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Joseph Fletcher Robinson (1827 - 1903) PDF Print E-mail

Joseph Fletcher Robinson was the father of Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter JFR and BFR respectively).  JFR was born in 1827 at Witham in Essex and was the eldest son of an independent minister called The Reverend Richard Robinson from Hallford, Lancashire.  JFR was named after a minister called The Rev. Joseph Fletcher who had taught The Rev. Richard Robinson at Blackburn Academy, Lancashire.

JFR was one of nine children, two of whom died at an early age from consumption.  His surviving siblings were John, Louisa, Sarah, Federick, Ellen and Hephzibah.  Autobiographical notes compiled by JFR’s youngest brother, Frederick, report that that theirs was a strictly religious upbringing.  JFR and his siblings were obliged to attend chapel twice each sunday and were prohibited from playing at home or from reading anything other than scripture.  Around 1835, JFR became a weekly boarder at Kelvedon School, Kelvedon, Essex (4 miles or 6.6 kilometres from Witham).  

During the winter of 1838, Joseph’s mother, Sarah Green Robinson (née Dennant) died at the family home called Ivy Chimney, Witham. During the winter of 1841, The Rev. Richard Robinson remarried a 44 year-old widow called Elizabeth Wade in Colchester, Essex.  This event triggered “… problems between him and some of his older children.”  Perhaps for this reason, JFR was compelled to leave Kelvedon School and enter into resident employment as a miller’s apprentice at nearby Langley’s Mill in Great Waltham (12 miles or 20 kilometres from Witham). 

During the summer of 1843, JFR contracted smallpox and returned home to Ivy Chimney to be nursed.  This event seemingly triggered a reconciliation between JFR, his father and new step-mother. 

In 1848, The Rev. Richard Robinson resigned his pastorate in Witham after some 25 years of service and accepted a ministry in Hallfold.  He relocated with his second wife and his two youngest daughters to 55 Hallfold, Whitworth, Rochdale, Greater Manchester, Lancashire (the same house in which he had been born on 10th July 1897). 

Around 1848, JFR gained employment as a commercial traveller with a wholesale druggist called Robert Sumner of 9 Cable Street, Liverpool.  He subsequently visited South America, where he befriended Giuseppe Garibaldi (commander of the Uruguayan fleet).  JFR assisted the Garibaldini and Uruguayans in their war (the Guerra Grande') against the Argentinean dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas.  JFR’s obituaries report that he was wounded three times before this conflict was resolved in 1851 by an Anglo-French intervention (refer to the end of this article).

During the summer of 1850, JFR married 26 year-old Rosalinda (‘Rosa’) Williams in the district of Liverpool.  Rosa was the daughter of a retired London-based solicitor called George Edward Williams (originally from Oakham, Rutlandshire).  Frederick Robinson subsequently honoured his brother and sister-in-law by calling two of his children Joseph and Rosa (Rosa died during infancy).  JFR and Rosa resided at 33 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. 

Between 1850 and 1858, JFR revisited South America on several occasions and participated in expeditions to map the west coast.  On one such occasion, he rode a horse from Buenos Aires to Santiago (a feat then considered remarkable).  Perhaps JFR later recounted his exploits to BFR thereby stimulating his son's imagination and interest in story telling?

During 1858, JFR returned to England from his last trip to South America.  He and Rosa briefly resided at 21 Chatsworth Street, Edge Hill, Liverpool, before relocating to 5 Bagot Street, Wavertree, Liverpool.  Thereafter, JFR became a council member of a nearby independent chapel in Renshaw Street. 

On 21st June 1858, The Rev. Richard Robinson died from pleurisy, aged 61 years.  He was buried at Hallfold Chapel, Whitworth, Rochdale (where he had acted as minister).  JFR attended his father’s funeral together with his brother, John (later Sir John).  Shortly thereafter, JFR's 64 year-old step-mother, Elizabeth Robinson, relocated to 5 Bagot Street.  Rosa's widowed father, George Williams, also lived at that same address.  

During 1865, 11 year-old Richard Robinson was enrolled to study at Liverpool Collegiate Institute.  He was the son of JFR's brother, Frederick Robinson (now working as an ironmonger and journeyman in Stowupland, near Stowmarket, Suffolk).  Richard subsequently resided with JFR and Rosa at 5 Bagot Street.  Thereafter, JFR resigned his position with the wholesale druggist and drug grinder, Robert Sumner & Company.  

