhead on 15 April 1860 was his elder brother and the flower painter Constance Walton his sister. The Waltons had settled in Glasgow in 1862, Jackson becoming first a manufacturer of steam boiler coverings and later a manufacturing chemist, neither successfully. He was, however, a good amateur painter and photographer: one of his elder daughters, the decorative artist, Helen, born 1850, also had marked ability, studying at Glasgow School of Design from 1865 and becoming artistic mentor to the younger members of the family. Jackson died in 1873 leaving his family in reduced circumstances. George had to leave Partick Academy in 1881 at the age of thirteen to become a clerk with the British Linen Bank, but while in its employ he studied at Glasgow School of Art (as the School of Design had become in 1869) and took classes with P. McGregor Wilson at the short-lived Glasgow Atelier Fine Arts.

The rest of the article, which details George Walton’s considerable achievements and renown as an architect and designer, can be found here.

George Henry Walton, by William Oliphant Hutchison (via

Here is some additional information about George’s brother Edward, who died in 1922:

Painter, who became one of the ‘Glasgow Boys’. Born in East Renfrewshire, Walton trained briefly in Dusseldorf (Germany), before returning to study at the Glasgow School of Art. Here he met, and began to paint with, James Guthrie (1859 – 1930) and Joseph Crawhall (1861-1913). The group later widened to include George Henry (1858 – 1943) and John Lavery (1856 – 1941), and became known as the ‘Glasgow Boys’. Walton acquired a studio in Cambuskenneth (Stirling) in the late 1880s and many of the Glasgow Boys were visitors.

Walton is recognised as one of the leading Scottish painters of his generation, specialising in both portraits and landscape subjects. He used detailed textures in his work and typically offset pure whites, symbolising the innocence of his subjects, against contrasting dark backgrounds. This technique reflected the influence of the English artist James Whistler, who Walton greatly admired. The two were friends and Walton led a campaign to persuade the Glasgow City Corporation to buy Whistler’s portrait of Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881), the first of his works purchased by a public body. Walton moved to London in 1894 and became a neighbour of Whistler. Walton had a studio in Cheyne Walk (Chelsea), where he painted until 1904, when he was persuaded to return to Scotland by James Guthrie and settled in Edinburgh, specialising in portraiture.

Walton married the artist Helen Law (née Henderson) after becoming engaged on 29 November 1889. Helen gave up her painting career in order to tend to their family. Their son John (1895–1971), became Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow.[4][5] Their daughter Cecile (1891–1956), was a successful painter, sculptor and illustrator in Edinburgh.[6] Their youngest daughter Margery married William Oliphant Hutchison in 1918.

And here’s a link to some information about their sister Constance’s flower paintings.

Constance Walton, ‘Still Life of Flowers’

As for Jackson Walton’s children by his first marriage to Janet Young: I’m not sure what became of Jackson junior, but we know that daughter Mary married her half-cousin, railway clerk John Gandy Walton, at Glanderstone House on Christmas Eve, 1861. They lived in Kentish Town, London, and had five children, though John died in December 1874, shortly before the birth of their last child, who bore his name.

In 1881 Mary and her children were at Gibson Street, in Govan, Glasgow, where she was living on ‘income from money lent on house property’ and son Francis was working as an insurance clerk. The 1891 census finds Mary, 54, back in Kentish Town, and living on her own means. Her son Francis is now a professional singer, daughter Bertha a governess in a school, son Ernest a telegraph clerk, John Gandy a railway clerk like his late father, and daughter Edith has no employment. I’ve been unable to discover the date of Mary’s death.

The sons of William and Penelope Meikleham

The previous post described the second marriage of Penelope Young (daughter of Penelope Thomson by her second marriage to West India merchant John Young) to William Meikleham, Clerk to the Senate of Glasgow University, and later bankrupt and fugitive from justice. Penelope and William had two children together, before the latter fled to the United States to escape his debtors. William Meikleham junior was born in 1845 and his brother John Young Meikleham in 1846. At the time of the 1861 census, William, 15 and John, 14, were living with their mother and her daughter Joan, 25, from her first marriage to John Thomson, in Duncan Street, Edinburgh.

