The following from the charming ‘Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich‘ blog. The mural depicts a Thames barge, ‘The Chance‘ allegedly skippered by greatgrandaddy.
Robert the Devil.
Following last weeks’ appeal for more information about the notorious Victorian local character Robert Austin (not Austen, as I incorrectly wrote last week), better known as “Robert the Devil”, I have had an Email from local historian and author Ken Chamberlain, who tells me that “Robert William AUSTIN not EN was born in Crayford in 1874. Most of the stories you quote I heard as a child from my father who knew “Robert the Devil” most are probably true. I have never been happy with him swimming over to the Coldharbour Point, a quarter of a mile. UNLESS he managed it at the very top of the tide when it was slack. He lived at 17 Maxim Road, Erith – the address no longer exists. He was for a time the master of the Sailing Barge “Chance”. The subject of the mural on the side of the White Hart ( what is / was Potion bar; see the photo above – click for a larger view). He died on the 4th November 1944, and is buried in the Churchyard of St. Johns Church, West Street. His short obituary does not mention his nickname, but does tell of him being a strong swimmer” Thanks Ken, your observations on Austin probably only being able to manage to swim over from Erith to Coldharbour Point at slack tide; I must admit that I concur. As previously written, I found it very hard to believe that anyone could survive swimming across the Thames at Erith, as the tides and undercurrents are so incredibly powerful – even the strongest of swimmers would seriously struggle. Nearly all of the suicides on the lower Thames happen either by jumping from the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford, or from Erith foreshore or Pier. I think this says something about the deadly nature of the river in the area.