Robison ~ Second Generation

    Issue of William Robison and Mary Scott (?)  
1.   Andrew ROBISON
Born 2 Oct 1812; bap Oct 1812 at Sion Meeting House, formerly Bondgate Meeting House, Alnwick, Northumberland (Presbyterian), son of William Robison & Mary (ref FamilySearch C08030-1).

2.   William ROBISON
Born c1815 in Northumberland, England (ref 1851 census).
Born Burnfoot (ref Census and William b1860 BC) or Wooler (ref Robison/Mills MC).
Probably bap 19 Jan 1817 at Bellingham, Northumberland, son of William Robison & Mary (ref FamilySearch I05410-3).

William was employed as Policeman, County Durham. He was in the Durham directory 1854 and '57 as High Constable, as the Billet master for the Corporation of Durham and Superintendent at the Police station, 27 Market Place Durham. In Victoria he was employed as Farmer.

William married (1) 28 Nov 1840 at the Parish Church of Chester-le-Street in the County of Durham (see photo), to Jane SCOTT (ref Marriage Certificate). He was a bachelor of full age, occupation Policeman, residence Market Place Durham, his father being William Robinson, Countryman. She was a spinster of full age, residence Pelaw, her father being George Scott, Countryman. (Pelaw is near Gateshead in the vicinity of Newcastle Upon Tyne.) Although the registration is Robinson, the signature is Robison. The witnesses were Andrew Scott and John Scott. Jane was born c1823 at Hetherslaw, Northumberland, England (ref census). Her surname is given in son William's BC in 1850.

Ref 1841 census. Durham, England. Civil Parish of St Nicholas. Registration district of Durham & Lanchester. Address: Market Place, St Nicholas, Durham.
Together with (probably) his mother Mary Robinson. Age 60. Ind. Born in Durham:
William Robison. Age 25. Police Officer. Not born in Durham.
Jane Robison. Age 20. Not born in Durham.

Evidence of William's work in 1847 and 1848:
"DURHAM CITY. - Monday. Before the Mayor and Ald. Huggett. - ... Margaret Moor, of Dundee, a tramp, charged by sergeant Robison with being drunk and disorderly in the Market-place, on the 29th inst., was fined 5s." (ref British Newspaper Archive, Newcastle Courant Fri 2 Jul 1847)

"John Shields, Esq., one of the magistrates for the borough of Durham has presented Superintendent Robison, of the city police-force, with a large bible, and fifty-two volumes of valuable books,for the use of the officers at the police station. These, with others which were presented to the police several years ago by the late G.T. Fox, Esq., of the South Bailey, make a small library for that force." (ref British Newspaper Archive, Newcastle Courant Fri 13 Oct 1848)

Ref 1851 census. Durham, England. Civil Parish of St Nicholas. Registration district of Durham. Address: 51 Claypath, St Nicholas, Durham.
Together with children Mary Ann (7), William (8 mos):
William Robison. Head. Mar. Age 36. Superintendent of Police. Born Burnfoot, Northumberland.
Jane Robison. Wife. Mar. Age 28. Born Hetherslaw, Northumberland.

In 1857 William retired from his position:
"Mr Robison, the superintendent of police for Durham has tendered his resignation to the Watch Committee after a servitude of seventeen years' duration." (ref British Newspaper Archive, Newcastle Courant Fri 16 Jan 1857)

For most of 1857, William was a Licensed Passenger Broker. Examples of advertisements:
"EMIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA. WILLIAM ROBISON, Porter Merchant, 73 Claypath, Durham, Licensed Passenger Broker, Agent for the LIverpool and Australian Navigation Company's Celebrated Steam Clifppers, and for the Eagle Line of Packets, sailing on the 15th of each month. Passengers conveyed from Newcastle, and all Stations on the North-Eastern Railway, by Special Carriages to Liverpool, and accompanied by the Agent to Liverpool and on board of the vessel. .. Communications by post will be immediately attended to by Mr Robison, 73, Claypath, Durham, Jan. 22, 1857." (ref British Newspapers, Durham Chronicle 23 Jan 1857)
"PACKET OF THE 15th OCTOBER, The Splendid Clipper Ship "PLANTER", 4,000 Tons. This magnificent ship has been built expressly for speed, durability and excellent passenger accommodation. She has beaten some of the fastest clippers afloat, and offers to intending emigrants the best possible opportunity of proceeding to Australia, being fitted up in the most perfect manner for the comfort and convenience of all classes of passengers. Apply to Gibbs, bright & Co., 1, North John Street, Liverpool, or to William Robison, 69, Saddler, Street, Durham..." (ref British Newspapers, Durham Chronicle 2 Oct 1857)

