Robert Kirtley (c.1797 - 1882)

Note: The original obituary was printed as a single paragraph. Breaks have been introduced to make it easier to read. Dotted underlines show where footnotes are available giving definitions or more information.


At the Monkwearmouth Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon, the remains of one of the old standards of the north side of the river were interred, Councillor Robt. Swan conducting the service. A large number of friends were present to show their esteem for a well-known and highly-respected townsman.

Mr. Kirtley was born in 1797, and had completed his 85th year a few days before his death, on Saturday last. He was a native of Tanfield, but came to Monkwearmouth when a young man, and served his apprenticeship as a shipwright. For many years he had charge of the engine at the Bridge Graving Dock, known then as Hall's Dock. Subsequently he became a wharfinger on the North Quay, and a shipowner.

One of the works in connection with which he will be remembered was his purchase of Palmer's Hill, which consisted of a large accumulation of ballast taken from ships. This he removed, and the site is now occupied by a portion of the important engineering works of Mr John Dickinson.

Mr. Kirtley was widely known as an old Methodist. In his youth he was connected with the Church of England, his father being the parish clerk of the Church at Tanfield. In those days the county of Durham formed one Wesleyan circuit and it was during a visit of the Methodists to his native village that impressions were made upon his mind which resulted in his becoming a member of the Wesleyan Society at Whitburn-street, on his removal shortly afterwards to Monkwearmouth. This was some sixty years ago, and during fifty years of his Methodist life he was a class-leader. At the disruption during the Reform movement in 1849, he left Whitburn-street and took an active part in the building of the old Dock-street Chapel, of which place he became a trustee, and in that office he continued to the time of his death.

He was of a social and cheerful disposition, and nothing delighted him more than a "crack" concerning old times. He could tell pleasant tales about his being present at the trial of George Stephenson's first locomotive, and his recollections of the beginning of railways also of the old days of stage coaches, when he once spent a week in travelling from Newcastle to Brighton to attend his brother's funeral. He could relate racy stories, too, about the times of the Battle of Waterloo and the French wars, and his having to "stand his ballot" for a soldier.

He was moving about actively up to a fortnight previous to his decease, showing an amount of vigour which many a far younger man might envy. His life was a proof that hard work and active habits are not incompatible with a healthy constitution and a ripe old age.

Background Notes

"Shipwright":- a ship builder

"Graving Dock":- a dry dock

"Wharfinger":- the owner or manager of a wharf

"Crack":- a dialect word for talk or chat

"his brother's funeral":-  Robert was one of ten children of Henry and Margaret Kirtley. The brother whose funeral he attended in Brighton was Thomas, who died on 16th Nov 1847, at the young age of 36, of a brain tumour. Thomas's widow, Thomasine, outlived him by 47 years.

"class-leader":- In Methodist organisation - "That it may the more easily be discerned, whether they are indeed working out their own salvation, each society is divided into smaller companies, called classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are about twelve persons in every class; one of whom is styled the Leader. It is his business, (1.) To see each person in his class once a week at least, in order to inquire how their souls prosper; to advise, reprove, comfort, or exhort, as occasion may require; to receive what they are willing to give toward the relief of the poor. (2.) To meet the Minister and the Stewards of the society once a week; in order to inform the Minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk disorderly, and will not be reproved; to pay to the Stewards what they have received of their several classes in the week preceding; and to show their account of what each person has contributed."
From: Nature, design and general rules of the United Societies, in London, Bristol, Kingswood, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, etc by John and Charles Wesley

"Stand his ballot":- individuals were selected by ballot, from a list of all the able-bodied men in the parish, to serve in the county's militia. It was not unusual for men of means to pay someone else to serve in their place. I don't know yet whether in fact he was picked in the ballot.

Map showing Tanfield and Monkwearmouth.