Tobin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Tobin Meaning
The Tobin surname is Irish, but of Anglo-Norman
origin.  The name here was first Aubyn
from the Aubyn place-name in Normandy and then St. Aubyn.
It was born by a Norman family that had come
to Ireland in the wake of the Strongbow invasion in 1170.
They settled in
Kilkenny and Tipperary
St. Aubyn became Toibin in its Irish
version (which some still use).  Tobin
later resulted..

Tobin Resources on

Tobin Ancestry

Ireland.  By the 1440’s there were three major Tobin lines
in SE Tipperary, as well as a senior line existing in Kilkenny:

  • the 14th century Annals of Ireland
    described the Tobins of Kilkenny as “a turbulent
    sept more dreaded by the English than the native Irish.”  
  • the Tobins were also an eminent family in
    county Tipperary, with the head of the family being known as the Baron
    Coursey.  The three main family lines
    there in the 16th century were those of Killaghy, Kilnagranag, and

These families lost their lands in the Cromwellian
settlements and were relocated to Mayo and Ballymoe in Galway around
Tobins had also spread by this time to Waterford and Cork.

Tobin did represent the town of Fethard in Tipperary in the 1689
Parliament.  But he was a follower of
James II.  After James II’s defeat at the
Battle of the Boyne in 1690, he fled the country and became a major in
French Irish Brigade.  His son, Edmund Marques de Tobin, the most celebrated of
this branch,
was killed in 1747 in the War of the Austrian Succession while in the
of Spain.

The Toibin spelling resurrected itself in
Ireland in the 20th century.  The actor
Niall Toibin was born in Cork in 1929, the writer and journalist Colin
in Wexford in 1955.

England.  Two important Tobin
families established
themselves in England by the mid-1700’s.
The first were Bristol merchants who became prominent slave
traders with
plantations in the Caribbean.  The second
were first seen on the Isle of Man.  They
became important merchants in Liverpool, also active in the slave trade. 

forebear of the first family was believed to have been James Tobin, a
sea captain who started off the family’s plantation business on Nevis
in the
Caribbean in the 1740’s.  It was his son James Tobin, profiting from the
profits in the late 1700’s in Caribbean sugar production, who became
one of
the most ardent pro-slavery advocates.
James had three notable sons:

  • James Webbe Tobin, friend to both Wordsworth
    and Coleridge, who campaigned against cruelty to slaves.
  • George Tobin, a Royal
    Naval officer and natural history painter who sketched in 1791 on
    Bligh’s voyage to Tasmania.
  • and John Tobin, an unsuccessful writer for most of
    his life who finally had a hit with his play The Honey Moon
    in 1804.

The second family was first
found at Braddan on the Isle of Man where John Tobin was described as a
maker.  His son Patrick, born around
1735, was a fish curer, principally of salted herring for the export
market.  It was Patrick’s son John Tobin, however, who was to
establish the family fortunes.

“John went to sea out of Liverpool as a boy.
By 1793, when he was thirty, he was master of
the privateer Gypsy.  That
year he captured three French ships – La Hirondelle
with 122 slaves, La Cintrewith with 211 slaves, and La Pourvoyance with slaves and
ivory.  This was to be the making of

Sir John later became a successful Liverpool merchant and served as the
the town in 1819.  He built the family
home Liscard Hall in Wallasey in 1833. 

America.  There
were Tobins recorded in New Jersey in the 18th century.
Isaac Tobin was born in Hunterdon county in
1750.  His father may have been James
Tobin from Kilkenny.  Isaac fought in the
Revolutionary War (after initially deserting) and later moved with his
William to Ohio.

The St. Louis area can boast two famous
Tobins, although there is no evidence that they were at all related.  The first was Tom Tobin, an early mountain
man of the Southwest.  He was born in
1823 to Bartholomew Tobin, an Irish immigrant laborer and his Delaware
wife Sarah.

Tobin was one of only two mountain men to escape alive from the siege
Turley’s Mill during the Taos Revolt in 1847.
In later years he was sent by the Army to track down and kill
notorious Felipe Espinosa and his brother.
Tobin returned to Fort Garland with their heads in a sack.”

The second Tobin was
Margaret Tobin who was born in 1867 in nearby Hannibal, the daughter of
Tobin who had immigrated from Ireland in the 1850’s.
became famous as “the unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Ireland at the time of the potato famine was Thomas Tobin, a potato
farmer in Clonmel.
Tipperary.  He left with his family for
Boston in the late 1840’s.  Maurice Tobin
remained in Clogheen, Tipperary at this time.
But his son James departed for Boston in the 1890’s.  James’s son Maurice was mayor of Boston in
the 1930’s and subsequently US Secretary for Labor in President
Cabinet.  Dennis Tobin meanwhile arrived
in Boston from county Clare in 1890.  He
was a long-time leader of the US Teamsters Union.

William Cork and his wife
Bridget came to Mobile, Alabama from Cork at the time of the potato
famine.  He did not last long, apparently
dying during the yellow fever epidemic.
Afterwards Bridget and
their family lived in
a house on the banks of Kisatchie Creek.
She died in 1909, having outlived her husband by forty four

Tobin from Waterford came to San Francisco on the brig Catalina
in 1849 in a lengthy journey that took in the Magellan
Straits and Chile.  He quickly involved
himself with other immigrant arrivals in the city in new business
ventures.  In 1852 he started his own law
firm Tobin & Tobin, still operational today, and he helped start
Hibernia Bank in 1859 (sold in 1992 to Bank of America) and the San Francisco Chronicle in 1865 (sold in
1999 to the Hearst Corp).

Richard and his Chilean wife Mary were among the
first, in 1870, to live in the fashionable Nob
Hill section of San Francisco
.  His
descendants remained an influential San Francisco family over the 20th

Tobins came to Newfoundland
Nova Scotia

Newfoundland.  The
earliest here might have been Michael Tobin and his family from
Waterford who
stayed a short time in the 1770’s before moving onto Nova Scotia.  Patrick Tobin and his family arrived from
Kilkenny in the early 1800’s.  And Tobins
from Wexford had settled in St. Johns by the 1860’s where they were
active in
the fish supply business.  Three
generations of Tobins lived and worked at the Tobin house on Duckworth
Street in
St. Johns built after the Great Fire of 1892.

Nova Scotia.  Michael Tobin, a butcher,
had arrived in Nova
Scotia from Newfoundland in the 1770’s.
His sons James and Michael started a trading business in Halifax
– J
& M Tobin – in the early 1800’s which was to make James, by the
1830’s, one
of the wealthiest men in Nova Scotia.

Richard Tobin was a British soldier from Cork who was granted land in
Dalhousie, Nova Scotia after his unit was disbanded in 1818.  Some of his descendants later settled in


Tobin Miscellany

Early Tobins in Kilkenny and Tipperary.  In 1204
William de St, Aubyn was one of the early Norman settlers granted lands
Kells in Kilkenny. He was described as the Lord of Stamacharty (or
which is in the barony of Kells).
William also possessed lands in Slieveadagh in Tipperary.

In Kilkenny his descendants held a half knight
fee in Killamery in the 13th century and afterwards. They soon acquired
near Callan which they renamed Ballytobin. A coat of arms was granted to this Tobin
family.  It depicted three silver oak
on an azure shield, the crest being a red demi-lion rampant holding
between the
paws an oak branch proper.

About the same time they became lords of Cumsy (Cumsinagh) in Tipperary where some still exist today. The Tobins became so influential in Tipperary that in medieval times the head of the family was known as the Baron of Coursey.

In 1334, according to the Annals of Ireland, John Tobin the lord of Cumsywas treacherously slain in his own chapel by the sons of Walter Tobin whom he had trusted.”  Two years later “a duel was arranged between the kinsmen of John and the sons of Walter Tobin.  Both parties pledged themselves to fight.  But the sons of Walter, fearing the issue of their treachery, declined the contest.”

Reader Feedback – Tom Tobin from Kilkenny.  My great, great, great grandfather was Thomas Tobin who was born either on 25 June 1800 in Thomastown, Kileen, county Kilkenny (to Richard Tobin and Betty Walsh) or on 13 December 1799 in Tullow, Ossory, county Kilkenny or on 16 April 1804 in Abby, Thomastown, county. Kilkenny.

My Tom Tobin married Catherine Bryan who also was born in Thomastown.  Unfortunately I don’t know which Tom Tobin was my great great great grandfather.  Can anyone help?

Regards, Jane Eblen nee Tobin (

James Tobin and Slavery.  Around 1780 James Tobin brought his half-sister, Ann Tobin, to Bristol from Nevis.  Ann
was the
daughter of a black slave mother.  In
1788 Tobin also brought African servants George Elliot and Pricilla
Gould to
his home in Berkley Square in Bristol.  They were
taken from his sugar plantations in the West
It was indeed a regular occurrence for planters and other
business people to have black slaves and servants in their British

Tobin owned the Stoney Grove estate on Nevis where he had around 175 slaves.
He was an anti-abolitionist and argued fervently against ending
trade on the grounds that it would wreck havoc with the defence and
wealth of
the British
His campaigning against the abolition of slavery included
several pamphlets, as well as writing severe responses to articles and
books by
abolitionists.    In 1790 Tobin
evidence before a select committee in the House of Commons.  He outlined the reasons why the West India
Society, of which he was a member, was pro-slavery.

1817, on the year of his death, there were 213 enslaved people on the
Grove estate.

John Tobin and Slavery.  The Tobins were an important merchant family in Liverpool at a time when the city was
rapidly expanding at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.  Two Tobin brothers – John and Thomas – were master mariners. They built their
prosperity on the African trade, especially palm oil and ivory, but
slavery.  They had estates in Africa
which employed many black people.

After emancipation in 1833 many of these
slaves came to England.  It was not
uncommon to see black people in Liverpool who bore a mark identifying
them as having once been on the servitude of the Tobins.

John became
Mayor of Liverpool in 1819 and was knighted on the ascension of George
IV the
following year.

Tobins in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  One Tobin family history began
in the 1820’s with five Tobin brothers who left Ireland together,
either from
Tipperary or Cork.  Two settled in
Newfoundland when the ship anchored there. The remaining three brothers

Nicholas, Patrick and Thomas – settled in the Sydney area of Cape
Breton, Nova

Nicholas Tobin, born in Ireland in 1798, married Ann
Wilson around
1825.  They raised eleven children.  Nicholas died in Nova Scotia at the age of 89
in 1887.  Their descendants have held family reunions.

Margaret Tobin aka the Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Margaret Tobin was born in 1867 into the “shanty
town” section of Hannibal, Missouri.
After working as a waitress and in a tobacco factory, Margaret
west to Colorado where she met and married James Brown who had dreams
striking it rich in the gold mines.  His
dream was fulfilled and they became fabulously wealthy.

However, wealth did not
bring Margaret, or Molly Brown as she was more commonly known, social
acceptance among the society women of Denver.  She was snubbed by
them.  However
she sought consolation in travel.

In 1912, after a trip to Europe, Molly Brown
chose to return home on the doomed British ship the Titanic.
When the ship struck an iceberg, she took charge of one of
the lifeboats and helped others get through the ordeal by virtue of her
indomitable spirit. She sang songs and raised spirits by refusing to
give in to
fear – the Titanic might be going
down, she told the others, but she was unsinkable.

Molly, who was forever
thereafter known as “the unsinkable Molly Brown,” was hailed as a
heroine by fellow survivors and became a celebrity.  She
lived onto 1932.

The Tobin House on Nob Hill.  The prominent San Francisco lawyer Richard Tobin
built one of the earliest mansions on Nob Hill in 1870.
He and his wife Mary erected their Second
Empire residence on the southeast corner of California and Taylor
Streets two
years before David Colton built his wood-frame, Neo-Classical residence
in 1872.  Richard died in 1887.  But his wife was still alive, although not
there, at the time of the terrible fire of 1895.

The fire was apparently caused
by neglectful house painters.  A
contemporary account stated:

“The flames were being swept by the high wind
through the bedrooms of the second story and along beneath the high
roof.  The building had been erected thirty years ago and was built in
the style
of those times, with a total disregard for protection against fire.

The spaces
between the outer and inner walls served the fire as so many chimneys
and the
falling spares dropped down to the first story, where in a short time
they set
fire to the building in fresh places. For a short time it looked as
though the
fine old structure was doomed, but the firemen worked hard to save it.  Ladders were run to the roof and several
lines of hose were directed against the flames from the top. In fact
fairly flooded the house.

The house presented a sorry appearance when the flames
were conquered. The south wall was riddled with large holes from the
story to the roof.  At least ten rooms in the second story were gutted.
The west
side of the building was but little better than the south, but on the
north and
east sides the structure is not badly injured.”

The total loss was estimated to have been in the order
of $10-15,000. There was only $5,000 insurance on the house and none on
contents as far as could be ascertained.

came the Great Earthquake of 1906 and the Tobin House, as well as other
fashionable houses on Nob Hill, were demolished.  The
Huntington Hotel now stands in its place.


Select Tobin Names

  • William de St. Aubyn was an
    early Norman settler in Ireland who was granted lands in Kilkenny in 1204.
  • Sir John Tobin was a
    successful Liverpool merchant of the West African trades in the early 1800’s.
  • Maurice Tobin was mayor of Boston in the 1930’s and US Secretary for Labor under President Truman after the war.
  • James Tobin was a distinguished
    American economist who was awarded the Nobel economics prize in 1981.
  • Niall Toibin has been one of Ireland’s best loved stage actors from the 1960’s onwards.

Select Tobin Numbers Today

  • 5,000 in UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Tobin and Like Surnames

The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion.  The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.

Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance.  They became more Irish, often Catholic.  When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded.  But others resisted and had lands confiscated.

Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.




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