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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Frederick A. Kerby
by Bill Burns and Steven Roberts

Frederick Augustus Kerby, c. 1815-1894


Frederick Kerby came from a mechanically inclined family. His father Francis was a curator of instruments at London University; his uncle Henry was listed as a mathematical instrument maker on the 1841 census, and his younger brother Scott Kerby was listed as a philosophical instrument maker in the 1861 census. It was not uncommon at the time in Britain for a craftsmen to have many family members working in his business, which was often conducted from his home.

In the extensive documentation of the disputes between Charles Wheatstone and William Fothergill Cooke, the name of Frederick Kerby is mentioned in several places as a maker of telegraph instruments for both men in the period 1836 - 1842.

However, the only known instrument to actually bear Kerby’s name is a siren in the collection of Trinity College, Dublin.

Kerby is believed to have emigrated to the United States in late 1842, and there is no evidence that he engaged in instrument making after that. He took with him what appears to be one of Cooke’s workbooks from that period, containing notes on and diagrams of some of Cooke and Wheatstone’s early telegraph instruments.

Cover, title page, and sample page of the workbook
Images courtesy of Richard Warren Lipack / Wikimedia Commons

The workbook did not start as a blank book; Cooke evidently re-used a much older Dutch journal with many blank pages. More information on the workbook may be found at the IEEE Global History Network.

This article summarizes what is known of Kerby’s work with Cooke and Wheatstone, and provides details of Kerby’s life before and after he left England.

The Kerbys

Frederick’s father Francis Kerby published widely in the 1810s and 1820s on theoretical chemistry and was assistant and curator of instruments to Dr Dionysius Lardner and Dr William Ritchie, successive Professors of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at London University. He was not a tradesman, and without further evidence it cannot be said that was a model maker, although he came into possession of models, which he may have commissioned for the University. These models were offered for sale by Frederick after his father’s death in 1835.

Searching the Kerbys and Kirbys in London from 1829 to 1846 shows that whilst Frederick Kerby is listed (in Pigot’s Directory of London dated 1839) as having his own premises at Platt’s Terrace, St Pancras, he does not appear in Pigot for 1841, when he appears from advertisements to have moved back into his father Francis Kerby’s house at Spann’s Buildings. Spann’s does appear in the directory, but just one resident is listed.

There is nothing for a Frederick Kerby or Kirby in the two subsequent censuses or in any of the directories consulted. He and his family appear to have left Britain by 1842.

Henry Kerby, most likely the brother of Francis Kerby, had the occupation of mathematical instrument maker in the 1841 census.

Frederick’s brother Scott Kerby was listed as a philosophical instrument maker in the 1861 census, age 32, at 43A Chichester Place, St Pancras. He was born in Cirencester, Gloucester.

John F. Warner

In 1839 Frederick Kerby married Charlotte Warner, the daughter of the Kerbys’ neighbour John Warner. The 1841 Census records John (F.) Warner, machinist, at 13 Spann’s Buildings, St Pancras.

In 1841 Warner had living with him James, Charles, and Edwin Warner, as well as several female Warners. James and Charles Warner were also given as machinists.

John Warner received the Silver Isis Medal in its 1834-35 session from the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce “for his method of preventing the accidental discharge of fire-arms,” and a silver medal in its 1841-42 session from the same organization for an “Improved Ruling-Machine for Engravers”.

In the 1851 census Warner is also revealed as hailing from Gloucester, the same city as Francis Kerby. The relationship was close enough for John Warner to be named an executor of Francis Kerby’s will in 1835, and for Frederick Kerby to marry Warner’s daughter.

Frederick Kerby

It seems likely that Frederick Kerby worked with John Warner, his much more accomplished machinist neighbour, in his general instrument-making business. Other than his work with Cooke and Wheatstone, only one instrument is known which bears Kerby’s name.

Gloria Clifton reports that she has a note of a mid-nineteenth century siren marked “Kerby 12 Spann’s Buildings, St. Pancras,” seen at a sale many years ago. A siren listed in Science Preserved (Mary Holbrook, 1992) as being in the collection of the Physical Laboratory, Trinity College, Dublin, is signed “F. Kerby 12 Spanns Buildings, St. Pancras, London”.

