Joe Lycett amazed to discover that the 19th century ancestor was “criminally insane”
Birmingham comedian Joe Lycett was stunned after discovering he was linked to an insane criminal ancestor on the BBC Who Do You Think You Are?
Joe, 33, learned more about his great-great-grandfather, Robert Wilkinson, who was involved in the persecution of the Chinese.
Robert also stabbed another sailor and escaped the death penalty. Rather, he was declared an insane criminal.
Read moreAlec Baldwin breaks silence after shooting woman on film set
His crime came after a difficult upbringing in which he was forced to climb and clean chimneys at the age of 10. The revelations came on BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are ?, reports the Mirror.
As the story unfolds, The Great British Sewing Bee host says, âMental illness is terribly taken care of in 2021 – it was a lot worse in Robert’s day.
âHe had been through terrible times and was struggling with alcohol abuse. Fortunately, the court system spared him the ultimate conviction. “
Robert was born in Cambridgeshire in 1841 and was sent to his grandparents.
He was put to work cleaning the chimneys – illegal for those under 16. At first Joe sees a fun side, joking: âI’m not sure being a chimney sweep at age 10, even if it sounds Dick Van Dykey and fun, would have been. I love Mary Poppins, but I don’t think it was like that.
The reality, as one expert tells Joe, is that the grim practice often leaves workers with bleeding knees and arms.
A naval historian later tells Joe that Robert enlisted in the Royal Marines. He patrolled the South China Sea during the Second Opium War, when China resisted the British drug trade from 1856 to 1860.
Joe learns that Robert would most likely have been involved in destroying villages and burning houses as Britain retaliates.
The comedian says: âIt was a massacre. Robert will have killed a lot of Chinese. He will have seen horrible things doing to people.
Robert also served on HMS London, guarding merchant ships off Greece. In 1870 he was returning home aboard HMS Donegal.
Joe says, “Life has taken its toll, started to reveal its ugliest side, and I don’t know where that will take it next.”
On the way home, Robert stabbed a colleague in the stomach with a bayonet. The colored sergeant of the wounded William Elton had recruited Robert in the Navy. One account hints at a possible love affair that turned sour.
A shocked Joe said: âObviously it’s an incredibly sad time in his life and really scary. He looks vulnerable, damaged.
Robert was then released from mental health care and returned to Cambridgeshire, where he married and ran a pub before dying of a heart attack in 1908 at the age of 67.
Joe continues, âRobert’s life was a lost cause, but he turned it around and was completely different in his later years. Life can take so many forms.
There are lighter moments too and Joe learns that his great-grandfather, Robert William Wilkinson, was part of the charity group The Buffalos, whose members wore fancy badges. Joe says, âThere is a quirk in my family. There are some strange fish, but I’m happy with it.
Stay up to date with the latest news from your street or neighborhood with our Birmingham News email updates