I’ve been unable to find the family in the 1871 census, but we know that Penelope died in October 1874 at Kilmun, Argyll, which suggests that they might have resident there before that date. In searching for information about William and John after that date, I’ve had only patchy success, though what I’ve discovered has added to my understanding of the complex inter-relationships between the different branches of this Glasgow family.

The 1881 census record for Edinburgh mentions a William Meikleham, born in Glasgow, living with his aunt, Alice Meikleham, 74, as well as a cook, nurse and nursemaid, at 5 Buccleuch Place. If Alice can be allowed as an alternative for Alison, then the details match those of William Meikleham senior’s younger sister, born in 1806 (he had two other siblings: Esther Alison, born in 1800, and David Scott, born in 1804). The census describes William junior, though still only 35, as a ‘retired sugar broker’.

Hampstead in 1881, a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw

I’ve found no other definite records for William, but I’ve been more successful with his younger brother John. My first discovery was a census record for 1901, when John Y. Meikleham, a commission agent living on his own means and born in Scotland, can be found at 37 Upper Park Road, Hampstead, London. To begin with, my search was hampered by Ancestry’s characteristically wayward transcriptions: John’s name was rendered as ‘John T. Mukleham’ and his wife Janet’s as ‘Grant S.’, despite it being obvious that she was his wife and therefore female. However, those middle initials would help me to find details of their marriage and Janet’s background further down the line.

The 1901 record also includes five Meikleham children: William, 26, a clerk in a shipping house; Penelope E., 24, Barbara I., 18, David L., 13, and Marion G., 10.  Their places of birth provide clues to the family’s movements: William was born in Scotland, Barbara in London, and Penelope, David and Marion in Manchester. From the records of their births I discovered that Penelope’s middle name was Esther, Barbara’s was Isabel, David’s Lang and Marion’s Graham. The last two suggested a close tie with the Lang family of Glasgow, but at this stage I put this down to Archibald Graham Lang and Jean Robb being John Young Meikleham’s uncle and aunt. Penelope’s first name was obviously given in honour of her grandmother, Penelope (Young) Meikleham, and (as mentioned above) Esther was the name of one of William’s Meikleham aunts.

Unfortunately, knowing the names of John and Janet’s children didn’t help me to find any earlier census records for the family. Perhaps they were hiding behind other failed attempts by transcribers to come to terms with the name Meikleham? Initially, the only record I found before 1901 was for Penelope in 1881, when she was 4, and a visitor in the home of cashier Gervase Etchells and his family at Bury New Road, Broughton, Lancashire. With her was two-year-old London-born ‘A.M.Meikleham’,  obviously a younger sister not mentioned in the 1901 record.

A village in Java during the colonial era (via

A search at Ancestry for an A.M.Meikleham, born in 1879, threw up a record in the 1891 census for Alice M. Meikleham, 12, at 6 Belford Terrace, Edinburgh, the home of widow Margaret Laing and her daughter Marion G. Laing. With Alice are Penelope E. Meikleham, 14, and Margaret M. Meikleham, 15 – the latter evidently yet another sister, since all three are described as granddaughters of Margaret Laing. Margaret Meikleham’s birthplace – Batavia, Java – may explain why I’ve been unable to find the Meiklehams in earlier census records. John Young Meikleham’s work as a commission agent appears to have taken him and his family abroad at some stage.

As to the nature of the link between the Meiklehams and the Langs (or Laings), this is resolved by identifying the maiden name of John Young’s wife Janet. The first letter of her middle name enables us to identify her as Janet Snell Lang, born in 1850, the daughter of Glasgow (law) writer James Leitch Lang and his wife Margaret Morrison. In other words, the Margaret La(i)ng looking after the Meikleham girls in Edinburgh in 1891 was their mother’s mother, while Marion Laing was her sister.