Kerby siren at Trinity College, Dublin
Images courtesy of Richard Dunn, May 2011

Charles Mollan, who has written extensively on scientific instruments and the physical sciences in Ireland, has examined the Trinity siren and provides these further details:

Kerby siren at Trinity
Image courtesy of
Charles Mollan

Mahogany base; brass; pillar to cylinder housing; two turned pillars to dial frame, silvered front, two dials. Scales 500-2500 and 20000-100000; watch-hands for dials missing. Type of siren invented by Charles Cagniard de la Tour (1777-1859), first described in 1819.

Note: The 19th century Cagniard-pattern siren was not the loud noise-maker we know today, although both work on the same principle. This was a scientific instrument “to measure the vibrations of the air which make a sound”, used to provide an accurate measurement of an unknown frequency .

The 1841 census shows that the Kerby / Warner neighbours included perfectly respectable jobs such as coachman, carman, labourer, stone mason, painter, laundress, plasterer, silver polisher and brickmaker, as well as a coal merchant and a coke dealer in the adjacent “cottages”. There was also a “cowkeeper”. These are, by-and-large, manual occupations without any common interest, indicating that they gravitated to the buildings because they provided cheap accommodation. There are no other real tradesmen there, apart from the Kerbys and the Warners—unlike, for example, Clerkenwell, where every second house was occupied by someone making parts for clocks and instruments.

One would expect Kerby, if he was successful, to have had a house and workroom around Fleet Street or in Clerkenwell with the clockmakers. That he was living somewhat nearer the fringes of London in Spann’s Buildings, and emigrated soon after, perhaps indicates that he was not prospering at the time of the 1841 census.

There is a firm of lapidary Kerbys throughout the period and later, including an Edward, a Mary Ann & Son and a Henry, all either lapidaries or jewellers, that may be related, as well as a probably unrelated bookseller and a bookbinder.

One of Francis Kerby’s close scientific associates in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, during 1811 and 1812 was Arnold Merrick, by trade an organ-builder. In 1851 No 12 Spann’s Buildings was occupied by an organ-builder. There seems to have been a Gloucester ex-pat community in Spann’s Buildings.

As an aside, Charles Wheatstone was also born in Gloucester, although there is no evidence that he had any connection to either the Warners or the Kerbys.

Spann’s Buildings and Platt Terrace

Spann’s Buildings, where Frederick Kerby lived before leaving London around 1842, is shown in B.R. Davies’ “Topographical Survey of the Borough of St Marylebone” of 1834, south of Old St Pancras Church on what was then called either Kings’ Road or latterly Old St Pancras Road. It was a single row of 23 (according to the 1851 Census) three- or four- or six-room cottages on what was then the outskirts of London. The houses faced east on to the works of the Imperial Gaslight & Coke  Company across a few yards of market gardens, and were not far from the Regent’s Canal and a group of burial grounds.

The majority of people at that time lived in someone else’s house as a lodger or tenant, and a lot of people were crammed into small properties. These houses were built and owned by Charles Spann, who also had some small, very poor properties in near-by Somer’s Town. Spann died in the early 1830s; the Census mis-spelled his name in 1841 and in 1851.

The site was taken for the building of the Midland Railway to St Pancras station in the late 1860s. By 1871 it was under “coal shoots” and the railway track next to Old St Pancras Road , now just Pancras Road, immediately north of St Pancras station. The gasholders of the Imperial Gaslight & Coke Company are still there, across the rail tracks!

Information on Spann’s was found through a long piece in the London Gazette, defining “the boundaries of the district chapelry of of the Parish Chapel (commonly called Old Saint Pancras)” which gives Spann’s Buildings and neighbouring streets (all long gone or renamed) in some detail.  Davies’ Map of St Marylebone names and shows the location.

See the contemporary and modern maps below for the location of Spann’s Buildings and Platt Terrace.  The whole area was completely rebuilt in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the area has completely changed since the 1850s, not just with the coming of the railway but also the re-arranging of the roads to the west.


