Category: Stobo

Robert Stobo Jr: Phantom Ancestor

Robert Stobo Jr. is more a phantom ancestor than a brick wall. There does not seem to be a church record of his baptism and apparently he did not marry. He is thought to have died at sea in 1836, so there is no official death record either. Yet there are indications that he not only existed, but that he was a successful timber merchant in Upper Canada.  According to “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“ Robert Stobo Jr. was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland on 3 Feb. 1798, the fifth of the nine children of Robert Stobo (1764-1834 ) and Elizabeth Hamilton (c. 1763-1834).1 All the other children’s baptismal records have survived, but Robert’s is nowhere to be found.

The Stobo parents and several of their children, who were by then young adults, immigrated to Scarborough Township, Upper Canada in 1824.2 In subsequent years, many families from Lanarkshire followed them, but the Stobos led the way.3 Six years later, their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, her husband Robert Hamilton and their children stayed with the Stobo family for several months following their arrival in Scarborough.

Robert Jr. was mentioned in a letter that brother-in-law Robert Hamilton wrote to relatives in Scotland in 1830. Hamilton wrote, “Robert Stobo wished to inform his brother James that he has ? the iron plough that it is doing very well and will be of great use on the farm.”6 (James Stobo, Robert’s older brother, had remained in Scotland.) 

Scarborough Bluffs and Lake Ontario, jh photo

As early settlers, the Stobos were able to acquire a prime piece of real estate near the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. In 1826, Robert Stobo purchased two neighbouring lots near the water: Concession B Lot 22 and Concession C Lot 22. Robert Stobo purchased another lot from the government, Concession B Lot 21, in 1834.5 (It is not clear whether this was Robert senior or junior.)

Prior to the arrival of these Scottish settlers, Scarborough’s land had never been cleared, and its forests produced immense quantities of square timbers, shingles and firewood. The Stobo farm was near the water, facilitating transportation, and historian David Boyle wrote that Robert Stobo became a prominent timber merchant.7 Given that Robert Sr. was 60 years of age when he immigrated, it was likely the son who went into the timber business.

grave of Robert Sr. and Elizabeth Stobo, jh photo

Perhaps it was the timber business that sent Robert Jr. on a trip back to Scotland a few years later. According to a letter dated 9 March, 1836 from William McCowan in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire to his nephew Robert McCowan in Scarborough, Robert Stobo Jr. was probably lost at sea. He wrote, “Your father had wrote 7 [letters] in which number there was one to him [Hugh Wilson] which was to have come with Stobbo, the fate of whom with ship and all in it has not been heard of.” 8

The parents had both died prior to Robert Jr.’s disappearance. There was a terrible cholera outbreak in Scarborough Township in 18349 and it killed both Robert Sr. and wife within days of each other. He died on 12 Aug. 1834, age 70, and she followed on 15 Aug., age 71.10

Despite the loss of their parents and brother, John Stobo (1811-1889), Jean Stobo Glendinning (1807-1893) and Elizabeth Stobo Hamilton (1790-1853) remained in Scarborough and prospered on the rich farmland. The township remained primarily rural for more than a century and Isaac, son of John Stobo and Frances Chester, is said to have shot the township’s last black bear, in the winter of 1885, on the Scarborough Bluffs, Concession B Lot 210.11 For the most part, I’m proud of my Scarborough ancestors, but this was not a story I wanted to read.

See also:

For a map that shows the location of the Stobo properties, see

Janice Hamilton, “The Stobos of Lanarkshire,”, posted Jan. 12, 2017.

Janice Hamilton, “From Lesmahagow to Scarborough,”, posted Dec. 13, 2013, revised Dec. 27, 2016.

Janice Hamilton, “The Glendinnings of Scarborough,”, posted Dec. 16, 2016.

Notes and Sources:

When my husband and I visited Scarborough in the autumn of 2016, I wanted to get as close as possible to the area where the Stobos owned their land. The Stobos’ neighbour, Jonathan Gates, who settled in the area around 1815, owned Gates Tavern on the Kingston Road and there was a ravine between the properties known as Gates Gulley. We walked part of the way down to the lake on a public trail through the ravine, and we stopped at a small neighbourhood park to get a view of the bluffs. Later, we visited the archives of the Scarborough Historical Society, which houses a wealth of information about the community and its early residents.

