Corbett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Corbett Surname Meaning

Corbett comes from the Old French corbet, meaning raven. It might at one time have been a nickname for someone with dark hair. But the raven is also a symbol in heraldry signifying ferocity. 

Hugh Corbet arrived with William the Conqueror from Normandy and bore this symbol on his crest. He was granted lands in Shropshire and Corbet became a Shropshire name.  The surname Corbet began to give way to Corbett from the 16th century.

Corbett Surname Resources on The Internet

Corbett Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England and Scotlandf
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada, and Australia

England. Corbetts were first found in Shropshire.

Shropshire. The Corbet line there started with Hugh Corbet, the Norman lord, and his son Roger. Their first base was Caius castle. Later their ancestral home was Moreton Corbet near Shrewsbury.  The old timber castle there was replaced by a stone one and they controlled most of what went on within the county.  Their name was law.  The family motto was the Latin deus pascit corvos, meaning “God feeds the ravens.”

One branch of this family, based in Longnor Hall in Shropshire, dated from the 1500’s. The last in this line was Jane Corbett who married the archdeacon Joseph Plymley but died during childbirth in 1792. Joseph then assumed the name of Corbett and was, as his preserved diaries have revealed, a strenuous campaigner against the slave trade.

The Corbetts of Merrington were another Shropshire line and Corbetts were also to be found at Wigmore in Herefordshire and in Montgomery by the Welsh border.  

Nearby Counties.  By the 19th century, many Corbetts had moved away from Shropshire into neighboring counties.  Joseph Corbett, for instance, had gone to Brierley Hill in Staffordshire where he ran a canal transport business. His son John Corbett became known as the salt king. He made a fortune in the late 19th century from his salt works at Droitwich. 

One family line began with John Corbet from Inkberrow in north Worcestershire who married Ann Sandford in 1804 and then her sister Elizabeth after Ann’s death in 1812.  Joseph Corbett, a blacksmith by trade, was born in the village of Stretton Grandison in Herefordshire in 1808.   

Elsewhere.  There were two Corbett outposts from the 18th century, one in Northumberland on the Scottish border and the other in the Channel Islands between England and France.

The Corbet name at Kirknewton in Northumbria dates back to the 13th century and connects with the Norman Corbets who had been landowners across the border in Roxburgh. One family history traces back to a John Corbett who was a yeoman farmer at Allerwash in the late 1600’s.

Corbets on Guernsey in the Channel Islands date from the early 1700’s. They made their money in the late 19th century from quarrying granite and built their home The Hotensias on St. Martins. William Corbet was later known asthe melon king.”  By that time a branch of the family, led by Alfred Corbet, had emigrated to Canada in 1913.

Scotland. In the early twelfth century, a Corbet branch had secured lands in Roxburgh on the Scottish borders. They held sway there for many generations. Corbet Tower in Teviotdale is a relic of those times.

Robert Corbet was the provost of Dumfries at the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Corbets also owned lands in Clydesdale and their name in Scotland became more concentrated later on in Glasgow and Lanarkshire.

Ireland. With the border region depressed, many Corbets moved away to Ireland. They settled in Ulster counties such as County Down and Tyrone, and their name was also to be found further south in Tipperary and Cork. However, these Corbetts may not have been Scots, or even English. The Irish surname Corban, from the Gaelic O’Corbiun, was often in those days anglicized to Corbett.

Again, economic hardship, this time in Ireland, caused an exodus. Most left in the hopes of a better life; while some, like James Corbett from Tipperary, were forcibly removed as convicts. John Corbett, a Scots-Irish Ulsterman, was an early trans-Atlantic crosser, settling in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the 1690’s. Later emigration took place to New York, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

America. Robert Corbett was an early arrival in New England, settling in Mendon, Massachusetts. A descendant was the Daniel Corbett who married Mary Holbrook in 1741. They were the first names that were entered into the Corbett family Bible that was presented by Eldad Corbett to his daughter on December 27, 1825. These Corbetts were later to be found in Pennsylvania and New York.

Corbett and Variants.  There were a number of variants of the Corbett name in early America – Corbett, Corbet, Corbit, Corbitt, and Corbitts:

  • Jesse Corbit came to Maryland from Ireland in the late-1700’s and fought in the Revolutionary War.
  • a Corbitt branch still flourishes in SW Virginia. John Corbitt was one of the first settlers in the Wiregrass region of SE Georgia. His family later moved onto Florida.
  • some Corbets are to be found in Guernsey county, Ohio where a number of Guernseymen, including Peter and Elizabeth Corbet, had gone in the early 1800’s.
  • while most Corbetts entered via Virginia and either settled there or in North Carolina or in other states of the south.

Irish Corbetts.  Two doughty men were the products of Corbett Irish stock.  The first, Gentleman Jim Corbett, born in San Francisco, was crowned heavyweight champion of the world in 1892; the second Jack Corbett, somewhat less known, was a grizzled sea veteran who became the guide and mentor to the great Wall Street financier, Alfred Hatch. A book Jack Corbett: Mariner, recently published, celebrated his life.

