Bob Marley’s connection to Rye

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Jo Kirkham of Rye Castle Museum has unearthed a fascinating connection between Rye and Bob Marley. Here she explains in an up-to-date and expanded version of an article that first appeared in the 2006 edition of the Rye Museum and Local History Journal, how one of the world’s most famous and revered musicians was descended from the Tiltman and Marley families of Rye.

The Tiltman family

I had been researching the Tiltman family for some time, when I found that several members who had died in the service of their country were not on the war memorial in St Mary’s churchyard with the six family members already there. (They are now recorded on the marble slabs in the entrance to the Rye, Winchelsea and District Memorial Hospital.)

However, I also came across this interesting connection – of a famous descendant of the families of Tiltman and Marley with Rye – Bob Marley.

Bob’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Richard Tiltman was born in Seaford in 1717, was baptised there on October 20, 1717, and was buried in Rye on December 5, 1767, having married Mary Chandler in Rye, on May 5, 1746.

This couple had nine children the second of which was William, who became Bob’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, baptised in Rye on March 12, 1752. He married Anne Lawrence on March 23, 1776.

Of William and Anne’s eight children, the second son, Richard Tiltman,`seaman’, became one of Bob’s great-great-great-grandparents. He was baptised in Rye on March 7, 1778 and married Mary Moore in 1802. They had thirteen children one of whom was Hannah Jane 1824 who became Bob Marley’s great-grandmother.

The Marley family

Thomas and Elizabeth Marley were his other set of great-great-great grandparents. They too had eight children and one, Thomas, born in 1770, in Rye, who married Jane/Jenny (nee Sims) at Wittersham in 1799 and was Bob Marley’s great-great-grandparent. Thomas was the gaoler at our Rye Castle / Ypres Tower for years, including in 1837 when the Women’s Tower was opened, and Jane helped him by looking after the women prisoners.

They had eleven children including Frederick who married Hannah Jane Tiltman on March 1844 in Battle. These were Bob’s great-grandparents and the Tiltman – Marley link.

Frederick became a soldier in the HM Indian Depot at Warley Barracks in Essex and he and Hannah had thirteen children, most born in Great Warley including Albert Thomas – born on 29 October 1851 at South Weald, Brentwood, Essex (who became Bob’s grandfather). Noted as a carpenter in the 1871 census in Essex, he married wealthy Ellen Bloomfield, who was born in 1854 and died on 25 October 1952 in St Andrew, Jamaica. They had two children:

1) Robert Albert Thomas Marley, born about 1878 in Chapleton, Clarendon, Jamaica.
2) Norval Sinclair Marley was born about 1881 and died in 1955 in Clarendon, Jamaica. He was Bob’s father. Norval either ‘just’ or ‘almost’ married (records vary) Cedella Malcolm, daughter of Omeriah Malcolm and Alberta Wilby, (b.1926, d. 2008), in 1944, when she was pregnant with his child. Certainly, he never seems to have lived with Cedella for more than a few days. The child, born on February 5, 1945, was Robert Nesta Marley – later to be known as the reggae artiste, Rastafarian Bob Marley.

Bob died of cancer in Miami Hospital, Florida, USA, on May 11 1981, leaving a wife, Alpharita (Rita), a Cuban lady who was born on July 25 1946, who he married on 10 February 1966, and eleven children.

How did the Jamaican connection begin?

Bob’s grandfather Albert Thomas had an Uncle George Sims Marley, born in Rye in 1817, a timber merchant selling mahogany and other fine furniture wood, in Kent.  It is thought that Albert probably went to Jamaica through that connection because, at that time, most of the mahogany in Britain came from Jamaica. After his marriage in Jamaica to Ellen Bloomfield, Albert left Jamaica to work on the construction of the Panama Canal when his two sons Norval Sinclair and Robert Albert were very young. He died in Colón, Panama at the age of 34 about a year after arriving, probably of yellow fever which killed thousands of workers.

Ellen Bloomfield’s family in Jamaica raised his sons Robert and Norval. Bob’s father, Norval Sinclair, travelled all over the world. His life story is difficult to follow. He worked in Cuba as a ‘ferro cement engineer; then joined the British Army during the first world war in Liverpool; following that he went to Nigeria, reportedly as a police officer, and then joined the merchant navy and visited South Africa among other places. His British Army papers show that he was discharged as a private, so we do not know where the title of a ‘Captain’ that he used, came from.

On returning to Jamaica, he is supposed to have been working as a plantation overseer when he met and married Cedella Malcolm when he was 63 years old.  There are conflicting accounts of whether Norval financially supported Cedella and Bob, but he doesn’t seem to have seen him very much. He arranged for Bob to go to Kingston to be educated when Bob was five years old – but the boy was left with a widow and eventually his mother took him back to her rural home. Norval Sinclair later married and had a daughter Constance – half-sister to Bob.

This then is a strange set of connections between Rye – and a musician who is known worldwide.

The film Bob Marley: One Love is showing now at the Kino cinema, Rye.

Image Credits: Paramount .

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2 COMMENTS

  1. How very interesting, fantastic research and information to read, love Bob Marley’s music, and great to think there’s a connection to Rye! Thank you.

  2. My grandmother was a Tiltman born and raised in Rye, sadly passing away 15 yrs ago
    She was from a large family of brothers and sisters, born in the late 1920 s.
    What a small world

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