Walking down a London street you would never know that the actor Robert Pattinson had Polish roots. Despite this ancestry he doesn’t seem to feel connected to any culture or nationality. The English star has had a wild ride since first establishing himself as a screenwriter, then as a Hollywood leading man and now as an award-winning actor. His latest project, the dark fantasy The Rover, is out in theaters now. It is an adaptation of Dave Morris’ 2010 novel of the same name. Dave Morris’ novel The Rover is one of the best psychological thrillers of recent years.
From Poland to London
The history of the Robber Baron family is turbulent. Several cousins once removed all had run-ins with the law. The family, originally from Poland, were envious of their Swedish neighbors. Unfortunately for the Robber Baron family bad blood led to a series of feuds and eventual bloody confrontations. The family was so steeped in violence that when World War II broke out the adult males in the family headed off to war. It is speculated that some of them may have fought for both sides, depending on which side they thought would win. After the war the men in the family either fled to the United States or Great Britain. One of the great unsung tragedies of World War II is the loss of so many lives. It is estimated that over 300 people lost their lives in the feuds and conflicts caused by envious neighbors wanting to be the best at beating each other up.
The British branch of the Robber Baron family settled in Holborn, an inner-city area of London. Established traders and businessmen from Poland began to arrive in London in the 1800s. One such family was the Kopytns, who had arrived in London from Poland in 1849. They were originally from the town of Kopytno in Masovia. Another family that arrived at this time was the Potters, who were originally from the German city of Dresden. Many of the families that settled in London in the 1800s bore a striking resemblance to the Robber Baron family, which led to all sorts of problems. It is thought that some of the brothers must have married several times, intermingling their bloodlines. This is how the Robber Baron name was born. It is also speculated that the entire family were alcoholics or drug addicts. This is mainly because of all the conflict and crime that was a part of daily life in 19th century London. It is difficult for us to imagine life in Victorian London, but it was a time of social unrest, as well as great change and development.
One of the most famous and decorated war heroes of World War II was Lt. Col. Rudolph J. Fabian. He was the commander of a tank battalion in the 7th Army of the German Wehrmacht. During a fierce battle for a city called Warsaw in August 1944 a group of Soviet tanks attacked Fabian’s command post. The colonel led his men in a counterattack, fighting off the Soviet tanks and securing the position. After the war Fabian settled in London and began building a successful career for himself. He was extremely wealthy and a successful business tycoon. It is said that he made a fortune from patent medicines, which at the time were all the rage. Although he is mostly remembered for being in the right place at the right time, his participation in the war was ultimately meaningless. Hitler had lost and Germany was in ruins. Fabian lived a life of luxury in England, enjoying the company of beautiful women and frequent parties. He was even a member of the British upper crust, attending exclusive clubs and dining at great English country homes. He was a frequent guest at Buckingham Palace, attending various royal banquets and parties throughout the decades. He also donated to various charities, supporting a variety of good works. He was a very kind and decent man, who was born into a life of privilege and never really experienced the horrors of war. As a result of his contact with several influential people in the highest echelons of British society he was awarded the MBE in 1958.
The above mentioned families and tragedies make for interesting family tree history. If you are interested in reading more about these families, and the many feuds and battles that raged between them, you can do so here.
This brings us neatly to the present day and another branch of the Robber Barons, which is where we find ourselves now. We will follow the genealogy of Robert Pattinson, later assuming the name of Robber Baron, and trace his roots back to Poland. Like many aristocratic families, the Pattison name was also synonymous with crime and violence. Like the Potters and Kopytns before them, the Pattisons were also traders and businessmen; the family were shipowners and merchants of grain and timber. Interestingly enough, one of the few glimpses we have of the family’s interactions with the outside world is through letters written by one of their number. These family letters contain numerous spelling errors and illiterate phrases, which makes them all the more delightful to read. One of the more amusing episodes involves a business trip to Stockholm, where the Baron bought a new suit. The trip went terribly wrong and the family were detained by Swedish officials. Lord Alfred had a fit when he discovered that the custom’s officers had confiscated a collection of valuable brandy that was kept for ceremonial purposes only. The visit was ultimately unsuccessful and the Baron had to pay for the suit in full. Unfortunately for the Baron, this was only the beginning of his many missteps. In fact, he had already been having financial troubles for some time. The family were known for being extremely eccentric and stuffy. One of their number wrote:
“We always keep quiet about our enormous wealth, as people would not understand our eccentricities otherwise.
“Another relative wrote:
“People are so envious, but it’s our own fault. We’ve always been so secretive about our wealth that people think we’re weird and keep away from us. I suppose it’s better to be wealthy than famous, as you’ll never be popular if you’re rich. But we’d rather be well-known for the right reasons.”
The Baron was an extremely complex character, who was at once an absolute psychopath and a complete idiot. He had an IQ of only 70. A doctor tried to help him and even resorted to strapping him to a psychiatric bed, only to have him escape and flee back to his home. He murdered a man after an argument over a woman and was sentenced to life in prison. The end of his story does not conclude well for him. In fact, he was found dead in his cell five years later. His more fortunate and honorable relatives were devastated and did their best to erase all signs of his existence. Not even his full name was known in the community and the family decided to change the name to Robinson.
Robinson is yet another fascinating example of an English surname. In this case it was chosen to conceal the identities of the true last name of the family. This way, they could stay in business. When the Baron’s mental faculties were functioning correctly he was an extremely wealthy man. He would often give large sums of money to charity, helping to create a better world for those in need. It seems that some of the Baron’s relatives attempted to help him, as they were aware of his mental problems. It was only a matter of time before they would have been discovered. Despite this, they did their best to help him, as he was the last surviving relative. They even spoke to a doctor, who confirmed that the Baron was, in fact, mad. This sort of compassionate yet utterly misguided gesture is not uncharacteristic of his family and their approach to life. The Baron’s life and crimes make for fascinating reading. If you are a dedicated true crime fan then Lord Alfred’s biography is an absolute must-read. For the rest of us it is still a fantastic insight into the English upper classes and their eccentricities. We can only hope that this was a case of mistaken identity and that this Robert Pattinson was actually the harmless member of the Robinson clan.