Autobiography of William Joseph Dibdin F.I.C., F.C.S.
Analytical Chemist
1850 - 1925

Section 1   Chapter 1

Family History

To commence the family record it will be necessary to go back earlier than Charles Dibdin, better known as England’s Sea Poet, who was my great grandfather. He was the son of Thomas Dibdin and Sarah Wesgarth who were married at Southampton in 1729. Amongst their 14 children (tradition says 18) were:

  1. Thomas, the eldest Captain of the West Indian and who was the subject of Tom Bowling, the well known song written by his bother Charles; and the father of Doctor Thomas Frognal Dibdin the Bibliographer
  2. and

  3. Charles Dibdin, the sea song writer, who was born in 1745 and died in 1814.

Charles Dibdin had two sons

  1. Charles Isaac Mungo born in 1768
  2. and

  3. Thomas John born in 1771
  4. and

  5. A daughter

In 1796-7 Charles Isaac Mungo married Mary Bates, by whom he had eleven children including the Rev. Robert William Dibdin, well known in connection with the [ West ] St Chapel, St Giles, who died at 82; John Bates (the eldest who died at 30) and who was a friend and correspondent of Charles Lamb; and Henry Edward.

The Rev. Robert William Dibdin had three sons who have each made their mark viz

  1. Robert Dibdin
  2. Charles Dibdin, well known secretary of the National Lifeboat Society and
  3. Sir Lewis Dibdin, Chancellor of the Diocese of Rochester.

Henry Edward had 3 Sons including

Edward Rimbault Dibdin, the well known art critic and curator of the Walker Art Gallery at Liverpool

In 17-- [ 1793 ] , Thomas the younger son of Charles, the sea poet, married Miss Hillier of Belfast and had two sons Thomas Colman Dibdin, the Artist and inventor of the modern improved method of Chromo-Lithography which he worked out in connection with Messrs Hauliant [ Spelling ] in 1844

And

Charles a surgeon who died in Australia.

Thomas Colman Dibdin born in 1810, my father, married in 1832 Anne Alice Jones whose brother was the Rev. William Taylor Jones the Founder and for many years the principal of Sydenham College.

My brothers were

  1. Thomas, who desiring to follow scientific pursuits became assistant to Professor Peppie in the early scientific days of the Regent Street Polytechnic. He died when only 19 as the result, I have always understood , of an accident in the Laboratory, but as I was only a few years old at the time and can only just remember the sad event of his death, I do not remember the circumstances, but my own experiences tell me that inhalation of undue quantities of chlorine or nitro- or hydrochloric acid vapour in a room might easily have bought on severe inflammation of the mucous membrane etc. In those days experimental chemistry was in a much [ more ] dangerous condition than at present.
  2. The second son Robert Lowes went to Australia to join his uncle Charles in 1858 and in 1864 set up business in Rockhampton, Queensland as an accountant.
  3. The third son George Michael, at first, went to business with the London and North Western Railway at the Camden Goods Station, but after a few years experience obtained an appointment at the St John’s Wood Branch of the London and North Western Bank. From there he transferred to the Bristol Branch and then appointed manager of the Forest Hill Branch. On his marriage to the daughter of Mr Fase {1874} the Jeweller in Oxford Street he took on the management of the financial side of the business and eventually settled down in Sloane Street in a new business of his own creating. He died at Margate in 1912, shortly after the death of his only son. He leaves two daughters.
  4. The fourth son is the subject of the present "life". Joseph William Dibdin was born on December 9th 1850 at the Polygon, Somers Town, now the site of the Midland Railway extension and was christened at the New St. Pancras Church Euston Square on Jan 8th 1851.
  5. I had a younger brother Frederick who died when a child.

