b. 30/09/1832 Cawnpore, India. d. 14/11/1914 St Omer, France.
Lord Frederick Sleigh “Bobs” Roberts (1832-1914) was born at Cawnpore, India, on 30 September 1832, the second son of General Sir Abraham Roberts, a native of County Waterford in the south-east of Ireland 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 Edinburgh-born Isabella Bunbury, daughter of Major Abraham Bunbury from Kilfeacle in County Tipperary. As an infant, Frederick lost an eye due to a “brain fever” (meningitis). He would be brought to England at the age of 2, and was educated at Eton, Sandhurst and Addiscombe Military Academy before entering the East India Company Army as a Second Lieutenant with the Bengal Artillery on 12 December 1851.
Despite his father being reluctant that the 5ft 3in tall and one-eyed Frederick should join at all, he took him onto his staff as an Aide-de-Camp in 1852. He transferred to the Bengal Horse Artillery in 1854 and was promoted to lieutenant on 31 May 1857. He fought in the Indian rebellion (also known as the Indian Mutiny) of 1857 seeing action during the siege and capture of Delhi where he was slightly wounded, and being present at the relief of Lucknow, where, as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General, he was attached to the staff of Sir Colin Campbell, Commander-in-Chief, India. Roberts was awarded the Victoria Cross medal for actions on 2 January 1858 at Khudaganj.
He was recommended for two actions (24th December 1858 London Gazette) when he had noticed two Sepoys were retreating from the engagement at Khudaganj with the standard. Lieutenant Roberts then set off after them on his horse, catching up with them just as they approached the village. They immediately turned on him and aimed their muskets at him. One of them opened fire, but fortunately for Roberts, the caps snapped. Roberts then cut down the standard-bearer and took possession of it. Later that same day, he rushed to the assistance of a fellow cavalryman who was under threat from several Sepoys. He cut down one of the Sepoys to allow the horseman to escape.
Roberts then returned to Cawnpore where he had dinner with William Peel VC. Sadly, Peel was struck down with smallpox the following day, and died that evening. Roberts returned to England at the end of June 1858 and was presented his VC by the Queen on 8th June 1859 at Buckingham Palace. He also married and returned to India.
He transferred to the British Army in 1861 and served in the Umbeleya and Abyssinia Campaigns during that decade. In 1872 he was awarded the Companion of the Order of Bath. He was given command of the Kurram Field Force in 1878 and distinguished himself in the Second Afghan War, following which he was advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of Bath in 1879.
In the 1880s, he commanded the Kabul Field Force at the Battle of Kandahar, was Governor of Natal and became Commander in Chief of the Madras Army. In 1892, he was created Baron Roberts of Kandahar and of the City of Waterford.
In 1899, he was given overall command of the British Forces sent to the Second Boer War, a war in which he lost his son, Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts VC at the Battle of Colenso. Roberts retired from active service soon after his return from South Africa. He was given multiple accolades and helped set up the National Service League. He took part in the funeral processions of Queen Victoria in 1901 and King Edward VII in 1910.
Roberts died of pneumonia whilst visiting the troops in St Omer, France on 14th November 1914, and was given a state funeral at St Paul's Cathedral. Tragically, his coffin was conveyed to the Cathedral on the gun carriage that his son had tried to save at Colenso. Roberts’ medals are held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST PAULS CATHEDRAL, LONDON. VAULT.
Frederick Sleigh Roberts' medals on the National Army Museum, Chelsea website.
RA Chapel, Woolwich
Horse Guards Parade Statue
Kelvingrove Memorial Statue, Glasgow
Family Grave in Priory Road Cemetery, Ascot, Berkshire
Ascot War Memorial
Philarmonic Pub, Liverpool
St Omer, France
RMA Chapel, Sandhurst (Thomas Stewart)
War Illustrated, 18th August 1917
Indian Room, RMA Sandhurst
Gurkha Museum, Winchester
RMA Chapel, Sandhurst
RMA Chapel, Sandhurst
Eton VC Memorial
Royal Chelsea Hospital
Beverley, Yorkshire (Mick Brand)