Cobdens in Japan

Paternal relatives of Valdis Muriel Skidmore

Charles Henry Cobden 1849-1891

The youngest child of Henry Andrews Cobden* and his wife Frances (nee Baddily) was Charles Henry born in 1849 at Molong in New South Wales. Henry and Frances had emigrated from England ten years earlier, and Henry was a younger brother of the famous Corn Law reformer Richard Cobden. When Charles was only 9 years old, his parents died and he was sent to England, to be looked after by relations there. The 1861 English census shows 12-year-old Charles living with his aunt Priscilla Sale and her family at 62 Park Avenue Broughton, Lancashire. Priscilla was one of his father’s older sisters. She had married William Sale after his first wife Millicent, her older sister, had died. William was a highly respected commercial lawyer, the leading partner in the firm Sale, Worthington and Shipman. Priscilla and William would have had the means to provide Charles with a good education and business connections when he was older.

The Meiji Restoration

Little is known about Charles until the early 1870s when he was working in Japan as a superintendent of the Municipal Council of Kobe. This was during the period known as the “Meiji Restoration”, a time when the Japanese government looked westwards to develop the country’s economy and technology by encouraging foreigners to bring their expertise and experience to Japan. Charles worked for the Kobe Council until 1873 when he joined the merchant and insurance company Edward Fischer and Co. at Kobe. Two years later he was employed with Jardine, Matheson and Co., trade and insurance agents of Yokohama.


Kobe, Japan in the 1880s. Charles and his wife married there in 1877.                       Source: 

In 1877 he met 19 year old Frances Helena Peers Green and they married on April 14th at the Union Protestant Church of Kobe. Frances was the daughter of Mary Ellen (nee Rainford) and Matthew Peers Green. Matthew worked for the diplomatic service in Japan and Mary Ellen worked at the Hyogo Hotel in Kobe. On the marriage certificate Charles is described as a commercial clerk, aged 27 living in Hyogo. His father is described as a “farmer", and Frances’s father as a “gentleman”. Frances had an older sister, Mary Helen, who married the previous year at the Kobe Church.

On February 16th 1880, Frances gave birth to their daughter Helena Mary Carroll, born in Yokohama. But Frances died one month later, followed shortly by her mother. It is clear that Charles could not balance his working life and fatherly responsibilities. Fortunately for Helena and Charles, her godfather  James Dennis Carroll, an Irish American merchant who had been a close friend of Frances and her mother, took over the care of the young child and eventually sent her to relatives in England.

Yokohama Railway 1874 (1)

Yokohama, Japan 1874 by Utagawa Hiroshige III, illustrating the influence of European technology and trade.                                                                                 Source: Wikipedia

Charles continued his business interests and returned to Australia where he married Jane Oborn in 1890 at Orange in New South Wales. They had a child named Henry in 1891 and were living at Millthorpe near Bathurst where he was acting as the secretary to the Great Western Milling Company. The census for 1891 gives his address as Crowson Street. Charles died that year. His Obituary in the Hay Standard and Advertiser reads:


Mr Cobden died on Tuesday, suddenly at Millthorpe, the cause of death being apoplexy. The deceased was 41 years of age, and was born at Molong.. Mr Cobden was a nephew of Richard Cobden, the great English reformer, whose name is so closely identified with the repeal of the Corn Laws; but unlike his uncle, was a staunch believer in protection. Richard Cobden, being anxious that his nephew should receive a good education, requested the boy’s parents to send him to England. They did so, and after completing his education in England, young Cobden was engaged in clerical work by a rich firm of tea merchants in Yokohama, Japan. While there he signalised himself on several occasions by saving life from drowning, and for his bravery was awarded a Japanese medal or tablet. During the last three years he acted as secretary to the Great Western Milling Company, Millthorpe. The deceased was an intimate friend of the late Jno. Bright, and kept up a regular correspondence with him until just before the great tribune’s death. The deceased married about two years ago Miss Oban, of Millthorpe. Prior to that he was a widower, and by his first wife leaves a daughter about 9 years of age, living at Bombay, heiress to a large fortune.

There is no mention of the son he had by his second wife Jane. There is a death record for Henry Andrews Cobden, born c1892, father Henry Charles, mother Jane Oborn, who died in 1977 in Kew, Victoria. I have also found a “Missing Persons” report in the Perth Sunday Times of June 30th 1912 stating:

 "COBDEN - (Henry Andrew), son of the late Charles -Henry Cobden, _of Millthorpe, formerly, of London and Japan, seeks news of his sister or other relatives.”

I wonder if he ever had contact with Helena.

*In reading references written around the early 1900s, it appears that Henry Andrews Cobden’s name has often been given as that of his youngest son Charles Henry Cobden. Perhaps the confusion arises as they both had a brother named Richard, who was sometimes referred to in the articles.