The Roberts Family of Burton Bradstock

 

One only has to live or visit Burton Bradstock for a short while for the name of Roberts to crop up, either in connection with the mills or with The Battle of Trafalgar.  

 

Before going into too much detail it will be worth looking at their family tree because the Christian names Richard and Francis and Frances occurs time and time again and one can become confused as to who was who.

 

It all began, as far as one is able to ascertain in the early 1700's when Francis and his wife Mary arrived from Wales to set up farming in The Manor of Chilcombe, the small village a few miles east of Burton Bradstock.   They farmed on land belonging to a Wiltshire landowner, John Foyle which had previously been owned by the Bishop family which had been farmed by them for seven generations.

 

The Askerswell Church registers show that Francis and Mary had seven children 5 sons and two daughters.  Damaris, one of the girls, unfortunately died the same year as she was born.   The surviving daughter named Elizabeth was christened in 1717.   Three of the sons were Richard, Francis, and Henry, nothing can be found of the other two sons.

 

 RICHARD ROBERTS (christened 1721) married Mary Lawrence of Burton Bradstock on the 24 February 1753.    They had a son Joseph, christened in Burton Bradstock on 16th April 1756.

 

HENRY ROBERTS (also christened in 1721) may have been a twin to Richard but no evidence is available.

 

FRANCIS ROBERTS (christened 1719) also farmed like his father and it is said that he farmed at Hembury near Askerswell and later at Bredy Farm and from there he married Grace Travers on the 25th March 1748 by special licence in Shipton Gorge.   Grace was the daughter of an eminent Askerswell family.   They had five sons and a daughter.  Francis, William, Robert, Mary and Richard and Harry.  There is on the Chilcombe list of Burials a Lydia Roberts who was buried on the 27th January, 1752  who could have been Francis senior's mother or another child of Francis and Grace!!

 

FRANCIS ROBERTS (1748-1794) The eldest son of the above Francis and Grace had only one ambition and that was to join the Navy.   He was first Lieutenant on the frigate Quebec when it engaged with the Surveillante and was the only surviving officer, was captured, escaped and joined HMS Helena.   In the same year a young Thomas Masterman Hardy (later Admiral Hardy, Captain of the Victory at Trafalgar) joined the Helena and the Captain was none other than Captain Francis Roberts. In 1782 young Hardy wrote to his brother Joseph who was residing in Martinstown,  learning practical farming, he wrote:- " Captain Roberts has promised that when an opportunity offers to send me home to go to school for some time to learn navigation and everything that is proper for a sailor"

 Captain Roberts endorsed the letter saying " Am glad to inform you that Thomas is a very good boy, and I think will make a complete seaman one day or other". 

It appears that soon after both were posted to another vessel the Seaford.

It is understood that he married Fanny (Nicholas?) and they lived in Mapperscombe Farm and they had one son Francis Cateby Roberts, although rumours say that he also had an illegitimate son who married the daughter of the King of Otaheite. Francis was still involved in Burton because his name appears on a plaque in 1784 as a Church Warden.

In his will dated 25th March 1773 he left £1000 to his lawfull son and the rest to his wife Fanny.

Francis died in September 1794 from yellow fever on board HMS Success off the West Indies. (Attached is a copy from the page of his Signals Book.)

Fanny was left quite a wealthy widow for in her will dated 2 March 1819 she left quite large sums of money to several people. She died in 1820.

 

WILLIAM ROBERTS (1757-1811) there are records that he was a draper at Bristol and married to a Fanny? With two daughters and died in Belgium mysteriously under an assumed name of Robinson!!

 

ROBERT ROBERTS (1758-1827) married Alicia and had two children, Lydia and Fanney.   Robert farmed at Gorwell in Long Bredy as well as Bredy Farm and St. Lukes in Shipton Gorge.  He went to Scotland and returned in 1812 and leased three lives Cogden Farm.  He quarried Forest marble for building stone.  We also know hat he as a volunteer soldier during the French revolution (rather like the Home Guard).  Lydia his daughter married Joseph Swain 25th May 1788. ?????

 

MARY ROBERTS (1750        ) married Henry Richards on the 21st November 1774 and they had a son, Richard Roberts Richards christened 2nd July 1786 and two daughters Elizabeth who married a Hawkins, and Mary who married a Burt.

