6923-LIFE OF ROBERT KING-HALL


THE LIFE OF ROBERT KING-HALL

 

1856 – 1933

 

 

The main source of information that we have for the story of Rob’s life are the diaries of his elder brother, George. Unfortunately these diaries leave some large gaps in our knowledge of what Rob was up to during his remarkably varied career.

Rob was born on 14th December 1856 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His mother was living with her parents while her husband was serving in Calcutta as Flag Captain to the Commander in Chief  of the China Station. William had sailed for China the previous May and did not return to England until July 1859. He was actually reunited with his wife and the two year old Rob in Halifax as he had been appointed to Indus as Flag Captain on the North America and West Indies Station.

 

1873 - 75 

Rob obtained his first job at the age of 16 when he worked in a local bank in Plymouth  where his father Admiral Superintendent of the dockyard. This was probably the Victorian equivalent of work experience as in 1874 he went back to school in Germany and then after failing to pass into the Control, he obtained a job with Galbraith, Pembroke and Stringer and Co in London.

It seems likely that the move to London was a mistake and that under the influence of his elder brother Russell he acquired the habit of living beyond his means which was to remain with him for the rest of his life. In September 1874 he lost his job.

At the same time William finished his time as Admiral Superintendent and moved his family to London. On his arrival he was met by Russell and Robbie and told that they intended to go out to California. A major family row developed and in the end Russell changed his mind and Rob, lacking the support of his brother, was sent instead to South Africa under the care of a friend of William, called Mr Ansdell.

 

1876 - 1881

News was received from the Cape in Jan 1876. Rob was doing well in the Oriental Bank and receiving a salary of £100 per annum. Six months later less satisfactory news was received from the British Consul  at Le Havre. Rob had arrived as a deckhand  on  a schooner with no money and only a shirt and pair of trousers to his name. After a loan from the consul  he returned to the bosom of his family and entertained his younger siblings, though probably not his father, with accounts of the adventures and hard times he had experienced. He further declared that he liked the sea and intended to stick to it.

Taking him at his word he was then apprenticed to the Bay of Biscay and on 16th July sailed for Rangoon in Burma on a round trip that should have taken 7 months.

In December George hears that Rob has deserted from his ship, taking all his effects with him. This act cost his father £30 (£1500 in 2009 prices). A few months later in 1877 George hears that Rob was safe in Rangoon, was justified in leaving his ship and now had a job earning £15 a month. We hear later that he had joined the Burmese Police.

In May 1878 George, who was on the China Station learns that Rob had returned home and was looking for a job.

It is not clear what Rob did for the next year. He may have spent some of it with Russell who had returned to England in early 1879 before embarking on his African travels with Andrew Chirnside.

In late 1880 he joined the 11th Hussars as a trooper. However once  again he had chosen a profession that did not suit his talents and he left the army after ‘a rough 4 months’.

It must have been a relief to his father, who had recently remarried, when he heard that Rob’s next plan was to follow his elder brother to Australia. Again we do not know his exact movements but he probably left England in late 1881.

We now come to the second stage of  Rob’s life. He is still only 24 and has had experience of working in the City and in a Bank. He has been a deckhand on a schooner, an apprentice on a clipper, a policeman and a soldier. He has  held each of these jobs for less than  a year. We are now about to enter a period during which he remains in the same part of the world for  longer periods and has occupations for which he is perhaps more suited, even if things still tend to go wrong.

 

1881 - 1886 Australia and New Zealand

When Rob arrived in Australia Russell had moved to the Carranballac Estate near Ballaratt and was writing the account of his African adventures in the Ballarat Star. There is no reason to believe that Rob joined Russell at Carranballac and his main base was almost certainly Melbourne.  From GKH’s diaries we get several glimpses of how Rob occupied  himself. He appears to have been a bookmakers clerk, a journalist and an actor. However it is only in this final profession that we get a detailed picture of his activities.  


