Born in England, Hickmott came to the U.S. in 1875, and married Lillian May Hickmott in 1877. Robert worked in a cannery in Sacramento before going into business for himself around 1890. He is credited with perfecting asparagus-canning techniques, and seems to have built a sizable fortune from his canning and growing business. The Hickmotts moved around a fair amount, but lived in Oakland, Eden Township (now Castro Valley), and Ross (in Marin County) amongst other places.
Their daughter, Georgia (“Georgie”) Hickmott Clark (1880-1958) married Edwin Charles Clark in 1904, and later had three children. They lived at 492 Hudson Street in Oakland.
Now for the interesting stuff.
- In 1892, Robert fell from a cable car in San Francisco, managed to become trapped below the bib that normally protects passengers from the wheels, and had his jaw badly broken. Surgery was required to set the bones.1
In 1903, Georgia was engaged to a Dr. John D. Woods. Initial accounts differ, but the engagement was broken off:
- On April 21, her mother said the engagement was off for “good and sufficient reasons” and Georgia had gone back east with her father. For his part, Dr. Woods claimed not to have heard from Georgia.2
- On April 22 an article says that Mrs. Hickmott was calling Dr. Wood a “schemer of the worst sort” and that he had attempted blackmail; Dr. Woods said the matter was in the hands of his attorneys. Dr. Woods’ sister Mrs. Alice Cloy Woods demanded an apology for the “insinuations made by Mrs. Hickmott” and also threatened court actions.3
- By April 23, Dr. Woods was still threatening court actions against Mrs. Hickmott, who had called him a “fortune hunter” and Alice an “adventuress”. 4
I suspect Dr. Woods had already burned his bridges by April 21, when he was quoted as saying, “I saw in Miss Georgia a very crude but lovely dispositioned girl” and said he was the one who had broken the engagement, due to heart problems.3 Interesting how his story changes.
By July, Woods and his ‘sister’ had disappeared, under suspicion of having murdered Colonel William J. Best and stolen $600 from him. The DA inquired at Chicago’s Rush Medical College, where Dr. Woods said he was trained, and learned that Woods had never been a student there. 5, 6 Best’s autopsy was complicated by his body having been embalmed, yet still showed traces of poison.7 And as it turned out, Alice was “Doctor” Woods’ wife, not sister. He had been removed as pastor of a Pennsylvania church for bigamy. The pair were fugitives, wanted on suspicion of a number of crimes (including arson) around the country. 8
It seems the vice president and manager of the Oakland Central Bank, William G. Palmateer, found the information for Robert that led to the exposure of Woods and the subsequent breaking of the engagement.9
(This may seem largely tangential to an Oakland Wiki, but Hickmott Canning was based in Oakland at that time.)
- 1. Mr. Hickmott Will Recover, SF Call, August 28, 1892
- 2. Engagement is Off Says Mother, SF Call, April 21, 1903
- 3. Doctor to Sue The Family of Girl He Desired to Wed, SF Call, April 22, 1903
- 4. Dr. Wood Will Carry Controversy Into Court, SF Call, April 23, 1903
- 5. Asserts Death Is Suspicious, SF Call, July 4, 1903
- 6. Best Declares It Was a Crime, SF Call, July 6, 1903
- 7. Startling Discovery Made at the Autopsy on the Remains of the Capitalist., SF Call, July 10, 1903
- 8. More Evidence Against Woods Accumulated in Marin, SF Call, July 12, 1903
- 9. Says Woods is a Villian, SF Call, July 11, 1903