Roxborogh Family History and why we spell it without a "u"

The origin of the name and its unusual spelling has long been a mystery. It would be easy to think that the family came from Scotland where Roxburgh is a real place or Ireland where there is a Roxborough Castle and people called Rosboroughs, but in fact the "Roxborogh" family origins are English and have nothing to do with the name itself. Known ancestors come from Walsall in North Birmingham, St Thomas in Oxford, Ulcombe in Kent, and  Worksop near Sherwood Forest. Today most of the Roxborogh families are found near Dunedin or Pukekohe in New Zealand.

In explaining the name this page tells the story of the ancestors of my father, the late Bill Roxborogh. He was born in Devonport in 1914 and his mother was Elizabeth (Lizzie)  Maud Woolley. The Woolley family came from  Walsall in North Birmingham and Lizzie and her parents migrated to New Zealand around 1910. Bill's father was Charles Henry Roxborogh whose own ancestors include Samuel Chapman and Elizabeth Mealing  who arrived in Canterbury on the ship Grasmere on 9 May 1855 and Charles and Sarah Wainwright who arrived on the ship Cresswell in 1859 and settled near Lincoln.

This page was updated in September 2011 to rearrange material and add information about Elizabeth Mealing and her parents from a recent visit to the Oxford History Centre. 

John Roxborogh

In search of Charles Henry Roxborogh

Having to correct other people's spelling of the family name is a common experience and for a long time there was no real answer to the question "Where does the spelling come from?" Web searches sometimes bring up misspellings of people whose name is properly spelt "Roxborough" or "Roxburgh" as is  the case with the oldest reference found to date - "le Comte de Roxborogh"  in a 1748 French translation of a history of Charles XII, King of Sweden (Jöran Andersson Nordberg, Carl Gustaf Warmholt, Histoire de Charles XII. roi de Suède, p.288 in Google Books). The spelling Roxborogh also appears as a variant of the place name Roxborough in Philadelphia. In June 1915 in the Grey River Argus the name of a torpedoed ship was mispelt Roxborogh but this isolated typo was about a year too late to be an explanation for how the name first appeared in the family.

Until the 1990s, beyond knowing that Bill's father and my grandfather was a Charles Henry Roxboro(u)gh who died in Christchurch in 1960, there was little to go on. Neither Bill nor his younger brother Harry, nor as it happens a third son they never knew of, ever had any contact with the father who had disappeared out of their lives by the time Harry was born in 1916.

In the late 1950s Bill's wife rang Charles Roxborough in Christchurch as the one person in a New Zealand telephone book with a likely name, but he firmly denied having any children. Information on his marriage certificates is contradictory, suggesting dates of birth ranging over eight years. There was no birth certificate to be found. A death certificate from 1960 said he was born in Glasgow and that he had come to New Zealand in 1914. Searches in the UK and in online telephone books in Australia, New Zealand and the United States were fruitless.

Years of digging around by different members of the family got nowhere until my late mother Cathie Roxborogh suggested looking up the World War I military records for Charles Henry Roxborough rather than Roxborogh. Perhaps he had put the "u" back in? Allowing for the reinsertion of the "u" (which is crossed out on the first marriage certificate) we seemed at last to be on to the right person.

Although the military records provided red herrings of their own, they did indicate that around the time when Bill (1914) Harry (1916) and the recently discovered Walnock (1916) were born, Charles Henry was using a number of aliases, and that he had a police record. The next step was to look in the police archives in Dunedin. These gave details of charges and provided a reasonably handsome looking photograph. Was there a family likeness? Possibly. I put the evidence on a spreadsheet to puzzle over the patterns and look for ideas. It still seemed that Charles' real name was indeed Roxborogh or Roxborough, also that he had had some association with Ashburton.

However a visit to the genealogy room in the Canterbury Public Library raised another possibility. There I came across a 3" x 5" card record of a marriage of a Charles William Chapman and a Mary Elizabeth Wainwright on 6 January 1891. The June 1914 marriage certificate for Charles Henry Roxborogh had given his parents as William Charles Roxborogh and Elizabeth (Wainwright). The police records indicated that Chapman was a known alias - could it in fact be his real name?

Charles Roxborough's marriage certificates has variations in the names of his parents. In 1917 they were Charles William Roxborough and Ellen Winton, in 1933 William Harry Roxborough and Mary Wainwright, and in 1946  William Charles Roxborough and Elizabeth Mary Wainwright. The 1917 marriage was bigamous and thus the more likely to have fictitious details, but Wainwright is given as the name of his mother on his three legal marriages. The 1891 date of the Chapman-Wainwright marriage was within a possible range given that his ages on the marriage certificates and death certificate suggested a range of years for his date of birth from 1891 to 1898. 

It now seemed possible that Charles Henry's real family name was Chapman and that he was not born in Scotland but somewhere in Christchurch or Canterbury. This was exciting, but more information was needed.

A member of the Ashburton Association of Genealogists helped me take the story further. Familiar with work on the Chapman family, they put me in touch with Chapman family researchers. A few months later I received a copy of the family tree for Charles William and Mary Elizabeth Chapman. This gave the birth date of Charles Henry Chapman as 6 April 1893. At last we had the right person and his real name. Soon I had the long sought for birth certificate and some baby and childhood photos to add to the one from the police files.