William also opened a hotel in Durham during 1857:
"GEORGE AND DRAGON INN, 69, SADDLER STREET, DURHAM. WILLIAM ROBISON begs respectfully to intimate to his Friends and the Public that he has OPENED the above well-known old-established Hotel, where he will always have on hand a supply of prime ale and bottled porter; Scotch whisky, from the most approved distilleries; rum gin, Oold Tom, brandy, wines &c. of the best quality." (ref British Newspapers, Durham Chronicle 29 May 1857)

However this business changed hands by 30 Oct 1857.
"ALE AND PORTER VAULTS, 73, CLAYPATH. John Weelands begs to announce to his Frieds and the Public that he has entered on the ALE and PORTER VAULTS, 73, CLAYPATH (lately occupied by Mr Robison and Mr Andrew Rutherford), ...." (ref British Newspapers, Durham County Advertiser 30 Oct 1857)

This strongly indicates that William emigrated to Australia at around this time, perhaps even on the splendid clipper ship "Planter" in October 1857 which he was advertising. Baby William had died young. Jane is assumed to have died prior to her husband emigrating to Australia with Mary Ann. There are 10 deaths of Jane Robinson (sic) at Durham between 1853 & 1862 and some of Robson, none of Jane Robison, but it is reasonable to assume that she died between 1851 and 1857, when William decided to leave the police force. Her death has not been found in the local newspapers.

William married (2) 9 Oct 1862 at 30 Hotham St, East Melbourne to Jane MILLS nee FITZPATRICK (ref Marriage Certificate No 43 with name Jane Mills). Jane was daughter of Daniel Fitzpatrick and Catherine Mullen. Jane Fitzpatrick was born in 1842 at Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (ref Victorian Pioneers Index). The original St Francis register has that Jane was born 2 Oct 1842, baptised 4 Oct 1842 (ref 386). The date of 24 Oct 1842 on William's second marriage certificate might be an inaccurate version of these dates. Jane had previously been married, in 1859 in Sydney, New South Wales, to Edward MILLS (ref Ancestry, Australian Marriage Index). The Register of Inquests has Catherine Fitzpatrick's death (reg 368) in 1847 as due to "apoplexy". Daniel and Catherine had another child, Margaret, born 1844 in Victoria (Vic reg 37603 & 470), probably died 1861 aged 15 (Vic reg 1861/6598). They also had a child Francis, born 1846 in Melbourne (Vic reg 1551 & 39263).

In the birth certificate of son William, the mother's name is given as "Jane Robison late Mills m.n. Fitzpatrick".

William died 18 May 1886 at Glendonald, Victoria, Australia (ref Death Cert).
William buried 19 May 1886 at Creswick Cem.
Jane died 6 Nov 1910 at Creswick, Victoria. (Vic reg 12358 and Death Cert).
Jane buried 8 Nov 1910 at Creswick Cem.


I started from the family legend and the bits and pieces given me by Aunty Elvie Bryden years ago. In essence, the information was that William Robison [father of William Henry senior and grandfather of the five surviving Robison sisters (Doris Mabel and William Henry junior having died in infancy)], had been a PC and a senior policeman in County Durham, England, and that his children's names were: Jane, Amelia Rose, William Henry, Mary, Millicent, and Edith (Edie). Of these, I was told, Mary married Geo Sherrif, Millicent a Ward, Jane: Jack Grigg and Edie: Thomas Harris.

From these bare bones, and making use of available records, over some years I managed to assemble more data.

(1) The 1851 Census for Durham City, #8505 gave 51 Claypath, William Robison, 36, born NBL (Northumberland), Burnfoot, Superintendent of Borough Police, together with Jane Robison, 28, NBL Heatherslaw and their children, Maryann Robison, D, 7, Scholar, DUR(D), St Nicholas and William Robison, S, 8m, DUR(D), St Nicholas.

[No obvious connection, but the police role established a possible connection. This William was therefore born circa 1815 (which matches family data), Jane circa 1823, Maryann circa 1844 and William 1850. Jane's age does not correlate, and she is almost certainly not the Jane who mothered the Australian family. What happened to this family has not been established. The locations of Burnfoot and Heatherslaw are unknown, but Heatherslaw is probably the village which once served the Heatherslaw Mill, in the Parish of Ford, across the River Till from Flodden. Burnfoot not yet found, but may be on the SE slopes of the Cheviots, where there is a tiny village called Netherton Burnfoot.]

