George Robins: Illegitimacy and Adoption in 19th Century Sussex

Uncovering George Robins’ story has been something of a mission, involving a tangled web of births, deaths and changing surnames. The only story that seems reasonable to me is the following:

George’s mother was Harriet Roberts, who was born in Warbleton parish, East Sussex, in 1807. Harriet married Samuel Clapson in 1833, with whom she had five children before Samuel died in 1845. Subsequently, Harriet gave birth to George in 1848 to a father whose name Harriet did not disclose.

The following year Harriet herself died, leaving her six children as orphans. The older children were admitted to the Hailsham Union Workhouse, while baby George went into the care of Henry Robins. Henry’s first wife Mary Ann had died in 1844, 5 years earlier. Both the Robins and Clapson families were dissenting Protestants, attending the Heathfield Congregational Chapel, located at Chapel Cross. My guess is that this is how Henry knew about the Clapson orphans. It may also be reasonable to suspect that Henry was indeed George’s unknown father. (Update April 2018: DNA matching has now confirmed that Henry was indeed George’s father.)

Henry Robins married his second wife, Mercy Kemp, in 1852. Henry had known Mercy for some years, as they worked on the same farm in Warbleton parish in 1841. George Clapson grew up in the care of Henry and Mercy, and he became known as George Robins. It is apparent that George knew nothing of his illegitimate birth, as he regarded Henry and Mercy as his parents. The family moved to Marden in Kent in the 1860’s.

There is another intriguing angle to this story. Mercy had two illegitimate boys prior to her marriage to Henry: Walter and Edward Kemp. These boys also went to Marden with the Robins family, and were recorded as having the surname Robins in some census records. Is it possible that Henry was their father as well?

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