Kirby Family

This is a compilation of ‘research’ notes and rambles from this blog. But as mentioned in my ‘if you don’t know where you’re going‘ post on this site, we know quite a bit about our 3x gt. grandfather George Goldsmith Kirby (1806-1868), and not all of it is good.

However, we only really know the name of his father. According to Lincoln Inn’s records, he was a ‘gent’ called George of Kensall Green. He can’t have been that posh because there’s no mention of him in various compendiums of Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage like Debrett’s and Burke’s; or even those about more up-market commoners aka the Landed Gentry:

Sadly, we have been unable to find census or any other records for a George Kirby of Kensall Green, Middlesex. Fortunately, George H. Graham of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a record for George Goldsmith Kirby (GGK) as part of his extensive The Thompsons, Shipbuilders of Sunderland genealogy project. This includes all the information about GGK from census records, which shows that he was born about 1806 in Holborn.

We have found a George Kirby christened on 18th May 1806, at Saint Andrew, Holborn, London via FamilySearch.org. His parents were George and Mary Kirby of Charles Street in that parish. That’s a very close match, but not conclusive.

A search of the marriage registers for St Andrew Holborn in the period prior to G G Kirby’s baptism revealed the following entry:

George Kirby and Mary Ann Witch both of this Parish, were married in this Church by Banns this Tenth day of February in the Year One thousand eight Hundred and Five, By me Charles Pryce Curate. This marriage was solemnized between us, George Kirby [signed] Mary Ann Witch [signed] In the presence of Us, Ja(me)s Fitzhugh [signed] Sarah Kirby [signed]

London Metropolitan Archives, P69/AND2/A/01/Ms 6670/9)

Again a close match but not conclusive, and introduces another possible clue, i.e. Sarah Kirby, who may have been GGK’s sister, other relative, and perhaps even his mother.

Other possible leads include a record for the christening of a Frances Kirby on 12 OCT 1790 at Saint Andrew, Holborn, London, England. Her parents are shown as George and Mary Kirby. That said, this is 15 years before the marriage of George Kirby and Mary Ann Witch in 1805. And there are quite a few Kirby hatches and matches recorded around that time at Saint Andrew, Holborn. But who knows, maybe at least some could be relations.

We also know that GGK married Essex girl Harriet Sarah Watts (1804-1893), daughter of Hannah and Joseph Watts. But nothing more about them other than they hailed from Stratford:

George Goldsmith Kirby of this Parish a Bachelor and Harriet Sarah Watts of the Parish of Saint Martin in the fields, a Spinster, were married in this Church by Licence this twentieth Day of April in the Year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-eight. By me J.H. Wynn, Curate (p. 197).

LMA, P82/GEO1/024

Thanks to census records and The Times we know a lot about where he lived including Little Marble Hill on The Thames in Twickenham:

The Law List of 1829 first lists GGK., as a ‘Special Pleader’, in the section for ‘Special Pleaders and Conveyancers not at the Bar’. His work address was given as 2 Churchyard Court, Temple (p. 53).

From 1830, Thomas Carr, Esq. has joined him at this address, and GGK is now listed as a ‘Conveyancer’, as he is in later census returns (p. 53). He last appears in the 1868 list, the year of his death, still as a conveyancer, but by this time he has moved to 7 Waterloo Place, Pall Mall (p. 197).

Thanks to Dr Timothy L Alborn at Lehman College, City University of New York we now also know that GGK became managing director of the Freemasons & General Life Assurance in 1838:

The company changed its name to the Albert Life Assurance Company in 1849 and GGK managed it until he died in 1868.

According to Dr Alborn, being a “managing director” was a rarity among most life assurance offices, which typically separated salaried managers from directors. He was on around £400 a year, and to put this into perspective this was at a time when only about 10 per cent of population earned over £100 a year (from extract of Dr Alborn’s forthcoming book). It was, however, the 5% commission on sales where he made his money: in excess of £15,000 between 1863 and 1868, and probably at least £2000 a year for five years before that. It’s was, Dr Alborn believes, generous compensation packages like these that led to the failure of Albert.

