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Robert Dumville (c1767-1857): Biography

Many hundreds of present-day Dumvilles, in England, Canada, and the USA, owe their existence to this long-lived molecatching patriarch of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Robert Dumville. He married twice, and had at least seven children by his first wife, Margery Smothwaite/Smirfit (who died of consumption aged 45), and six (one of whom died in infancy) by his second, Elizabeth Johnson. The births of his children span some 41 years, from Susannah in 1789 to Elizabeth in 1830.

Robert died in Hunton, North Yorkshire, in 1857, of 'natural decay', aged 95, according to the death certificate. We still don't have his birth date and place confirmed - in 1851 he told the census enumerator he was born in Masham, Yorkshire, but there's no record there. Nor do we know who his parents were. The only information we have about his ancestors and his father appears in a short biography (1891) of Robert's son Joseph (born 1819):

The male members of the Dumville family in England, for several generations back, were principally farmers, or engaged in some other agricultural pursuit. The paternal grandfather (ie Robert's father) of Joseph Dumville was a farmer and lifelong resident of England. He married, and reared a family of industrious sons and daughters, who settled in different parts of their native land. His son, Robert Dumville ... was born and reared on his father's farm and carefully trained in all kinds of field labour and farm management. He followed farming for an occupation as long as he lived.
He married, and his wife dying, he wedded for his second wife Elizabeth Johnson, by whom he had six children, five sons and one daughter: Joseph, John, a resident of St Catharines, Ontario (Canada), James, Charles, Elizabeth (Mrs R Lawson, Hunton, Yorkshire, England); and one son that died in infancy. Robert Dumville lived to reach the remarkable age of one hundred and five years (sic), and when he died was surrounded by his descendants of three generations.

We have found other Dumvilles/Dummil(l)s in villages near Hunton, who may be related. One, John Dummil/Dumell (c1696-1790), lived with his wife and family at Morton Flat(t)s, just across the fields from Bramper Farm (qv). Bramper was tenanted by Thomas Smothwaite, father of Margery, Robert's first wife. There's still a farm at Bramper.

One possibility is that Robert came to Yorkshire from Cheshire, from the well-documented main line of Domvilles/Dumvilles. The Domvilles (with the 'o') were based mainly around Lymm in Cheshire, but a large cluster of Dumvilles (with the 'u') lived in or near Chelford in Cheshire.

Robert and Margery married at Ainderby Steeple, near Bramper Farm, on 26 May 1789, the year of the French Revolution, and their first daughter, Susanna(h), appeared shortly afterwards, baptised in Ainderby Steeple in September the same year. (A bride already pregnant was fairly usual in those days.) Robert and Margery must have moved away soon after that. Margery's father Thomas died in 1790.

The next recorded birth was at Hunton in 1794, with the baptism at Patrick Brompton, and Robert spent the rest of his long life in Hunton, variously described as farmer, agricultural labourer and molecatcher. Unlike most people in those days, including his second wife, he was able to write his own name, rather than just his mark 'X', and it seems that he probably did receive an education. There were several schools in the Masham area (and Chelford, Cheshire), but so far we have found no record of Robert.

See the list of source documents for more information about Robert and his life in Hunton:

Robert Dumville (c1767-1857): Source Documents