Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robins, George Henry

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ROBINS, GEORGE HENRY (1778–1847), auctioneer, son of Henry Robins, an auctioneer in the Great Piazza, Covent Garden, who died on 15 Sept. 1821, aged 68, was born in London in 1778. Before attaining the age of nineteen he was unexpectedly called on to officiate for his father at a sale in Yorkshire, and thenceforth, during a period of fifty years, conducted a large business. The tact with which every advantage connected with the property he had to describe was seized upon and turned to profit in his glowing descriptions, and his ready wit and repartee in the rostrum, caused him to be one of the most successful and persuasive advocates in seducing his auditors to bid freely that ever appeared at the auction mart. He wrote his own advertisements, and, high-flown and fantastic as they were, in no instance was a purchase repudiated on the ground of misdirection. Among his more remarkable sales was that of the twenty-seven years' lease of the Olympic Theatre, for the executors of Mr. Scott, when, on 20 June 1840, by his good management the price was run up from 3,500l. to 5,850l. In 1842 he was commissioned by the Earl of Waldegrave to dispose of the contents of Strawberry Hill, including the valuable collections made by Horace Walpole. This sale, which attracted buyers from all parts of the world, commenced on 23 April 1842, and occupied twenty-four days, the proceeds being 29,615l. 8s. 9d.

Perhaps no man in his station was ever more courted by his superiors; they profited by his advice, and were amused by his eccentricities. In 1813 he gave a dinner to Lord Byron, Lord Kinnaird, Douglas Kinnaird, Sheridan, Colman, John Kemble, and other eminent men (Moore, Life of Byron, 1847, pp. 182, 282). In conjunction with Mr. Calcraft, he in 1817 and 1818 exposed the bad management of the sub-committee of Drury Lane Theatre, and became the chief means of obtaining a new arrangement by which the house was released from debt; at a later period his exertions were instrumental in resuscitating the fortunes of Covent Garden. He was a great advocate of the claims of comedians and their families to public sympathy; for John Emery's wife and children he in 1822 obtained a competency, and Mrs. Bland and others were indebted to him for exertions in their behalf.

Out of an income reputed to exceed 12,000l. a year, he devoted large sums to charity; once, at Margate, he was assisting the funds of the Sea Bathing Infirmary by holding a plate for contributions outside the church gate, when he, with others, was taken into custody as a rogue and a vagabond for begging, and was compelled to attend the Dover sessions, where, however, no evidence was offered. In an action which he instituted against the magistrates of Margate at the Maidstone assizes he obtained 50l. damages. A tablet in the wall of the institution at Margate records his victory. In a work entitled ‘D'Horsay, or the Follies of the Day, by a Man of Fashion’ [i.e. John Mills], Robins is introduced under the name of Mr. George Bobbins, and there is a portrait of him standing in his rostrum in his sale-room (D'Horsay, 1844, pp. 46–52). Shortly before his death he was offered two thousand guineas and all his expenses to go to the United States of America to dispose of a valuable property in New York. Robins died at Regency House, King's Road, Brighton, on 8 Feb. 1847, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He left to his widow and children 140,000l., besides extensive real property. He married, first, on 17 Sept. 1800, Isabella Cates, who died at Turnham Green on 19 Dec. 1828; and, secondly, on 13 Aug. 1831, Miss Marian Losack. Among other children he left three sons: George Augustus, rector of Eccleston, Cheshire; Arthur, rector of Holy Trinity, Windsor, and chaplain in ordinary to Queen Victoria; and Gilbert, solicitor, 11 Pancras Lane, city of London.

[Thornbury's Old and New London, ed. Walford, 1887, i. 522–4, iii. 225, v. 221; Gent. Mag. May 1847, pp. 556–7; Times, 20 March 1847, p. 6; Illustrated London News, 21 May 1842, p. 25, with portrait, 20 Feb. 1847, p. 128, with portrait; Grant's Portraits of Public Characters, 1841, pp. 261–304; Faulkner's History of Brentford, Ealing, and Chiswick, 1845, p. 323.]

G. C. B.