Return to Osborn index
Robert John Osborn

Robert John Osborn 1879 - 1939

My thanks to Stephen Osborn for kindly providing the following article.

My grandfather, Robert John Osborn, was born in Deal, Kent on 20 October 1879. He was the second child and first son of Robert ("Bobby") Osborn and Susanna Osborn (nee Beney). The family is described by Paul Osborn, in his biography of Alfred Sydney Osborn on this site, as part of a long tradition of sea-faring people in Deal, although Bobby had, by the time of Alfred's birth, moved into the more land-based (and probably reputable) occupation of fishmonger. Paul continues that the family was by any standards large, with four brothers and four sisters sharing their small cottage in George Alley. "The cottage still stands and anyone walking along the alley past the row of cottages will be amazed that even a childless couple would find room to live there, let alone a large family, with many of the children already adults". Recently, Paul, my cousin Robert and I went to see the cottage and were relieved to find that in addition to the usual "two up, two down" it contained rooms in the basement and roof space, which explains a little of how they managed.

Robert, like his brothers, Charles, William and Alfred, attended the Central Boys School in Middle Street, Deal. After leaving school he worked as a boatman for a few years and then joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class in the year 1900. He worked hard and was promoted quickly, to Stoker in 1902, Leading Stoker in 1907 and Stoker Petty Officer in 1909.

In that year Robert married a local girl, Ellen Frances Huckstep, and in their wedding picture he can be seen proudly displaying his new stripes. Three sons soon followed, Robert Richard Henry in 1910, my father Stephen in 1912, and John William in 1913. My father once told me that he and his brothers were so close in age that they were all together in the first class of the tiny "Feed my Lambs" infants' school in Middle Street, Deal.

There followed World War I - a worrying time for Ellen - bringing up the boys on her own in Robert Street. My father Stephen again: "Me and my brothers used to lie awake at night, telling each other sad stories until we all cried". During this time Robert served on the ships Egmont, Pembroke and Blake and was promoted to Chief Stoker while on HMS Blenheim in 1917.

In 1922, Robert was pensioned off, but immediately volunteered as a Chief Stoker in the Royal Naval Reserve. He was finally discharged in 1929, having reached the service age limit of 50. He had served in 18 different ships, some of them many times, and enjoyed an exemplary service record. It was now time to settle down and enjoy watching his three sons grow up.

Robert also returned to his first job as a boatman, joining his brother Charlie to run the Moss Rose from Deal Beach on pleasure trips in the summer and fishing trips all the year round. These were perhaps the happiest and most rewarding years of their lives for both Robert and Charlie as can be guessed from the many photographs of them together. Even though another war loomed, Robert had the pleasure of seeing his three sons married, with one grandchild born and prospects of more to come.

Everything changed in the Autumn of 1939 when Robert succumbed to a tumour and died in the Victoria Hospital, Deal on 23 September, three weeks after the outbreak of World War II. Charlie followed just seven months later, on 18 April 1940, and was buried opposite Robert in Deal Cemetery. Ellen Frances moved to 1a North Street where she lived on alone, visited regularly by her children and grandchildren, until she died in 1964 and was buried in Robert's grave.

Charlie's wife was also called Ellen (nee Pitcher) and was similarly buried in Charlie's grave when she died in 1949. Recently we paid for Robert and Ellen's grave to be restored as it had become rather shabby and overgrown, but when we went to inspect the work we discovered that Charlie and Ellen's grave had been renovated by mistake, with the graves and the names being so close together. The company admitted their error and restored Robert and Ellen's grave free of charge, describing it as a "two for the price of one offer"!