John Robley of Bloomsbury and Tobago (1775 - 1822)

John Robley was born in 1775 and christened on the 13th. July of that year in the church of St. Michael, Pomeroy, London. He was the second child born to John Robley and Mary (Anne) Lodington. His father, John Robley was the eldest son of the Rev. Isaac Robley, the vicar of St. John's in the Vale, Crosthwaite in the Lake District of Cumberland.

Isaac's youngest son, Joseph Robley, was a plantation owner and one time Governor of the Island of Tobago in the West Indies. While the business activities of father John are not recorded, it is almost certain that he ran a business associated with the shipping and marketing of sugar and cotton from the West Indies, and that he looked after his brother Joseph's affairs in England. That he was a success is beyond question, in that he was able to raise a large family in some style. At his death, in 1807, he left Fleetwood House, a fine Georgian manor in Stoke Newington, Middlesex, as well as other property. This included Walton house and the Walton Estate, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire and property in London.

John and his wife, Mary (Anne) Lodington had a family of eleven children, although it is probable that a daughter, Juliana, died young. Marianne (Mary Anne) 1774, John 1775, Grace and Anne 1776 were all born in London and christened at St. Michael's, Pomeroy. George 1784, Juliana 1785, Joseph, Matilda, Olivia Henrieta were probably born at Fleetwood and christened at St. Mary's Stoke Newington although the date of their christenings is given as 29th. August 1808 which means that they were christened as adults. The birth place of John's daughters Martha Elizabeth and Caroline Frances is not known, although it may well have been Stoke Newington also, and they were not christened.

Fleetwood house was purchased by John Robley jnr in trust for his father, the beneficial owner, in 1797 although the family may have lived there prior to that date. John jnr married Caroline Blake, the daughter of William and Alicia Blake, in St. Botolphs without Aldersgate in London on 2nd.July 1799. They had three children, John Horatio, Fanny Anne and Adelaide all born at their home in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, prior to 1807 and a son Henry born in Fleetwood after John's departure for the West Indies.

1807/1808 was a most eventful time for the Robley family. Both father John Robley and Joseph Robley died within a very short space of time leaving the bulk of their estates to John Robley jnr. While the remaining children were settled with generous annuities and shares in parts of the estate, John became the effective owner and controller of both ends of a thriving international enterprise. Fleetwood itself was left to John although his mother, Anne, continued to live there.

John's first actions following his inheritance were to write a will detailing the apportionment of his estate after his death, and to take steps to establish himself in the Island of Tobago. He also decreed that his funeral arrangements should be without pomp and set a fifty pound cap on the cost of any stone or memorial.

Almost immediately he lobbied and obtained the support of the then British Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, authorising his appointment to the governing Council in Tobago and moved to live on the Golden Grove Estate. This gave him a measure of power and influence in the affairs of the Island which was reinforced by the fact that he inherited from his uncle, Joseph Robley, mortgages over the estates of the Governor, Sir William Young, and was to show that he had no hesitation in using his power and influence.

Sir William later wrote that John was: 'manipulative of council and self seeking in trying to shift the burden of taxation to the personal advantage of himself and his friends'. With respect to the mortgage, he 'broke every promise of competent supply to my family'.

In 1808 John was in partnership with Charles Brooke, his brother-in-law and husband of his sister, Marianne. Together they purchased a plantation and estate in Tobago named "Betsy Hope". The following year they bought two further plantations and estates on the island of St. Vincent named "Resply Villa" and "Pembroke". In the partnership 2/3 was owned by John and the remaining 1/3 by Charles Brooke.

John relied heavily on the support of his younger brother, George Robley, who joined him in Tobago and in fact was probably a steadying political influence on John, particularly in the deliberations of the governing Council.

In John's will, written in 1807, he makes financial provision through various legacies and trusts for his grandmother, Anne Lodington, his mother, Anne, his siblings, his wife Caroline and his children. Fleetwood he left to his sister Anne and his estates in Tobago of Golden Grove, Friendship and Studly Park, inherited from Joseph Robley, were to go to his eldest son, John Horatio. His brother, George, he wished to remain in Tobago to run the estates and made provision for his executors and trustees to employ George in that role, and granted him a legacy of 800 pounds, local currency, per annum while he remained.

An interesting reference is made in his will to the 'plate' (said to have cost 100 guineas) which had been given to his uncle Joseph Robley, by the Assembly in Tobago as a mark of respect. He refers to it as having 'the arms of my late uncle Joseph engraved about it'. Now, in later years both John Horatio and Henry Robley were to use a signet ring seal bearing a coat of arms. Could this belong to Joseph Robley?