Around 1866, JFR founded his own general brokerage business called Joseph Robinson & Company that traded molasses, oil and kerosene.  He operated from premises located at 9 Orange Court, 85a Castle Street, Liverpool and also from a warehouse situated in Bagot Street.  This company still trades, under the name of Meade-King, Robinson & Company Limited (MKR) and has offices in Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow (refer to the 'Links' section of this website).

During 1868,  JFR employed his nephew, Richard Robinson, as a general broker’s apprentice.  In the winter of that same year, Rosa Robinson died aged 44 years (her death was registered in the district of West Derby, Lancashire).  

On 2nd June 1869, 42 year-old JFR married 28 year-old Emily Hobson at Farndon Parish Church in the district of Great Boughton, Cheshire.  Emily was the daughter of William Hobson, a hosier, glover, laceman and shop proprietor of 86 Bold Street, Liverpool.  JFR and Emily resided at 80 Rose Lane, Mossley Vale, Wavertree, West Derby, Liverpool.  It was here on 22nd August 1870, that Emily gave birth to the couples only child who was named Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter BFR).

During late 1873, JFR wrote to his customers, informing them that he had entered into partnership with a 23 year-old former produce apprentice called Richard Meade-King.  Richard was the son of a wealthy friend, merchant and land-owner called Henry Meade-King (of 84 Sandfield Park, West Derby, Liverpool, Lancashire).  JFR would remain commercial manager and Richard Meade-King would be his financial partner.   In this same letter, JFR informs his clients that "on and after the 1st of January 1874, any business will be carried on under the name of Robinson and Meade-King of 7 Knowsley Buildings, Tithebarn Street, Liverpool."
 
On 3rd April 1881, JFR and Emily were resident at 6 Lyndhurst Road, Wavertree.  Meanwhile, 10 year-old BFR was boarding at a small school called Penkett Road Beach House, Liscard, West Cheshire (some 7 miles or 11 kilometres from his family home). Shortly thereafter, JFR  retired as commercial manager of the recently renamed Meade-King, Robinson & Company (now trading from 11 Old Hall Street, Liverpool) and appointed 27 year-old nephew Richard Robinson to replace him (BFR's cousin). 

During 1882, JFR, Emily and BFR relocated from Liverpool to Park Hill House, Parkhill Cross, Park Hill, Ipplepen, Devon.   It seems likely that JFR elected to retire to Ipplepen in order to pursue his interest in equestrian-sports.  Indeed, he joined and then regularly rode with both the South Devonshire Hunt and Dart Vale Harriers until 1895.

During April 1882, BFR became a dayboy at a nearby independent school called Newton Abbot Proprietary College (some 2½ miles from Park Hill House).  Sometime thereafter, JFR, in co-operation with two prominant local men called General de Lisle and Mr. Archer Hind, paid for general improvement work to nearby St. Andrew’s Church in Ipplepen.  This work included renovating the windows and repositioning the organ.  JFR was then elected churchwarden and was befriended by all three rectors during his 21 years of service in this office; The Rev. Robert Harris (1862-1887), The Rev. Douglas Stewart (1887-1897) and The Rev. Robert Duins Cooke (1897-1939).

During 1884, JFR was appointed to the Newton Board of Guardians (until 1894) and also became a life-long member of the Devonshire Association (fellow members included the writer, The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould).  He also joined Ipplepen Liberal Club where he sometimes chaired meetings and befriended Sir Charles Seale-Hayne, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Mid-Devon (1887-1903).  It is interesting to note that in 1901, BFR provided some assistance to  Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (hereafter ACD) with the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  There is, of course, the repetition of ‘Sir Charles’, as well as the parliamentary candidacy for Mid-Devon, with a character in this story.

On 29th July 1894, the annual 'Prize Day' was held at Newton College Proprietary School.  The Rt. Hon. William Reginald (Earl of Devon and President of Newton College Council) was originally scheduled to preside at this ceremony.  However, he was prevented from attending at short notice so this ceremony was instead chaired by Sir Samual Baker (Fellow of the Royal Society and a former Governor-General of the Equatorial Nile basin).  Sir Samual was assisted by The Rev. Warner (Headmaster), Sir Cornelius Kortright (Governor of British Guiana, 1877-1882), The Rev. Tudor (Rector of Wolborough) and JFR.