 

RICHARD ROBERTS(1752-1820) the second son of Francis and Grace married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Martha Best (nee Hoskins) whose previous husband Samuel Best had tenanted Burton Farm and we assume owned The Grove for it was into this beautiful thatched house that Richard and Francis moved.   It was Richard who transformed the quiet village of Burton Bradstock, that up to that date had relied on the cottage industry of netmaking as outworkers and farming, fishing and perhaps smuggling, by starting the processing and spinning of flax on a large scale in this area and eventually employing 50 or more men women and children.  He built water driven spinning mill just south of the church in 1794 and two more mills later.   The one in built in 1803, further east of The Grove was a revolutionary one which was able to separate the flax fibres by machine rather than by hand and was "the first swingling mill in South west England".    The third mill was intended for finer spinning.   Greater details of Richard can be found in Elizabeth Buckler Gale's book "Farmers, Fishermen and Flax Spinners - the story of the people of Burton Bradstock", a well researched and informative book to buy and own if you live or are interested in this area.  Richard and Martha had 3 sons, and two daughters Francis Richard, Richard Francis, William Hoskins, Sophia and Martha Maria.

 

HARRY ROBERTS (1762-1763)  As you can see poor Harry died on the 15th May 1763 just one year old.

 

FRANCIS RICHARD ROBERTS (1789-1858) Not to be confused with Richard Francis!!!  His ambition like his Uncle was to join the Royal Navy.   He was an officer with Hardy, on board the Triumph and the Barfleur in 1808/1809 and his father seemed to be worried about Francis's health because he received a reply from Hardy dated the 22d September, 1808 from Portsmouth where he says" He (Francis) now is in perfect health but may rely on it that he shall not be allowed to go aloft or do any duty that may in any degree indanger his health.  May I beg of you to give my best compliments to Admiral and Mrs Ingram.. I request also you will give my best regards to Mrs. Roberts."   

In the early days of 1809 Hardy captured the Jonge Fanny, galliot, bound from Bordeaux laden with good French wine.  Young Francis Roberts was sent home with her in command of the prize crew, he being rated as a master's mate.  Unfortunately it was caught in a storm and shipwrecked in Whitesand Bay on 25th January.

Another letter written by Hardy to Francis's father on the September 23rd 1809 saying "that your son who is now so far recovered that he seems quite equal to do his duty and has declined accepting of your offer.  Should a relapse take place and the surgeon recommend it I shall most certainly advise his trying his native air, and he shall have leave of absence for that purpose but we have every reason to hope that he will do very well"

 

In 1815 Francis applied for the rank of Commander whilst on board HMS Derwent in Newfoundland, with the help of Lord Rivers but without success. .  However he met and married Amelia in Portsmouth and they raised seven children. William Hoskins, Harriet, Sophia Amelia, Richard, Augusta, Frances and John Poole.     Francis joined his fathers firm but he obviously longed to continue in a sea going career and in August 1829 contacted Admiral Hardy for a reference.   Hardy replied with the following letter from The United Service Club House, Pall Mall on August 3rd 1829.

My Dear Sir,

Owing to my being out of town I did not receive your letter of the 16th ultimo until my return.   I fear that if it is out of my power to get you employed either in a packet or in the Transport Service.   The former I think the best employment if you can get an appointment.   Captain Bowles is at present out of town.   Should you prefer the Preventative Service I will with great pleasure interest myself with Captn. Bowles on your behalf.   I beg to offer my best compliments to your Brother, and should Commodore and Mrs. Bullen be at Burton will offer them my best regards.

I remain My Dear Sir,

Yours very sincerely,

T.M. Hardy.

 

( The Captain Bullen referred to was the Captain of HMS Britannia at Trafalgar and who lived in Burton Bradstock for a short while in 1830)

 

Following the above letter it appears that Francis applied for employment because there is on record a "certificate" from Rear Admiral Hardy which was in the form of a reference, as follows:-

 

"These are to certify the Right Honble the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that Mr. Francis Roberts served as a midshipman from 1806 to 1811 on board his majesty's ships Triumph and Barfleur under my command.   He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1811 for his good conduct by the Admiral the Honble Sir George Berkely from the latter ship.   During the time the Triumph was assisting to blocade a French squadron in the Chesapeak in 1807 Mr. Roberts was entrusted with the command of the Hamilton tender to the Triumph, where he was very active particularly after the affair of the Leander, and the United States frigate Chesapeak, he with great perseverance got up to the town of Norfolk in a very dark night and made the result of the action known to Captain, now Vice-Admiral Douglas of HMS Bellona then the senior officer in the Chesapeak who was on shore at that place.   He received Captain Douglas on board the schooner before the account of the action was known at Norfolk and conveyed him to the Bellona in Chesapeak Bay. 

 

  Lieutenant Roberts is a nephew of the late Captain Roberts who died on board success in the West Indies early in the war.  I consider him a very deserving officer and beg to recommend him to their Lordship's notice.

Given under my hand in London this 18th day of September 1830.

