A native of Knave-go-By near Camborne, Rabling was born on 3 November 1837, the son of William Rabling and Grace Thomas. He gained his education as a border at Portway House Academy in Bristol, remaining there until summer 1853. He then returned to Cornwall where he spent a few months at Harvey's Foundry Hayle learning more about the design principles and theory of the Cornish beam engine then much in use in the Real del Monte area of Mexico where he was to shortly join his father William, managing Agent of silver mines.
He left Cornwall in December 1853 arriving in Pachuca in early 1854. Two or three years later he left Mexico for an extended tour of the United States, visiting relatives and becoming acquainted with additional mining methods employed in the US mining fields. Rabling thereafter enjoyed a brief holiday in Cornwall before returning to Mexico where he had acquired a reputation for his skill in the installation and maintenance of 'pitwork'.
In 1863 his father retired to his elegant Cornish residence, Parc Bracket at Camborne, leaving his son in the position of Mine Agent. On 2nd November of 1863 Rabling was kidnapped en route from Pachuca to Mexico City to settle some of his father's business affairs by a group of about 30 bandits, some of whom he recognised from the mines, headed by Catarino Fragoso. The country, then under the presidency of Juarez, had fallen into a state of near anarchy. Britain, Spain and France had been forced to intercede to restore law and order and to protect their financial interests. The former two countries withdrew after obtaining assurances that armed intervention would be unnecessary, but France remained; her troops routed the main Mexican army leading to the formation of groups of bandits that roamed the countryside plundering villages and preying on unsuspecting travellers like Rabling.
Rabling was seized by the bandits and taken to Actopan some 20 miles from Pachuca, primarily because of the good relationship the Real del Monte Company had established with the enemy French forces. One hundred French troops had been stationed at Pachuca to safeguard mining operations and these often accompanied the heavily armed weekly conducta conveying up to £10, 000 worth of silver to the mint at Mexico City. Fragoso demanded a ransom of $6000 (about £1,200) for Rabling's release or he would be shot. Two of his Cornish friends arrived from Pachuca to negotiate his release, Rabling being forced to write a note asking them to send the ransom money.
Rabling had a chance to escape, but being a deeply religious man decided to put his fate in the hands of God, for his freedom would have meant taking the life of another man. His situation was made less dangerous with the arrival of Colonel Tellez who was predisposed to set him free much to the anger of Fragoso. Rabling was finally released after three weeks during which he suffered sleep deprivation, an armed skirmish with French Algerian troops and a kick from his horse. The ransom money was brought to Rabling by T.A. Murrish and had been collected by his Cornish friends including Captain John Penberthy, of the Real del Monte mine. His safe passage to Pachuca was guaranteed by an Italian named Cavioto, prefect of the town of Hauchinango. Rabling set off for a cousin's house in San Miguel Regla, a silver refining hacienda 20 miles from Pachuca, arriving home on 26 November where he was confined to bed for seven days after his three and a half week ordeal.
Rabling lodged a claim for compensation against the Mexican government
with the British Consul in Mexico City, but the political situation
deteriorated further following the withdrawal of the French who had
installed Maximilian as Emperor in 1864. In 1866, the year before Maximillian was captured
and shot, Rabling and his wife Julia Hannah Edwards of Ramsgate Camborne
(great niece of
Richard Trevithick whom he had married at the British Consulate in Mexico City in 1864),
decided to return
to their native Camborne with their daughter Florence Jane. However,
following the assassination of Maximilian, the British government
diplomatic relations with Mexico, making it impossible for Rabling to
press his claim for compensation. It was not until
1889 that his claim was honoured.