Janet’s father, James Leitch Lang, was the youngest son of David Lang and Marion Graham. Their eldest son – Janet Snell Lang’s uncle – was Glasgow merchant Archibald Graham Lang, who married Jean Robb, daughter of George Robb and Penelope Thomson. So Janet’s husband, John Young Meikleham, was also her cousin. Incidentally, the middle name ‘Leitch’ in Janet’s father’s name is intriguing. I’m almost certain that a Marion Leitch was the second wife of John Thomson, the father of Penelope Thomson, so the links between the Langs and the Thomson-Young family might go back even further than I’d previously thought.

John Young Meikleham died at the age of 62 on Christmas Day 1908. At the time of his death he was still living at the address in Hampstead given in the 1901 census. The administration of his will was the responsibility of William Meikleham, agent. At first I thought this might be his brother, but now I believe it’s more likely to have been his eldest son. This is partly because a William Meikleham of 32 Queen Mary Avenue, Crosshill, Glasgow had died in the previous year, on 20th February 1907. If this is John’s brother, then he would also have been 62 at the time of his death.

Ventnor, Isle of Wight, in the Victorian era

John Young Meikleham’s daughter Penelope, who lived at 75 Parliament Hill Mansions, Gospel Oak, Middlesex, died a year after her father, on 8th September 1909. She was 32 years old. Her will was administered by William Meikleham, manufacturer’s agent: once again, this was almost certainly her older brother. Penelope died at ‘the Solent Ventnor Isle of Wight’. I think her mother, and perhaps some of her siblings, must have moved there after John Young Meikleham’s death, since Janet Snell Meikleham would herself die in 1934, aged 83, at ‘Worsley’, Belgrave Road, Ventnor.

As for the other Meikleham children, I’ve yet to explore what became of all of them. However, I know that Margaret M. Meikleham died, presumably unmarried, on the Isle of Wight in 1951: she was 78. And David Lang Meikleham was killed in action in August 1917, while serving in France as a Lance Corporal with the First Field Company of the Royal Engineeers. He was 30 years old, also resident at Ventnor, and he left a widow, Janet Mill Meikleham.

Of the other children of John Young and Janet Snell Meikleham, I know that Barbara married schoolmaster William Francis Vereker Bindon in Hendon in 1914, and Marion married civil servant Harold Mattingley in Golders Green in 1915. On the latter’s marriage record, her father John’s occupation is given as ‘Indian merchant’, confirming my suspicion that he was involved in trade with the far-flung regions of the British Empire.

Penelope Young and William Meikleham

In the last post I wrote about the marriage of Penelope Young, daughter of Penelope Thomson and her second husband John Young, to her cousin, Glasgow wine merchant John Thomson. When John Thomson died in 1839, he left Penelope with three young children: Penelope, Joan and George. I think the younger Penelope must have died in infancy, as she is absent from the 1841 census record, which finds Penelope, 25, together with Joan, 5, and George, 3, living with her 64-year-old widowed mother at 94 Regent Terrace, Glasgow. Both women are described as being of independent means and they employ two female servants. Interestingly, the two Penelopes now bear each other’s original surnames: the mother, born Penelope Thomson, has the surname of her late husband, John Young; while the daughter, Penelope Young, carries the name of her late husband, John Thomson.

The Glasgow parish register for 9th June 1844 includes this marriage notice:

William Meikleham writer in Glasgow and Mrs. Penelope Young residing at Helensburgh Relict of John Thomson late merchant residing in Glasgow and eldest daughter of the deceased John Young of Meadowpark.

In fact, as a separate notice in the parish register for Dunbartonshire makes clear, the marriage was ‘proclaimed’ on the 9th but actually took place on the 11th.

Glasgow University in the early 19th century

Born in 1902, William Meikleham was the son of another William Meikleham, Regius Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow University from 1799 to 1803 and Professor of Natural Philosophy there from 1803 until 1846. The younger William also worked at the university and was Clerk of the Senate from 1831 to 1845.

