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Frederick and Ellis Robinson

Frederick Ropier Robinson (1815-1899) Ironmonger and for 38 years a member of Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution


Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson (1839-1905) for 41 years Secretary of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution

Frederick and Ellis Robinson were both devoted members of the governing committee of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution for nearly forty years from its founding and into the twentieth century. Their tireless work helped provide invaluable assistance in the commencement, maintenance and growth of an organisation that was to become the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC).[1] The story of the Robinson family in Australia begins with Thomas Leathwick Robinson, Frederick’s father and Elllis’ grandfather. It is his life and his descendants’ success in business that forms the backdrop that enabled Frederick and Ellis to contribute philanthropically to the RIDBC.

Frederick Ropier Robinson

Frederick Ropier Robinson

According to the narrative supplied to the author of the 1888 article on FR Robinson in Australian Men of Mark, Robinson arrived in the colony of NSW in the early part 1829 with his parents who were  ‘determined to come to Australia in order to enable them to better their fortunes in that distant and little known land’.[2]  This account of his arrival was less than candid and was aimed more at protecting the respectability that the Robison family had attained rather than giving an accurate account of his origins in NSW. The arrival of the Robinson family in NSW was in fact, as with so many, due to a conviction at the Old Bailey. Thomas Leathwick Robinson was convicted of selling four silver bottle labels with forged and counterfeit hall-marks. He had, as a silversmith, also forged these silver hallmarks but because he provided information that was helpful to His Majesty’s Stamp Office this second charge was dropped.[3] He was 40 years of age and was sentenced to fourteen years transportation arriving in Hobart on board the Competitor on August 2, 1823.[4]  He must have been an educated man as he was employed, in 1824, as a school master using the Madras system[5] at the Public School, Campbelltown NSW.[6] He gained his ticket of leave for the Airds area south of Sydney on December 29, 1829[7] and his certificate of freedom in 1836.[8] Thomas was followed to NSW five years after his transportation by his wife Mary Jane and their three children, Susannah, Lucy and Frederick who arrived in Sydney in December, 1828 on the Borneo.[9] The family lived together at Campbelltown and Mrs Robinson from 1829, as was common for the master’s wife,[10] assisted in the teaching of needlework.[11] For this work Thomas was paid £40pa and Mary £10pa. After 1838 he acquired leases in the Maneroo area adjacent to the Snowy River and ran stock on these pastures,[12] eventually taking up residence in the Eden Monaro area where he died in 1864 at the age of 85.

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson

Thomas’ son Frederick Ropier Robinson did not go on the land with his father but after spending two years on the dairy farm of a relative went to Sydney where he ‘acquired a full and complete knowledge of working in metals’.[13] Aged 23 in 1838 he married Caroline Jemima Phillips (1814-1891) and went into business in Sydney in October of that year as a Tin–Plate worker producing dish covers and various articles.[14] The business did well and diversified from its simple beginnings and within nine years was offering to the public, though manufacture or importation, brass lamps, bell and flat weights, pumps, chemical and scientific apparatus, shower baths, wine warmers, binnacles for ships and various other items of manufactured ironmongery.[15] After ten years in business Robinson reminded customers that the business could manufacture every article in the various branches of Tin, Iron, Brass and Japan Ware[16] which indicated that Robinson, in order to remain profitable, had expanded into the manufacture and distribution of a wide range of products to meet the increasing aspirations of colony of NSW. He also advertised his business as licensed plumbers and gas fitters which was an essential service required by customers of their manufactured products.[17] From 1884 to 1895 he was the Marine Board’s Inspector of Lights which required him to periodically visit light houses up and down the NSW coast to check and repair lighthouses and pilot lights.[18]

Ellis was made a partner in 1876 and the firm’s name changed to FR Robinson and Son. The business closed its’ shop front to concentrate on importation and manufacturing and while they produced a wide range of goods they began to concentrate on the production and importation of stoves, both domestic and commercial, cooking and heating, gas or coal or wood. Around this time the firm was employing some 24 hands and as a manufacturer and importer Robinson was very interested in the current issue of free trade vs protectionism. Frederick was a free trader and was confident that his business could compete without the benefit of tariff protection saying of protectionism that ‘it is the gain of the few by the robbery of the many’.[19] By 1879[20] the other sons were admitted as partners,[21] though Frederick no doubt maintained effective control,[22] and the business became FR Robinson and Sons. In 1885 due to the increased prosperity of the business, land was purchased and new and larger premises were constructed in Castlereagh Street which then became the centre of the business.[23] (more…)