As I was the 16th child it will be understood that I had some sisters. Of these

  1. Eve married Mr Heseltine
  2. Fanny married Montague Severn, son of the well known musician.
    Fanny has two sons living, Montague who is the librarian to the Benchers of Grays Inn and Ernest who is an official with the South Metropolitan Gas Company.
  3. Mary married Captain Parker Jones of the British India Line and
  4. Kate who is unmarried.
  5. Sophia who devoted herself to music, died at St. John’s Wood in 1875

Thus I am introduced to the reader. Writing as I do under the portraits of six generations of my own and my wife’s families I may be pardoned for saying that I can look up at them and not be ashamed.

These portraits, it may be interesting to recite – unfortunately I do not have one of Charles, the Poet, but an excellent on of my grandfather Thomas Dibdin and his wife, my grandmother (nee Hillier). Next a fine oil painting of my father at about 40 years of age and a smaller painting of my father and mother painted in oils by my father-in-Law [Augustine Aglio – junior] from photographic enlargements I made in 1880.

There on my mother’s side are oil paintings of my mother’s mother and grandmother.

On my wife’s side [ Marion Dibdin nee Aglio ], there is an oil painting of Signor Aglio my wife’s Grandfather who was the sole representative of the ancient Cremona family of Aelius.

Companion portraits of her Father [ Augustine Aglio – junior ] and Mother [ Margaret Aglio nee Absolon ], similar to those of my father and mother above.

In addition to these are excellent portraits by my daughter Marian (Mrs Paul Montford) of myself, of my daughters Letty and Christine and one of herself which was exhibited in the Royal Academy. In another room, so as to be separated from the oil paintings is an excellent pencil portrait of my wife by my daughter Marian which was also exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Of course elsewhere are photographs of sons and daughters , but these do not come under the above descriptions.

At the time of my introduction to this **** abode [ this life ] my father was engaged on a series of paintings of Indian Scenery, amongst them being one which included a view of juggernaut cart in progress, and on the principle, I suppose, that all must bow down before King Baby, he dubbed me "young juggernaut" which term he often used in later years.

I was reminded of this recently when I was called upon to address a number of young Indian Students, and it was astonishing how it helped to take away any feeling of nervousness at so novel a position.

[ A Juggernaut Cart was used in India for processing a Hindu God ]

In consequence of severe illness and several deaths in the family, when I was about 3 years of age, my father took us all down to a small cottage in The Banstead Lane, Surrey, about half way between the Downs and village and here I benefited by the country air and life. When old enough, it soon became my task to see to the garden so far as I could and I well remember the sharp lesson I received on the importance of doing work thoroughly.

Before leaving home for town one morning my father set me the task of planting a number of young cabbages. I was only about 5 or 6 years of age and did my best but on his return in the evening, he tested them to see if they were firmly set in the ground with the result that he pulled them up and I had to replant the lot. It was rough on me, but it served its turn and to this day I never plant anything without remembering those cabbages!

It is little trivial incidents like these that set the "time" for ones life and if I have been, as I have tried to be, thorough in my life’s work, it is largely due to those cabbages.

I pass to the time when I went to school at Reigate under Robert Read, one of whose sons, Walter, later became Surrey’s famous cricketer. Although I was by no means a forward scholar, I could play chess, so much so that even at that age gave my much respected Pedagogue a good drubbing much to his disgust. The fact is that my father was a very good player and I had learnt under him from very early days. I knew my chess long before my knowing spelling.

There I spent three years under as good a man as one desires to meet, strictly just and always kind, he stands out before one’s mind as a good man. On the removal of our family from Banstead to London, Kentish Town, I went for 12 months to a school in Fortess Terrace but, when at 14 years of age, I had the opportunity of obtaining a clerkship with the London and North Western Railway at Camden Station and knowing that my father had a hard task to keep a large family going I asked to be allowed to accept it.

Much against his wish my father consented and I went one day to the office and on asking what time I was expected to be there on the next day, was staggered to be met with the question " Oh! I suppose you can be here at five o’clock", I meekly answered "Yes Sir" and was there the next day at five am. And so ended my school days and I entered on my life’s work.

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