The Ten Sons of Robert Turnbull

“Farewell dear wife and children ten,

I was your guardian from childhood to men,

Now when you on this grass do tread,

I warn for you all to take heed,

To be kind to her that was my pride,

Till she is laid down by my side”

Gravestone of Robert Turnbull d. 1859 Kirklinton Churchyard, Cumbria.

About 10 or 11 years ago when I was first starting my family history life choice, I made contact with a fellow Turnbull researcher who sent me a wonderful essay about the 12 sons and no daughters of Robert Turnbull (1795-1859) and his wife Mary Robson (1788-1869).

William b.1810; Thomas b.1811; Robert b.1813; John b.1815; Robert b.1817; Joseph b.1819; Robert b.1822; Walter b.1822; George b.1824; James b.1826; Adam b.1828 and Samuel b.1832.

Later I found the gravestone of Robert and his family in Kirklinton churchyard with two lovely verses on the back. That got me started but there’s so much to do still… So with grateful thanks to Dennis here’s what I know so far.


The first son William was born in 1810 in Nether Denton, Cumberland. Family lore (not proven) says that he eloped to Gretna Green aged 24 to marry Sarah Graham. They had 5 boys and 5 girls whilst living variously at the neighbouring Moss Cottage, Moss House and Swang Cottage, all in Hethersgill. He worked all his life as a farm labourer and was still keeping cows in the months before his death on the 25th of May 1891.


Son number 2 Thomas was born just a year later in 1811 un Uppertown, Kirklinton. He never married, living and working on his aunt Jane Smith (his mother’s sister’s) farm Underheugh, Waterhead from at least 1841-1871.

Birdoswald Farm, Waterhead, Cumbria

By 1881 he was farming on his own account at the nearby Birdoswald Farm. Originally Birdoswald was a typical borders bastle house with living quarters on the first floor and animal accommodation at ground level. Heavily extended in the 19th century it is now a listed building and the headquarters of the archaeological dig at Birdoswald Roman Fort next door. There is a detailed description of the building here: Birdoswald Farm Thomas died on the 9th of March 1893 aged 83.


The third son Robert was born in 1813 but died aged just 2 on the 14th of March 1846 he is commemorated first on the family gravestone at Kirklinton with his own epitaph on the back:

“My parents dear and friends who murn,

Cease to lament for one that’s gone,

Tho years were few my comfort is,

For short’s the way that leads to bliss.

Large is the debt that lingers out the clay,

They that go soonest have the least to pay.”

Gravestone of Robert Turnbull d. 1859 Kirklinton Churchyard, Cumbria.


John was the fourth son, (and my 3x Great-Grandfather) born in 1815 at Kirklinton. He married Isabella Graham in 1842 with whom he had 7 children before her early death in 1855 from tuberculosis. Shortly afterward Isabella’s unmarried sister Eazet moved in to Henry’s Hill Farm to help him look after the children. By 1861 their relationship had developed and the first of their three sons was born. Unable to marry because of ecclesiastical law (to marry your dead spouse’s sibling was not permitted until 1907 for men and 1921 for women (see further details here: Marriage laws)) John and Eazet co-habited for the remainder of their lives, seemingly with the tacit approval of the vicar, because they played an active part in parish life. John serving for many years as a churchwarden and parish councillor whilst farming Waingate Head next door to his father’s farm Brekonhill Rigg.

Upper Greenquarries
Greenquarries, Rosley, Cumbria

Between 1865 and 1871 they moved to farm at Greenquarries in Rosley on the otherside of Carlisle near Wigton. John died on the 26th of April 1885 and Eazet on the 21st of November 1888. They are buried in Carlisle Cemetery rather than Rosley churchyard. There is no headstone.



The fifth son born in 1817 was also named Robert in memory of his sibling, sadly he too died young aged just six months.


Joseph, son number six was born in 1819 and married Margaret Stott from Otterburn, Yorkshire in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1849. They had four daughters before she died in 1864. In 1861 Joseph was an Alderman and a linen and wollen draper. In 1871 he was living with his second “wife” Stella Stott, also from Otterburn (surely Margaret’s sister or cousin maybe?) and he is described as a master draper. Their three children were all baptised at the Mount Street United Presbyterian Church in Blackburn.

When Joseph died in 1879 his will was proved by Stella Stott otherwise Turnbull spinster implying they were never married.Joseph Turnbull


The next son was another Robert. Born on the 9 July 1821, he was not christened until he was 2 and a half years old in 1823 on the same day as his baby brother Walter. Little is known about this Robert but it is presumed he did survive into adult hood as his fathers epitaph refers to his sons as ten men.


8th was Walter born in 1822. He was a joiner and carpenter who married Jane Hodgson in 1846. They had three boys and four girls and settled in Burtholme, Lanercost, Cumberland.


The 9th son was George born about 1823. He worked on the family farm at Breckonhill Rigg until his 1870 marriage to widow Elizabeth Lee. He died at Scalesceugh farm on the 5th of February 1876 and was buried at Kirklinton with his parents.


James was the 10th son. He was born around January 1826. In 1861 he was at home with his widowed mother at Breckonhill Rigg working the farm. He married Jane Armstrong in 1871 and together they had two daughters Mary Eleanor and Susannah Hope and a son Robert James Armstrong. Jane was considerably younger than James, The age gap ranges across the censuses between 17 and 21 years. James died in 1900 aged 74.


Son number 11 was Adam. Born in Kirklinton in 1828 he also became a draper like his brother Joseph. He never married and lived in Blackburn with his brothers Joseph and Samuel. He died in 1867 aged just 39.


Lastly we have Samuel, the 12th son who was born in 1832 when his mother was 43. He worked in Blackburn as a draper with his brothers and in 1861 he married Isabella Selly. Samuel died in 1883 and Isabella in 1889 leaving 7 orphaned children. The youngest two children were sent to the New Orphan Houses near Bristol, otherwise known as Muller Homes. Henry Theodore and Annie Ellen were both living in Muller House No.1 in 1891.

New Orphan House No1
No.1 New Orphan House, Ashley Down, Gloucestershire

Despite the death of his parents Samuel’s youngest son Henry Theodore prospered in later life with a successful bakery business. He travelled the world as a missionary and built non profit houses for soldiers returning from the 1st World War.


So there we have them, the 12 sons of Robert and Mary Turnbull.

“At Breckonhill Rigg in the parish of Kirklinton in the 74th year of his age, Robert Turnbull, farmer who resided in this district during the whole of his life. He was respected by everyone who knew him. His remains were followed to the grave by his widow and ten sons and a great number of other relatives, also by his landlord (Joseph Dacre esq Kirklinton Hall) and nearly all the yeomanry, farmers and a large circle of friends. The funeral ceremony was performed by the Rev. George Bell, rector.”

Carlisle Patriot August 13th 1859.  Death of Robert Turnbull 3 August 1859


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