Thomas Pattison (1805-1899)

Thomas Pattison (1805-1899) Coach Painter and Founder of the Deaf and Dumb Institute, Sydney

While others discussed the need for a school for the education of deaf children in NSW[1] it was Thomas Pattison who took the initiative and opened in Sydney on October 22, 1860 what was to become a successful organisation.[2] Apart from his brief time founding and teaching for 6 years at what was initially called the Deaf and Dumb Institution (DDI) and was later to become the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC)[3] little is known about his life. This paper seeks to fill out some background and detail of Thomas Pattison’s life.

Pattison’s background and schooling

Pattison was born in Edinburgh on January 5, 1805 the second son and the fourth child of Thomas Pattison, a weaver and Elisabeth Lorn.  As an adult, Pattison was reported as being 5’ 6” tall and deaf, either from birth [4] or from early childhood.[5] He went to school at the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Institution (EDDI) spending time there under the instruction of Robert Kinniburgh with class mates such as Alexander Drysdale[6] and Joseph Turner[7]  who were later to have significant roles in the development of the education of the deaf in Scotland.

Thomas Pattison

Thomas Pattison

The amount of experience as a teacher that Pattison had before he came to NSW is unclear. A report at the end of the first year of operation of the DDI, said that Pattison ‘was an experienced teacher, who passed twenty three years of his life in the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb school, as an assistant teacher’.[8] Another secondary source says that he had been educated at the Edinburgh Institution for the Deaf and that ‘he seems to have been a pupil for five years and then a “monitor” for two more years, leaving in 1820’.[9] As Pattison was fifteen in 1820 this would give a commencement date of his schooling as 1813 when he was 8 years of age. This view is supported by Walter who says that he was dismissed (i.e. finished his schooling)

in 1818, but he was still listed in the printed Annual Reports as a ‘Pupil under Tuition’ until 1820. Pupils were sometimes retained for monitorial duties, and Pattison carried out such duties between 1818 and 1820.[10]

Pattison himself, in his advertisements to set up his school in Sydney described himself only as ‘late Secretary and Treasurer of the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society’ (EDDBS)[11] and gives no indication as to any service as a teacher of the deaf. The only claim he ever made, apart from that of having been ‘founder and for six years Head Master of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Pitt-street, Sydney’[12]  is his association with the EDDBS.

The EDDBS was a benevolent organisation formed on November 16, 1835 and existed ‘for relieving deaf and dumb persons when in distress; and supporting such indigent individuals among them as are, from age or infirmity, unable to earn a livelihood.’[13] Pattison was on the Committee of the EDDBS and its Secretary/ Treasurer for twenty three years from 1835 until 1858.[14] When in NSW, Pattison produced a booklet of his references and the only significant comment on his (more…)

Mary Roberts nee Muckle (1804-1885)

Mary Roberts nee Muckle (1804-1885), Property holder, Philanthropist and Publican.

Jane Muckle (1784-1834), who was the mother of Mary Roberts (nee Muckle), arrived in New South Wales on the Nile in December 1801 as an unmarried 17 year old convict. Some sources record that she had been convicted at Cork in August, 1796, and sentenced to 7 years servitude in the colony of NSW, but other accounts date her conviction as July, 1799, at Durham.[1] On 25 June, 1804, Mary was born[2] to Jane and the father was registered as a Thomas Rowley.[3] There is no evidence that Jane and Thomas were married and nothing further is heard about him. Jane took the designation of Mrs Muckle and retained it until she married some twenty-two years later.[4]

In July, 1806, Jane became a free person as she had completed her sentence and was recorded as living with Archibald McKillup.[5] By 1810, Jane had obtained a ‘Beer License’ for an establishment in Phillip Street[6] and while no longer holding a licence by 1825, she was still involved in the running of a public house with Archibald, probably the “Lord Nelson” in Phillip Street.[7] Jane was experiencing financial success for in June 1823 she gained five 21 year leases on land in Phillip, Hunter and Elizabeth streets[8] and in 1824 was able to make an interest free loan of £300 to Rev John Dunmore Lang for Scots Church.[9]  On 6 March, 1826, she married Archibald [10] and she died eight years later on April 12, 1834. Archibald’s death followed the next year on October 26, 1835, by which time Jane’s daughter Mary Muckle was running the public house. On Archibald’s death the Tavern’s fixtures were disposed of but Mary continued to own the tavern, which was leased to others, right up until her death some 50 years later.