  1. “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“ is a family tree manuscript transcribed by descendant Margaret Oke. It can be found in the Ontario Genealogical Society collection housed at the Toronto Reference Library.
  2. The Stobos had a reference letter from the minister of Stonehouse Parish Church, Lanarkshire that  introduced them to their new Presbyterian church community in Canada. Dated 1 Aug., 1824, the letter is transcribed in “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“.   
  3. Barbara Myrvold, The people of Scarborough: A History, Scarborough Public Library Board: 1997, 
  4. Letter from Robert Hamilton, Scarborough, May 27, 1830, to his father in Lesmahagow. R.H. Martin Collection. A distant cousin sent me a transcription of a poor photocopy of this letter, which is not to say that I didn’t appreciate it, but to explain why a word is missing.  
  5. This information was provided to me by the Scarborough Historical Society archivist from microfilm of the Ontario land records.
  6. Robert Hamilton, Ibid.
  7. David Boyle, editor, The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896, printed for the Executive Committee by William Briggs, Toronto, 1896. p. 133.
  8. This letter was quoted in a private email to me from D.B. McCowan, 31 Dec. 2013. 
  9. M. Jane Fairburn, Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage, Toronto: ECW Press, 2013, p. 49, Also,
  10. St. Andrews Presbyterian Cemetery (Bendale), Scarborough, Ontario. A genealogical reference listing. Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch. 1988 and 1993. M.I. #26.11
  11. Boyle, Ibid, p. 238.

The Stobo Family of Lanarkshire

This story is slightly complicated because of the similar names: generation one was Robert Stobo and his wife Elizabeth Hamilton; generation two was Elizabeth Stobo and her husband Robert Hamilton.

The story of my two-times great-grandgrandparents’ move from Scotland to Canada is legendary in my branch of the Hamilton family. Robert Hamilton (1789-1875), a weaver from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, moved to Glasgow with his wife, Elizabeth Stobo (1790-1853), and children to earn money for the move to North America. They boarded a ship bound for New York in the spring of 1830, and reinvented themselves as farmers in Scarborough Township, Upper Canada.

Avondale Parish Church. jh photo

In 2012, my husband and I visited Lesmahagow, about 20 miles south of Glasgow. We looked for my Hamilton ancestor’s grave in Lesmahagow parish cemetery, gazed at the sheep grazing on the rolling hillsides and breathed in the cool Scottish air. From Lesmahagow, we drove to Avondale Parish Church in nearby Strathaven, where Elizabeth Stobo was baptized in 1790, “lawful daughter of Robert in Braehead.” We also visited Stonehouse parish, where Elizabeth and Robert were married in 1816.

All I knew about Elizabeth’s background was her place of birth and her parents’ names, Robert Stobo and Elizabeth Hamilton. Recently, I delved into the Stobo family tree and came up with a few surprises, notably that Elizabeth’s father led the way to Canada when he was 60 years old, and that several of her siblings also immigrated.

Robert Stobo was probably born in Avondale parish on July 16, 1764, the son of James Stobo in Braehead. When he married Elizabeth Hamilton in 1789, the marriage proclamations were read at both Avondale Parish Church and at Dalserf Parish Church, the bride’s parish. 

Robert and Elizabeth moved several times during their child-rearing years, although they did not leave a relatively small area in southern Lanarkshire. Their children’s baptismal records show they lived in Braehead in Avondale parish, Dalserf parish, and Auchren in Lesmahagow parish. According to a reference letter from their minister that they brought with them to Canada, they also lived in Stonehouse parish for about nine years before leaving Scotland. 

Old St. Ninian’s Kirkyard, Stonehaven. jh photo

The minister who baptized Robert’s daughter Janet in 1792 usually noted each father’s occupation in the parish register. On the page where Janet was listed were a labourer, a shoemaker, a servant and a weaver. Unfortunately, the minister did not mention Janet’s father’s occupation. Robert may have been a tenant farmer, or he may have worked in the lime kilns around Braehead. Lime was quarried in the region and burned in kilns before it could be used to improve soil for agriculture, or in mortar for building. 

Meanwhile, the early years of the 19th century were difficult ones. The Scottish economy was experiencing a recession, the weather was poor and, if Robert was a farm labourer, wages were low.  Many families in lowlands Scotland, especially in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, were dependent on charity for survival. The government began offering assistance with travel costs to people who wanted to relocate to Canada. Perhaps Robert decided to take them up on the offer. The Stobo family left Lanarkshire in the spring of 1824.