It’s Dr Alborn guess (and it’s only a guess, since the Albert didn’t leave any records behind when it failed) that GGK was a mason, since he was “the original projector of the company” and it would be surprising that a non-mason would do this. He also explained that given the status of the company and when it formed, it was fairly normal for someone to come “out of nowhere” to manage such a firm in 1838.

He thinks GGK probably didn’t start making a lot of money until the name change and the string of acquisitions; his guess is that he earned huge commissions (in the £10,000 range) for some of these, given the purchasing price.

The Albert was taken over by GGK’s son Arthur R. Kirby, who was appointed one of the liquidators in 1869. He tried to get another company to take over the Albert’s business, but failed. Dr Alborn mentioned that Arthur appears in most accounts as well-intentioned but clueless. He also assumes that GGK was generally up to no good from at least the mid-1860s on.

There’s more about the Albert in Dr Alborn’s Regulated Lives: Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914 published in 2009.

GGK and Harriet had 13 children we’ve identified, but only 4 survived their parents and only 3 married:

The marriage certificate of Arthur Raymond and Gertrude Fleming mentions one of the witness being an H J Kirby. We guess that he might be a relation but have not been able to identify anyone with those initials so far.

Arthur Raymond Kirby ((1841-1916)

None of Arthur Raymond and Gertrude’s children married, although their son Alister Graham Kirby won a gold medal at the 1912 Olympics in the men’s eight (see his wiki entry here).

The Rev. Augustus George Kirby (1847 – 1926) married Edith Smith Dorrien (niece of Augustus John Smith, the politician who created the quasi-aristocratic title Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly having acquired their lease from the Duchy of Cornwall).

None of Augustus George and Edith’s male children married, although their son Robert Dorrien Kirby was killed in 1916 by cannibals in New Guinea while on patrol.

3 of their daughters married:

All 3 had issue, and we are still in touch with our Rowley relatives.

Bryan Oates was the brother of Captain Lawrence Edward Grace Oates who died on Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition having walked out of their tent into −40 °C blizzard. According to Scott’s diary, Oates left the tent saying: “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

Geoffrey Breitmeyer was the son of Ludwig Breitmeyer, the De Beers board director, and Mary Carteretta Valpy (niece of New Zealand pioneer William Henry Valpy).

That brings us to our great great grandfather:

Alfred is actually the starting point of my ancestral research because I own a medal he won at Henley for rowing for Cambridge University and they have an entry for him in their Alumni records. This included information about his father (GGK), but they also had records for his brother Augustus George and one for his son (our great grandfather George Henry Kirby):

There’s no official biography of him that we know of, but from publicly available records we know he was educated at Twickenham School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. And that he trained as a solicitor and practiced as a Parliamentary agent.

We also know that he married twice. Firstly, to our ancestor Alice Baxendale (1852-97), who was the daughter of Lloyd Baxendale whose family had made their fortune from transportation (Pickfords). And secondly, after Alice’s death to her cousin Beatrice Elizabeth Schneider (1868-1949) whose father was the British industrialist and politician Henry William Schneider who played a leading role in the development of the new town of Barrow-in-Furness. Apparently, he used to travel to work from his home on Windermere via his steam yacht, which was the inspiration for Captain Flint’s houseboat in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons.

The mother of our aunt (who married our mother’s older brother) was also a Schneider, but we haven’t managed to connect her family with the Schneiders above.

Interestingly, a Rev. Joseph Kirby Turner assisted in the marriage of Alfred Octavius and Alice:

On the 15th inst., at St Jame’s Church, Piccadilly, by the Right Rev. the Bishop of Guildford, assisted by the Rev. J. Kirby Turner and the Rev. A. G. Kirby, Alfred Octavious Kirby, of 57 Queen’s Gate, to Alice, eldest daughter of Lloyd Baxendale, Esq., of No. 58 Grosvenor Street.

The Times, Monday, Jul 19, 1875 MARRIAGES

George H. Graham’s site mentioned above showed that Joseph Kirby Turner was actually Alice Baxendale’s uncle (her mother Ellen and Joseph were siblings). It’s a long shot, but one possibility is that their mother – who was also called Ellen – may have have been Kirby before marrying the Rev. Joseph Turner. And that might be why Joseph, who was the only male offspring and only one of 5 children, to have Kirby added to his name. This is another possible lead for our Kirby ancestors, but may, however, be a red herring.

