Charles Rathbone Low.

Major-General Sir Frederick S. Roberts, bart., V. C., G. C. B., C. I. E., R. A., a memoir online

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BART., V.C., G.C.B., C.I.E., R.A.












THE practice of writing a memoir * of a living public mail
scarcely stands in need of defence, since it has become of such
common practice. Within recent years, the careers of Lord
Beaconsfield and Mr. Gladstone, Lord Wolseley and Mr. Bright,
have been given to the public during their lifetime ; and the
only question that arises, when considering the advisability of
such a publication, conceding the necessity of abstaining from
publishing matter that would violate any confidences, or unduly
cause pain to the living or the representatives of the dead,
would appear to have reference to the public demand in each
particular instance.

Such a question as applied to Sir Frederick Roberts must be
unhesitatingly given in the affirmative. The military achieve-
ments of the gallant officer are great and undeniable, " as a
mountain open, palpable." They have received the unstinted
acknowledgments not only of all classes of his countrymen, but
of the highest professional authorities of the Continent. Count
Von Moltke and the German generals expressed their unbounded
admiration of the great march from Cabul to Candahar ; and
the heroic Skobeleff, whose untimely death was such a crushing
blow to the army he adorned, as well as to the cause of Pan-
slavism, though the peace of Europe was the gainer by his

* It should be stated that this memoir was completed early in 1882, but
circumstances delayed its publication. It has been compiled from the Blue
Books and official despatches, and from personal reminiscences supplied in
conversation and by correspondence with Sir Frederick Roberts, who himself
revised the entire work, chapter by chapter.


iv Preface.

removal from the scene was enthusiastic in praise of the
military genius displayed by Roberts throughout the two years
he was the central figure of the war in Afghanistan. And here
we may note a remarkable resemblance in the character and
method of these two distinguished soldiers. Both were gifted
with impetuous valour, complete knowledge of their profession,
a quick intelligence in seizing the features of ground, and
adapting the measures at their disposal to the end sought to be
attained ; an unfailing skill in their tactical combinations, a
perfect yet calm self-reliance, and a faculty for inspiring con-
fidence in others.

Roberts's dispositions for the capture of the Peiwar Kotul were
most masterly, and his rapid march on Cabul with only 8,000
men, his skill in forcing the enemy's position at Charasia, and
his seizure of Cabul were brilliant feats of arms worthy the
best days of British prowess. On the abdication of Yakoob
Khan he was, for a time, the de facto ruler of Afghanistan.
His word was law, and he might have said :

" Hoc sic jubeo ; sit pro ratione voluntas."

Severe measures were necessary with the wretches who had
murdered a British Envoy, a personage who, in the East as in
every clime, is invested with a special sanctity ; but no Afghan
suffered the extreme penalty who had not been implicated in
that deed of shame. An unworthy attempt was made to impute
blood-thirstiness to Sir Frederick Roberts, but to those who
are conversant with his character, such a charge will scarcely
demand refutation. In his humanity and gentleness of cha-
racter, our hero resembles the " Happy Warrior " sketched by
Wordsworth :

" He who, though thus endued as with a sense
And faculty for storm and turbulence,
Is yet a soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes."

Sir Frederick Roberts displayed in a remarkable degree the

Preface. v

self-reliance to which we have referred, during the memorable
events that occurred at Cabul in December, 1879, when the
cantonment of Sherpur was invested by no less than 100,000 or
120,000 armed men. At no time was there any change in the
serenity of manner for which the General was distinguished,
and which infused a like confidence in his small force belea-
guered in the depth of winter by foes outnumbering them

Since the death of the great Ameer, Dost Mahomed Khan, the
political condition of Afghanistan bore a striking analogy to that
of England during the "Wars of the Roses. As the rival Houses
of York and Lancaster contended for the crown, dividing the
nobles and the country into two factions, so Afzul Khan and
Shere Ali, the sons of the Dost, and their sons, Abdul Rahman
and Yakoob Khan, bathed the country in the blood of their
adherents. As in England during the 15th century, so in
Afghanistan during the 19th, " uneasy lies the head that wears
a crown ;" and in the see-saw from the throne to the dungeon,
the epigram might be applied to the rival claimants for the
perilous honour of ruling the turbulent races of Afghanistan :

" Treason does never prosper ; what's the reason ?
"Why, when it prospers, none dare call it treason."