Little is known of Mary’s early life. She became the heiress of extensive property holdings and was the object of some unwanted attention by suitors, one such proclaiming to her that ‘she had remained long enough unmarried, and could not do better than have him’.  Mary’s stepfather was ill at this time and she informed the would-be-suitor ‘that her father was seriously unwell, and was disturbed by his loud talk, and begged him to drink his liquor and depart from the house, but which only served to induce him to continue his familiarity’.  She, in response to this unwanted attention, gave ‘a becoming and spirited resistance’ resulting in the ardent would-be-suitor only becoming more aggressive and ‘calling her a _________ and using opprobrious and obscene expressions’.  Mary then threw a jug of boiling water at him, the suitor was injured, and brought a charge of assault and battery against her. The jury found the case proven, but it would seem they thought the suitor deserved his fate for Mary only had to pay damages of a farthing.[11] (more…)

Samuel Watson (1842-1911)

Samuel Watson

Samuel Watson

Samuel Watson (1842-1911) Superintendent Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution, Sydney.

As early as March 1853 in colonial New South Wales attempts were made to commence education classes for deaf children.[1] These efforts met with limited success and were short-lived until Thomas Pattison commenced his classes in October 1860. This developed into what became known as the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI), later to be known as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.[2] The first decade of the DDBI was beset with difficulties as the organising committee sought to find a suitable person to lead the work and it was not until Samuel Watson was appointed in 1870 that the education of the deaf and blind began to thrive.

Life in Ulster

Samuel Watson[3]  was born in Glenhue, Ahoghill, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on December 22, 1842, the fourth and youngest son of the eight children of William Watson a farmer, and his wife Jane McMaster. By 1857, both of his parents had died and the eldest son James (1827-1878) had assumed the role of head of the family. In May 1861, aged 18, Samuel was employed by the Ulster Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, as an assistant teacher and he remained in this position for seven and a half years until 1868.[4] In this period of service he would, he said, ‘learn the art of teaching Deaf mutes and whatever power as well as impulses for good I have acquired.’[5] Samuel was well regarded by the Institution being considered by its Principal, the Rev John Kinghan, as ‘a young man of much amiable temper, good sense and good feeling, imbued with a sincere desire to Glorify God.’[6] In January of 1869, upon being recommended by Kinghan for the post, he commenced as a Teacher and Manager of the Church of Ireland Derry and Raphoe School for the Deaf and Dumb.[7]

This institution, founded in 1846 in Strabane, was supported both personally and financially by the hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander, the wife of the local minister.[8] The proceeds of some of her hymns, such as ‘There is a green hill far away’ and ‘All Things bright and beautiful’, contained in her publication Hymns for Little Children, went to the support of the institution.[9]  Samuel was highly regarded by the Derry and Raphoe School, though he only served 18 months as its master apparently seeing that he would have greater opportunities and financial security in the colony of NSW.[10] (more…)

George Augustus Frederick Lentz (1797-1883)

George Augustus Frederick Lentz (1797-1883) Convict conman, Architect and  co-founder of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Sydney

Thomas Pattison[1] is rightly credited with commencing a work that was to become the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC).[2] George Augustus Frederick Lentz and his family, however, assisted Pattison in starting this work and their contribution, though of short duration, was significant. George was born to John and Elizabeth Lentz in London in 1797[3] and he became a musical instrument maker, a harpist and also played in a band.[4] He kept up his musical activities all of his life and was thought by his family to have been a good musician having received a gold watch from King George IV for ‘his performances before him’.[5] From George’s history, if he had a gold watch from his time in England, he most likely stole it for George was a thief and a conman.