When it came available I discovered that  PapersPast had newspaper clippings of court cases including references to Charles Henry Roxborough's trial for bigamy and his escape from prison in Hamilton. Research by other members of the Chapman family helped fill out the story of his siblings and his ancestors, most of whose lives appear more straightforward. 

A key part of the riddle was now solved. We can now say that as a family name, the spelling "Roxborogh" is unique to the known New Zealand descendants of Charles Henry Chapman, aka Roxborogh and Roxborough, and Lizzie Maud Woolley and their two sons, William (Bill) and Harry.  His other son Walnock carried the name Sabin.

We do not know why Charles Henry Chapman became the black sheep of the family, how he got into a life of crime and deception, or why he refused to acknowledge his adult sons whose own difficulties were compounded by their father's absence, silence, denial, and refusal to engage. At the same time Charles Henry was not their only ancestor, or ours, and the story of his parents, and those of his first wife Lizzie Maud Woolley, the mother of Bill and Harry, is also part of who we are.

Charles Henry Chapman (1893-1960)

Charles Henry Chapman in March 1918 aged 24Charles was the second child of Charles William Chapman and Mary Elizabeth Wainwright. He was born in the Wairiri Valley near Glentunnel and Hororata, Canterbury, 6 April 1893 and he died in Christchurch on 5 October 1960. His older brother Joseph was born in Lincoln in 1892, and his younger siblings were David, Ada, William, Edith, Gilbert, Archie and Ernest.

Places associated with his early years are mostly in the Selwyn District of the Canterbury Plains just south of Christchurch. The house where the family lived, at least around the years 1904 to 1906, at 36 Kildare Terrace, Lincoln, is still recognizable. It is fairly easy to locate on Google Earth Street View.

His marriage to Lizzie Maud Woolley in June 1914 when he adopted the name Roxborogh was the first of four, but subsequently he spelt Roxborogh with a "u". His first son, Bill, was born 6 October 1914. In August 1915 there was a warrant out for the arrest of "Charles Roxborough" for failing to maintain his wife and it was noted that he "may assume the name Chapman".

Their second son, Harry was born in February 1916.  Around then another son was conceived and Walnock was born in November 1916 to Irene Muriel Thompson and later adopted with the surname Sabin. A month later Charles was arrested in Hamilton, but escaped. The Ashburton Guardian reported the decision of the Supreme Court in Auckland on the 15th of April.

Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXVI, Issue 8427, 17 April 1916, Page 7




Whilst serving this sentence Charles was recruited from the Invercargill borstal in January 1917 to serve in the army. He was sent for training to Trentham Camp, but in April he escaped to Masterton and married a domestic servant who had stolen her employee's clothes for the occasion. He was quickly picked up for bigamy and sentenced to prison in Wellington.

The delay in leaving for the war in Europe may well have saved his life. Eventually he left in June 1918 with "E" Company, 39th Reinforcements, sailing on the Athenic. The aging troop ship got through Panama and then ran aground in Jamaica. The ship was repaired with concrete and the contingent of 783 soldiers reached Liverpool on the 31st of August, not long before hostilities ceased in November. By October 1919 Charles was back in New Zealand and discharged, but following his robbery of a store in Shannon, by 1922 he was again in prison, this time in Mt Eden in Auckland.

Charles and Lizzie divorced in November 1920. He remarried in 1933 and divorced in 1946. His last marriage was in March 1946 and he lived at 23A Tainui Street, Christchurch. He probably worked as a jobbing builder. He was remembered as charming but the darker sides to his character remained. He was cremated and there is no known memorial.

His three sons never discovered the information about him now available from army and police records, and through newspapers, nor did they ever see a photograph of their father before they died. Charles had no other known children. His treatment of his first wife and their two boys, as of some others through his life,  left scars exacerbated by subsequent childhood experiences.

Charles William Chapman (1868 - 1939) and Mary Elizabeth Wainwright  (1869 - 1934)

Charles Henry's father, Charles William Chapman was born in Prebbleton, now near Lincoln University, on January 9, 1868 to Samuel Chapman and Elizabeth Mealing. His mother, Mary Elizabeth Wainwright and her twin sister Susannah Bridget were born in Springston, also near Lincoln, on 26 January 1869 to Charles Wainwright and Sarah Keeling. They were married on 6 January 1891 in St Andrew's Church Christchurch and for a time they lived at 36 Kildare Terrace, Lincoln. The house still exists and can be seen on Google street view.

Their descendants apart from Charles Henry, are traced in various Chapman family histories. After Mary died in May 1934 (she is buried in Bromley Cemetery, Christchurch, Block 11, Plot 294), Charles moved to Auckland. It is somewhat uncanny that he is buried in O'Neill's Point Cemetery on the North Shore (row I, plot 140) not far from Lizzie Roxborogh / Perret, the daughter-in-law he probably never met.