Alfred Octavius and Alice had 4 children:

Edward Lloyd died aged 8. Dorothy Gian married John Charles Francis “Jack” Lister and they had issue whose descendants, if living, would be our closest relatives from the paternal side of the family.

Marion Ellen aka Molly received an MBE, but we are not sure what for. And we think she lived with her ‘devoted friend’ Irene Thomson of over 60 years:

KIRBY – On July 29th. 1965, Marion Ellen Kirby, M.B.E., 35 Buckingham Palace Mansions, S.W.1, elder daughter of Alfred and Alice Kirby, and for over 60 years the devoted friend of Irene Thomson, 40 North Audley Street, W.1.   Service at Golders Green August 2nd at 12:45 p.m.   Flowers to J. H. Kenyon, Edgware Road.

The Times, Friday, Jul 30, 1965 : DEATHS

George Henry Kirby (GHK) was our great grandfather. Like our 3x gt. grandfather GGK, he deserves an entry of his own (possibly the basis for a novella). I have heard lots of stories about him over the years, including his affair with my cousin Hamish’s great aunt. Given what we have found out about him, they are probably all true.

We know he went to Eton, and is alleged to have lost his inheritance investing in coaching business from Windsor to Brighton with the future Duke of Westminster. As shown above, he also went to Trinity, Cambridge, although it doesn’t seem like he graduated.

It’s not clear when GHK went to what was then Ceylon, but he married Alice Marie (Elsie) Maitland (Abt. 1880-1950) in about 1900, and thanks to our not so distant cousin Charles Daniels we have these wedding photos below:

Elsie Maitland and George Henry Kirby around 1900

Elsie and GHK had 3 children:

We know from his WW1 enlistment and other records that GHK was Regimental Sergeant Major in the Ceylon Volunteer Rifles aka Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps and served for 9 years. He’s also mentioned in a book called Ceylon in my time by Colonel T. Y. Wright, and the author writes that GHK was both his friend and employer. However, Col. Wright had to give him notice as Gillardstown Plantation manager for being too unreliable:

GHK was in Australia at the start of WW1, and enlisted as a Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant in the Australian 1st Light Horse Regiment (C Squadron). He was later transferred to 2nd Division Artillery and served in Egypt, Gallipoli and the Western Front. He was eventually promoted to Captain, but was court-martialled for advancing himself funds as paying officer. He was sentenced to take rank and precedence in the Australian Imperial Force and in his unit as if his appointment as Captain bore the date of 21 February 1918, and reprimanded. He was discharged as medically unfit in 1918.

GHK was in the UK at the wedding of his son Claude (our grandfather), and by WW2 was known as Major G.H. Kirby (see below), but it is not clear when he gained that rank.

At some point he moved to New Zealand (possibly during WW2), allegedly sent on a remittance with his wife Elsie making sure he embarked at Liverpool. He first appears in the Wellington Electoral Roll in 1943 as a Civil Servant. In 1946, 1949/51 and 1954 the records show him as retired.

Records also show he married Miriam Lavinia Bowker in 1951, a year after the death of his first wife (our great grandmother Elsie Maitland). She died in 1957, and he ended up in the Harry Squires Memorial Hostel for the elderly in Wellington, New Zealand and was buried in soldiers grave in 1960.

Elsie and GHK’s son Roddy died in WW2 unmarried. It’s rumoured that he was killed on an exercise at Whaddon Hall that served as headquarters of Section VIII (Communications) of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or MI6), and may have even been murdered:

KIRBY – On June 22, 1941, Roderick George Maitland Kirby, Captain, Royal Corps of Signals, son of Major G. Kirby and Mrs. Kirby, now of 13 Rowland Gardens, Old Brompton Road, London, S.W.   Funeral at Whaddon Church, Bletchley, Bucks, at 2:30 p.m. today (Thursday).

The Times, Thursday, Jun 26, 1941: DEATHS

Roddy’s sister Valda also died in WW2 at a Japanese POW camp in Sumatra:

GODLEY – On June 6, 1944, at Sumatra P.O.W. Camp, VALDA, the beloved wife of Col. A. S. Godley, The Royal Scots.

