Robert Oneby

Robert Oneby subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account in 1748. The Oneby or Ondeby or Ownerby family traced its roots far back into history with many illustrious, and some notorious members. The branch Robert Oneby came from lived at Barwell Manor in Leicestershire, which would not make him seem an obvious candidate for a subscriber, nor indeed to be High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1750. Robert’s grandfather John Oneby bought the manor in 1660. Robert Oneby’s father, Robert married twice, firstly Judith Chester, who died in 1706. They had seven children, most of whom died young, but their son Chester served in the army. After his first wife died, Robert Sr married Susanna Webb, a cousin of Judith Chester, in 1709. The catch here was that although Susanna was 33 years old she neither sought her father’s consent, nor indeed informed him of her marriage. The Webbs were a rich family with extensive estates in Suffolk, including Ufford and Loudham, but her father was furious and cut her off in his will with a guinea. The father died in 1710, and the estates went to her brother John. Robert Jr was also born in 1710, the only child of Robert and Susanna. Susanna’s brother did not get to enjoy his estates for long, as he died in 1711 unmarried, and left the property to the infant Robert.

All my lands in Suffolk and all my other real and personal estate to my nephew and godson Robert Oneby, the son of Robert Oneby Esq. of the Inner Temple, his heirs and assigns for ever. The said Robert Oneby the elder to be my executor, and to have the management of the estate until his son be of full age.

Thus were his father’s wishes thwarted and the young Robert launched into the world. He married Mary Braceridge in 1743, and died in 1753, leaving no children. The most notorious member of the family was another grandson of John Oneby, Major John Oneby. Having purchased a commission, he served under Marlborough with distinction, his service marred only by killing a brother officer in a duel. When the regiment was sent to Jamaica he managed to kill another officer, but again escaped punishment as it took the victim eight months to die of his wounds. After the Treaty of Utracht he returned to London on half pay and whiled away his time drinking and gambling. One of those evenings occasioned another duel wherein he killed William Gower. Killing someone in cold blood was murder, but the death of an armed adversary in the heat of passion was not. Oneby’s trial turned on whether sufficient time had passed since words were first spoken for Oneby to “cool off”, and whether his actions were pre-meditated. The first jury were unsure, and referred the case to a panel of judges. The judges avoided the case for two years while Major Onerby languished in Newgate, but he eventually persuaded them to take the case, whereupon, much to his surprise, they found him guilty. All appeals for clemency having failed, he killed himself the morning he was to be executed. The extensive testimony of the witnesses was published and the case became one of the bestsellers of the time.

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