William and Penelope’s son, yet another William Meikleham, was born on 25th May 1845. Penelope’s brother-in-law Archibald Graham Lang (the husband of her half-sister Jean) was one of the witnesses. A second son, John Young Meikleham, was born on 5th October 1846. Archibald Lang and his son David Graham Lang were witnesses.

By this time, William Meikleham had been declared bankrupt. As well as Clerk of the University Senate, he was also factor for the Hamilton Bursaries Foundation, and it was discovered that he owed the Foundation £3000. Meikleham had been re-elected as Clerk of Senate on 1 May 1845, but resigned on 10 December. A committee was appointed by the Senate ‘to examine his accounts with the graduation Fees.’

According to the report of the court case concerning the will of Elizabeth Thomson, which took place in July 1851, ‘a sequestration of the estates of William Meikleham was awarded on 24 November 1845′. Moreover, Meikleham was later ‘indicted upon a criminal charge, and he having failed to appear, sentence of outlawry was pronounced against him, and has continued unrecalled ever since.’

19th century Milwaukee

It’s difficult to piece together the sequence of events in the Meikleham-Young family following this crisis. What we know for certain is that by 1850 William Meikleham was living in the home of Bavarian immigrant Maria Brohm and her two daughters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and supposedly working as a land agent.  The other residents of the area also appear to be of German or Austrian descent, so perhaps William thought this was a convenient place to lie low. William died two years later in Milwaukee; he was 50 years old.

It seems unlikely that Penelope and the children accompanied William to America, though I’ve yet to find them in the 1851 census records. By 1861 Penelope, 45, was living with William, 15, and John, 14, together with Joan Thomson, 25, her daughter from her first marriage, at 3 Duncan Street, Edinburgh. Penelope is described as a fund holder employing a domestic servant, so William’s departure and death did not leave her completely penniless.

Penelope Meikleham, formerly Thomson, née Young, died on 8th October 1874 at Chinnor Place, Kilmun, Argyll, from cancer of the stomach. She was 59 years old.

Penelope Young and John Thomson

In the last few posts I’ve described the lives of the three surviving children of Penelope Thomson and her first husband, Glasgow merchant George Robb – George junior, Elizabeth and Jean or Jane.  As I related in an earlier post, following George senior’s death in about 1811, Penelope married again, to retired West India merchant and former Receiver-General of Jamaica, John Young.  They had three children together – Penelope, Janet and John. In the next few posts, I’ll relate what became of them.

Blythswood Town, Glasgow

If the title of this post is somewhat confusing, it’s because the marriage of Penelope Young, formerly Robb, née Thomson’s daughter Penelope, was yet another example of intermarriage within the extended Robb-Thomson-Young family – not to mention the family’s habit of using the same Christian names in successive generations. As I’ve noted before, the elder Penelope’s son from her first marriage, George Robb junior, married his cousin Jane Sharp Thomson, the daughter of Penelope’s half-brother Henry Thomson, in 1831. In the following year, on 24th January 1832, his half-sister, the younger Penelope Young, married Henry’s son John Thomson, a wine merchant.

Meadow Park

At the time of the marriage, John Thomson was living in Blythswood Town, Glasgow. He was 21 years old, while Penelope can only have been 16 or 17. John and Penelope Thomson had three children. Their first child Penelope was born on 23rd January 1834, when the couple’s address was given as Meadow Park, the mansion on the eastern edge of the city where Penelope had grown up. The witnesses to the baptism were Penelope’s half-brother George Robb junior and Archibald Graham Lang, the husband of her half-sister Jean. A second daughter Joanna was born on 17th February 1836. The witnesses were Jackson Walton, who had married Penelope’s sister Janet Young in the previous year (and whom I’ll write about in a later post), and John Burns, who would marry her half-sister Elizabeth Robb in August of that year. A third child, George, was born on 8th March 1838. The witnesses were Penelope’s brother John Young and her half-brother George Robb. John Thomson died in the following year. He was 28 years old.