Spann’s Buildings (red) and Platt Terrace (yellow) on an 1843 map
The general area is now the location of St Pancras and Kings Cross stations
Map extract courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection,
reproduced under Creative Commons License


Present-day location of Spann’s Buildings (blue marker)
and Platt Terrace (yellow markers)

View Spann’s Buildings & Platt Terrace in a larger map
(this link also gives further details of the locations)

  Platt Terrace was a row of 34 (according to the 1851 Census)  houses (not a separate street) on the west side of the lower end of Pancras Road, between Brewer Street and South Street, intersected by Perry Street. It over looked to the east in the 1830s the Fever Hospital at King’s Cross and its neighbour, the Small Pox Hospital; marginally better than the gasworks. Like Spann’s Buildings, further north up Pancras Road, it was taken for the Midland Railway in the 1860s. It seems a slightly better neighbourhood than Spann’s. There was an eponymous Richard Platt, who seemed to own most of the small houses in St Pancras in 1818, when he died.

Frederick Kerby Chronology

Born c. 1815.

Frederick’s father, Francis Kerby, who came from Gloucester, published widely in the 1810s and 1820s on theoretical chemistry and was assistant and curator of instruments to two of the most eminent professors at London University from 1828 until his death in 1835.

See footnote for further information on Francis Kerby, his family, and his associates.

Late July 1835, The Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1835
  Death of Frederick Kerby’s father Francis.
    At St. Pancras, Mr. Francis Kerby, assistant to Dr. Lardner and Dr. Ritchie at the London University, and a gentleman very conversant with Natural Philosophy. He was formerly a dancing master at Gloucester.
  Kerby made an instrument for Charles Wheatstone.

The Case of Professor Charles Wheatstone in the Arbitration between Himself and Mr. William Fothergill Cooke.
1832-1837. Professor Wheatstone’s researches &c., before his acquaintance with Mr. Cooke. Page 84.

I invented the apparatus for making and breaking the circuit, which I have since employed in my new instruments, described in the third patent, and which constitutes one of their most important and indispensable parts. Mr. Kirby (sic), a workman now in Mr. Cooke’s employ, made the instrument, which I shall exhibit to the Arbitrators, in 1835 or 1836.

The Electric Telegraph: Was it Invented by Professor Wheatstone? William Fothergill Cooke, Esq. Part II., Containing Arbitration Papers and Drawings.

Brian Bowers writes: “This was presumably the rotary switch used in the sending instrument of [Wheatstone’s] first ABC telegraph.” (Sir Charles Wheatstone, Science Museum, London, 1975)

  Kerby and Moore each made a hatchment dial for Cooke. Moore was a Clerkenwell clockmaker. Cooke’s brother reported on this in his 1868 publication promoting William Cooke’s priority in the invention of the telegraph.

With respect to this perfected Hatchment Dial with Key-board, I pointed out that it has never come into practical use:—that it is now to be seen at King’s College, in the only two specimens ever constructed...

I will here mention, that both the “Hatchment Dial” instruments were made entirely under my brother’s direction; one hy Messrs. Moore, the well-known clock makers of Clerkenwell, the other, by a mechanician named Kirby. Mr. Wheatstone, I believe, never saw them, till they were produced complete at Euston Square. Since the text was in type it has been brought to my knowledge that besides these two specimens of the Hatchment Dial, two working models of the same were afterwards made for the trial in Guildhall, mentioned in a following note. Those models have since remained, for show only, in the Board-room of the Electric Telegraph Company.

Authorship of the Practical Electric Telegraph of Great Britain: Or, the Brunel Award Vindicated, in VII Letters Containing Extracts from the Arbitration Evidens of 1841... Edited in Assertion of His Brother’s Rights by the Rev. Thomas Fothergill Cooke, M.A.

July 1837
  Kerby and Moore made a keyboard for William Cooke which was used on the London and Birmingham Railway telegraph.