John at that time was an incredibly rich young man, quite apart from the thriving business he must have inherited from his father. The Golden Grove Estate alone covered about five hundred acres and there were about one thousand slaves. John himself placed a combined value of one hundred thousand pounds sterling on the Golden Grove and Friendship Estates!

By 1810 he was well established in Tobago and becoming a very real power in the Assembly, his self interest only tempered by his brother George. In 1812 he wrote a codicil to this will in which he describes himself as 'somewhat indisposed but of sound mind'. The 'somewhat indisposed' appears on later codicils also and he probably enjoyed fairly regular poor health.

The codicil reveals that John had started a second family in Tobago and had been in several fleeting relationships. He was however anxious to make provision for their welfare after his decease as follows:

TOBAGO 18th. July 1812

I give unto Eliza McKenzie a free mulatto woman residing with me as my housekeeper or if any objection were to be made to her receipt of it then to my brothers George and Joseph Robley and their heirs in trust for the sum of two hundred pounds sterling (not less than four hundred pounds currency) for and during her natural life and I so expressly direct that the said sum shall be paid to her and shall be a charge not only on my estate in the West Indies but shall be paid and payable out of the value of the first amount received for sugar or any other produce shall be shipped from all or any of my estates but especially Golden Grove and that the person or persons shipping or their disposing of the same shall if he or they omit to make the same payment annually and every year aforesaid be charged and chargeable by the said Eliza McKenzie and the said George and Joseph Robley or their heirs in trust for her for the same to receive from the day of my decease I give the said Eliza McKenzie two hundred pounds money for her mourning and all my clothes and wearing apparel in the West Indies and household furniture to the value of one hundred pounds currency I give the same Eliza McKenzie the three girls Peggy, Hagar and Fanny and after her death I direct that they and their --- be valued and returned respectively to the Golden Grove and Friendship estates and their value divided share and share alike among the children I now have or hereafter may have by the said Eliza McKenzie the said value to be paid out of my residuary estate or raised if necessary out f my estate I give unto care of my two natural children by the said Eliza McKenzie Frederick Robley and Phillis Aida Robley the sum of one hundred pounds sterling paid or payable to the said Eliza McKenzie until they respectively attain the age of twenty one years and for their support and maintenance and after they respectively attain the age of 21 years then for their own use and benefit but payable to them only after that time so that it cannot be sold assigned or transferred to any other person whatsoever I further give the same or annual allowance to any other child or children to each respectively and as I may have by the same Eliza McKenzie during my residence in the West Indies or born in the time after my decease or departure from the West Indies In case the said Eliza McKenzie shall live and cohabit with another person within the time of such birth in which case I hereby revoke the said annuity and said principle sum as heretofore mentioned as to the child I give and bequeath to my brothers George and Joseph Robley and William Brasnell Esquire in trust for my said natural children Frederick Robley and Phillis Aida Robley the sum of one thousand pounds sterling each and the same for each other child I may have by the said Eliza as aforesaid to be raised as soon as may be conveniently done after my decease ------- ------- I give and bequeath To Eliza Mckenzie my boy John the son of a mulatto woman named Betsy Robley which boy was born upon Golden Grove estate in October 1804 subject to the same condition as for the above girls Peggy, Hagar and Fanny except that if the said Betsy Robley purchase the said boy for two hundred and fifty pounds sterling then the money should be the sole and exclusive property of the said Eliza Mckenzie I further allow the said Eliza Mckenzie while she reside in Tobago for the time being the use of two Negro women and one Negro man the same to be from the Golden Grove estate. -------- ------- as part and parcel thereof I give to Ann Allison one hundred pounds sterling and the same allowance and amount given to my children Frederick and Phillis Aida or one of them I give to her daughter Jane my natural daughter, ----- dated 18th. July 1812.

In a further codicil to his will in 1813, John confirms his wish that his brother, George, assume the management of his Tobago operations after his death, or alternatively to manage the affairs in England for a share of the commission.

I do hereby confirm unto my brother George Robley Esquire all the advantages given to him in my will dated the 19th. Day of January 1808 notwithstanding the codicil of the 18th. July 1812 and reconfirming unto him the said sum of six hundred pounds currency per annum whatever he think proper after the said period of five years to be from the day of my death to reside in the West Indies or not and further that if he think it proper to reside in England and choose to conduct that mercantile business of my estate he shall be allowed the one half of the equal commission thereon when and only when he shall have accounted to all my other trustees and executors for the annual trusts profits and proceeds of my estates.