Caribbean. William Corbett had arrived in the Caribbean on the sloop Catherine in 1679. His family were, for generations, sugar planters near Johnson’s Point in Antigua. However, their way of life came to an abrupt end in 1833 with emancipation.  Edward Corbett, the planter then, was imprisoned for his mistreatment of slaves on a boundary dispute and died in jail, reportedly “from rage.” 

Canada. Early Corbett immigrants to Newfoundland came from Ireland. There was a cluster of Irish Corbetts at Chapel’s Grove from the 1790’s.  Batholomew Corbett Corbin (his descendants seemed to use both surnames) arrived from Waterford as a shipping agent in 1794 and later bought land in Port-de-Grave.  Later Corbetts were seamen and ship builders.  Patrick and Joseph Corbett died at sea on the Southern Cross in 1914.

In the 1790’s Alexander Corbet sailed from Scotland on the Lucy to Prince Edward Island.  David Corbett, also from Scotland, came to Halifax, Nova Scotia around the year 1817.  He and his wife Elizabeth settled in Cape Breton.  His line was covered in H.W. Gould’s 1977 book Corbett Family History.

Later in the 1850’s, from Ireland, came James Corbett and Patrick Corbett to New Brunswick. The latter, from county Clare, was said to have crossed the Atlantic with a priest and seven brothers. 

Scots born but of Irish roots, Joseph Corbett arrived with his brother John in 1856. Five years later, he received a land grant in Bentinck township, Ontario and settled there. Joseph was an expert in the growing and grafting of apples and his orchard survived there until the 1930’s.

Australia. The early Corbett arrivals were mainly Irish, either as convicts or as free settlers. Two sides of Ireland were to appear later – the Catholic priest (James Corbett from Limerick) and the sporting journalist (William Corbett and his son Claude who were born in Sydney).

Alexander Corbet sailed from Scotland on the Eagle in 1859. He first headed for the Victoria goldfields.  Later his family moved to Gympie in Queensland where they became engaged in the timber trade. This business has now passed through five generations. .

Corbett Surname Miscellany

The First Corbets.  It is said that Corbet came with his second and fourth sons, Roger and Robert, to the invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy.   Besides the two sons who settled in Shropshire, the eldest and third, Hugh and Renaud, stayed behind.

Corbat (sic) and his two sons, Roger and Rodbert (sic), are named by Ordericus among “the faithful and very valiant men” employed by Roger de Montgomery in the government of his new Earldom of Shrewsbury. Corbet was also, according to tradition, consulted by William the Conqueror as to the defence of the Welsh Marches.  Corbet the Norman was dead before 1086 for his son Roger fitz Corbet is the Domesday baron.

Reader Feedback – Huguenot Corbetts?  I believe my maternal Grandfather’s mother who was a Corbett may have been from Huguenot origin. They lived in the Londonderry area of Northern Ireland in the 1800’s. Would Corbett possibly be Huguenot origin or could it have been altered like many others from a similar French surname?

Bruce McHardy (

Robert Corbett in Massachusetts.  In The Corbett Family of England and America, Henry R. Corbett writes:

“Little is known about Robert Corbett except that he fought bravely in King Philip’s War (which ended in 1676).  A quote from History of Milford Town says: ‘Robert Corbett is the first of this name known in these parts.’  Robert became interested in the settlement at Woodstock, now in Connecticut, but then in Massachusetts.  Sometime before 1691 Robert went to live there and he is recorded as having purchased a homestead.”

There were at least three Robert Corbetts born in England during the 1640’s who could equally be considered as a suitable fit for this Robert of Massachusetts who died in 1695, possibly aged 55.

Reader Feedback – Jesse Corbit of Maryland.  I come from a line of Corbits that came from Ireland.   My forebear was Robert Corbit who settled in Coshocton county, Ohio in 1804.  His father Jesse Corbit came to America in the 1700’s and fought in the Revolutionary War. Jesse settled in Hancock, Maryland.

Some background information comes from the history of Coshocton county which was written while Robert was still alive.  Another descendant, Gary Householder, posted the following query.

“I am searching for Jesse Corbit or Corbet or Corbett of Maryland.  From military records we would assume that Jesse was born around 1750, potentially in Ireland. There are records of him in Maryland history books during the Revolution.

Our connection is through Phoebe Corbit, Corbet or Corbett who was born sometime around 1790 in Maryland and married John Adam Hous(e)holder in Steubenville, Ohio in 1811.  This Phoebe is most likely the sister of Robert Corbit, born on Maryland in 1790.

Robert’s family children have names like John, Jesse, Isabell, Daniel, Lewis, Adam and Phoebe.   Our Phoebe’s children share those same names, all but for Jesse.  We have leads in our Housholder family that he was of Irish descent through some of their children’s records.”

I would appreciate if there’s anything you can tell me about Jesse Corbit.

Trinity Corbett (

Corbetts in Newfoundland.  One Corbett forebear in Newfoundland appears to have been Thomas, who got his land in 1796, as well as his cousin Michael who inherited adjoining land from his grandmother.