(2) In the Victorian Pioneers Index I looked for the birth of William Henry snr and found #16118, William, son of William Robison and Jane Fitzpatrick, Glendonald 1880 which matched Elvie's information about her father's birthdate, 10/7/1880. Other births to this couple included (at Creswick) #8066 Jane, in 1869 and (at Glendonald) #22585 Amelia Rose in 1877. Strangely, there was also Edith, #17215 (at "Glen"), daughter of William Robison and Jane Mills, in 1884.

(3) In the Pioneers Index I sought William's marriage. This was listed as 1862, but the bride was Jane Mills. Was this Jane's second marriage?

(4) In the same index I searched for the birth of Jane Fitzpatrick. This turned up in 1842, daughter of Daniel Fitzpatrick and Catherine Mullen (in various records, Mullen also showed up as Mallin and Mullin).

(5) Source I cannot recall, but I established that Jane and her siblings Francis and Margaret (both younger) were baptised at Old St Francis RC Church, Lonsdale St Melbourne. Further, their mother, Catherine, died in 1847 and was buried at St Francis.

(6) Reference "Jane Robison nee Mills, previously Fitzpatrick": her DC remarks that she was born in Sydney, and lived in NSW for 18 years. This would be an error of Thomas Harris of Nth Creswick, her son-in-law. her MC states born in Victoria.

In 2009 I set out to establish whether the Durham Police Superintendent was indeed our William, and to try to solve the conundrums of the first wife Jane, and the English children. The much greater availability of data on the internet makes modern research much easier. My first move was to look for BM&D and other records from England.

I found Robison in the Durham directory 1854 and '57 as High Constable, as the Billet master for the Corporation of Durham and Superintendent at the Police station, 27 Market Place Durham. I did not find any shipping record of his hypothetical travel to Australia. Nor did I (and here I was assisted by sister Libby) find any death records that clearly pointed to any of the English Robisons, there being in most cases multiple entries in the indexes, meaning a possibly expensive operation. However, there was one birth for a William Robison in 1850, so I sent for that certificate.

Birth in the Sub-district of Saint Nicholas, County of Durham:
#165, 8 Aug 1850, William, son to William Robison, Police Officer, of Claypath Durham, and Jane formerly Scott.

Meanwhile, sister Libby was beavering away on the English record indexes. There were several William and Jane Robison deaths indexed over a ten year period, as well as the birth of Mary Ann Robison registered December quarter 1843 at Durham &c, vol 24 page 80. So whilst I gave some thought to guessing a start point, I went about getting Victorian certificates as a means of backtracking the legal statements made by the known relatives. I eventually found the official record of the Robison/Mills marriage:

Marriages solemnised in the County of Bourke:
#43 Oct 9th 1862 at 30 Hotham St East Melbourne, William Robison, Widower, Oct 24th 1842, Wooler Northumberland, Farm Overseer, aged 37, and Jane Mills, Spinster, Melbourne Victoria, aged 22. His parents were listed as William Robison, Husbandman and Mary Robison, with Scott? added underneath. Her parents were Daniel Mills, Tailor and Catherine Mills with Booth? underneath. The witnesses were Joseph Lester Whitely and Rosanna Whitely, presumably husband and wife. The rites were according to those of the Congregational Church, and the officiating Minister was Joseph Beer.

So, he was in Melbourne by October 1862. He may still have been in Durham or thereabouts for the '61 census. But what happened to his first family? One can imagine that if they succumbed to an epidemic, or something else, he may well have tossed it all in and gone as far as possible away. I might say that I heard the family story about his police position long before I found the 1851 census. He farmed once settled in Victoria.

In some ways, this discovery complicated the issue. Were both William's first wife and mother formerly Scott? Also, if my guesses were correct, the Oct 24th 1842 date must refer to his first marriage, not his first wife's death. And why were Daniel and Catherine Fitzpatrick listed as Mills? William's reported birthplace of "Wooler" whilst confusing is not an insurmountable problem - early censuses often record different birthplaces over the years, doubtless a function of memory as well as the vagaries of census takers.

So the next step was to track down the deaths of William and Jane. The first problem was that there were no Robison deaths listed in Victoria during any likely period. That started a search for mis-registrations, and finally I found William Robinson at Glendonald, Creswick Shire aged 71 years (therefore born c1815 and fitting our man). On obtaining the registration I found he died on 18th May 1886, he was listed as Woodstacker, and the shire was noted as in County Talbot, the cause was general debility and paralysis, and his doctor was Dr Lindsay (no doubt of the famous Creswick family). His parents were shown as Andrew Robinson, farmer, and Mary Robinson. The informant was Geo. Shirriff (as best I could read his signature), son-in-law, of Glendonald, and he was buried at Creswick on the 19th May, Chas Robinson, Presbyterian officiating. His place of birth was Durham, England, and he was 29 years in Victoria. He was married at Melbourne Victoria, aged 45 years, to Jane Mills. His children were Jane 17 years, Amelia 8 years, William 5 years and Edith 1 year and some indecipherable months. These ages generally matched the birth dates previously established. On the evidence I had, he would have been nearer 47 when he married Jane.