With the removal of Yakoob Khan to India, and the ap-
pearance of pretenders in the person of his younger brother,
Ayoob Khan, and other claimants for the throne, the task before
Sir Frederick Roberts became more difficult, but with the
assistance of his political officer, Major Hastings, and afterwards
of Mr. (now Sir) Lepel Griffin, he initiated the negotiations
with Abdul Rahman, which have resulted so favourably for the
peace of Afghanistan. Sir Frederick Roberts's final achievement,
the forced march from Cabul to Candahar with 10,000 soldiers
and 8,000 non-combatants, and his brilliant victory over Ayoob
Khan on the day following his arrival under the walls of the
capital of Western Afghanistan, are now historic, and have

vi Preface.

earned for him a prominent place in that illustrious band
of soldiers who have acquired for this country her Eastern

The roll of England's victories chequered at distant inter-
vals by reverses beginning at Cressy, has been prolonged to
Candahar and Tel-el-Kebir. -Not even the annals of Rome
can show such a record of victory, achieved over races the most
savage and warlike, assisted by the forces of Nature when
arrayed in her most austere and rugged mood. In climes
where the eagles of her great prototype never penetrated, the
standards of Britain have been planted, and countries having
to her people only a legendary existence West Africa, the land
of Prester John, and China have been subjugated by her arms
or compelled to sign an ignominious peace.

England has watered her horses on the banks of the classic
Nile and Euphrates, and her legions have driven her hereditary
foe, the Gaul, from America and India, and have triumphed
alike over the Zulu in South Africa, the Afghan in Central
Asia, and the Maori in New Zealand. Soldiers that could
overcome the most renowned and martial races of four con-
tinents must be : -

" Types of a race who shall to time unborn
Their country leave unconquered as of yore."

But much, if not everything, depends upon leadership, and
should a crisis arise in Europe or in any portion of our world-
encompassing Empire, the eyes of the nation as after the
massacre of the Cavagnari Mission, the disaster at Maiwand,
and in our ignominious struggle with the Boers will instinc-
tively turn to Sir Frederick Roberts as conspicuous among that
small band of tried and capable officers to whom will be con-
fided the defence of the honour and interests of the Mother
country and her Colonies.

Kensington, June, 1883.



Introduction Some Account of Sir Frederick Roberta's Family The
Services of his Father, General Sir Abraham Roberts His Early
Life, and Career at Eton, Sandhurst, and Woolwich Proceeds to
India in the Bengal Artillery Serves on his Father's Staff and
on the Frontier at Peshawur Outbreak of the Indian Mutiny .


The Siege of Delhi Roberts joins the i*unjaub Movable Column
Proceeds to Delhi as Deputy-Assistant Quartermaster-General
of Artillery Lieutenant Roberts participates in the Action of
the 9th July Gallantry of his Friend, Lieutenant Hills
Roberts is wounded in the Fighting on the 14th July Prepa-
rations for the Bombardment Roberts serves in No. 2 Battery
at Ludlow Castle The Storm and Capture of Delhi Sir James
Brind's Reminiscences of Sir Frederick Roberts at Delhi . 18


Lieutenant Roberts takes the Field with Colonel Greathed's Movable
Column The Action at Bolundshur Narrow Escape of Lieu-
tenant Roberts The Capture of Allyghur Roberts is engaged in
the Pursuit with 9th Lancers The Surprise at Agra of the 10th
of October lloberts's share in the Severe Fighting and Pursuit
The March to Mynpoorie Skirmish and Pursuit of the Rebels
to the Ganges Arrival at Cawnpore . 48


Departure of Lieutenant Roberts from Cawnpore with Brigadier Hope
Grant's Column for the Relief of Lucknow Narrow Escape of
Roberts from Capture by the Rebels at Buntheera March upon
Lucknow Roberts as Quartermaster-General of Sir Hope Grant's

viii Contents.


Division He leads the Army from the Alumbagh Is sent by
Sir Colin Campbell on a Special Mission to Alumbagh Is
associated with Captain Garnet Wolseley in the Capture of the
32nd Mess-house The Return March to Cawnpore The Battle
of Cawnpore on the 6th of December The Affair at Serai Ghat. 62


Roberts gains the V.C. at Khodagunj Occupation of Futtehgurh on
the 2nd of January, 1858 A Day's Pig-sticking The Army
crosses into Oude Arduous Nature of Roberts's Duties on the
Staff Storm of Meeangunj Roberts's Humanity The Siege of
Lucknow Operations Trans-Goomtee The Action of Koorsie
Roberts is invalided and returns to England .... 76


