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 findagrave.com)

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.

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