During the experiments on the London and Birmingham Railway, Mr. Robert Stephenson asked Mr. Cooke whether the keys could not be so arranged as to have the signals marked upon them. In consequence of this suggestion, Mr. Cooke made the “modification” referred to, which I shall presently produce. Instead of being “a complicated mechanical alteration,” it is an extremely simple key-board, in which the arrangement of the keys is “symmetrical” with the signals on the diagram. It will be proved by Mr. Kirby (sic)and Mr. Moore, who made it, that this “complicated” and abandoned “modification” was at work for several months on the London and Birmingham Railway; in fact, from the 15th July 1837, the time it was made, till the instruments were finally removed, on the 16th January 1838; and I shall also prove to you, both by Mr. Kirby’s testimony, and by other conclusive evidence, that towards the end of the experiments, Professor Wheatstone appropriated even this invention, unimportant as it was, and modified it into the form which he calls his symmetrical key-board, and which he claims in his case as his own original invention.

The Electric Telegraph: Was it Invented by Professor Wheatstone? William Fothergill Cooke, Esq. Part II., Containing Arbitration Papers and Drawings.

November 1837
  Cooke wrote to his mother on November 9th about his “mechanician, who has arranged with 4 or 5 good workmen to commence operations as soon as I give the word.”

My Dearest Mother,

.... I went down by appointment to Mortlake last Monday night with Mr. Wheatstone, and discussed with Mr. Hawes the heads of our agreement . We were occupied at it from 8 till 11 o'clock, when, everything being settled to our mutual satisfaction, our signatures were attached, and the papers placed in lawyer’s hands to embody their spirit in legal circumlocution. They contain all I wish, leaving me sole and entire manager in England, Scotland, and Ireland, with this one exception—that, before selling the patents or licenses, I am to obtain Mr. Wheatstone’s acquiescence in the price. Nothing, of course, can be more reasonable. I am to have a percentage of 1-1 Oth for my expenses and trouble, dividing the balance equally with Mr. Wheatstone, so that out of every £100 I shall have £55 and Mr. W. £45. I do not take any step till the formal agreement is sealed and signed.

Mr. Hawes, in whose advice I place the greatest confidence, is anxious that I should immediately establish an office at the West End, as near the Government offices as possible. This of course I cannot do with my own funds, so hope to find others ready to furnish the means. I have a very clever mechanician, who has arranged with 4 or 5 good workmen to commence operations as soon as I give the word. A large manufacturer is preparing machinery to make and furnish the wire, and I have just completed a perfect set of instruments for exhibition before the members of Government, if they are inclined to take it up. These are all the preparations I dare make at present.

Extracts from the private letters of the late Sir William Fothergill Cooke 1836-39

June 1839
  Kerby modified an instrument for Cooke.

Once more; Professor Wheatstone is incorrect in stating that he first made the secondary circuit effectual by employing a needle vertically suspended with one permanent contact. The secondary circuit never answered well, but such as it was, it was used with two vertical contacts, as described in December 1837 in the first specification, until superseded by Mr. Cooke’s substitution of the direct blow of a magnetic needle, as described in the second specification in October 1838. Mr. Kirby (Mr. Cooke’s mechanician) will prove that the only discharger which ever had the vertical needle with permanent contact was an instrument on the Great Western Railway, which, being of the old construction, continued to use the secondary circuit, even after Mr. Cooke had superseded its general use. Mr. Kirby will also prove that in June 1839, nearly a year after the secondary circuit had been superseded, this single old instrument was observed to work very defectively with its two contacts; and that Mr. Kirby, for the special purpose of remedying that particular defect, then, by Mr. Cooke’s direction, for the first time applied in that single instance to the vertical discharger the principle of a permanent contact; which, as a principle applied to other purposes, had occurred repeatedly in Mr. Cooke’s earliest instruments, as well as in the horizontal discharger mentioned in his letter of the 25th April 1837.

The Electric Telegraph: Was it Invented by Professor Wheatstone? William Fothergill Cooke, Esq. Part II., Containing Arbitration Papers and Drawings.

