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The Story of Lord Roberts by Edmund Francis Sellar


Colour plates


Early Days
Arrival in India At Peshawur
Meeting with Nicholson
The Mutiny
The Mutiny (continued)
The Ridge at Delhi
Cawnpore and Lucknow
The End of the Mutiny
Lushai Expedition
Return to India
South African War


Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, PC (30 September 1832 – 14 November 1914) was a distinguished British soldier and one of the most successful commanders of the Victorian era. He was affectionately known as 'Bobs' by the troops he commanded.

Born at Cawnpore, India on 30 September 1832, Roberts was the second son of General Sir Abraham Roberts a member of the famous Waterford city family that contributed so much to the city. At the time, Sir Abraham was commanding the 1st Bengal European Regiment. Roberts was named Sleigh in honour of the garrison commander, Major General William Sleigh. His mother was Isabella, daughter of Abraham Bunbury of Kilfeacle, County Tipperary. He was educated at Eton, Sandhurst and Addiscombe before entering the British Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant with the Bengal Artillery.

He fought in the Indian rebellion, seeing action during the siege and capture of Delhi, and was present at the relief of Lucknow. In January 1858, at Khudaganj, he won the Victoria Cross.

On 2 January 1858 at Khodagunge, India, on following up the retreating enemy, he saw in the distance two sepoys going away with a standard. He immediately gave chase, overtaking them just as they were about to enter a village. Although one of them fired at him the lieutenant was not hit and he took possession of the standard, cutting down the man who was carrying it. He had also on the same day saved the life of a sowar who was being attacked by a sepoy.

After serving with the British Army in the Umbeyla and Abyssinian campaigns of 1863 and 1867–1868 respectively, Roberts fought in the Lushai campaign (1871–1872), for which he was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). Six years later, he was promoted to Major-General and given command of the Kuram field force in the Second Afghan War, distinguishing himself enough to receive the thanks of Parliament and the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). In the wake of this success he was appointed commander of the Kabul and Kandahar field force, leading his 10,000 troops through Afghanistan to the relief of the latter city ( see Battle of Kandahar). He also managed to capture Kabul, and defeated Muhammad Yakub Khan, the Afghan emir. For his services, Sir Frederick again received the thanks of Parliament, and was appointed both Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) and Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1880, becoming a baronet the following year.

After a very short interval as Governor of Natal and Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa, Roberts (having been promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1883) was appointed Commander-in-Chief in Madras, a post he held for four years. In 1885 he succeeded this appointment as Commander-in-Chief throughout the whole of India, and two years later was appointed Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE). This was subsequently followed by his promotion to General in 1890, and in 1892 he was created Baron Roberts, of Kandahar in Afghanistan and of the City of Waterford.

After relinquishing his Indian command and becoming Knight Grand Commander of the Star of India in 1893, Lord Roberts two years later returned to his homeland as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Ireland, becoming Field Marshal in 1895 and receiving the Order of St Patrick in 1897.

Two years later, he returned to South Africa in command of British troops fighting in the Second Boer War, relieving Kimberley and advancing to Pretoria. After a year, he was succeeded in the command by Lord Kitchener, and returned to England to receive yet more honours: he was made a Knight of the Garter and also created Earl Roberts, of Kandahar in Afghanistan and Pretoria in the Transvaal Colony and of the City of Waterford, and Viscount St Pierre. He also became the honorary Colonel of the Irish Guards in 1900, an appointment he kept for the remainder of his life, which gained the regiment the nickname 'Bob's Own'. He was also the following year, in 1902, appointed one of the first members of the Order of Merit.

Lord Roberts served as the last Commander-in-Chief of the British Army for three years before the post was abolished in 1904, and for the last ten years of his life was showered with yet more honours, including numerous honorary degrees and the Colonelcy of the National Reserve. He was a keen advocate of introducing conscription to Britain in order to prepare for a Great European War. He died of pneumonia at St Omer, France, while visiting Indian troops fighting in the First World War. After lying in state in Westminster Hall (one of two non-Royals to do so in the 20th century, the second being Winston Churchill in 1965), he was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, London.

Roberts' estate was probated in 1914 at 77,304 pounds sterling (equivalent to 4.8 million in 2004).

Both his sons having predeceased him, including Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts VC who was killed in action at the battle of Colenso during the Boer War, Roberts's barony became extinct, but under the special remainder granted with them he was succeeded in the Earldom and Viscountcy by his elder surviving daughter.

Roberts Barracks at Larkhill Garrison is named after him.



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