Robert Bennett


William Robinson Clarke

‘After a false dawn in England, USA proved a better bet’

1908 - 2004

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When Robert Aston Bennett travelled to England from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush, he had a number of hopes and dreams, one of which was to hone his skills as a tailor.

It was not his first experience of moving to another country to improve his prospects and it would not be his last. In 1944, aged 28, he had sailed from Kingston to Miami from where he journeyed to the northeast of the USA to work as a farm labourer picking apples in a 12-month war-time agricultural programme.

Born in Yallahs, St Thomas, Jamaica, on New Year’s Day 1916, the son of Samuel and Leteria Bennett, Robert saw the Windrush as another golden opportunity to get ahead.

Although he declared on the ship’s passenger list that he was destined for Cologne Road in the Clapham Junction area of south London, he ended up spending his first few nights in the government’s official temporary accommodation centre at the Clapham South Deep Shelter.

In late 1949, Robert married seamstress Ruby Humphroy, aged 28, in Lewisham, south London. Ruby, born in St Ann in Jamaica, had arrived in England just a few weeks earlier, having boarded the SS Washington in New York.

The couple had a daughter, Vinnette, in 1951 while living in Lewisham. But things were not working out for them as successfully as they hoped. Robert wanted to be closer to Jamaica and

he also felt his prospects would be better in the USA. They made the decision to try their luck in the USA and it was one they never regretted. Their daughter Vinnette said Robert never talked about his time in England. He did, however, keep the passport issued to him on January 28, 1948, and used it when he came to England just under five months later. Vinnette kindly sent Windrush Foundation a copy of that historic document.

In December 1951, Robert left Southampton for New York on the RMS Caronia, with his occupation still recorded as a tailor. Four months later, Ruby and Vinnette joined him at 448 Green Avenue in Brooklyn, where he had set up home.

In 1979, Robert and Ruby moved to Lauderdale Lakes in Florida. It was here that Robert died on January 30, 1986, aged 70. His body was sent home to Jamaica for burial. Ruby died in Florida on October 14, 2004.

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