Lieutenant Roberts returns to India la employed in Charge of
the Viceroy's Camp Lord Clyde's Letter to Lord Canning
recommending Roberts Promotion to a Brevet-Majority On
Tour with Sir Hugh Rose Is ordered on Special Service to
Umbeyla Critical State of Affairs on the North-West Frontier
in 1863 The Action of Laloo The Capture of Umbeyla The
Burning of Mulkah Major Roberts Compiles a Route Book for
the Bengal Presidency Returns to England on Sick Leave On
his return to India proceels to Abyssinia with the Expedition
under Sir Robert Napier Major Roberts's Services in Abyssinia. 91


The Looshai Campaign Description of the Country and Cause of the
War Colonel Roberts fits out the two Columns of the Expe-
ditionary Force He joins General Bourchier at Cachar March
of the Cachar Column Arrival at Tipai Mookh Attack on the
Kholel Villages led by Colonel Roberts Further Operations
against the Looshais Action of the 25th of January, 1872
Colonel Roberts Commands at the Capture of Taikoom Arrival
at Chumfai Conclusion of Peace and Return of the Column to
India Roberts is appointed Quartermaster-General at Army
Head-quarters His Services in that Capacity Lord Lytton
and General Roberts Roberts is nominated Commandant of the
Punjaub Irregular Force and Special Commissioner on the
Sciude-Punjaub Frontier 109

Contents. ix



The Afghan War General Roberts is Appointed to the Command
of the Kurram Field Force Constitution of the Field Force
Brief Description of the Kurram Valley and its Inhabitants
The Advance from Thull into Afghan Territory The Occupa-
tion of the Kurram Fort The Operations of the 28th November
Reconnoissances and Preparations for the Attack on the Peiwar
Kotul . 132


The Midnight March up the Spingawi Ravine Treachery in the
Ranks The Capture of the Spingawi Pass Advance along the
Ridge and Severe Fighting General Roberts is Wounded The
Night Bivouac in the Mountains Occupation of the Peiwar
Kotal Account of the Operations by an Officer of the Staff
General Roberts Reconnoitres the Shutargardan Pass . . . 149


General Roberts returns to Kurram by the Sappri Defile Attack by
the Mangals on the Baggage Escort Preparations for the Occu-
pation of the Kurram Valley during the Winter The Court-
Martial on the Treacherous Soldiers of the 29th Punjaub N.I.,
and Roberts's General Order to the Force Disposal of the
Troops into Winter Quarters Expedition into the Khost Valley
The March from Kurram to Hazir Pir, and thence into the
Khost Valley Occupation of the Fort of Matun Action of the
7th January and Defeat of the Mangals Reconnoissance by
General Roberts of the Khost Valley 174


General Roberts makes a Tour of the Valley Army Signalling in
Khost Durbar of the Headmen of the Khostiwals and Mangals
Evacuation of Matun and Return March to Hazir Pir Prepa-
rations for the Advance on Cabul Reconnoissance by General
Roberts Conclusion of the Treaty of Gundamuck Arrival at
Ali Kheyl of the Cavagnari Mission General Roberts Returns
to Simla 195




.Massacre of the British Mission at Cabul Receipt of the Intelligenca
by Sir Frederick Roberts at Simla He Proceeds to take the
Field Arrival at Ali Kheyl Preparations for the Advance on
Cabul Sir Frederick Roberts Moves across the Shutargardan
Pass He Experiences a Narrow Escape Arrival at Kooshi
Interview with Yakoob Khan Proclamations of Sir Frederick
Roberts to the Army and the People of Cabul .... 218


Advance on Cabul Battle of Charasia Sir Frederick Roberts
arrives before the Capital His Visit to the Scene of the
Massacre of the British Mission Occupation of the Bala His^ar
Proclamation of the 12th of October The Punishment Meted
out to Cabul 236


The Cabul District after its Occupation by the British Events at the
Shutargardan Pass The Explosion in the Bala Hissar Occu-
pation of the Sherpur Cantonment Sir Frederick Roberts
Reconnoitres the Passes towards Jugdulluck Abandonment of
the Shutargardan The Expedition to Maidan Unsettled State
of the Country Deportation of Yakoob Khan to India A
Review of the Situation in Northern Afghanistan before the
Events of December 1879 . 256


The National Rising of December, 1879 The Plans of Sir Frederick
Roberts to Check the Movement The Cavalry Action of the
llth December Critical Condition of Affairs at Sherpur and in
Cabul Prompt Action of Sir Frederick Roberts Movements of
Brigadier- Generals Macpherson and Baker The Attempt to
Capture the Takht-i-Shah on the 12ta December Severe fight-
ing on the 13th December Capture of Koh Asmai Successful
Counter-Attack by the Enemy Heavy Losses Experienced by
the British Force Sir Frederick Roberts Determines to Concen-
trate in Sherpur Retirement of the British Troops within the
Cantonment 280