T.M. Hardy

Rear Admiral

 

It appears that Francis's did not get the position he was after because in later Census returns he is shown as Lieutenant RN retired.   The census of 1841 shows Francis Roberts living in Darby Lane, aged 50 with his wife Amelia aged 45 and Sophia aged 20, Augustus aged 18, Frances aged 15 and John aged 8. Their other children, Harriet, William and Richard had flown the nest. In Kelly's directory of 1848 it shows "Frank Roberts, Lieut. R.N. miller and farmer. Later in the 1851 Census it shows them still living in Grove House and that Francis Roberts age 62, Lieutenant R. Navy Half Pay. With his wife Amelia, farming 9 acres of land, occupies a Flour Mill and John age 17 assistant to his father. Francis died on the 4th February 1858 and was buried in Burton Bradstock Churchyard. Amelia died 16th November 1882 and Frances 2nd November 1887, both are buried in Burton Bradstock churchyard and their names appear on the same memorial stone. A recent addition to the website showing a miniature of Lt Roberts.

 

RICHARD FRANCIS ROBERTS (1787 -1842)

 

The elder brother Richard Francis also joined the Navy.  His career seems to take president over his brother in the history of the village although he did not serve as long. 

Hardy's letters show that Richard was on board "Saint George" with him in 1801 during the Battle of Copenhagen for it says that "Young Roberts is very well as are the rest of the youngsters from Dorsetshire.   Roberts, as it is customary with them all, has lost almost all his clothes, however, he will do well enough by and by."   The Saint George was Lord Nelson's flag ship until a few days before the battle when he transferred his flag into the Elephant as the water was too shallow for the Saint George.

Richard then joined up with Hardy again on the Amphion at Spithead in March 1803 because again Hardy refers to him in his letter of the 30th March 1803 when he says ""Young Roberts has joined but I have not seen him yet."

He was on the Jason off Antigua in June 1805 again Hardy says, whilst writing home, that "I saw Young Roberts of the Jason yesterday; he is very well but I do not think he will ever set the Thames on fire"

The National Archives show Richard joining HMS Victory (Ships pay number on the 10th September 1805 SB 963) as an Able seaman.   He was promoted to a midshipman on the 19th October 1805 and as a man of superior education, was employed as Captain's Clerk or similar position for he kept a Remarks book from that date in which is written in great detail events prior to the Battle of Trafalgar and for several days after. 

Soon after the battle of Trafalgar Richard wrote "I doubt not Captain Hardy will put me on another ship if he does not go to sea again which I do not think likely as he seems to wish to be on shore for a little time; I have no doubt that the action will make him Sir Thomas which he well deserves.. He asked me if I intended writing a long letter home.  I told him yes.  He said that I must ask you (Richard's father) to go to Portisham and tell his friends that he was well, and that he shouldn't write them; but I believe it was a joke...He was struck two or three times by splinters but nothing to hurt, thank God."

On the 16th January he joined HMS Ocean (ship's pay book number SB32) and stayed there until 23rd April, 1806 and during that year was on HMS Queen and Gannet until finally retiring from the Navy on December 8th 1806.

He joined his father's firm with his brother William and ran the firm after his Father's death in 1820 until he sold the mills in 1840 although the Mills and the business came up for sale in February 1821 without a buyer and there is every suggestion that young Francis eventually bought it in instalments.   Richard married Elizabeth Trowbridge of Symondsbury on the 15th February, 1813 and they had a large family of five boys and five girls.  John Pitfield c.1814;Emily Woodley c. 1815; Catherine Hoskins c.1817; Grace Joan c. 1818; Ann Eliza c. 1820; Richard Francis c. 1832; William Francis c. 1822 d. 1824; Sophia Augusta c 1824; Nicholas Trowbridge c 1828; William Francis c 1825.

In the 1841 Census they are shown living in High Street, Burton Bradstock with the occupation as Flax Spinner with all the above family except that Richard is called Francis.

 

 

The remainder of the family and their descendents are still being researched but we do know a little about two and that is the son of Richard another Richard Francis born 11th October 1831.  He lived in Kensington, London a solicitor ,but came down to Burton Bradstock and stayed at Cogden several times during the year.    He was as a solicitor to the North and N.W. Railway Companies and a director of Bridport railway and on one particular day in October 1883, after an afternoon's shoot he was presiding over a meeting in the Reading room when he was taken ill and died.   A very fine head stone describing his life is on the South side of Burton Bradstock church.     Sophia Augusta remained unmarried and lived with various members of the family in 1861 the Census shows that she was living at Cogden Farm House and in 1881with Richard Francis in London. There is a plaque in Burton Bradstock church that is in remembrance of her and states that she died at Hampstead on the 31st May, 1905 age 81.

page of Capt Roberts signal book

Copy of Commander Francis Roberts Signal Book (by kind permission of Margaret Holiday)

Ray West

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