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ROBERT HOLFORD ABBOTT

Robert Holford Abbott is one of the ancestors who fascinates me and I wish I had more information, or at least a photograph of him. I find him fascinating, because he didn't conform to the normal pattern and kept reinventing himself.

Born in 1821 and christened at St Alphege in the city, he was the eldest son of a tailor who plied his trade in Canterbury. The rest of the children all followed the tailoring path. Even though I believe he may have started out as a tailor he kept disappearing and then reappearing in a new occupation. The more I discover about him, the more questions arise as a result.

In the 1841 census he did not appear in the family group as living at home. At the age of twenty, it is quite possible that he was travelling. I did find an entry of a Robert Abbott, with his birthdate, living in London and working as a labourer. Indeed his eldest daughter, Ellen was born in Lambeth, London. It was in London that his cousin, the 2nd Baron Tenterden, John Henry Abbott lived. I has always been understood that the two families were fairly close in those days.

Again there is no sign of him on the 1851 census. I did find a passport application in the name of Robert Abbott which was dated in 1853 but no certain proof that it was "our Robert".

He firstly becomes trackable on the birth certificates of his children. By the time the 1861 census was taken he was staying temporarily in Holborne and was noted as being a Master Equestrian. Others in the household all had occupations such as tight rope dancer and bare back rider, so I think it can be safely said that he was part of a travelling fair or circus.

So far I've found no evidence of his marriage and it is a bit of a mystery so far. I will update this biography as soon as I find any further information.

The births of the children showed a transient lifestyle and he can be tracked from London, back to Canterbury, to Bilston in Staffordshire and Somerset to Devon. Always he is listed as a Master Equestrian. I feel that there is something special in this title as this was still an age where most transportation was by horse. Being able to ride a horse would be nothing special or impressive. A master equestrian implies more skill - something out of the ordinary.

In 1863 the family have moved to Newport on the Isle of Wight. Their address is listed as Bowling Green, Newport. I would like to know where he got the training, the experience and the money to suddenly take over a pub!

Tragedy strikes the family when they lose two of their little girls, Alice aged 2 and a half and Julia Mary aged 4 and a half within five days of each other in August of that year. His wife was also coping with a four month old baby boy. Both of the little girls died of croup.

In 1870 he appears as a well respected licensed victualler/coachman who is the proprietor of the Grapes Inn at Newport.

Tragedy strikes again in the summer of 1872, when he loses another little daughter, Emma (aged four) to whooping cough on the sixteenth of June and then his wife Catherine died on the thirtieth from phlebitis.

Robert remarried the following year on the 17th February He wed a widow called Anne Hawkins in the parish church at Carisbrooke.

I found a letter that he had written in 1875 as a testimonial for Clarkson's Embrocation. He mentions that for the twelve weeks leading up to December of 1873 he had been laid up with sciatica and rheumatism. His letter demonstrates that he was educated and able to articulate his views very well.

By the time the next census rolled around, Robert and his wife had moved to Southampton on the mainland. He was now the proprietor of the Phoenix Inn at St Michael in Southampton.

The photo on the right shows all that was left of 3 West Street, Southampton (the address of the Phoenix Inn) after the Southampton Blitz during WWII. All that remained were the steps leading to the basement.

I found a page in the Winchester assizes dated 11th February 1885 where a Robert Abbott was charged with larceny - he had ignored bills sent by proclamation.

His final change of career came at the end of his life when he became the postmaster of the Southampton Central Post Office.

Robert passed away on 15th December 1888. The cause of death was listed as chronic cystitis and exhaustion. His eldest daughter Ellen was the informant and he apparently passed away at Orchard Street, Newport and he was buried at Newport, although at this time, I don't know in which cemetery.

 

Click here to view the family group of Robert Holford Abbott