Material relating to Frederick Sleigh Roberts, Field-Marshal The Rt Hon. The Earl Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria, and Waterford, Viscount St. Pierre (1832-1914)

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of, at shelfmark E2009.12, an autograph letter signed 'Roberts' to 'Dear Sir', and marked 'Private'. It is a 3-page letter, headed (embossed) Royal Hospital, Dublin, and dated 18 February 1896. In it, he declines to stand as the Liberal Unionist candidate for the Lord Rectorship of Edinburgh University. He states that, 'The conclusion I have come to, and in which I have reason to believe that the military authorities concur, is that it would be undesirable for an officer holding my position in the Army to stand for an election likely to be contested'.

It was Lord Balfour of Burleigh who became the University Rector at Edinburgh in 1896.

Administrative / Biographical History

Frederick Sleigh Roberts was the second son of General Sir Abraham Roberts, G.C.B. (1784-1873). He was born at Kanpur (then Cawnpore), India, on the 30 September 1832. Roberts was educated at Eton, Sandhurst and Addiscombe, and he obtained a commission in the Bengal Artillery on 12 December 1851. In the following year he was posted to a field battery at Peshawar, where he also acted as aide-de-camp to his father, who commanded the Peshawar division. Roberts was an outstanding combat leader in the Second Afghan War (1878-80) and the South African War (1899-1902). He became Commander-in-Chief in India (1885-1893), and was the last Commander-in-Chief of the British Army (1901-04) before the office was abolished. He had been made a Field-Marshal in 1895. Foreseeing World War I, he was one of the earliest advocates of compulsory military service.

Roberts had first distinguished himself during the suppression of the Indian Mutiny (1857-58). On September 1, 1880, he scored the decisive victory of the Second Afghan War, defeating Ayub Khan's Afghan Army near Kandahar. In the South African War, he ended a succession of British defeats, and captured Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange Free State Republic on 13 March 1900. He then annexed the state as the Orange River Colony in May 1900, and took the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. He gave way to Horatio Herbert Kitchener as Commander-in-Chief in South Africa in November 1900.

Roberts was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) in December 1858 for actions on 2 January 1858 at Khudaganj, India. He was created a Baron in 1892 and an Earl and Viscount in 1901. Field-Marshal The Rt Hon. The Earl Roberts VC KG KP GCB OM GCSI GCIE PC died from pneumonia at Saint-Omer, France, on 14 November 1914.

The Field-Marshal was one of only two non-Royal persons to lie-in-state in Westminster Hall during the 20th century (the other was Sir Winston Churchill). He was given a State Funeral.

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Acquisition Information

Item purchased April 2009, Accession no: E2009.12


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Various editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica and also the Dictionary of National Biography.

Other Finding Aids

None created for this collection.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.

Related Material

Also within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, at shelfmarks Dk.2.14, p.31 and Dk.2.14, p.46, which are associated with the Correspondence and Papers of Sir William Muir (1819-1905), are two letters from Roberts to Muir.

Firstly, at shelfmark Dk.2.14, p.31, there is a letter dated 17 November 1880, and written at Edgehill, Sydenham. It begins 'My dear Sir William' and refers to his two sons being 'in famous health' and that 'They are both keen soldiers and will I am sure get on in the service'. Both those sons predeceased Lord Roberts however. Indeed, one of these, Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts VC, was killed in action at the Battle of Colenso during the Boer War.

Then, at shelfmark Dk.2.14, p.46, there is a letter dated 1 September 1893, and written at New Park, Waterford. It again begins 'My dear Sir William' and notes that he is 'sorry we cannot accept your invitation' to stay when they are in Edinburgh in November. He also writes that he is 'pleased to hear of your daughter's engagement'. He writes further that he has not met Wauchope - being Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope (1846-1899) - the man Jane Muir is to marry later that year.