A Cautionary Tale

Project volunteer Mary Jessop offers an insight into the process of researching the glass plates and the common trap of making assumptions…


Dobbyn, Esq. R.N. Photographed by Knights Whittome, 20 Mar 1915


Dobbyn, Esq. R.N. Photographed by Knights Whittome, 20 Mar 1915

“Anyone who has attempted family history research will know how easy it is to get your wires crossed and end up researching the wrong person.  Our information on this young man was that his name was Dobbyn Esq. RN.  A Navy man with a very unusual name, he should be easy to trace. He appeared on the Navy Lists – Lieutenant Aubrey Dobbyn, the son of a Royal Navy Surgeon living in Norwood, South London. Some discussion ensued as to why he came to Sutton to have his photograph taken when there were many photographers’ shops closer to his home.  Well, there could be lots of reasons, friends or relatives in the area perhaps? And he did marry a girl from Wallington after the war.

Once the image on the small glass plate had been scanned onto the computer I took a print of it home to research and write up. I looked at his slight frame in what seemed to be a slightly too large uniform, he looked very young and vulnerable and I was pleased that I knew that he had survived the war. Then I noticed something was wrong – he was wearing an army uniform – he was not in the Navy, R.N. were his initials.

Lieutenant Robert Newport Dobbyn came from an old established Protestant Irish family that had lived in Ballinakill House in Waterford for several generations. He was the only son of Robert and Annette Dobbyn and had two sisters, Mary and Iris. Robert is wearing the uniform of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) in these photographs but he later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (the forerunner of the RAF) which had been formed in 1912. He appears to have been based at Croydon Aerodrome, which was a used for training pilots and air crew at this time. Robert was commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on the 4th August 1916.  Sadly, Robert died, aged 23, in an air accident while flying over Hounslow on 23 November 1916. He was buried in the private family graveyard at Ballinakill House.”


Dobbyn, Esq. R.N. Photographed by Knights Whittome, 20 Mar 1915


www.askaboutireland.ie (The Waterford News, 1st December 1916, page 8)

www.ancestry.co.uk  Ireland, Casualties of War 1914-2; Medal Rolls, World War 1

The First Croydon Airport 1915-1928, ed. Douglas Cluet, published by Sutton Libraries


4 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale

  1. “Sadly, Robert died, aged 23, in an air accident while flying over Hounslow on 23 November 1916.”
    [I can add] Dobbyn was part of No. 17 Reserve Squadron, which operated the fragile B.E.12 single-seat aeroplane, (essentially a B.E.2c). On that fateful day:
    He shouted ‘Contact’ to the air mechanic who swung the four bladed propeller, it’s RAF-4a air-cooled V12 engine rasped into life, after three initial blasts, the engine idled. The air mechanic pulled away the chocks, gave the signal ‘all clear.’
    Dobbyn increased the revolutions and eased No. 6666 gently along the grass strip, finally turning the aircraft into the wind. One quick final check, and B.E. 12 No. 6666 was racing along the grass, then with the slightest of touches it lifted off the ground, gradually gaining height. For some inexplicable reason the Irishman then guided the aircraft out of the wind: “Attempted to turn out of the wind whilst climbing” this caused a catastrophic situation “The engine was starved of fuel so stalled,” at less than 500 feet the aircraft’s nose dropped and smashed into the ground killing the 23 year old.
    Result of accident “pilot killed” and “machine completely wrecked” (RAF Form 554)
    A court of enquiry on 5 December found: “Acc’ was caused by an error of judgement on part of pilot.”
    The Next of Kin (Mother) was notified via Dobbyn & McCoy, 5 Coldbeck Street, Waterford. She broke the sad news to his wife Annette. It would be nine months before the probate was cleared in London on 27 July 1917. Leaving his widow £190 02s


  2. My husband and myself lived in Waterford for 11years at Blenheim House.My maiden name was Elizabeth Dobbyn.I am Catholic.We knew of a family who lived in Island Lane.The mother was a Dobbyn of the Protestant branch.My relations were mainly Tipperary people.


  3. Pingback: A Cautionary Tale Updated: Robert Newport Dobbyn | The Past on Glass

  4. This Robert Dobbyn is my 1st cousin 4x removed. I was researching his grandfather when I come across this. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful pictures and bring him to life for me.


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