December 1839.
  Advert in the Times from “Mr Kerby”, selling some of his late father’s models; see below for full text.
23 February 1839, Church of England Parish Registers
  Frederick August Kerby and Charlotte Augusta Warner were married at Camden, registered at St Pancras.
Charlotte’s father John Warner was Kerby’s neighbour in Spann’s Buildings; like Francis Kerby, John Warner was from Gloucester.
  Frederick Kerby working as William Fothergill Cooke’s model maker. The exact dates and terms of his association with Cooke are unknown, but when Kerby emigrated he took with him a workbook with a number of drawings believed to have been Cooke’s, with design drawings of instruments used on the Blackwall Railway telegraph and others.
1841 UK Census, 12 Spann’s Buildings
  Frederick Kerby age 25,  Mathematical Instrument Maker
Charlotte Kerby age 20
Emily, Eliza, and Henry Kerby are listed at the same address. Henry Kerby, most likely the brother of Francis, also had the occupation of Mathematical Instrument Maker.
According to Francis Kerby’s 1835 will, Eliza Kerby was his daughter; other children named in the will are Frederick, Maria, Charlotte, Emmeline, William, and Scott.
["The Last Will and Testament of Francis Kerby of Spanns Buildings St Pancras in the County of Middlesex" dated May 19, 1835]
  The Kerbys moved to New York City, date uncertain.  [1906 obituary for Charlotte Kerby and 1930 obituary for Charlotte Kerby Smith]
By 1844, the Kerbys had moved to Canada, where both their children were born
c. 1844
  Emily Kerby born (approximate birth year calculated from 1861 Canada census)
1851 Census of Canada
  No listing can be found for Kerby in the partial records of this census.
April 1854
  Charlotte Maria Kerby born [birth date from 1900 US census]
The 1930 US Census gives her age as 77, which would indicate an 1853 birth year.
1861 Census of Canada
  H. (sic) Kerby age 46, Clerk, Episcopalian [name mis-transcribed as H. Kerby, but clearly “F” on original document]
Charlotte Kerby age 41
Emily Kerby age 17, born Canada West
Maria Kerby age 9, born Canada West [Charlotte M. on 1870 census]
Hannah Nock age 48, visitor, born England, residence Long Island
Mary McFee age 15, servant, born Glasgow
Single family frame house, 1½ stories, ½ acre
[Canada West (Upper Canada) was roughly southern Ontario. The 1930 obituary for Maria (Charlotte M.) Kerby, later Smith, gives her birthplace as London, Ontario (Middlesex County)]
1864 or 1869
  The Kerbys moved to the USA. The date is given as 1864 in Charlotte’s obituary, but as 1869/31 years on the 1900 US census
1870 US census, 15th June, Islip, Long Island
  Fred A Kerby age 54, Store Keeper, value of personal estate $2000
Charlotte age 52, Keeping Houses, value of real estate $2000
Emily Kerby age 23, born Canada
Charlott (sic) M. Kerby age 17, born Canada [now using her full name]
8 January 1875, South Side Signal (Babylon) Jan 16, 1875
  First mention of Carl Smith, soon to marry the Kerbys’ daughter Charlotte:
    Carl Smith’s Scenic Exposition took place at the Temperance Hall, on Friday evening, Jan. 8.
24 March 1875, South Side Signal (Babylon) Apr 3, 1875
  This is the earliest mention of Carl Smith’s association with the Kerbys; an entertainment by the Ronkonkoma Amateur Dramatic Society at the residence of F.A. Kerby, with parts played by J. Carl Smith and Lottie Kerby.  See below for full text.
29 June 1878, South Side Signal (Babylon) Jun 29, 1878