  Photo from 27 May LUC

 On 24 May 1886 the Aukland Star  reports  the arrival of the Rignold  Dramatic Company in New Zealand. Two days later the paper reviews the company's first performance. Amongst the names of the cast mentioned was a Miss Lucia Harwood  described as ‘a versatile young soubrette who played her part very prettily’ and a Mr R King-Hall ‘who acted the part of her lover and installed himself firmly in the good graces of the audience’. A fortnight later the Stage gossip column of the same paper gives us further news of the young couple. It announces that they have married on the 11th of June and after making further reference to their acting ability wishes them ‘a long ‘run’ of connubial bliss. Sadly this generous wish was not to be fulfilled.  According to subsequent press reports Lucia’s contract ended four days after her marriage and that she decided to return to Australia leaving Robert, whose contract had still some time to run, behind. She then wrote to him and said the marriage had been a mistake and that she had heard things about him that she did not like. In August Robert returned to Australia and tried to persuade Lucia to come back to him, but she refused to do so.

The family heard of these dramatic events through letters written by Sir Henry Loch, Governor of Victoria, to his father Sir William, informing him that Rob was in great distress and wanted to borrow money so he could come home and through a letter from Robbie to George, who was serving in Ireland, saying he was returning to make a home for his wife.

 Robbie arrived in England on the 8th October 1886 to the discomfiture of his sister Francie, who did not relish introducing him to her new husband, who was a respectable banker. Francie’s views were shared by other  members of the family and it was generally agreed that he should be encouraged to go abroad again as soon as possible.

 Fortunately Sir William was spared all these family problems. He had died the previous July.

1887-99 United States and England

     We know form GKH's diaries that Rob stayed in England until March 1887. During this time efforts were made to rescue his marriage. In January George wrote a long letter to Lucia and in February had a talk with her mother. These efforts were unsuccessful.
    Sometime in 1887 or 1888 Rob seems to have returned to America. The first firm evidence we have of  this move is  an entry in George’s diary on 14th Dec 1889 (Rob’s birthday) that the last news they had of him was that he was on the staff of the New York World . This was followed by another entry on the 9th March 1891 telling us that a letter had been received from Rob saying that he was in New York. George adds that it was the first time anyone had heard from in the last 2 years, when he had had yellow fever in Jacksonville, Florida.

Up till now an important source of information concerning the activities of Rob had been the diaries of GKH. In 1892 George married Olga Ker and for the next five years does not appear to have kept a Diary. Without this source our knowledge of  events between 1888 and 1895 is patchy. We know that Lucia had a child in Australia in late 1888 and that she probably came to England in 1889, leaving the child behind. We also know that she and Robert met in England in 1893. We do not know when Robert returned to England and whether this move was connected with  Lucia's arrival in England.

In 1895 Lucia did a tour of India where she met a well to do banker called Daniel King. They decided to get married, but before this was possible Lucia and Robert had to divorce . This divorce took place  is May 1897,  Robert's  grounds for divorce being the infidelity of Lucia with an Australian actor who had been her frequent companion since shortly after leaving Robert. It not unreasonable to question whether the rather belated  wounded feelings of Robert where the main reason for a divorce which so suited Lucia  or whether there were other inducements.                                                                        

    Lucia married Daniel Willis King in Chelsea of 30 Dec 1897 and they later returned to India.  Rob’s movement are not so certain. He may have returned to America, but the next certain information we have is from GKH's revived diaries. In them we learn that on April 1st 1900 Rob sailed for the Cape as a Sergeant in the Imperial Yeomanry to take part in the Boer War.   


1900 - 1901  The Boer War.

 His unit’s arrival in South Africa coincided with the conclusion of Lord Robert’s successful campaign which had lifted the sieges of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking and the capture of Bloemfontein and Pretoria. The formal war had ended and the guerrilla campaign with all its attendant horrors of the concentration camps was about to begin. This phase lasted for another two years.

In South Africa Rob was promoted to Lieutenant and we know that Rob’s unit was deployed to the Transvaal as George heard from him in November telling him that he had suffered a severe bout of fever.

 

1901 - 1915 Marriage

We now come to the next major event in Rob’s life.

Sometime in early 1901, before the end of the Boer War, Rob had returned to England. On the 16th July he married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Louisa Davies, a spinster aged 40, at the Parish Church of the Parish of St James, Westminster. This marriage was reported in The Morning Post and amongst those attending was Rob’s brother Baldwin and his sister Francie Banbury. His two naval brothers were abroad. George was in the Mediterranean and Herbert in Durban.