Some time ago, my fellow family historian Diane Babington informed me that John Thomson had a partner in his wine business by the name of John Monteith. This was also the name of the father-in-law of my 3rd great grandfather Charles (younger brother of George Robb senior). If this is indeed the same Monteith family, then it suggests one way in which Charles might have met his wife, my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Monteith.

Elizabeth Robb, John Burns, and their daughter Penelope

In this latest post in my series on the second generation of the Robb-Thomson-Young family, I turn now to Elizabeth Robb, the second child of Penelope Thomson’s marriage to Glasgow merchant George Robb, the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb.

St. Andrew’s church, Glasgow

The old parish registers for Glasgow include the following record:

John Burns merchant Glasgow and Elizabeth Robb residing in Barony, lawful daughter of the deceased George Robb Esq. merchant Glasgow, married at Glasgow the 16th day of August 1836 by the Rev. Nathaniel Paterson minister of St. Andrew’s Parish Glasgow.

I understand that John and Elizabeth Burns had only one child, Penelope, who was born in Glasgow on 26th January 1838. The witnesses were Elizabeth’s brother George Robb (see the previous post) and Alexander Burns. This record describes John as a manufacturer rather than a merchant.

This is the last definite record we have for John and Elizabeth. I’ve failed to find them in the 1841 or 1851 census records, though we know from the report of the court case concerning Elizabeth Thomson’s will that Elizabeth Burns had died by the latter date. The same court report states that Penelope Burns was now (i.e. in July 1851) living in America. Since she would only have been 13 at this date, it seems likely either that John, Elizabeth and Penelope emigrated when the latter was very young and that Elizabeth died there, or that John and his daughter Penelope emigrated after Elizabeth’s death. However, I’ve yet to find any documentary evidence to support either possibility, though emigration or travel would certainly account for the absence of Scottish records for the family after 1838.

Later records for Penelope Burns in the United States Federal Census claimed that she arrived in the country in 1872, when she would have been about 34 years old, so perhaps she returned to Scotland in the interim? In 1880 Penelope was boarding at a house in Alden Street, in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, and working as a teacher of languages. In the 1900 census, age 62, Penelope was lodging at 33 Pleasant Street, in the same city, and still working as a teacher. In both records she is said to be unmarried.

Eli Thayer (via

I’ve found some additional records covering Penelope’s time in Worcester. The city directories for 1888 and 1889 list her as a music teacher, living at 35 Pleasant Street, while the 1890 directory describes her simply as a teacher. She was obviously quite versatile, able to teach both music and languages. The Federal Census of 1880 finds her lodging, together with a number of other teachers, in the home of Eli Thayer in Worcester. Although the census record describes Thayer as an inventor, he was also a member of the US House of Representatives and a leading figure in the anti-slavery ‘Kansas Crusade’. Most relevant to our story, Eli Thayer also founded the Oread Institute, a school for young women in Worcester. Presumably Penelope Burns and the other teachers lodging with the Thayer family worked at the school. In fact, a history of the institute lists Miss Penelope Burns as an honorary member of its association, membership of which was open to ‘any person who taught at the Oread Collegiate Institute at any time between 1849 and 1881.’

Oread Castle, home to the Oread Institute (via

The only discrepancy between these records and what we know of Penelope, daughter of John and Elizabeth Burns, is her date of birth, which the 1880 census gives as 1841. However, a record in the 1900 Federal Census, which appears to be for the same person, gives her date of birth as 1838.  She was naturalised as a US citizen in 1880, the record again sowing doubts about her age. According to the Naturalisation Index, Penelope was born in 1840, rather than 1838. However, the fact that she gives the same birthday – 26th January – suggests that this is probably the same person, and that she was in the habit of shaving a couple of years off her true age.

Penelope Burns died on 17th August 1905 at 33 Pleasant Street. She was said to be 75 years 6 months and 22 days old. The cause of death was given as chronic nephritis, or inflammation of the  kidneys, with uraemia a contributory  cause.