    Carl Smith has opened a store in the building formerly occupied by Mr Kerby. Mr Smith is also ticket agent and agent for Wescott’s L.I. Express.
10 March 1880, Long Island Traveler (Southold), Apr 1, 1880
    Married: Holbrook, Mar. 10, Carl Smith of Lake Grove to Lottie [Charlotte] Kerby of Lakeland.
1880 US census, 19th June, Ronkonkoma, Long Island
  Frederick Kerby age 63, Painter
Charlotte Kerby age 59, Keeping House
Carl Smith age 38, Son in Law, Painter
Charlotte Kerby age 26, Keeping House
1881 [US Census, 18 April 1910, Ralph L Smith age 29]
  Birth of the Smiths’ son Ralph
1890 US census records were almostly completey destroyed in a 1921 fire; there is nothing on Kerby in those remaining.
January 1894, Suffolk County News (Sayville) Jan 6, 1894
  The Kerbys moved from Ronkonkoma to Sayville to be near the Smiths.
    Mr. Fred Kerby, father of Mrs. Carl Smith, has moved his household effects down from the Lake into a new home, on Hampton street, Sayville.
March 1894, Suffolk County News (Sayville) Mar 24, 1894
Carl Smith is building a paint shop on the rear of his new lot on Pine-street, adjoining the place of his father-in-law, Mr. Kerby.
  “Carl Smith & Son” is given as the name of his business in May of 1894 [SCN, May 5, 1894]; as his and Charlotte’s son Ralph would have been only 12 or 13 years old at that time, this was perhaps Carl Smith’s son from his first marriage, Edward Smith, mentioned in Charlotte Smith’s 1930 obituary.
Carl Smith evidently painted almost anything; the local newspaper has regular reports of his work on fire engines, carriages, shop signs, and theatrical scenery, as well as more mundane painting and decorating.
16 October 1894
  Frederick Kerby died at Sayville at age 79. [Obituary in NY Times, 17 Oct, 1894].  The obituary mentions his having been senior partner in Kirby & Griswold, but no records of this firm have yet been found. See notes at end.
The Kerby/Kirby spellings seem to have been used interchangeably, as both occur in newspaper reports, sometimes in the same paragraph.
1900 US census, 9th June, Sayville, Long Island
  Carl Smith age 58 (April 1842), Painter & Decorator, owned home with mortgage
Charlotte Smith age 46 (March 1854), 1 child
Charlotte Kerby [recorded as Kirby on the census form] age 80 (birth date March 1820), year of immigration year 1869
The Smiths living at #139, Mrs Kerby at #142.
5 July 1906, obituaries; source details and text below
  Charlotte Kerby died at the home of her daughter, Mrs Carl Smith, on Pine street, aged 86 years. 
1910 US Census, Sayville, Long Island
  Carl Smith age 68, Painter, owned home free of mortgage
Charlotte Smith age 53
[should be 57, ref other census data and obituary]
1910 US Census, City of Orange, New Jersey, 18 April 1910
  Ralph L. Smith age 29, Draughtsman, Phonograph
Jennie Smith age 39, born Ireland, year of immigration 1892
Muriel Smith age 6, born New York
Ruth E. Smith age 4, born New York
7 December 1915, Suffolk County News (Sayville) Dec 10, 1915
  John Carl Smith died at the Brooklyn Hospital. See obituary extract below.
1920 US Census, West Orange Ward, New Jersey, 12 January 1920
  Ralph L. Smith age 39, Mechanical Engineer
Phoebe Smith age 40, born Ireland, year of immigration 1895
Muriel Smith age 15
Ruth Smith age 14
6 October 1930, Suffolk County News (Sayville) Oct 10, 1930
  Charlotte Smith died aged 78 at the New York State Womens' Relief Corps Home in Oxford, NY.
See full text of obituary below; this reports that she was born in London, Ontario, Canada.
1930 US Census, Burlington, New Jersey, 19-21 April 1930

