Lord Roberts

(Frederick Sleigh Roberts)


Field Marshall Frederick Roberts was the most respected military commander in the last half of nineteenth century Britain. He was born into a military family in India and first saw action during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He was stationed in India for much of his career and saw action in Burmah, Afghan, and Abyssinia and finally, the Second Boer War in South Africa. His military career spanned nearly fifty years, and as a commander, he was exceedingly popular with his troops. He was a strict disciplinarian, but always with the best interests of his men in mind. His campaigns were exceptionally well organized and carefully planned, with low casualties, and few unexpected crises, even in dangerous conditions.

Roberts first distinguished himself when the Indian Mutiny broke out. He served under both Nicholson and Campbell, two famous heroes of the mutiny, and Roberts himself won the Victoria Cross. He fought in all the major campaigns, including Delhi, Cawnpore, Lucknow, and Gailor, and saw an enormous amount of hard-fighting and bloodshed. After a several year leave in England, he returned to India and spent most of the following forty years there. He saw service in a number of campaigns, most notably the Second Afghan War, during which he marched an army from Kabul to Kandahar in less than a month in order to relieve a British force that had been ambushed in the region. Most of the action that he saw in India in the early years of his command was against hill-tribes of the Hindu-Kush mountains and Burmese jungles.

A great deal of the respect that Roberts earned as a military leader was due to events that did not happen under his watch. There were no further large scale wars or mutinies against English rule in India; the perpetual border wars in the northern mountains were kept under control; and minor rebellions were put down before they became critical. Even the Hindu-Moslem conflict, which burst so violently onto the scene as soon as India gained its independence, were largely suppressed for the time. One has to look at the entire history of the region, and the centuries of bloodshed which preceded it, to fully appreciate how peaceful India was in the later part of the 19th century.

By 1899 Roberts was 67 years old and on the verge of retirement when he received the news that his son had been killed in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Twenty years previously, Roberts had been given the command of the First Boer War, but when he arrived in South Africa, he found that the Prime Minister of Britain had already capitulated to the Boers demands, and he was instructed to return to India. At the time, he had been very incensed at Britain's craven surrender, and now that War had broken out again, he accepted the command. The Boers were ferocious fighters, and by the end of 1899 had besieged three British cities, and won several victories over the British, including the action in which Robert's son was killed. Roberts planned carefully for an offensive, and called in troops from throughout the British empire. Roberts first met the Boers in battle in February, and by September had captured all of their major cities. By the end of 1900 he turned his command over to Kitchener and retired from the armed services.

Roberts was a strong advocate of a military philosophy that might be called "Peace through Strength." He believed that military readiness was the surest path to peace, and that carelessness and inattention to the enemies movements was a sure path to disaster. He noted Germany's aggressive military build-up and advocated conscription so that England would not be caught unprepared in case of war against Germany. He died shortly after the outbreak of the Great War, which he had foreseen and vainly tried to convince Britain to prepare for.

Key events during the life of Lord Roberts:

Born in Cawnpore, India
  Educated at Sandhurst.
Commission in Bengal Artillery.
Appointed to quartermaster-general's staff.
Fought at Delhi, Cawnpore, and Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny
Won the Victoria Cross during the Gwalior campaign.
Returned to England and married.
Took part in a campaign against hill-tribes near Peshawar.
Embarked on Campaign to Ayssinia
Expedition to Lashai.
Quarter-master General of Bengal
Breakout of Second Afghan War.
Closing Battle of Kandahar in the Second Afghan War.
Sent to Command the First Boer War, but England surrendered before he arrived.
Made commander and chief of India.
Promoted to Field-Marshall.
Wrote his biography, Forty-one years in India.
Robert's son was killed at The Battle of Colenso during the Boer War.
Roberts assumes command of the Second Boer War.
Died shortly after beginning of World War I.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Field-Marshal Lord Roberts  in  Heroes of the Indian Mutiny  by  Edward Gilliat
Roberts  in  Boy's Book of Famous Soldiers  by  J. Walker McSpadden
Transvaal War  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge
War in South Africa  in  The World at War  by  M. B. Synge

Book Links
Story of Lord Roberts  by  Edmund F. Sellar

Image Links

Lord Roberts
 in The Story of Lord Roberts

Roberts on the Quay, leaving Home for India
 in The Story of Lord Roberts

Roberts saving the guns
 in The Story of Lord Roberts

Roberts winning the Victoria Cross
 in The Story of Lord Roberts

Sikh orderly trying to protect General Roberts from bullets
 in The Story of Lord Roberts

Lord Roberts
 in The Reign of Queen Victoria

Short Biography
Colin Campbell Commanded the Highland Brigade during the Crimean War. Also served in India.
John Nicholson Famous Military hero. Led the storming party on Delhi during the mutiny and died during the assault.
Horatio Kitchener Military hero of the late 19th century, first in Sudan, and later in the Boer Wars