At the age of 17 George Lentz, alias George Henry Douglas, was convicted at the Old Bailey in January, 1814, of the theft of a ‘silver watch and gold chain’  worth £4 and of forgery worth £138 in order to purchase a dressing case and gold scissars (sic) and other items.[6]  A newspaper recorded that Lentz

was taken into custody, at the Swan Inn, Knightsbridge, on his return in a gig, with a Lady – to the Lady  (a woman of property) he had given the gold scissars, and she in return gave him as the old song says, “a far better thing,” it was “The ring from off her finger, Oh!”[7]

The combined value of George’s fraudulent activity was a considerable sum for the time and he was found guilty and sentenced to hang, a sentence which was commuted to transportation for life to the colony of NSW. George arrived in Sydney on April 25, 1815, aboard the Indefatigable 2 and was sent to work for James Smith, a builder, at Parramatta. This appears to have been a stroke of good fortune for George as Smith taught him to be a carpenter and joiner. He worked with Smith for at least five years and was described by him as one who was ‘obedient to my order and his conduct was that of a sober and honest and industrious man’.[8] In 1823, he was granted a Ticket of Leave for the district of Parramatta.[9] The ticket was revoked in October 1826, however, as George was found in possession of a chisel, the property of William Clay, which had been stolen with other articles from the premises of Dr Dalhunty at Burwood.[10] A further Ticket of Leave was granted in August 1827, and a conditional pardon was granted in September 1836.[11] During this period George had worked on various building jobs earning praise for his work ‘for correctness in proportion, chasteness of design, and the very superior manner in which it is finished.’[12] It seems his past was not entirely behind him, however, as an angry partner, William Batman, claimed in a newspaper advertisement that George had absconded ‘after having received sums of money on account of work executed by both of us.’[13] (more…)

Sherrington Alexander Gilder (1828 – 1902)

Sherrington Alexander Gilder (1828 – 1902) and the commencement of the education of the deaf in NSW.

In her work on the history of the academic education of deaf children in NSW, Barbara Crickmore points to three options available to parents of the deaf in Colonial Australia in the 1850s. They could send their children back to England or some other country for education, keep the child at home and face the prospect of supporting them for the rest of their lives or attempt to place them in an asylum for destitute children.[1] In the late 1850s, says Crickmore, a fourth option became available through the establishment of special schools for deaf in Australia. This move for the provision of special schools is seen, by Crickmore, as commencing in Victoria rather than NSW. It began with some agitation in the letters to the Editor of the Melbourne Argus by parents of deaf children seeking their education.[2] Fredrick Rose, an Englishman who had been deaf since he was four, read the letters and offered to start a school and did so in November 1860. In NSW, Thomas Pattison, formerly associated with the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society, commenced a school just prior to this on October 22, 1860[3] and thus by ‘opening three weeks ahead of the Victorian Institution became the site for the first school for the deaf in Australia.’[4] It was this work which developed into the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI).

The history of the beginning of the education of the deaf in NSW is, however, a little more complex and earlier than this account would indicate. In December 1850, the Rev Samuel Wilkinson, the Wesleyan minister at Windsor, after having been in the colony for twelve years, wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald advocating the formation of a public institution for the benefit of the deaf and the dumb. Such an Institution was needed, he said, for the deaf and dumb were more numerous than generally supposed and because of the ‘little success that has attended my own efforts, and the private exertions of others’.[5]  The letter was unproductive but on December 16, 1852 the Anglesay arrived in Sydney harbour and on board was William Thompson and his wife and three children. One of these children, a daughter, was deaf and so the family brought a tutor with them. The tutor was Sherrington Alexander Gilder who, it was said, had been the senior Master of the West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (WEIDD) for the past six years.[6] Gilder had deliberately exaggerated the importance of his position for in 1850 he is listed merely as the second of two assistants to Dr W R Scott who had been the master of the Institution for some time.[7]  The later description of Gilder’s role at the WEIDD, no doubt supplied to the journalist of the SMH by Gilder himself, as “having for seven years had nearly the entire conduct” of the Institution is highly unlikely as Gilder was, at the commencement of that seven year period,  only 17 years old.[8] While Gilder was prone to exaggerate his importance and role, he did work at the WEIDD and his presence there can be established for at least two years so he may well have commenced there in 1845 as a pupil teacher in order to learn under Scott. By early 1853, Gilder was advertising his services to teach, as boarders, both the deaf and the blind[9] and later in 1854 he was offering evening classes for adults in French as a “Professor of French”. (more…)

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