Thomas’s son Patrick married Sera Hawkco in Chapel’s Grove in 1808.  The Hawkcos were one of the first eleven families that settled in Newfoundland.  They were originally called Hacquoil and had come from the Channel Island of Jersey.  However, they married the Irish and lost their “French Connection.”

Jim Corbett, Big Game Hunter.  Jim Corbett was born in 1875 in Kumaon in the foothills of the Himalayas.  His father was a postmaster at the town of Naini Tal and Jim spent his childhood in an area surrounded by beautiful jungles and dangerous predators.  He fell in love with the forest and the animals and since an early age he knew how to mimic animal sounds and track lethal beasts.

While being known as a conservationist and big game photographer, his actual place in history is one of the best big cat hunters who has ever lived.  Between 1907 and 1938, Jim Corbett killed nearly a dozen man-eaters in India, predators who are estimated to have killed at least 1,500 people during their reign of terror.

He always took on the most dangerous animals, when everyone else had quit and all hope was lost.  He hunted alone and routinely came within five to ten meters of the man-eater before killing it.  His keen senses enabled him to most cunning of the lethal cats that included the Champawat tigress (which was responsible for a record 436 kills).  Those were the times when over a hundred thousand tigers roamed freely in India.  In some parts of the country it was a matter of whether tiger or human would survive!

Such was his renown that India’s first national park in Kumaon was named in his honor in 1957.  And one of the five remaining subspecies of tiger has been named after him: Panthera Tigris Corbetti, better known as Corbett’s tiger.

William Corbet in Guernsey.  William Corbet was well known in London’s Covent Garden and on Guernsey as the “Melon King,” having produced some of the finest crops of melons to be shipped to Britain.  He became a founding member of the Guernsey Grower’s Association.  During his country’s occupation by the Germans in World War II he ensured that much of his crops were distributed to the Guerns.

His son William was able to escape the German occupation.  Having squirrelled away small quantities of petrol each week he was able to get away from the island with seven other family members on an 18 foot fishing boat.  It was a moonlit night and they saw nothing until in mid-Channel three German U-boats appeared. Luckily they were not spotted until they arrived off Start Point when a British minesweeper came alongside and escorted them to Dartmouth.   They were the only people to successfully escape the island during its occupation.

Christian Corbet and His Guernsey Heritage.  Christian Corbet, born in 1966, is the Sculptor in Residence for the Royal Canadian Navy.  He had first come to his interest in ceramics as a child when he was gifted a piece of Guernsey pottery from his ancestral country of the Channel Islands.

Christian’s great great grandfather Alfred Corbet and his family departed Guernsey for Toronto in Canada in 1913.  They had apparently two reasons for emigrating.  Firstly, with World War One imminent, they feared the occupation of the Channel Islands by Germany.  Secondly, Alfred thought he could triple his wealth by moving to Canada.

On arrival, he were shocked to see snow.  This was something he never imagined would stay on the ground for long periods of time.  And the winters in Toronto were much colder than he was accustomed to.

Even so, the decision to move to Canada had more than lived up to expectations.  He profited from a favorable exchange rate and this enabled him to buy a large house in the city.  He later invested in a great deal of real estate which fared him well both from monies he inherited early in 1896, a year after his mother’s death, and another large sum on the death of his father in 1926.

Harry Corbett and Harry H. Corbett.  Harry Corbett was the puppeteer known as the creator of the long-running Sooty glove puppet character; Harry H. Corbett the rascally rag-and-bone man in the British TV comic series Steptoe and Son.  In 1976 Prime Minister Harold Wilson wished to honor the latter Harry H. Corbett in the Queen’s honors.  However, the middle initial “H” was lost in the bureaucratic process and the former Harry Corbett was sent the invitation letter instead.  In the end both men received OBE’s.

Death in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.  Ralph Corbett, aged 76, had lived alone on his cattle ranch of Lannes Farm near Kwekwe since the death of his wife Norma in 1992.  He had been decorated in Italy during World War II and still held British citizenship.

But once the Mugabe regime had begun its policy of farm invasions, his children in South Africa begged him to leave. However, he believed that he would be in no danger.  On August 3, 2001, intruders broke into his farm.  They trussed him up with wire and then bludgeoned him with an axe, leaving the walls of his bedroom covered in blood.  He died in hospital four days later.

Corbett Names

  • Hugh Corbet, who came over with William the Conqueror and settled in Shropshire, is the acknowledged forebear of the Corbetts. 
  • Denys Corbet was a Guernsey poet and painter. 
  • John Corbett from Staffordshire was the salt king of England in late Victorian times, through his salt works at Droitwich. 
  • Gentleman Jim Corbett won the heavyweight boxing championship in 1892.  He is sometimes called the “father of modern boxing” for his scientific approach to boxing. 
  • Jim Corbett, from an Irish family, was a celebrated big-game hunter in India. 
  • Harry Corbett was the puppeteer known for his Sooty glove puppet character in the 1950’s.
  • Ronnie Corbett was a popular British TV comic actor, best known for his appearances on The Two Ronnies.

Corbett Numbers Today

  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 8,500 in America (most numerous in North Carolina).
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Corbett and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.  Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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