The Situation at Sherpur and in Cabul The City and Bala Ilissar
Seized by the Enemy Their Movements against Sherpur Sir
Frederick Roberts places the Cantonment in a Condition of
Defence Colonel Hudson and the Garrison at Lutterbund
Desultory Fighting with the Enemy between the 14th and 21st
December The Attack of the 23rd December Final Rout
of the Afghans by Sir Frederick Roberts Arrival of Brigadier-
General Charles Gough with Reinforcements The Future
Government of Afghanistan The Rival Pretenders to the
Auieership Sir Donald Steward succeeds to the Chief Command
in North-Eastern Afghanistan 302


Sir Frederick Roberts and the Negotiations with Abdul Rahman
Appointment of the Sirdar to the Ameership Restless State
of the Sirdars and People of Afghanistan Arrival of Abdul
Rahman at Cabul and Assumption of the Ameership Sir
Frederick Roberts's Views on the Kurram Valley Question
The Maiwaud Disaster Sir Frederick Roberts appointed to the
Command of the Relieving Column His Preparations for the
March on Candahar Dramatic Aspects of the Afghan War . 328


English Public Opinion on the Projected March through Afghanistan
Sir Frederick Roberts quits Cabul for Beni Hissar Incidents of
the Forced March to Ghuznee Arrival at Ghuznee and Sur-
render of the Town and Citadel The Forced March to Khelat-i-
Ghilzye Relief and Removal of the Garrison Sir Frederick
Roberts on the Line of March The Advance on Candahar
Preparations for the Attack on Ayoob Khan's Position . 343


Arrival of the Cabul-Candahar Force at Robat Letter from General
Phayre Sir Frederick Roberts's State of Health Arrival before
Candahar Reconnoissance of the 31st August Preparations for
the Attack Dispositions of the Army The Advance on the
Pir Paimal Position Storming of the Village of Gundi .Mulla
Sahibdad Death of Colonel Brownlow Capture of Pir" Paimal
Brilliant Advance of Macpherson's and Baker's Brigades
Gallant Conduct of Major White Incidents of the Fight

xii Contents.

Capture of the Enemy's Camp at Mazra Losses of the British
Results of the Victory Sir Frederick Roberts Resigns his
Command in Afghanistan ........ 362


Sir Frederick Roberts quits Afghanistan The Question of the Reten-
tion of Candahar Sir Frederick Roberts Arrives in England .
His Reception by his Countrymen Rewards Conferred on Sir V
Frederick Roberts Precedents in the Case of Rewards for
Military Services His Speech at the Mansion House Changes
in Army Reform due to Sir Frederick Roberts's Criticisms He
is appointed to the Command of the Army sent to Coerce the
Boers Departure for and Return from South Africa Sir
Frederick Roberts attends the German Autumn Manoeuvres
His Comments on the German Army and Military System Sir
Frederick Roberts is appointed Commander-in-Chief of the
Madras Army He leaves England for India Conclusion . . 377





Introduction Some Account of Sir Frederick Roberts's Family The Ser-
vices of his Father, General Sir Abraham Roberts His Early Life, and
Career at Eton, Sandhurst, and Woolwich Proceeds to India in the
Bengal Artillery Serves on his Father's Staff and on the Frontier at
Peshawur Outbreak of the Indian Mutiny.

A MEMOIR of an officer, of whose principal achievement, the
march from Cahul to Candahar, German military critics declare
that it is the most brilliant performance of a British Army
since Waterloo, and which a distinguished officer, who had
served throughout Lord Strathnairn's victorious campaign in
Central India, declared to us was, in his estimation, the finest
exploit achieved by our arms since Sir Charles Napier's con-
quest of Scinde the memoir of such a soldier cannot be
without interest not only to men of his own cloth, but to the
British public, which reads with avidity biographies of its
military heroes.