Signed 13th. Day of August 1813.

By 1817, when there is yet another codicil to his will. John remains 'somewhat indisposed of body' but continues to make provision for the future of his Tobago family:


Tobago 15th. Day of June 1817 I appoint as executor and trustee of my said will and estate James Cunningham Esquire of this Island to whom only and in strict confidence I reside my private papers in Tobago and I expressly request him to be and I hereby appoint him guardian and trustee of my natural daughter Phillis Aida and any other natural child I may have in which trust I join my cousin Paul ? Smith Esquire and whereas I have now in the hands of my said cousin one thousand five hundred and forty six pounds sterling besides interest thereon I give and bequeath the same to my natural daughter Phillis Aida and in the event of her decease her mother Eliza McKenzie I give James Cunningham Esquire five hundred pounds sterling and if he undertakes and performs the trust to the satisfaction of the executors I give him five hundred pounds sterling to take care of and direct as to the mercantile affairs and supplies to my estates in Tobago and St. Vincent while he resided in the West Indies as soon as they are on board to St. Vincent if their present mortgage debt to John Robley and Company London I give the Negro woman Mopsy to Eliza McKenzie her heirs and assignees for ever also the further sum of five hundred pounds sterling and my Negro woman to Ann Allison and her daughter Jane and their heirs forever I give hundred barrels of pork among all my Negroes in Tobago and to all my managers a suit of mourning and fifty pound sterling cash and ---- that they may improve their respective situations while they behave well and as they hitherto have done I give the further sum of one thousand pounds sterling to my natural daughter Phillis Aida and when my estates are clear of all present demands upon them by me or charged upon them except by my will and codicil the further sum of four thousand pounds sterling --------

Some time, round about 1819, John added to his holdings in Tobago with the purchase of two more estates, Goldsborough and Goodwood while the size of these estates is not mentioned they were worked by a force of about three hundred and twenty five slaves.

He makes provision for the training of William the son of Eve in the United States of America and interestingly makes a legacy to the then Governor Sir Frederick Philips Robinson, quite a change in relations from the days of Governor Sir William Young!

I have acquired and purchased certain real estate to wit certain plantations and slaves belonging to the said plantations situate lying and being in the Island aforesaid now I do devise the said real estate and provided (except as hereinafter is otherwise disposed of) and all other my real estate not already divided by my said will and codicils with the appointment to the same persons and their heirs for the same interests and estates upon that same trust and for the same interests and purposes as my other estates in the said will mentioned is to them devised and whereas in and by one or both of the codicils to my said will I have in a sufficient manner provided for my natural daughter Phillis Aida therein described by Eliza McKenzie Robley of the same Island and am desirous of making similar provision for my other children by the said Eliza I therefore give devise and bequeath to my daughters by the said Eliza named Sibyl and Clara and to both of them an estate similar in all regards to that which by my said codicil and codicils or have given devised or bequeathed to my other daughter by the said Eliza and I do hereby declare that the said Sybil and Clara and both of them shall have the same provision as I have before made to my other daughter ------- ------- I do hereby devise and bequeath my small lots of land by me purchased as aforesaid known and distinguished by the name of lot numbers thirteen and fourteen in the Upper Town of Scarborough together with appurtenances and also a black skinned female slave named Eve by me purchased from Thomas Allayne and also her son named James with all the future progeny of the said Eve to the said Eliza should she become resident in some part of America and whereas I am no longer anxious that she should do so I do hereby leave it to her own discretion to consider and remain there or in such other parts or places as to her shall seem good without reference to the said wish so expressed as aforesaid and further I do devise that Richard McWilliam of the said Island shall so far as relevant to the cultivation thereof have discretion management and attourneyship of my Windward Estates in the said Island to wit Betsy's ---, Goldsborough, Goodwood, Glamorgan and Thirlmere and it is my wish and recommendation that the attourneyship of Studly Park Estate and my Leeward Estates of Golden Grove and Friendship be given to the said Richard Mc William. --------

The last codicil to his will is dated the 28th of October 1821. and he makes final provision for his Tobago family and formally recognises Eliza by giving her his surname Robley. He had a very real concern for his Tobago family and the elaborate provisions for their welfare after his death are a testimony to this.