The Stobos were one of the first families from Lanarkshire to arrive in Scarborough Township, settling on a piece of land near the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. Daughter Elizabeth and her family followed them to Scarborough six years later. 

Lesmahagow area, Lanarkshire. Google Maps.

Robert Stobo was 60 when he started his new life in Canada, and his wife was 61. Several of their children were already adults, so some family members remained in Scotland while others left. According to “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“  (see note below) their children were: 

Elizabeth, b. 25 June 1790; m. Robt Hamilton 15 April 1816, Stonehouse; d. 15 April, 1853, Scarborough. They had six children, the youngest of whom, James Hamilton, was my great-grandfather.

Janet b. 3 March, 1792, m. Coppy, d. 30 April 1816.  Her birth in Braehead, Avondale parish, is included on Scotland’s People, but I have not confirmed her marriage or her death.

Barbara, christened 14 March 1794, Dalserf parish; m. Borwick. The marriage information comes from The Stobo Family manuscript. Two genealogy entries on say Barbara married Thomas Borwick, 22 October 1832, Scarborough Township.    

James, b. 7 Feb. 1896, m. Jean Muir, Scotland. His date of birth is confirmed in Lesmahagow parish on Scotland’s People. lists James Stobo m. Jean Muir, June 1827, Culter, Lanark.

Robert, b. 3 Feb 1798, according to The Stobo Family manuscript, however, I have not found a church record of his baptism. According to The Stobo Family manuscript and a letter from William McCowan in Lesmahagow to his nephew Robert McCowan in Scarborough, dated 9 March, 1836, Robert Stobo jr. was probably lost at sea.  

Helen, b. 6 February 1800, m. 1. James Stobo of Bog, m. 2. Neil McNeil. Her baptism in Lesmahagow is listed on Scotland’s People. Her marriage, 6 April 1823, to James Stobo, Stonehouse, and her marriage to Neil McNeil, 1 Sept. 1839, Stonehouse, are listed on According to The Stobo Family, she had four sons, three whom remained in Scotland.

Margaret, b. 10 May 1805; m. Adam Carmichael. While her birth is recorded in the old parish records of Lesmahagow, I did not find a marriage record. The Stobo Family manuscript says she and Adam had several children. More research is needed.

Jean(Jane) b. 10 July 1807, Lesmahagow; m. 25 April 1834 Archibald Glendinning, Scarborough; d. 2 Sept, 1893, Scarborough. Archibald was a well-known farmer and merchant in Scarborough, and they had a large family.

John, b. 18 May 1811, Lesmahagow; m. 12 July 1836, Scarborough, Frances Chester; d. 16 May 1889, Scarborough. John was a farmer and had a large family. 

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “From Lesmahagow to Scarborough,”, posted Dec. 13, 2013, revised Dec. 27, 2016

Janice Hamilton, “The Glendinnings of Westerkirk,”, posted Dec.3, 2016

Janice Hamilton, “The Missing Gravestone of Robert Hamilton and Janet Renwick,” posted Oct. 28, 2015, revised Dec. 27, 2016 

Notes and sources  

“The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“  is a typed family tree manuscript by Stobo descendant Margaret Oke. It can be found in the Ontario Genealogical Society collection housed at the Toronto Reference Library. Mrs. Oke said the references used were family recollections, family bibles and census records in the National Archives (now Library and Archives Canada.) This document was originally prepared by Miss Ethel Glendenning (1880-1976), who was a United Church missionary in India for many years. Miss Glendenning gave it to Miss Marjorie Paterson (1901-1980), and Mrs. Oke transcribed it in 1986. I have used this tree as a starting point, checking the names and dates it gives with other sources including the Scotland’s People website,, and

The Stobo Family says Robert senior’s date of birth was 16 July 1764. Scotland’s People lists two Robert Stobos born in Avondale in 1764: one is the above individual, son of James, and the other was born 5 October 1764, son of Robert, but both index listings lead to the same image: son of James, born in July. The Stobo Family manuscript has proved accurate in all the dates I was able to verify, so the July date is probably correct.

I have not been able to find any information on Robert’s wife Elizabeth. The name Hamilton was very common in Lanarkshire.

This article is also posted on the collaborative blog