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Robert "Bobby" Osborn

Bobby Osborn 1852 - 1913

Bobby Osborn was born in Deal in 1850 and lived all of his life in the town, working firstly as a 'waterman' and later as a fishmonger, selling his wares from the handcart he pushed around the streets.

The Deal watermen took not just water, but other victuals and supplies out to the boats anchored off the Goodwin Sands in an area known as The Downs. The strong suggestion is that many of the watermen returned with various items of contraband that went on to form a lucrative trade or provide a few luxury items for the people of Deal. Whether Bobby engaged in this activity is unknown, although it is known that he was a highly puritanical individual and may therefore have frowned on these illegal activities.

Bobby's change of trade from waterman to fishmonger may have resulted from the increasing age and subsequent death in 1907 of his father-in-law John 'Fiddler' Beney who was also a fish-monger in later life as well as being the fiddle player in Scardon's band.

Bobby would push a hand-cart around Deal with his cries of "Rye Bay Plaice" and "Dover Sole" ringing out around the town. It was said that on a still evening, these cries could be heard as far away as the South Foreland lightship!

In 1876, Bobby married Susanna Beney, third eldest of John and Hannah Beney's 12 children, who had been born in Deal in 1857. They went on to have many children themselves, all the while living in a small cottage in George Alley.

Bobby's main claim to fame was being immortalised in the work of the illustrator Will Owen, whose most famous creation was probably his advertisements for the 'Bisto Kids'. The story has it that Owen often based his drawings on characters he came across in real life. Being a regular visitor to Deal, Bobby was one such character he encountered and was consequently used as the model for a number of illustrations. These included books illustrated for the Edwardian author W W Jacobs who wrote many short stories about life on the Thames and East Kent coast, newspaper cartoons and a number of children's books that were written and illustrated by Owen himself.

One particularly well-known appearance by 'Bobby' was in a cartoon by Owen that appeared in the Daily Sketch. This was during the time that prohibition was being considered in the Country, and featured 'Bobby' saying; "If yer shut up the pubs, what am I goin' to do fer nourishment?". This cartoon is still available and can even be purchased via a website in a framed version.

A significant part of Owen's work was in illustrations to books by the author W W Jacobs, early editions of which often appear on Ebay. Titles included:

The links to the first three titles show examples of either the front cover or an inside illustration featuring Bobby Osborn - as the Night Watchman.

As well as illustrating books for other people, Owen also wrote and illustrated his own children's books featuring the Bobby character. One such was "Three Jolly Sailors and Me"; one of the sailors being very familiar and given the name 'Bob'!

Bobby Osborn was a regular frequenter of Deal pubs and it is said that both his height and girth were 5'6", largely due to his fondness for beer! He also weighed between 16 and 18 stone and legend has it that every day he stopped in the pub at lunchtime and would drink either one or 18 pints - never any number in between - according to how he felt.

Bobby died in 1913 at the age of 61 and his 'fame' was such that his obituary appeared in the national Daily Sketch on the Monday following his death.