John died in 1821 at the age of 47 years. The cause of his death is not known. He died in Tobago on the 3rd. November, 1821. His will was 'Proved' in London in 1824 and in the presence of his executors including his mother, Anne and his brother, George. John's will goes into tremendous detail as to how his estate and effects were to be distributed. In all, it fills 25 pages in the Public Records Office. Nevertheless it is significant that it was to give rise to Litigation.

One issue was between John Horatio and the Executors and Trustees and a second between John Horatio Robley and Phillis Aida Robley ie. his son and heir and his 'natural' daughter. The list of those associated with the litigation is quite extensive and included: Caroline Robley, his widow, George and Henry Robley, his brothers, Fanny Anne, his sister and her husband Benjamin Frend, his sister Adelaide and her husband Digby Marsh and their children, Adelaide the Younger, Willoughby Digby, Saint Vincent, and Horatio Marsh, John's father-in-law william Blake and his son, William John. Included also were Phillis Aida herself, her husband, Joseph Stancomb and James Cunningham, who was John's Executor and trustee of his will, as well as guardian and trustee for Phillis Aida and John's other children including his daughter Sybil

John Horatio's position put to the court was broadly as follows: John Robley in 1821 was largely indebted on mortgages and other securities. Between 1821 and 1837 his executors and trustees were heavily involved in collecting together his personal estate, and effects, and applying the money so gained to paying off debts, and minimizing the interest bill as far as possible. They had also settled litigation with John's partner and brother-in-law, Charles Brooke.

Because of the disputes, litigation and embarrassed state of the West Indies property, the trustees were not in a position to pay debts, annuities and legacies. However, by 1837 the trustees had received, on account of the real estate, several large amounts of money, more than twice the amount required to satisfy the debts and more money could be anticipated. John Horatio claimed that it was the intention of the trustees to apply this to paying the annuitants and legatees in proportion to that specified in the will and codicils.

He asserted that John's natural daughters, Phillis Aida and Sybil, were each entitled to 5,000 pounds, plus interest, according to the will and codicils. Both, however, claimed to be entitled to receive an annuity of 100 pounds per annum and four separate legacies, totalling 10,000 pounds each, together with interest and arrears from the time of John's death in 1821. It seemed that the sisters also claimed that they were entitled to have the proceeds of the Goldsborough and Goodwood estates applied to the payment of their legacies of 5,000 pounds and 5,000 pounds, given by the codicil of 1819, as well as the interest on the later in preference to any other legacies given under John's will

John Horatio claimed it was the intention of the trustees to pay the sisters the amounts that they claimed, but that there were insufficient funds arising from the Golden Grove, Friendship and Cove estates, as well as the rents and profits from other real estate to meet all the demands including the remaining legacies under John's will. He disputed the decision, by the trustees, that the considerable sums of money currently in their hands, and arising from the Goodwood and Goldborough estates, should be applied to paying any part of the 20,000 pounds, plus interest, to the Tobago sisters while other legacies etc. remained unpaid. He disputed the sisters claims, particularly, as far as the amounts claimed ie. he asserted that the legacies be restricted to 5,000 pounds each. He confirmed the others as party to the dispute and drew attention to the amounts that could be owing to the Attorney General with respect to legacies payable to John's daughter, Clara, now deceased.

There was a second argument in that the original codicil to John's will, drawn up in 1818, contained the names of his first two children, by Eliza McKenzie, Edward and William Robley. When Edward and William died, John substituted the names of Phillis Aida and Frederick in their place. It was claimed, by John Horatio that this was done without being attested and executed as required by law.

He was seeking also to restrain the activities of the remaining trustees ie. his mother, Caroline Robley, William Blake, James Cunningham and George Robley, his brother, from selling any more real estate. He claimed that sales already made, rent profits etc. were sufficient to satisfy the annuities and legacies bestowed by his late uncle, Joseph Robley and his father John. There was enough also to cover any other debts, including the 5,000 pounds legacies to Phillis Aida and Sybil Robley, which were already admitted.

How John Horatio's siblings viewed this litigation is not recorded. In later years, however, his daughter Anna, in a letter, described him as having cut himself off from the rest of the family. Also, in a letter to John Robley, in Cheltenham in October 1844, his wife, Augusta Robley, wrote: "Captain Robley has never recovered the shock of his mother's death, But I hope the beautiful climate (of Madeira) will restore him."

It is very doubtful if this litigation was well received. In effect, John was taking action to frustrate the endeavors of the trustees, which included close family members, to settle the estate.