Lizzie came from a very respectable family. Both her father and brother were Clerks in Holy Orders. Learning this the reader will no doubt be confident that Rob’s life is about take a new direction of stability and probity. Unfortunately he will be disappointed.

Nature had distributed genes within the Davies family as erratically as it had within the King-Halls. Lizzie was a compulsive gambler. In the league table of financial irresponsibility Lizzie was in class of her own. Rob might deal in £10 or £100s, Lizzie dealt in £1000s.

Fortunately for the more respectable members of the King-Hall and Davies families they were to a certain extent protected from the potentially disastrous consequences of this  union by the English Channel. For some time Lizzie had lived in Paris at 40 Boulevard Haussman and for a while the couple continued to live there after their marriage. However it wasn’t long before difficulties arose.

It is not possible to follow in detail what happened but it seems that in 1903 Lizzie received a substantial sum for giving up her lease of 40 Boulevard Haussman, yet by 1907 Rob was asking his family for money. At the same time the couple had opened up a tea shop in the Place Vendome, partly with money borrowed from a friend. By 1913 this project had failed and Rob was making further appeals for money and complaining that he was being ruined by his wife’s gambling debts.

For the past 10 years Rob’s contact with his family had been mainly conducted by letter or telegram. In 1912 Ella and HW had been married from their house and on  a couple of occasions George and his son Stevie had stayed with him for a day or two on their way to Switzerland, but in 1910 George notes that he had not met Rob for 6 years. This was about to change. For the last twenty years of his life he was to be in frequent contact with all his siblings.

 

1915 - 1933  Final years with his family

When the 1st World War broke out Rob continued to live in Paris, but in the second half of 1915 appears to have left Lizzie and moved to Emsworth to stay with his brother Baldie at his school. Emsworth remained his main base for the next fourteen years, but he made frequent expeditions to London where his three sisters and Herbert lived. He also visited George at Hove.

Throughout this period his finances were, as ever, fragile, but he seems to have managed with the help of contributions from Francie, Ella  and Herbert and to a lesser extent George. Towards the end of his life he was also helped by his nephew Stevie.

In 1929 Baldie died unexpectedly and the school had to be sold. Rob moved to London and lodged near his sisters Ella and Edie. By now his health was beginning to deteriorate and in 1931 he had a serious operation.

    On the 6th June 1933 he died at his lodgings at 32 Ovington St, Knightsbridge.

    In his Diary George records his death with the following brief obituary.

 

“He slipped away without a gasp and thus ended the life of my  brother

 Rob, aged 76, after a life of great and various adventures Bank of S. Africa – Ord Seaman in Schooner -  - Apprentice in Clipper (Father and I took him on board) - Police in Burmah - Private in Hussars (Cherubims (?)) - Duke of Cambridge promised a Commission - Australian Press - Stage in N.Z., married a Miss Harwood - Home Docks in London. Agent - N. America, New York Herald.- Correspondent in yellow fever Jacksonville. - Behring  Seas correspondent - South Africa Boer War,  private then Lieutenant - Paris, helps Lizzie Tea Shop - divorced wife - married Lizzie - Helped Baldie’s School - eventually, poor fellow, family supporting him. A man full of family affection, ready to do anything for me. Very plucky and great patience for some years in painful disease, inflammation of gall bladder, operation for Duodenal Ulcer. Very clever but never succeeded in anything, lacking stability owing I think to the brain fever he had as a boy. No idea of money - practically a T.T. , thanks to father’s example otherwise could never have gone through what he did - very sad life - glad he was surrounded of late years by loving members of the family, especially E.D. and Lel.

 

Although they had not seen each other for many years, Lizzie was informed of his death. It took some time for the news to reach her. She was living in San Remo in Italy, having had to leave France as a fugitive from justice, because having been lent a flat by a friend had sold all it furniture to pay her gambling debts.

Lizzie died 6 months after Rob from a heart attack. The Vice Consul at San Remo sent the King-Hall family a bill of £60 for funeral expenses.

 

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