Robert is my three times great uncle and older brother of my two times great grandfather Francis. He was one of nine children born to Francis and Jane Ellis and according to his Admiralty service record was born on 26 August 1836 in Kilglass, Sligo, Ireland. At the time his father was a boatman in the coastguard service in Inniscrone (Enniscrone), Ireland.
Robert came to England with his parents, two brothers and two sisters in 1839 when his father took up his post as a boatman in the coastguard service on 1 July 1839 on the frigate Cadmus; a watch vessel moored 20 yards from the shore in the river Swale. The next move for the family was on 30 April 1840 when they went from the Cadmus to the coastguard station in Herne Bay; and then, on 23 December 1840, to the coastguard station at the Fort Moncrief battery, in the parish of West Hythe. The family is recorded in the 1841 census as living in the barracks at Fort Moncrief where Robert is described as aged 4 and born in Ireland.
Robert joined the Royal Navy as a boy second class on 1 February 1851; the first ship he served on was HMS Boscawen. He continued his service in the Royal Navy on the warship HMS Tribune, joining it on 8 June 1853. HMS Tribune then went on to play a part in the Russian war (1854-1856). HMS Tribune was part of the fleet which was despatched from Spithead on 11 March 1854. As a boy second class he was awarded the Baltic and Crimea medals. Robert was promoted to ordinary seaman on 25 October 1855 and on 1 August 1856 he volunteered for 10 years service; he was described as:
- Height 5ft 9in
- Complexion fair
- Hair brown
- Eyes blue
- Marks none
Robert continued to serve on HMS Tribune and was promoted to able seaman on 30 December 1858. He joined HMS Emerald as a leading seaman on 10 August 1860 until 7 November 1863. In the 1861 census he is on HMS Emerald at Holyhead, Anglesey where he is aged 26 and a leading seaman. After a short assignment to HMS Duke of Wellington, Robert probably joined the coastguard service as a boatman on 30 December 1863.
In 1865 Robert married Jane Mackett in Eltham, Kent and they went on to have 11 children. He was appointed as a commissioned boatman on 1 August 1870; a position which he held until 15 October 1876. The 1871 census shows the family living at Crowlink Gap, Friston, Eastbourne. Robert was aged 35 and a coastguard; his wife Jane was 27 and born in Dymchurch. Perhaps he met her when he was visiting his parents who were recorded as living in Dymchurch in the 1861 census. Robert and Jane had three children and their niece staying with them:
- Robert aged two 2months, born Friston, Sussex
- Lucy aged 3, born West Hythe, Kent
- Edith aged 1, born Eastbourne, Sussex
- Bridget M White niece, aged 13, a scholar, born West Hythe, Kent
Robert became a chief boatman in 1876 and was then appointed chief officer HM coastguards on 18 September 1879. The family were living in Brunswick Street, Cromer, Norfolk in the 1881 census. Robert was now 45 and chief officer coastguard and his wife Jane was 37. They had nine children living with them:
- Lucy Jane aged 13, a scholar, born West Hythe, Kent
- Edith aged 11, a scholar, born Eastbourne, Sussex
- Robert, aged 10, a scholar, born Friston, Sussex
- Elizabeth aged 8, a scholar, born Friston, Sussex
- Isabel aged 7, a scholar, born Friston, Sussex
- Gertrude aged 5, a scholar, born Rottingdean, Sussex
- Agnes aged 3, a scholar, born Hythe, Hampshire
- Francis John aged 2, born Hythe, Hampshire
- Alfred Earnest aged 0, born Cromer, Norfolk
The family continued to live at 1 Brunswick Street, Erpingham; in the 1891 census Robert is still a chief officer for HM coastguards and he and Jane have nine of their children living with them.
- Robert aged 20, a clerk for GER railway, born Crowlink, Sussex
- Elizabeth aged 18, born Crowlink, Sussex
- Isabel aged 17, a national school pupil teacher, born Crowlink, Sussex
- Gertrude aged 15, born Blackrod, Ireland
- Agnes aged 13, a scholar, born Hythe, Hampshire
- Francis John aged 11, a scholar, born Blackrod, Ireland
- Alfred Ernest aged 10, a scholar, born Cromer, Norfolk
- Grace Ellen aged 8, a scholar, born Cromer, Norfolk
- Marjorie Adelaide aged 6, a scholar, born Cromer, Norfolk
Robert continued to serve as chief officer HM coastguards in Norfolk until 15 January 1892 when he became a shore pensioner. He stayed in Norfolk though and is shown in the 1901 census as a retired chief officer coastguard living at 5 Princes Road, Erpingham with his wife Jane and four of his children:
- Gertrude aged 25, born Brighton, Sussex
- Alfred Ernest aged 20,an apprentice carpenter and joiner, born Cromer, Norfolk
- Grace Ellen aged 18, a draper’s assistant, born Cromer, Norfolk
- Marjorie Adelaide aged 16, born Cromer, Norfolk
Robert died in Erpingham in 1910. He was survived by his wife Jane who died in Norfolk in 1922. Only one of his sons followed him into the navy: Francis (1879-1911) who is described as a naval pensioner in the 1911 census. His other two sons: Robert (1871-1944) and Alfred (1881-1931) became a railway clerk and carpenter respectively. Four of his daughters married: Lucy (1868-1954), Isabel (1874-1945), Gertrude (1875-1923) and Agnes (1878-1930). Edith (1869-1851) never married and two daughters were single at the time of Isabel’s death in 1845: Grace (b1882) and Marjorie (b1884); it is not clear what happened to Elizabeth (b1872).