I decided that George Shirriff was pretty unlikely to know much about William's parents, so the father's name of Andrew was an error. The mis-spelling of Robison might have been tied to the fact that the Minister's name was Robinson - it certainly slowed down my researches. But the children's names didn't match the list Elvie had given me.

Next step was to track down Jane's death certification, and this ultimately gave me the biggest breakthrough.

Jane Robison, OAP (which I take to mean an old aged person) died on the 6th of November 1910 at Clunes Rd North Creswick, Borough of Creswick, County of Talbot, aged 68 years. Cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage 3 days and coma, Dr T G Wilson. Her father was Daniel Fitzpatrick, tailor, mother ..... Fitzpatrick, maiden name unknown. The informant was Thomas Harris, son-in-law, of North Creswick, and she was buried at the Creswick cemetery on the 8th of November 1910. Place of birth was shown as Sydney, with 50 years in Victoria and 18 years in NSW. She was married in Melbourne aged 21 years to William Robison, and her children were MaryAnn aged 50 years, Jane 41 years, Millie 32 years, William Henry 30 years and Edith Jane 26 years.

Now, let's look at all this information. Firstly, we have the appearance, for the first time in Australian records, of Mary Ann aged 50 years, therefore notionally born 1859-60, ie before the William and Jane marriage in 1862. Rather unlikely, given Jane's age at marriage (19-20) and the substantial age difference, I would think. It seems to me to be much more likely that this is the English Maryann, known as Mary in the family, who must have come to Australia with her father. Thus, we must conclude that Jane (Scott) and son William died, and perhaps that motivated the removal to Australia.

Secondly, why Sydney, when we know she was born in Melbourne. The 50 years in Victoria would certainly match the time since her wedding. I suspect that after Jane's mother Catherine died, when Jane was about 5 years and her siblings younger, Daniel took his family to Sydney, or they were fostered out. This leads to the possibility that William actually migrated to Sydney, rather than Melbourne, and that's possibly where he met the young Jane. This would explain the absence of shipping records in Victoria.

Thirdly, we have on the two certificates, the Sherriff and Harris connections validated.

Jane seems to have suppressed her mother's name and existence. She was clearly not spoken about to her children, and the Mullen name doesn't appear in later certifications. Did this aspect develop when she (or her father) abandoned Catholicism?

Finally, we can sort out the children as well. Comparing William and Jane's lists of children, Mary Ann doesn't appear on William's, and Amelia is on William's but not Jane's, and Millie is on Jane's but not William's. The light turns on - Amelia and Millie are the same person, there never was a Millicent. The ages match this deduction except that Mary Ann's given age doesn't match my supposition (she would be nearer 65, and only a few years younger than her nominal mother), but in the circumstances I can imagine Thomas Harris being either uncertain or very delicate.

There seems to have been some deliberate obfuscation at various times when official certification was needed. It is possible that the very significant age difference between William and Jane (about 27 years) played some part in this, or maybe parental permission for the marriage had not been forthcoming, and a lifetime cover-up ensued. I now need to search the Sydney immigration records for the arrival of William with his daughter Mary Ann. Finding these would validate the story I have assumed, and would justify more work on the Durham end of things.

David Grierson
December 2009

Marriage Cert

Photo Page

1841 census

1851 census

    Children of William, and Jane Scott:  
  1. Mary Ann ROBISON born 1843 at St Nicholas, Durham, County Durham, England  
  2. William ROBISON born 1850 at St Nicholas, Durham, County Durham, England  
    Children of William, and Jane Fitzpatrick:  
  3. Jane (Janey) ROBISON born 1869 at Creswick, Victoria, Australia  
  4. Amelia Rose ROBISON born 1877 at Glendonald, Victoria, Australia  
  5. William Henry (Buck) ROBISON born 1880 at Hollingwood (Glendonald), Victoria, Australia  
  6. Edith (Edie) ROBISON born 1884 at Glendonald, Victoria, Australia
3.   Jane ROBISON
Bap 29 Nov 1820 at Sion Meeting House, formerly Bondgate Meeting House, Alnwick, Northumberland (Presbyterian), dau of William Robison & Mary (ref FamilySearch C08030-1).

Updated 7 Jun 2021