Robert David Leonard Thorburn (83)

(From Valli Thorburn's [46] biography over her foster father, Släktkrönikan 1956)


Robert David Leonard Thorburn was born on the 23'rd of December, 1858 at Sörvik, near Uddevalla, went through the school for young boys in Uddevalla and the Chalmers Institute in Gothenburg, from which he graduated in 1879.

He went on to the Polytechnicum in Zürich, where he passed his examination as an engineer with good grades in 1882. The following year, 1883, he was employed by Cöster's timber factory, and in 1889 started Uddevalla Barrel plant, which he managed until he died. In 1887 he married Vivi Palm and built Skanskullen where he and Vivi settled in 1891. He was committed to many public missions, as member of the town council, the borough finance department, county council, local housing committee, etc. He was keen on the establishment of Uddevalla-Lelången railway, and to build a channel from Lake Vänern to Uddevalla. From this he suddenly passed away on the 23'rd of November 1911, by a heart attack. This is a brief summary of my dear and good foster father's life.

From his childhood and youth, I know very little, but it's clear that boats and sailing was one of his biggest interests already from the beginning. This love kept all his life. In Zürich he was an eager participant in a Scandinavian rowing club, and with "Smut" he made a lot of sailing trips, both cruises in the archipelago, and short afternoon tours at Byfjorden. An extract from a long letter home, written from Zürich at Christmas 1880, may perhaps give a gleam from his youth. He participated in a Scandinavian Christmas feast, where Christmas presents were distributed to everyone. He writes: "I got a live tortoise as representing my phlegmatic turn of mind and general liking of "maklighet" (indolence). The tortoise as a his symbol was likely just a joke by his friends, since phlegmatic and indolent he was least of all. His parents also considered to give him a watchchain of gold, which he thought was too expensive. "Then now I have already got a nice chain of nickel (8-öres) which is very neat, so I think for the present I will not make use of that kind proposal." The reason that he refrained from the gold was probably not just Scottish thrift. In fact, he likely thought it did'nt matter what metal the chain was of, as long it was strong and nice. During the holidays he went from Zürich to Holland and France, and perhaps also other places.

In Paris he met his wife to be, Vivi Palm, who was studying art in Paris. If this was the first time they met, I do not know, but they fell in love with each other, although no proposal was made. This happened later, when David in 1886 travelled to America for studies. There the yearning for Vivi seemed to have seized him so strongly, that he in a telegram proposed to her by using a Bible code. If anyone wish to know what Bible passage, you can look it up in the English Bible, Epistle II of John v. 5 and Epistle III of John v. 13 + half of 14. Several telegrams were exchanged between them, and when David came home to Sweden the result was that he had an fiancée waiting for him. From the American journey there is a sketchbook, in which David has made drawings of things that caught his interest*. Besides houses and views, there are also a several boats of different kinds and detailed drawings of gates and railings, which seemed to have interested him particularly. In December 1886, when David had returned to Uddevalla, he announced his engagement to the household at home, and according to a letter to Vivi "everyone were so happy and kind, except Greta in the kitchen, who doubted if you were domisticated!! - I don't know how a person should be constituted, that would be fully liked by Greta." In 1887 he married his Vivi, and the first years they lived at Ardmore, that was rented from their Uncle William Andrew Macfie, but they longed for a home of their own, and thus Skanskullen was built,  designed by Eugen Thorburn, but to a major extent planned by David and Vivi. They moved in 1871.

Both Vivi and David felt sorrow, that they got no children. Because of this, they took undersigned (Valli Thorburn, neé Koch) as foster daughter, the same year as they settled at Skanskullen. I remember the nice house very well, even if it was not quite completed at the time, neither on the outside, nor internally. David was fairly well off during the first years. The barrel plant did very well, and sold as many barrels it could produce. But a setback came when they huge hauls of herring ended. The result was big financial worries for the barrel plant and for David, which lasted for the rest of his life. David had many interests. As already mentioned, he had many public missions. Transportation to Uddevalla from the inland interested him much, and he spent much work to establish the U-L-B, which would carry people and goods from Dalsland to Uddevalla and reverse. He also worked keenly on the proposal of a channel from Lake Vänern to Uddevalla. I remember that he made a small relief map of the contemplated  channel from lake Vänern via various lakes to Uddevalla. It was very perspicuous. However, his private and public work did not take all his time. He read a lot, sitting in his old rocking chair, both daily newspapers and "Scientific American", which contained all news from the world of science. He also read philosophy and religion. He was especially fond of Drummonds sermons and Farrar's "The life of Christ". He did not despise more popular litterature, and read gladly both novels and comic papers, but above all he loved poetry and especially Tennyson. He never got tired of it, and whenever he felt sad or distressed by life, he used his old and rubbed Tennysson as relaxation. He also loved children, and they loved their Uncle Dava. Children gathered among him like flies around a lump of sugar. He had an unequalled hand with children. I think it was that he could enter himself into everyone's thoughts and interests, and for that moment make their interests his own. To follow him on "Smut" on a sailtour, was probably one of the greatest pleasures for the youth of that time. His disposition was lively, sometimes impetuous and with outburst of temper, but he was always sorry and remorseful afterwards. "A man ought to have a lot of temper and keep it" he used to say. He looked with much humour at himself  as well as on others. He was good at drawing, and many illustrated and humoristic letters are written by him.

His death was rather dramatic. The town council had the 23'rd of Nov. 1911 on their agenda, a motion by Mr. David Thorburn and Mr. John Bark, of subscription for shares in Nordmarken's Railway Company at an amount of 300.000 crowns. This railway should connect to U.L.B. The town council, assembled in the town hall, waited as long as possible for David Thorburn to arrive, but when he did not show up, the motion was taken up for discussion, and after a short while, the subscription was approved. Soon thereafter the chairman recieved a message, and told the assembly that David Thorburn had dropped down dead, and thus no longer was among the living. In a gloomy atmosphere the town council parted. This was the end of his apparently too short life.


*) David visited also Canada, where he saw his first cousin James Washington Macfie. From this journey, he wrote and draw the sketchbook you can see above.