George Robb, ‘merchant in Glasgow’

What do we know about George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who married Penelope Thomson in 1805, and who I believe to have been my 4th great uncle? The only definite record we have for George is that of his marriage to Penelope in 1805, which simply tells us that he was a ‘merchant in Glasgow’.

Auchterless kirk, Aberdeenshire (via wikipedia.org)

However, if we proceed on the assumption that George was, in fact, the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb, and of Rev. William Robb who officiated at his marriage to Penelope Thomson, then there is a good chance that he is the George Robb who was born in Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, in 1769, and baptised there on 4th October in that year. The memorandum by my 2nd great grandfather William Robb, which first alerted me to George’s existence, also mentions family property in the village of Fisherford, which formed part of the parish of Auchterless. In the parish records I’ve found records that match the information we have for George and his siblings.

It seems likely, then, that George was the son of another George Robb and his wife Jean Syme. I believe that the younger George had three older brothers – William, mentioned already, who became an Episcopalian clergyman, John and Alexander – and five younger siblings – James, Jean, Mary, Isabel and Charles, the last-named being my 3rd great grandfather.

If George Robb was indeed born in 1769, then he would have been thirty-six years old by the time he married Penelope Thomson in 1805 (she was twenty-eight). His life and career between those dates remain a mystery. Clearly, at some point he would move (as would his brother Charles, who was ten years younger than him) to Glasgow.

As for the business in which George was occupied, if we search through the trade directories for the period, we find references to a George Robb in the Glasgow Directory, ‘containing a list of the Merchants, Manufacturers, Traders, &c. in the City and Suburbs’, for the years 1801, 1804, 1807 and 1809, which place him at ‘Culcreuch yarn warehouse, Trongate’.  One of the oldest streets in the city, Trongate runs westwards from Glasgow Cross – it’s the street pictured in the header image to this blog. I’ve struggled to find any information about this company: it may have been named after Culcreuch Castle, near Loch Lomond, which had been purchased in 1796 by Alexander Spiers of Glasgow, who owned a cotton mill at Fintry, to the north of the city.

Screenshot 2019-06-25 at 07.56.48

Early nineteenth-century cotton mill (via newlanark.org)

Since this is the only mention of a George Robb in the directory, it seems likely that this is the right man. According to Wikipedia:

The tobacco trade collapsed during the American Revolution (1776–83), when its sources were cut off by the British blockade of American ports. However, trade with the West Indies began to make up for the loss of the tobacco business, reflecting the extensive growth of the cotton industry, the British demand for sugar and the demand in the West Indies for herring and linen goods. During 1750–1815, Glasgow merchants not only specialised in the importation of sugar, cotton, and rum from the West Indies, but diversified their interests by purchasing West Indian plantations, Scottish estates, or cotton mills.

Given his involvement in the cotton industry, I think it quite likely that George had some connection with, and perhaps even spent some time in, the Caribbean colonies, since (as we shall see) his children would all receive compensation when the slave trade was finally abolished.

George Robb and Penelope Thomson would have four children together, though we have to estimate the dates of their births from later census data, since records of their births or baptisms appear to be unavailable. Their eldest son George was probably born in 1806, daughter Elizabeth in 1807, younger son John in 1808, and younger daughter Jean in 1810.

George Robb must have died some time between his daughter Jean’s conception in 1809/10, and his widow Penelope’s second marriage to John Young in 1813. He would have been about 42 years old when he died. To date, I’ve been unable to find any record of George’s death, or of his will, which if it exists, would surely provide vital information about his family and business connections.

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