Samuel Chapman (1829 - 1910) and Elizabeth Mealing (1839 - 1919)

Samuel was a young agricultural labourer from Ulcombe in Kent who migrated to Australia in 1851, sailing on the Charlote Jane from London or Plymouth 8 October for Port Adelaide before moving on to New Zealand in 1854. He married Elizabeth Mealing (or Maling) at St Michael's Christchurch  on 10 July 1856. They lived in Prebbleton for much of their married life, but Samuel was in Melbourne when he died on 14 July 1910.

Elizabeth was born in Holybush Row, a poor area of Oxford near the canal and later the Railway Station in the parish of St Thomas where she was baptised 17 September 1839 and her parents Rachael Collis and William Maling or Mealing had been married on 24 March 1834. She was a passenger on the Wanata which  reached Melbourne  22 January 1854 from Southampton. Her ancestry is described as English and Welsh. She later sailed for New Zealand on the Grasmere reaching Lyttellton 4  May 1855.    Her elder brother William also migrated to New Zealand and died 24 June 1919 in Christchurch. There is a record of her mother Rachael Collis being supported by the Oxford Workhouse when she died in the neigbouring parish of St Barnabas in 1900.

Charles Wainwright (1833 - 1906) and Sarah Keeling (1831 - 1909)

Charles Wainwright and Sarah Keeling  were married in Worksop Nottinghamshire in 1850 and sailed on the Cresswell, leaving Gravesend London 27 May 1859 with their daughter Sarah. They arrived in Lyttelton on 12 September 1859. They settled near Christchurch, living in Kaiapoi, then Springston. Later they moved to Mt Stuart near Waitahuna on the main road from Dunedin to Central Otago. They are buried in plot 7, block 12, an unmarked grave, in the Waitahuna Cemetery.

Lizzie Maud Woolley (1889 - 1929)

Elizabeth, know as Lizzie, was born at 161 Whitehall Road, Walsall, near Birmingham in England, on 5 December 1889, the eldest child of William John Woolley (after whom I am named) and Jane Adkins. The family migrated to New Zealand around 1910 and lived in Devonport, Auckland. She was one of four children, including a brother William Henry who was married to Blanche and lived in Cambridge, and another brother, Harry, who is remembered to have lost an arm in World War I.

As noted, Lizzie married Charles Henry Roxborogh on 1 June 1914. Their first child Bill was born in Devonport on 6 October 1914, and their second, Harry on 19 February 1916. After Lizzie Maud and Charles Henry Roxborogh divorced on 13 November 1920, Lizzie married John Douglas Perrett, on 16 November 1920 in the Presbyterian Manse, Devonport. She died following childbirth aged 36 at 22 Oxford Terrace Devonport on 27 June 1929, and is buried in the O'Neill's Point Cemetery, row I, plot 196. There was one son, Trevor and three daughters, Barbara, Shirley and Diane, from her second marriage.

Lizzie's father, William John Woolley  was born about 1864 and at the time of the 1881 census he and his parents Henry Woolley and Ann (Barnett) and their 6 children, William, Albert, Harry, Clara, Sarah Jane and Lizzie, were living at 72 Ablewell Street, Walsall in north Birmingham. In 1895 they were living at 53 Queen Street. There are records of the baptisms of Sarah Jane (7 March 1875) and Clara (25 August 1872) in St Matthew's Church, Walsall. Both parents were born around 1834, but so far searching has not unearthed a record of their marriage or that of William John Woolley to Jane Adkins. William John Woolley died at 10 Beaconsfield Street, Devonport 30 May 1924. Jane Adkins died 3 December 1937 and is buried in O'Neill's Point Cemetery in row F plot 209 next to William John (whom John Roxborogh is named after) in plot 208.

John Roxborogh

When Bill married my mother, Cathie Matthews, in Te Aroha near Morrinsville where I was born in 1945, it was his second marriage. Within a few years Bill had become an absent mystery in my life as his own father had been in his. I spent my early years in Morrinsville until having a year in England and later school and university in Auckland. Engineering and then Christian faith and now both together became important to me.

Reconnecting with my brothers and sisters from Bill's other relationships has helped my sense of identity, though for a long while this dimension of my life was difficult to process. In the long run I have come to realise that it is important to both accept the past and to take responsibility for one's own decisions. Perhaps a rather surprising number of us on this side of my family share Christian faith and have grown to understand how complicated life can be for many people, not just ourselves.  It seems God may be less fazed by some of this than I at least used to be. Acceptance and healing is part of what Jesus was about and "healing the family tree" can be a meaningful prayer. Without our ancestors we would not be who we are. The name Roxborogh will always be at the end of the day what we decide to make it.  

We have the opportunity to write our own story and shape what we hand on and there are many achievements of people to be proud of. Those of us who are children of Bill or Harry Roxborogh rejoice in having siblings and half-siblings who share a connection with the family name, its spelling, and the mystery of its origin. We welcome the descendants of Walnock Thompson Sabin to this family.

Possibly the least serious of Charles Henry Chapman's many failings was his spelling, but his uncertainty about whether or not to include a "u" has in the internet age provided an asset. Roxborogh is a unique identifier and the domain name of this website. It is appropriate that it helps the sharing of his story and ours.

John Roxborogh

Last Updated: 6 September 2011