Ralph L. Smith age 49, Mechanical Engineer, ??? Wire Mill
Edith M. Smith age 42, born New Jersey, Hair Dresser


Frederick Kerby’s descendants have not been traced beyond this point; nor have any records been found for his older daughter Emily. 

The Smiths had one son, Ralph Lester Smith; he was living in City of Orange, New Jersey in 1910 [US Census]; Detroit in 1915 [Carl Smith obituary]; West Orange, New Jersey in 1920 [US Census]; Montclair, New Jersey in 1930 [obituary of his mother, Charlotte Kerby Smith].  A 1915 news squib gave his children’s names as Muriel and Ruth Smith [Suffolk County News (Sayville) July 9, 1915] and this is confirmed by census records.

Text of references listed in the chronology

December 5, 1839. Advertisement in The Times from “Mr Kerby”, selling some of his father’s models:
  TO PRIVATE GENTLEMEN, Lecturers, and Shopkeepers, &c.—To be SOLD, the property of the late Francis Kerby, by Private Contract, a complete SET of BRASS WORKING MODELS of the STEAM ENGINE, and Philosophical Apparatus of every description for pneumatics, electricity, magnetism, mechanics, hydrostatics, astronomy, light, chymistry, &c. May be seen at Mr. Kerby’s, 12, Spann’s-buildings, St. Pancras-road.
South Side Signal (Babylon) Apr 3, 1875
  Ronkonkoma, Lake Grove, &c.
A.W. ROSEMAN, Local Editor.
ENTERTAINMENT. -- The last regular monthly entertainment of the Ronkonkoma Amateur Dramatic Society, was held at the residence of F.A. Kerby, on the evening of March 24. The play produced upon the occasion was entitled, “The Loan of a Lover.” The cast of characters was well distributed. The part of Peter Spyke was admirably adapted to J. Carl Smith, who is well-known as a professional, not only here but in the west. The gallant Captain Amersfort was excellently personated by Rosary E. Findlay, who played the lover’s part to perfection. The parts of Swyzel and Delve, were well executed by Messrs. G.W. Warner, and G.W. Lowden, respectively. Miss Lottie Kerby, in her character of Gertrude, could not have been excelled. The character of Ernestine, was well sustained by Miss M.L Barnes. Considering the inclemency of the weather, there was a very large and critical audience, who afterwards enjoyed themselves in dancing until the “wee sma’ hours.”
The New York Times, Oct 17, 1894 (PDF)
F.A. Kirby, an electrician, at one time associated with Prof. Morse, died suddenly from heart disease yesterday morning at his home in Sayville, L.I. Mr. Kirby was born in London, England, and was at one time a member of the firm of Kirby & Griswold of Lakeland [later known as Ronkonkoma]. He had lived in Sayville about three years, having built a handsome home there. He was seventy-nine years old, and leaves a wife and one married daughter.
See also Suffolk County News (Sayville), Oct 19, 1894 and The Electrical Engineer, Oct 31, 1894 for brief mentions of Kerby’s death.
Suffolk County News (Sayville) Jul 6, 1906.

Mrs. Charlotte Kerby, widow of Frederick Kerby, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Carl Smith, on Pine street, yesterday afternoon, of heart disease, aged 86 years. She was born in London, England, where she grew to womanhood and was married. She came with her husband to America early in life and lived for a time in New York City. Later Mr. and Mrs. Kirby went to Canada, where their daughter, Mrs. Carl Smith, was born. In 1864 the family came to Lakeland where Mr. Kirby entered the mercantile business, becoming the senior member of the firm of Kerby & Griswold. Deceased’s home for some years was the “Castle House,” at Lake Ronkonkoma, which Mr. Kerby  bought of Alderman Kirk and which house was afterward the home of the late Dr. Zolnowski who committed suicide. Mr. and Mrs. Kerby came to Sayville some ten years ago to be near their daughter, where Mr. Kerby soon afterward died. Deceased was a woman of education and refinement, and was especially accomplished in music, and was a charming entertainer. Until her last illness she had hardly known a sick day. She had been for many years a member of the Episcopal Church. She is survived by her daughter, Mrs. Carl Smith, of this place. The funeral services will be held from the house on Sunday, at 2 p.m. The Rev. J.H. Prescott will officiate.

