Thomas Vobe, b. 1767

Father of a Bastard, Waiter and Thief

The oldest of six children in a pauper family, Thomas Vobe received much less support from the parish than his younger siblings. He appears in London Lives primarily as the father of a bastard child and as a defendant when he was tried for theft.

Early Life and Family

Thomas Vobe was born on 23 August 1767 in the parish of St Martin in the Fields, the son of Thomas and Jane Vobe.1 Thomas was the eldest of the Vobes' six children: his siblings were Elizabeth, born in 1768; Ann, born in 1770; James, born in 1775; Jane, also born in 1775; and Peter, born in 1777.

Unlike some of the other members of the Vobe family, including Jane, Thomas never appears in the St Clement Danes register of poor children. Instead, he first appears in the parish records of St Clement Danes in the list of persons in the workhouse for February 1787, though this entry is actually concerned with his younger sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth entered the workhouse on 5 March 1785 and a brief history of her family was given to determine whether she was settled in the parish and therefore entitled to parish relief. This history lists her father, Thomas Vobe, as keeping the "Indian Queen", presumably an alehouse, in Holywell Street, Westminster. It also states that her mother Jane had recently been discharged from the workhouse; and that Thomas's sister Ann had recently been discharged from the workhouse and placed as a servant to man living near Hyde Park Corner. Two of his other siblings, Jane and James, were described as remaining in the workhouse; while Thomas, who was now about twenty, is described as having recently left the workhouse for employment as a waiter at the "new England Coffee House".

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Father of a Bastard

Thomas subsequently worked as a waiter at the Devil Tavern in Fleet Street. There he met Margaret Bell, a nineteen year old former servant to her uncle Richard Bell in Stanhope Street, St Clement Danes. They first had sexual relations in April 1786 "and at several times since". Margaret became pregnant, and, when examined by a Justice of the Peace, identified Thomas as the father. On the second of December she gave birth to a daughter, Harriet, in the workhouse. Harriet was immediately sent to a parish nurse in Enfield.

On the 12th of January 1787 Harrriet was recorded as having been put out to a Nurse Chapman. In the parish's Enfield Book, Thomas Vobe, "a Lad that was a Pauper in the House then a Waiter", was identified as the father, but he appears to have run away, presumably to avoid having to pay for Harriet's support.

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An Act of Theft and Transportation

Later that year, Thomas's life took a further downward turn when he was apprehended, on the 17th of December, and accused of theft. Ann Lincoln, a spinster mantua maker of Orange Street, Red Lyon Square, was returning home after work walking along Holywell Street (where Thomas's father kept an alehouse), carrying a bundle containing "two callico gowns, value 20 s. a silk gown, value 20 s. a napkin, value 1 s. two yards of silk, value 7 s. two yards of linen cloth, value 2 s. 6 d. [and] half a yard of cotton, value 18 d." Someone ran up to her and snatched the bundle and ran away. Ann called out "stop thief!", and gave chase. Esther Martin, the wife of a shoemaker of Grayhound Court, the Strand, saw Vobe running towards the New Inn with a bundle in his hand, and upon hearing Lincoln shout, she cried out "stop thief!" too. James Flower, a "Soldier in Colonel Belve's Company in the first Regiment of Foot Guards", heard the cries, saw Vobe running, and caught him.

Vobe was arrested and tried at the Old Bailey on 9 January 1788 for assault and theft from Ann Lincoln. During the trial Lincoln was asked whether or not Vobe attacked her when he took her bundle, and she stated "he did not use any force".

Vobe’s only defence was that he had never seen the bundle, and that he was just walking along when Lincoln and Martin shouted "stop thief!" and Flower apprehended him. Apparently Vobe wanted the trial to be held on the Friday so that "then I should have had people to [speak to] my character".

Since there was no proof that Vobe had used force, the judge ruled that he could not be convicted of highway robbery, and the jury convicted him of "stealing, but not violently". He was sentenced to transportation for seven years.

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External Sources


1 Family Search, consulted 25 April 2010.

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker