Tobin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tobin Surname 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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Tobin Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Munster)
  • to England, America, Canada and Australia

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 of Coursey.  The three main family lines there in the 16th century were those of Killaghy, Kilnagranag, and Caherlesk.

These families lost their lands in the Cromwellian settlements and were relocated to Mayo and Ballymoe in Galway around 1656.  Some Tobins had also spread by this time to Waterford and Cork.

James 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 the 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 service 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 Toibin 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. 

The forebear of the first family was believed to have been James Tobin, a Bristol 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 huge 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 Captain 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 periwig 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 him.”  

Sir John later became a successful Liverpool merchant and served as the mayor of 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 son William to Ohio.

St. Louis.  The St. Louis area can boast two famous Tobins, although there is no evidence that they were at all related.

The first was Tom Tate Tobin, an early mountain man of the Southwest.  He was born in 1823 to Bartholomew Tobin, an Irish immigrant laborer and his Delaware Indian wife Sarah.

“Tom Tobin was one of only two mountain men to escape alive from the siege of Turley’s Mill during the Taos Revolt in 1847. In later years he was sent by the Army to track down and kill the 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 John Tobin who had immigrated from Ireland in the 1850’s. Margaret Tobin became famous as “the unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Boston.  Escaping 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 Truman’s Cabinet.  Dennis Tobin meanwhile arrived in Boston from county Clare in 1890.  He was a long-time leader of the US Teamsters Union.

Gulf Coast.  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 years.

West Coast.  Richard 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 the 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 Tobin descendants remained an influential San Francisco family over the 20th century.

Canada.  Tobins came to Newfoundland and 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 Massachusetts.

Australia.  Stephen and Mary Tobin departed Tipperary for Sydney in 1857.  They were early settlers in Kiama, NSW and later moved onto Tallebudgera in Queensland.

Tobin Surname Miscellany

Early Tobins in Kilkenny and Tipperary.  In 1204 William de St, Aubyn was one of the early Norman settlers granted lands around Kells in Kilkenny. He was described as the Lord of Stamacharty (or Stonecarthy 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 Ballagh near Callan which they renamed Ballytobin. A coat of arms was granted to this Tobin family.  It depicted three silver oak leaves 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 (

Reader Feedback – Bristol and Liverpool Tobins.  Was there a family relationship between the Bristol Tobins and the Liverpool Tobins? I have researched this and have so far failed to establish a link. I live near Cork City in Ireland and the Liverpool Tobins had a 19th century gunpowder factory just across the river Lee from where I love.

.Frank Donaldson (

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 Indies. It was indeed a regular occurrence for planters and other wealthy business people to have black slaves and servants in their British homes.

James Tobin owned the Stoney Grove estate on Nevis where he had around 175 slaves. He was an anti-abolitionist and argued fervently against ending the trade on the grounds that it would wreck havoc with the defense and wealth of the British Empire. His campaigning against the abolition of slavery included producing several pamphlets, as well as writing severe responses to articles and books by abolitionists.    In 1790 Tobin gave 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.

In 1817, on the year of his death, there were 213 enslaved people on the Stoney 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 also 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 Scotia.

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.

Reader Feedback – Tom Tate Tobin.  I am a great great grandson of the American trapper Tom Tate Tobin.  Jerry Tobin (

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 moved west to Colorado where she met and married James Brown who had dreams of 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 nearby 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 mansard 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 they 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 first 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 the contents as far as could be ascertained.

Then 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.

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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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