George Robb and Jane Sharp Thomson

Continuing with my account of the second generation of the Robb-Thomson-Young family of Glasgow, I turn now to George Robb,  who was born in about 1806, the eldest child of Penelope Thomson (1770-1847) and her first husband George Robb senior (1769 – c. 1811), the latter being the Glasgow merchant who was the older brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb.

On 26th June 1831 the younger George Robb married his half-cousin Jane Sharp Thomson. He was twenty-five and she was seventeen. Both were said to be resident in the parish of Barony.  Jane was born in Hillhead, the daughter of Jane or Jean Sharp and Henry Thomson, who was the half-brother of George’s mother Penelope. Jane was the younger sister of wine merchant John Thomson.

George and Jane’s first child, also named George, was born in about 1833, though I’ve yet to find any documentary evidence for this. A second child, Jane, was born in 1834, but once again I’ve been unable to find a birth or baptism record. However, the 1851 census states that she was born in Old Monkland. There is no available record, either, for the birth of their daughter Penelope Ann Boyd Robb in about 1840.

Old photograph of Saltcoats, Ayrshire

In the absence of baptismal records for their children, we can’t be sure where George and Jane Robb were living in the early years of their marriage. However, by the time of the 1841 census, the year after daughter Penelope’s birth, they were living at Parkend, a rather grand house in Saltcoats, Ayrshire. The Robbs were sharing Parkend with John Mann who, like George, was thirty-five years old, and also like him, was described as a ‘coal and iron master’. I’m curious as to how George came to be in this occupation. In the will of his aunt Elizabeth Thomson, which was written in 1836, George is described as a (law) writer.

By June 1851, George, Jane and their three children are back in Glasgow, at 145 Hope Street, in the centre of the city, where they are joined by general servant Margaret Laurie. George is now described as a ‘veterinary surgeon, MRC [Member of Royal College] of veterinary surgeons’. I’m convinced that this is the same George Robb who was previously a law writer and a coal and iron master, so we have to assume that he experienced a dramatic change of career in the intervening ten years.

Friday Hill House, Chingford, Essex

The following month saw the court cases over the disputed will of Elizabeth Thomson, in which George Robb was a key protagonist. Suffice it to say that the outcome of the case appears to have enabled George and Jane to retire, by 1861, to the substantial property of Little Friday Hill in Chingford, Essex, where they lived on the interest of their money. Their next-door neighbour at Friday Hill House (picctured above) was the Reverend Robert Boothby Heathcote, the local rector as well as lord of the manor. By 1871 the Robbs were at the White House in Great Bromley, Essex, living on ‘income from dividends’, and later at Mistley Abbey, Great Mistley, where George Robb died in 1879 at the age of 73. Jane died in 1884, aged 70. Their daughter Penelope remained at Mistley and her death was recorded at Ipswich in 1900, at the age of 60.

Meanwhile, their son George Meikleham Robb embarked on a career as an artist and sculptor. In 1871 we find ‘George M. Rob’, an unmarried artist born in Scotland, lodging with the large family of gardener John Fawcett, in Queen’s Square, Undermillbeck, Bowness, on Lake Windermere. The only disparity is George’s age, which is given as twenty-eight, when it should be thirty-eight: otherwise, all the details fit. Ten years later, in 1881, George M. Robb, still unmarried, but now given the slightly more accurate age of 45, is still lodging with the Fawcetts, and is now described as a landscape painter. The situation is little changed in 1891, when George, said to be 60 years old but in reality about 58, and still an artist (the additional note ‘sculp’ indicating that he was also a sculptor) can still be found living with the Fawcetts. Unfortunately, I’ve so far been able to find any information online about George’s artistic output.

Obviously, his parents’ money enabled George to pursue his vocation as an artist, though it didn’t make it possible for him to own a house of his own. Alternatively, living what must have been a modest existence may have been part of a romantic dedication to the landscape which kept him in the same corner of the Lake District for at least 20 years. One imagines that if he did have independent means, then George’s continuing presence was a welcome source of income for the Fawcett family (they were able to retain at least one servant).

