Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roberts, Henry Gee

ROBERTS, Sir HENRY GEE (1800–1860), major-general, born at Chosen House, near Gloucester, on 18 July 1800, was second son of William Roberts, M.D., by Margaret, daughter of Roynon Jones. He obtained a cadetship in the East India Company's service in 1818, and on 11 April 1819 was commissioned as lieutenant in the 13th native infantry, Bombay establishment. In 1820–2 he saw some service in Ahmadabad and Mahi Kantha against the coolies and others. He was promoted captain on 22 July 1824, and in 1825 he was given the command of the resident's escort in Cutch, the resident being Major (afterwards Sir Henry) Pottinger [q. v.] of his regiment. The recent annexation of Cutch had irritated the ameers of Sind, who encouraged the Khosas and other marauding tribes to make incursions. Forces had to be raised to meet them, and Roberts was placed in command of the Cutch irregular horse. He was soon afterwards employed politically, as assistant to the resident, and succeeded in establishing order and quiet among the inhabitants of Thar, the district to the north of Cutch, who had hitherto been inveterate robbers and cattle-lifters. He had an important share in driving the Khosas out of the district. Sir Bartle Frere afterwards wrote of him: ‘He used the influence acquired as a daring sportsman and a successful soldier to give to the wretched people about him their first experience of power used for other purposes than tyranny and oppression, and of intelligence directed to protect the right and punish the wrong doer.’

After three years' furlough in England, Roberts was selected to raise a regiment of irregular cavalry in Gujarat, which he commanded till 1841. He had become major in the 13th native infantry on 9 Nov. 1835, and in 1841 he was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel, commanding the 11th native infantry, from which he was transferred on 23 Nov. to the 20th native infantry. With this regiment he took part in Sir Charles Napier's campaign in Sind in 1843 [see Napier, Sir Charles James]. As second in command he was left at Sukkur during Napier's advance on Haidarabad in February, and was not present at Meanee. ‘An energetic officer, good in every situation’ (as Sir William Napier describes him), he sent on reinforcements, which contributed to the victory of Haidarabad. Napier cordially acknowledged his assistance, and wrote eight years afterwards: ‘It was impossible to exceed the boldness and readiness of the support he gave me in the south, at great risk, enfeebling himself in the north.’

In May 1843 Roberts was ordered down the Indus to Schwan, with fifteen hundred men, to co-operate in the movements for intercepting Shere Mohamed. There he learnt that the brother of Shere Mohamed, with three thousand men, was encamped at Pirari, fourteen miles to the west. By a night march on 8 June, with a troop of horse and five companies of foot, he reached the camp. He sent his cavalry round to prevent a retreat, captured the ameer and his guns, and completely dispersed his force. Napier wrote of this to Lord Ellenborough as a most brilliant exploit, and thought it would have the greatest moral effect throughout Sind. Roberts then crossed to the left bank of the Indus, and, in combination with Napier and General John Jacob [q. v.], converged upon Shere Mohamed, whose troops were ultimately attacked and routed by Jacob.

This put an end to the fighting in Sind, and Roberts was sent back to Cutch as resident, with the command of the troops. The chiefs welcomed him as an old friend, and his administration proved most successful in repressing disorder and allaying feuds of long standing. When Napier gave up the command in India in 1851, he wrote to the commander-in-chief in Bombay that Roberts was the best officer in the Bombay army, and perhaps in India, of his rank, and that he had shown in Cutch that his abilities as an administrator were equal to those he possessed for war.

He became colonel of the 21st native infantry on 24 Feb. 1852, and major-general on 28 Nov. 1854. He held commands successively in the southern division, at Satara, and at Karachi; and in May 1853 received the command of the Rajputana field force. He went home on leave, and returned to India in May 1857 at the beginning of the mutiny. During the latter half of that year he commanded the northern division of the Bombay army, and the government expressed its sense of the judgment, resolution, and self-reliance with which he acquitted himself of his most arduous duties at that time. In January 1858, when it had become possible to use the Bombay army against the mutineers, he was appointed to the command of the Rajputana field force. On 30 March he took Kotah by assault after a week's siege, capturing seventy-five guns. One brigade of his force was then detached to assist Sir Hugh Rose (afterwards Baron Strathnairn) [q. v.], and the remainder was divided between Nimach and Nasirabad to cover Rajputana against inroads from the east.

After the capture of Gwalior, the native leader, Tantia Topee, made for Jaipur, but Roberts anticipated him there. He then turned southward, made an attempt on Tonk, and tried to make his way up the Bamas into the Mewar hill-country. Roberts fell in with him at Sanganir on 8 Aug. 1858 and drove him off. On the 14th Roberts again came up with him, drawn up in position on the Bamas, and defeated him, taking his guns and killing about a thousand men. Tantia escaped to the east. Roberts soon afterwards handed over his force to General (afterwards Sir John) Michel [q. v.], and was appointed commissioner and commander of the troops in Gujarat.

He received the thanks of parliament for his services, with the medal and clasp for Central India, and was made K.C.B. on 14 May 1859. He left India in 1859, and died on 6 Oct. 1860 at Hazeldine House, Redmarley d'Abitôt, in Worcestershire.

He married Julia, daughter of the Rev. Robert Raikes of Longhope, Gloucestershire, on 2 May 1838; and he left two sons, both soldiers, and one daughter.

[Wilson's Hist. of India, vol. viii.; Napier's Conquest of Scinde, and Life and Opinions of Sir C. J. Napier; Malleson's Hist. of the Mutiny; Royal Engineers Prof. Papers, new ser. vol. viii. (for siege of Kotah); East India Company's Reg.; Gent. Mag. 1860, ii. 565; Illustrated London News, 17 Nov. 1860; private information.]

E. M. L.