The Times, Tuesday, Aug 14, 1945: DEATHS

Valda married Lt-Col. Sandy Alexander Shepstone Godley. They didn’t have children, but he re-married after the war and I have been in contact with one of his two children.

There’s a coincidental chain of connections because Valda was also the godmother of the husband of the daughter of one of my sibling’s godmother (Flavia Nunes, founder and former head mistress of Faulker House girls school). Her father was a good friend of our grandfather Claude Kirby, and family legend has it that they once sailed back from France using the ferry timetable as a navigation aid to work out their position in the Channel. Luckily, they just about avoided sailing off across the Atlantic having almost gone past Cornwall.

We know that Claude was born in Ceylon and went to boarding school in the UK from the age of 7 – staying with his (great) aunt Connie Bagge in the school holidays who lived at Gaywood Hall in Norfolk and possibly also Livermere Hall in Suffolk. He was also educated at the former Jesuit Beaumont College public school in Old Windsor.

I plan to write up a longer account of Claude, but apparently he registered ‘Gentleman’ as occupation on his passport and never really worked. And is alleged to have made our grandmother carry a brief case with their papers when traveling in case anyone thought he might work for a living. He is rumoured, however, to have helped at a motor showroom on Park Lane for a least a day honking a horn at females passing by.

He was, however, ‘good in the saddle’ and a committed huntsman. He also served in the RAF in WW2, but despite being able to fly was considered too old for combat and so ran an airfield among other duties.

There is a pre-war story about him flying back in plane he co-owned from a trip to Le Touquet with a corpse who had died on the trip. Apparently, this was to avoid the deceased family having to pay death duties in France.

He married our grandmother Rosemary Louise Fitzherbert Wright (1905-1974) in 1925 at the Roman Catholic Church, Fordingbridge:

Mr. C. Kirby and Miss R. Wright On Saturday, at the Roman Catholic Church, Fordingbridge, the marriage was solemnized between Mr. Claude Kirby, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Kirby, of Woodyates House Salisbury, and Rosemary Louise, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. E. FitzHerbert Wright, of Hale Park, Breamore, Salisbury.
The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Father Cyril Smith, SJ., assisted by the Rev. Father Anscott. The bride was given away by her father, and wore a dress of ivory satin, with train of old Brussels lace (lent by her grand-mother, Mrs. FitzHerbert Wright), a wreath of orange-blossom, and tulle veil. She was attended by Miss Iris Wright (sister), Miss Valda Kirby (sister of the bridegroom), and Miss Ruth Tracy, who wore primrose georgette dresses with touches of turquoise, with tulle veils, and carried bouquets of yellow tulips. Major Carroll- Leahy was the best man.
After the wedding a reception was held at Hale Park, where a large number of relatives and friends were entertained. Later, the bride and bridegroom left for Gloucestershire by motor-car, the gift of the bride’s father.

The Times, Wednesday, Apr 22, 1925: MARRIAGE

Claude and Rosemary moved frequently throughout their married lives. This included an unsuccessful plantation venture in Argentina in the 30s, and stints in the 50s in both Ibiza and Andorra. He’s alleged to have gone temporally blind in Andorra, until being warned off the local hooch after a visit to an optologist in Barcelona.

He died in 1963 and rumour has it that the hearse took a wrong turning and end-up driving into the Brewery at Mortlake.

Our father Giles Simon Kirby is Claude and Rosemary’s only child. He was born in 1930 and married our mother, the poet and non-fiction writer Angela Kirby, in 1952:

The upshot of all the above, is that my father, myself, my brothers and our boys are the only surviving male Kirby descendants of George Goldsmith Kirby (GGK) mentioned at the beginning of this page.

Given we know little about GGK’s father, it’s difficult to discover more about previous generations. One possible answer is one of a number of Ancestor DNA Tests, although they are only as good as the number of tests they have carried out. It’s something we have been looking into, so possibly more on this soon.

I will also be following up this page with others on the maternal lines mentioned above in collaboration with my cousin Hamish, where I have more information including: Baxendale, Maitland and Birtwistle families.

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