Sir Frederick Roberts comes of a military stock, and was
cradled, so to speak, amid arms and soldiers. His father, the
late General Sir Abraham Roberts, G.C.B., lived to attain the
age of ninety, and was the patriarch of Indian Generals. In
his day he had achieved no mean renown ; but though his name
has been commemorated in military history as that of a gallant


2 Memoir of Sir Frederick Roberts.

and capable soldier, it is by the achievements of his still more
remarkable son that the name of Roberts will live in our
history. There are yet surviving a few grizzled and aged
warriors, who can bear witness that Brigadier Roberts, of the
first Afghan War, was a good soldier and true, and more, was
possessed of a sagacity and prescience, which, had it been
found in those responsible for the political and military direc-
tion of affairs in Afghanistan, might have averted a terrible

The late Sir Abraham Roberts entered the Royal Army in
July 1801, with the intention of making it his profession, but
the Peace of Amiens in the following year, which caused great
reductions, induced him, with many other officers, to join the
Indian Service, which had then every prospect of active employ-
ment. On the 1st January, 1803, he was gazetted an Ensign
in the Army of the Honourable East India Company, on the
Bengal Establishment, and, in the following year, served under
Lord Lake in his campaign against the Mahrattas. The
young officer lived to see the boundaries of British India ex-
tended from Delhi and Ferozepore to the Khyber Pass, and was
fated to take a prominent part in restoring to his throne that
Shah Soojah, who, with his brother Zematin Shah, at this time
fluttered the Council Chamber at Calcutta with fears of an
Afghan invasion. How vast were the changes, political,
military, and social, he witnessed in India during the seventy
years succeeding his arrival at Calcutta !

The poet Campbell writes of the motives that induced our
forefathers to conquer India :

" Did Peace descend, to triumph and to save,
When freeborn Britons cross'd the Indian wave 1
Ah, no ! to more than Rome's ambition true,
The nurse of Freedom gave it not to you."

It was the pursuit of commerce that brought us to India, and
were we to own the truth, it is no high-flown sense of duty, but
our own selfish purposes, and our national love of aggrandize-
ment that keeps us there, and has induced us to lavish the
best blood of England in fighting our way to supreme sove-
reignty over an empire vaster than that of Aurungzebe, and
maintaining it against a military revolt that would have ousted

His Fathers Career in India. 3

from the country any other power but ours. However, as was
said by Marshal McMahon on a memorable occasion : " J'y
sids, etfy rcste."

In 1805, Lieutenant Roberts accompanied Lord Lake in the
pursuit, across the Sutlej, of Holkar and Ameer Khan, and, in
April, 1806, he joined the first battalion 13th Regiment Native
Infantry, then on service in Bundelcund. While so employed
he suffered severely from the prevailing sickness, caused by
fatiguing duties and constant exposure, as, in the absence of
cantonments, the army was under canvas during the hot winds
and rains, and continually employed against Pindarees and

Early in 1807, Lieutenant Roberts was appointed Adjutant
of his regiment, being at the time the youngest officer on the
establishment performing this duty. At the close of the year
he acted as Major of Brigade to General Dickens's force at the
sieges of Komona and Gunnowrie, in the Doab, where the
troops suffered severely in killed and wounded. In 1810, he
volunteered for Java, but his services were not accepted.

In May, 1814, Lieutenant Roberts was appointed to the
department of Public "Works, but, in November of that year,
his regiment being warned for service in Nepaul, he obtained
permission to rejoin it, and was present at the storm of
Kullunga, where the gallant General Sir Rollo Gillespie fell.
On the 27th December following, though only a subaltern, he
commanded his regiment, which was actively engaged with the
enemy at the Morle-ke- Tehee, close to the fort of Jetuk. The
force, which was commanded by Major (afterwards General Sir)
William Richards, received the high approbation of the Marquis
of Hastings.* On the 2nd April, 1815, Roberts was Staff Officer

* The Adjutant-General wrote to General G. Martindale, commanding
the column : " The conduct of Major Richards and his detachment claims
the unqualified approbation of the Commander-in-Chief ; that officer suc-
cessfully accomplished the main object for which he was detached, and
maintained his position against superior numbers for an entire day, during
which Major Richards afforded conspicuous proofs of his judgment, coolness
and deliberate valour. His Excellency desires that his particular thanks
and approbation be expressed to Major Richards for his conduct on the
above arduous occasion, as well as to the whole of the officers and men who
composed his detachment, and so ably supported him by their determined
exertions of bravery, zeal, and discipline, and patient endurance of fatigue
and privations."

B 2

4 Memoir of Sir Frederick Roberts.

to a Brigade under the command of Sir William Richards,
which was successfully engaged at Birla-ke-Tebee, capturing
the Nepaul chief, and completely routing the enemy, for which
service he received the thanks of his Commanding Officer, and
of the Governor- General, the Marquis of Hastings, who per-
mitted him on the conclusion of the campaign, as a mark of
favour, to return to his appointment in the Puhlic Works

On the 9th April, 1816, Lieutenant Roherts again joined his

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowMajor-General Sir Frederick S. Roberts, bart., V. C., G. C. B., C. I. E., R. A., a memoir → online text (page 1 of 40)