George died later in 1891 in Kendal. Interestingly, the death record gives his name as George Mickleham Robb. This has to be a misreading of Meikleham, the name of his aunt Penelope’s second husband. But Penelope Young didn’t marry William Meikleham until 1844, eleven years after George’s birth, which raises the possibility of an earlier connection between the Robb-Thomson-Young family and the Meiklehams. 

I originally assumed that the last record we had for George and Jane Robb’s daughter Jane was the 1851 census, when, aged seventeen, she was living with her parents and siblings in Hope Street, Glasgow. However, after searching online for details of a marriage involving a Jane Robb, I found that on 15th June 1854 George Forbes, a banker living in the parish of Marylebone, London, married Jane Robb, residing in Barony parish, Glasgow. The wedding took place at Graham Castle, Ardrossan, and was officiated by Reverend John Thomas Boyle, curate of Trinity church, Ayr. There are two points of interest here: Ardrossan is next door to Saltcoats, where Jane was living with her parents in 1841, and Holy Trinity, Ayr, is an Episcopal church. If the Robbs were Episcopalian, this might explain why their baptisms are absent from the old parish registers.

Searching for census records for George and Jane Forbes, the first one I found was for Little Friday Hill, Chingford, Essex in the 1861 census: the same address as Jane’s parents. When I first found George and Jane Robb at this address, and saw that the next entry was for George Forbes and his wife Jane, I assumed they were simply neighbours and thattheir Scottish origin was simply a coincidence. Looking at the record again, I realised that these were in fact two households in the same building. One household consisted of George and Jane Robb, their two children George and Penelope, a housemaid and a cook; the other of their daughter Jane, her husband George Forbes, and their housemaid. The Robbs’ move to Essex might be explained, in fact, by Jane’s marriage to George Forbes, and by the latter’s occupation, since by this date he had risen to the status of Deputy Cashier at the Bank of England.

The Bank of England in the nineteenth century

I now knew that George Forbes had been born in Scotland: but where? Some further internet searching revealed George to be the son of Reverend Patrick Forbes, D.D. of Aberdeen, and to have been born in 1825. This helped me to find George’s baptismal record. Rev. Dr. Forbes, minister of Old Machar and Professor of Humanity and Chemistry at King’s College, Old Aberdeen, and his spouse Mrs. Mary Glennie, had a son born on 2nd January 1825, baptised by the Rev. Dr. Glennie (Mary’s father) in the presence of Dr. Ogilvy, Old Aberdeen, and Dr. Knight of Marischal College.

How did George Forbes, born in Aberdeen and living and working in London by the time of his marriage, meet Jane Robb of Glasgow? The clue might lie in a record from the 1851 census, which finds twenty-four-year-old writer’s clerk George Forbes of Aberdeen lodging at a house in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, just a few minutes’ walk from the Robbs’ home in Hope Street. It’s easy to imagine how a promising writer’s clerk might meet the daughter of a former ‘writer’, a number of whose relatives worked as lawyers and merchants in the neighbouring streets of the city.

George Forbes did not remain Deputy Chief Cashier for long. By the time of the 1871 census, he had attained the enviable position of Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. In fact, he was the first person in that role whose signature and title appeared on bank notes. By that time George and Jane were living at Thornton House in Bromley, Kent. They had no children but could afford to employ a parlourmaid, a housemaid and a cook.

I understand that George may have been ill for some years, and it seems that he and Jane returned to live with her parents, now at Mistley Abbey, Essex, at some point. It was there that George died, at the age of 49, on 25th May 1874. He left effects to the value of less than £1500.

Memorial to George Forbes in Old Machar church, Aberdeen (via

The 1881 census finds his widow Jane, a person of independent means, as a visitor at the Grange, Elstree, Hertfordshire, the home of banker Frank May and his family. May was George Forbes’ successor as Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, holding that position from 1873 until 1893, when he was forced to resign after certain ‘irregularities’ came to light.

I haven’t been able to find out when Jane Forbes, née Robb, died.