Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roberts, David (1757-1819)

ROBERTS, DAVID (1757–1819), lieutenant-colonel, after serving for a few months in an independent company and in the 22nd dragoons, became lieutenant in the 1st lifeguards on 12 Aug. 1794, and captain on 25 Sept. 1799. He exchanged to half pay in 1801, and was brought back to full pay in the 51st foot on 25 Feb. 1804. He went with that regiment to Portugal in 1808, served as brigade-major to General Leith during the retreat to Coruña, and lost his right hand in the affair at Lugo. It was shot through in two places as he was in the act of killing a French officer.

He received a brevet majority on 4 June 1811, and on 12 Dec. of that year became major in the 51st. He was in temporary command of that regiment at Vittoria, for which he received a gold medal and was made brevet lieutenant-colonel (21 June 1813). The 51st belonged to Lord Dalhousie's division, and, after Soult's unsuccessful attempt to relieve Pampeluna, it took part (still under Roberts's command) in the attack upon the retiring French at Ostiz on 30 July, which Wellington described as admirably conducted and executed. A month later the regiment was severely engaged on the Bidassoa in the combat of Vera, and Roberts received a bullet in the back, which could not be extracted, and which incapacitated him for further service in the field. He retired from the army on 22 June 1815, and died at Havre in April 1819.

He is said to have been the author of ‘The Military Adventures of Johnny Newcome, with an Account of his Campaigns in the Peninsula and in Pall Mall,’ which was illustrated with fifteen coloured sketches by Rowlandson, and published in 1815. It is a poem of nearly three thousand lines, of little merit, but popular enough at the time to reach a second edition in the following year, and to encourage imitations, chief of which was ‘The Adventures of Johnny Newcome in the Navy,’ 1818, a poem by John Mitford (1782–1831) [q. v.]

[Gent. Mag. 1819, i. 490; Wheater's Records of the Services of the Fifty-First Regiment; Grego's Rowlandson the Caricaturist, ii. 298.]

E. M. L.