Source unknown; newspaper clipping in Cooke Journal.
Mrs. Charlott (sic) Kirby (sic).
SAYVILLE, July 6.—Mrs. Charlott Kirby, widow of Frederick Kirby, died at the home of her daughter in this village, yesterday morning of heart failure, aged 86 years. She was born in London, England, where she grew to womanhood and was married. She came with her husband to America sixty-two years ago, and lived for a time in New York City. In 1864  Mr. and Mrs. Kirby came to Lakeland, now better known as Ronkonkoma, where Mr. Kirby entered the mercantile business by becoming the senior member of the firm of Kirby & Griswold. Deceased’s home for some years was the “Castle House,” at Lake Ronkonkoma. which Mr. Kirby bought of Alderman Kirk, and which house was, afterward the home of the late Dr. Voloski. Mr. and Mrs. Kirby came to Sayville some ten years ago, to be near their daughter. Deceased was a woman of education and refinement, and was especially accomplished in music, and was a charming performer on the piano. Until her last short illness, she had experienced no severe sickness during her long life. She had been for many years a member of the Episcopal Church. She is survived, by her daughter, Mrs. Carl Smith, of this place. The funeral services will be held at the house Sunday, at 2 P.M. The Rev. J.H. Prescott will officiate.
Suffolk County News (Sayville) Dec 10, 1915

Obituary of John Carl Smith (extract; full text at link above):
Some years after the [Civil] war Mr. Smith returned to Long Island and lived for a time at Lake Grove, where he conducted a general store.  While residing there he married his second wife, Miss Lottie Kerby of Lakeland, who survives him and by whom he had one son, Ralph Lester Smith, who now resides in Detroit, Mich.

 Suffolk County News (Sayville) Oct 10, 1930
Mrs. Carl Smith
Mrs. Charlotte Kirby Smith, widow of Carl Smith, and for many years a well-known and beloved resident of Sayville, passed away on Monday in the N.Y.S.W.R.C. Home in Oxford, N.Y.
Mrs. Smith, who was  78 years of age, was born in London, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Charlotte W. and Frederick A. Kirby. For many years Mr. and Mrs. Smith lived in this vicinity, living for a time at Lake Ronkonkoma, before coming to Sayville, where they spent most of their life, and where both were well known and had many friends. Mr. Smith was a veteran of the Civil War and a member of the G.A.R. He died a number of years ago and Mrs. Smith continued to reside here until a few years ago when her health began to fail.
She is survived by one son, Ralph L. Smith, two grandchildren and a stepson, Edward Smith.
Funeral services were conducted by the Rev. Joseph H. Bond from the funeral parlors of W.N. Raynor’s Son on Wednesday and interment was at St. Ann’s Cemetery.

North America/Long Island Notes


It is interesting to observe that Frederick Kerby is not listed as having any technical occupation on census records after his emigration to North America.  This failure to follow his English trade is curious, as both Canada and the USA at that time were desperately short of craftsmen, which ultimately led to their advanced use of machinery to replace skilled hands.

Other than the mention in his 1894 obituary that he had been an “electrician, at one time associated with Prof. Morse”, for which no evidence has yet been found, his occupations are listed as “Clerk” (1861), “Store Keeper” (1870), and “Painter” (1880). Presumably by 1880 he was working at his son-in-law Carl Smith’s painting and decorating business in Sayville.

The “mercantile business” of Kirby/Kerby & Griswold, is mentioned in the obituaries of both Frederick and Charlotte Kerby.  Elijah Griswold owned a cigar manufacturing business in Ronkonkoma in 1870. He retired from this business in 1873, leaving it in the hands of his partner, Charles Carpenter [South Side Signal (Babylon) April 26, 1873]. No mention is made of Kerby in any of the newspaper reports on Griswold’s cigar business.

Frank W Griswold was publisher of the Ronkonkoma Mirror from 1871. At one of Carl Smith’s “Ronkonkoma Dramatic Entertainment Co.” productions at local residents’ houses,”Geo Acorn was perfection itself as played by F. Griswold.” [South Side Signal (Babylon), Saturday, June 26, 1875]. Miss C. Kirby also had a part in this play.

A local newspaper story [South Side Signal (Babylon) Jun 29, 1878] reports: “Ronkonkoma (Lakeland). Carl Smith has opened a store in the building formerly occupied by Mr Kerby,” but no other reference to Kerby’s business has so far been discovered. It is possible, given Kerby’s self-described occupation of “Store Keeper” on the 1870 census, that this business was in fact a retail establishment of some kind.

Last revised: 19 September, 2018

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