During 1886, JFR employed a 15 year-old domestic servant called Henry Mathews Baskerville (affectionately referred to as 'Harry').  Henry had commenced domestic servitude some four years earlier for just 4 shillings per week.  Initially his duties consisted of pumping water to Park Hill House from a nearby well, polishing silverware and cleaning-out fireplaces.  Henry remained in the employment of the Robinson family for 20 years.   By 1891, he had assumed the additional duties of both coachman and gardener and was paid 12 shillings and 6 pence per week.  It is interesting to note that during the early summer of 1901, Henry Baskerville drove BFR and ACD about Dartmoor.  Shortly thereafter, ACD used this same Christian name and surname for a central character within his story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
 
During 1902, JFR was appointed a Justice-for-the-Peace for South Devonshire.  On 2nd June of that same year, he attended the marriage of 31 year-old BFR to 22 year-old Gladys Hill Morris at  St. Barnabas Church, Kensington, London.  This marriage was reported in The Times newspaper (5th June).   Both JFR and Emily acted as witnesses to their son's marriage.
 
During July 1903, JFR travelled to London for an operation following a short illness.  He recovered sufficiently to return to Ipplepen on the 8th August of that same year.  At 10.00pm on 11th August 1903, JFR died aged 76 years at Park Hill House.  His estate was proved in the sum of £16,218 11s 0d net.   Probate was awarded to one Sidney Hacker of Hacker, Michelmore and Wilkinson Solicitors in Newton Abbot (the firm Harold Michelmore Solicitors still exists).  Emily Robinson and BFR were the principal beneficiaries to JFR's estate.

On 15th August 1903, JFR was buried at St. Andrew’s Church (Ipplepen) alongside his friend, The Rev. Douglas Stewart (Rector of St Andrew’s Church, 1887-1897).  The service was conducted by The Rev. Robert Duins Cooke.  Amongst the many mourners who attended the funeral were Emily Robinson, BFR, Gladys Robinson and Sir John Robinson (this service was reported by the Mid Devon and Newton Abbot Times on 22nd August 1903).  Emily’s floral tribute read “To my beloved husband, the joy and strength of my life”.  

Emily and BFR subsequently had a stained-glass window installed in the south-side of the chancel at St Andrew’s Church to commemorate JFR’s memory (see link below).  This window, which can still be viewed today, was designed by the noted Victorian artist, C. E. Kemp and depicts the figures of 'Our Lady and Child', with 'St. John the Divine' and 'St. Andrew'.  This window bares the following inscription:                                

“To the glory of God and in ever-loving

memory of Joseph Fletcher Robinson,

Justice of the Peace for Devon and for

xxi years Churcwarden of this Parish,

who entered into rest xith  August mcmiii

aged lxxvi years; his widow and son

dedicate this window.”
Relevant obituaries were published in the Mid-Devon and Newton Times [15th August 1903] and the  1904 Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association [Vol. XVI, pp. 37-38].  The second of these two articles reads as follows:

FLETCHER ROBINSON.  Joseph Fletcher Robison was formerly in business in Liverpool, and was a brother of Sir John Robinson, late managing editor of the Daily News.  He was a landowner in the parish of Ipplepen, and exceedingly kind to the poor, by whom he will be greatly missed, and was brought much into contact with them, having been for many years a member of the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians.  Mr. Robinson was churchwarden of Ipplepen parish church for a long period up to the time of his death, and was chairman of the School Board to the time of its dissolution.  He was also a member of the committee of Newton Abbot Hospital, in which institution he always took a great interest, and to which he was a liberal subscriber.  In politics he was a strong liberal, an active member of the Ipplepen Liberal Club, a personal friend of the late Charles Seale-Hayne, M.P., also a very good friend of Garibaldi.  When Robinson was about twenty-five years of age he fought in the South American wars, and was wounded three times.  Some of his adventures at this period were very stirring.  Once he rode alone from Buenos Ayres [sic] to Santiago, and at that time the feat was considered a remarkable one.  From the time he was twenty until he was about thirty years of age he was in South America, and took part in several exploring expeditions down the west coast.  Twenty-two years ago he retired from business, and purchased Park Hill Estate at Ipplepen, where he resided till his death.  He became a member in 1884.  Mr. Robinson died 11th August 1903, aged seventy-eight years.   

To view a photograph that shows the south-side of the chancel at St Andrew’s Church, please follow the link below: 

http://viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/search/reference.asp?index=481&image

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By Paul Spiring ©2007.

 

 
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