Francis Henry Proby was the youngest son of Captain Charles Proby, the Commissioner of Chatham Shipyard. He was born in 1769 in Chatham, and was admitted to St Peter's College of Westminster School on 1 June 1779. He left the school in 1786, having been granted the Jermy arms in 1784 by King George III, when he was styled as Henry Francis Proby of Leghorn, Italy. The legal granting of the Jermy arms was because it was a pre-requisite of him receiving the bulk of the estate of Francis Jermy, merchant of Leghorn, who had bequeathead it to him, as his godson, in 1781.
Francis was admitted to St Johns, Cambridge in March 1786, and seems to have left without graduating by March 1791. He was also admitted to The Inner Temple in April 1786.
What happened to him after his university days is something of a mystery because he seems to disappear from historical records. A biography of his sister Elizabeth Proby, who married Admiral Chichagov of the Russian Navy, has very little to say about him, other than that he was a shadowy figure who seems to have been separated from the rest of the family, and that he was periodically at the family home in Chatham in the 1790's, but that nothing else was known about him.
However, a recent search for him on Google established that he had voted in the General Election of 1812 in Borrowstouness, West Lothian. (He voted for the Honourable William Frederick Mackenzie, who was duly returned for Ross-shire.) A subsequent search of the Scottish probate records established that he died in July 1834 at the Quart Alehouse, Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, and an inventory and will were probated in May 1835.
Although he never married, Francis appears to have spent most of his considerable inheritence from Francis Jermy of Leghorn since the probate inventory totals only £156 14s 7d. After bequests of personal items to his sisters and servants, most of his estate was left to his godson Francis Henry, the son of his housemaid Mary Christie, nee Nicol. Interestingly, his will which was apparently written in May 1831, includes the passage "What I leave to my servant for her faithful and honest services and as a compensation to her for enduring so long the malicious and unfounded scandal raised against her the whole time I have been in the neighbourhood, will be nothing divided amongst many, while it will also help her, young, just married and with the prospect of a family, to struggle against the difficulties of life ...." Francis Henry Christie was baptised in the Old Deer church on 14 April 1831 to John and Mary Christie, who had married on 1 December 1830 in the Old Deer church.
Ref: Woods, Joanna. 2000. The Commissioner's Daughter - The Story of Elizabeth Proby and Admiral Chichagov. The Stonesfield Press.
|The Commissioner's House, Chatham Dockyard, where the Proby family lived between 1771 and 1799|
Francis' father Charles Proby had a distinguised naval career. He joined the navy aged 10, and five years later (in 1740) was a midshipman on board Commodore Anson's ship, on his voyage in the Southern Ocean. He was the person who, at the mast head, first saw Pizarro's prize ship the Covadonga, taken afterwards by the Centurion, and found to be carrying 1,313,843 pieces of eight and 35,682 ounces of silver. On the 17th November 1746, he was promoted captain of the Lyme, and in August 1756 was appointed to the Syren frigate, and before the end of the year, to the Medway of 60 guns.
In 1757, he was one of the commanders under Sir E Hawke in the expedition against the French port Rochefort. In 1760, he commanded the Thunderer, 74 guns. On reconnoitring the harbours of Cadiz in July 1761, finding the enemy had put to sea, he pursued them, and coming up with the Achilles on the 7th, captured her, after a severe and gallant action, in which himself, his second, and third lieutenants, were wounded. Captain Proby had seventeen men killed, and one hundred and thirteen wounded, of which many afterwards died.
In 1766, he was appointed to the Yarmouth, a guardship at Chatham; and in 1769, he succeeded Commodore Spey in the Mediterranean, as commander in chief, with his broad pendant on board the Pembroke, 60 guns. In 1771, he was made comptroller of the victualling accounts, and before the year elapsed was appointed commissioner in Chatham.
Captain Proby must have met Francis Jermy in Leghorn on a number of occasions during his naval career, and was presumably able to assist his business of shipping goods between Italy and Britain. This no doubt influenced Francis Jermy in making Charles' son Francis Henry Proby his godson, and ultimately the main beneficiary of his will.