How John's Estates fared after his death is not known but the British Parliamentary fiat of 31st. July 1834 effectively abolished slavery in the Caribbean and freed 776,000 slaves on British owned plantations. This would have had a devastating effect on the profitability, if not the very existence, of the Robley Estates already harried by debt and mortgages and which must have fallen into total despair when the freed slaves left. Estate and plantation land, throughout the West Indies, was eventually to be resumed by the British Crown.

There is a flourishing 'clan' of Robleys in the Island of Tobago today, which must have a connection to John Robley either through blood or association with his Estates. We do know, though, that John left no male offspring from his relationship with Eliza MacKenzie. There remain 2 sugar mills at Golden Grove, and 2 mills at Friendship which have been converted into houses.

James Cunningham left the West Indies some time after the death of John Robley.He is listed in Pigot's Directory of 1830 as being "Merchant, West Indies", and his address is 7, Queen's Square, Bristol. He is mentioned again in 1837 in Robson's Commercial Directory together with Henry Robley, again as "Merchant, West Indies" at 8, Queen's Square, Bristol.

John Robley never saw his son Henry Robley, as he left for Tobago before Henry was born, and never returned.

There is a record of the marriage of a "Sybill Robley" in Clifton, in June 1859. She may be the daughter of Henry, although there is a strong possibility that she was his half sister from Tobago. The coincidence of this rather unusual name is thought provoking! At the time of the litigation she would have been about 19 years of age, and therefore under the guardianship of James Cunningham. Her sister, Phillis Aida was already 21, and married, and therefore outside the guardianship. It is not unreasonable to suppose that she may have been brought to England, from the West Indies, by James and after the Court proceedings were resolved, remained with him in Clifton, Bristol.

George Robley survived his brother, but it is doubtful if he remained long in Tobago. As a trustee of John's estate, he must have found John Horatio's litigation quite distasteful! Certainly he was in England and involved in the sale of 'Fleetwood' in 1827. In his will dated 1840 he left most of his property to his housekeeper, Elizabeth Tracy, and his share of Walton House to his mother Ann. His sister Anne, to whom 'Fleetwood' had been left by her father, may have died prior to 1827, or else a massive decline in the family fortunes made the sale a necessity.

Brother Joseph married Mary Wilson and nothing more is known of him other than he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge as a pensioner (he paid his own fees) on 30th. September 1805, graduated Bachelor of Arts 1810 and was admitted at the Middle Temple on 23rd. January, 1812 (Inns of Court). He predeceased his brother George.

John's sister, Marianne (Mary Anne) married Charles Brooke in Stoke Newington and Martha Elizabeth a Mr. Grice. Little is really known of the remaining sisters other than through the will of Caroline Frances Robley in 1820. She ends this document by saying "To my brothers I have nothing to leave but I hope to them and all my sisters my past conduct has been such as only to leave a pleasing regret in their remembrance".

Similarly, Olivia Henrietta Robley, in her will of 1812, stated: "To my brothers and sisters I have nothing to leave, but the hope that I have earned their lasting esteem through my respect and affection."

Olivia left her interest in Studly Park Estate in Tobago to her mother, Ann, and the 3,000 pounds inherited from her uncle, Joseph Robley, to Charles Dubois, the Younger, begging him to accept it as a token of her attachment!

John's wife, Caroline, inherited the house in Russell Square and her will ,dated 1843, shows her living in Tiverton in Devon. She died the same year.

John's son, John Horatio became a Captain in the East India Company and was thence to become a Merchant and Ship's Chandler on the Island of Madeira, although in the proceedings of the litigation with Phillis Aida he is said to be of "Nice, in the Kingdom of Sardinia".

Daughter Adelaide married Captain Digby Marsh RN (later to become Admiral). Their son, Colonel (RE) Willoughby Digby Marsh's daughter, Anne Adelaide Caroline, was to marry Hugh Aglionby Shore the 6th. Baron Teignmouth. The Marshes had two other sons named Saint Vincent and Horatio, no doubt after Lord Nelson and his famous victory.

Henry Robley married and lived at Clifton, Bristol. Daughter, Fanny Anne, married Benjamin Friend. John's cousin, Paul K. Smith, who was living for a time in Tobago, and who was mentioned in the codicils to the 1808 will, was nominated as trustee by John but in fact never acted in any legal capacity. He refused to be trustee or guardian to either Phillis Aida or Sybil, nor was he involved in any way with the trusts.

John Robley. Lesmurdie, W. Australia. August, 2002