Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sandeman, Robert Groves

SANDEMAN, Sir ROBERT GROVES (1835–1892), Indian officer and administrator, born on 25 Feb. 1835 at Perth, was son of General Robert Turnbull Sandeman of the East India Company's service, by his wife, whose maiden name was Barclay. The family was long connected with Perth, members of it having filled various municipal offices since 1735 [see Sandeman, Robert]. Robert was educated at Perth Academy and at St. Andrews University. In 1856 he was appointed to the 33rd Bengal infantry, his father's regiment, which, though disarmed at a time of supreme anxiety, remained faithful throughout the mutiny, and afterwards had its arms publicly restored. From it Sandeman was transferred to Probyn's Horse, now the 11th (Prince of Wales's Own) Bengal lancers, with whom he saw some service, taking part in storming Dilkhusha, in the capture of Lucknow, and other minor operations in which he was twice severely wounded. He was selected to carry despatches to Sir John Lawrence, who appointed him to the Punjab commission. He thus gained an opportunity of distinction of which he took full advantage.

To the performance of administrative and magisterial duties Sandeman brought patience and pertinacity curbed by much cautious sagacity. In 1866, as magistrate of Dera Ghází Khán, an arid and unattractive trans-Indus district of the Punjab, he used his utmost endeavours to obtain influence with the tribes within and beyond the border. He succeeded by irregular methods which were often viewed unfavourably by the chief officer of the Sind frontier, who had the control of the Baluch tribes. But Sandeman was supported by the Punjab government, whose opinions were ultimately adopted by the government of India. When the policy of non-intervention adopted by Lord Lawrence and his school was abandoned, Sandeman endeavoured, by securing the acquaintance and good-will of neighbouring chiefs, to strengthen the defences of the frontier. In 1876 he conducted negotiations which led to a treaty with the khan of Khalat. The value of his work was recognised at the Delhi assemblage, where, on 1 Jan. 1877, he was made C.S.I. On 21 Feb. following he was gazetted agent to the governor-general in Baluchistán, and he held that post for the rest of his life. In July 1879, when holding the rank of major, he was made K.C.S.I.

During the Afghan war of 1879–80 the fidelity of the Baluchis under Sandeman's control was severely tested when the news of the disaster at Maiwand (27 July 1880) spread through the country. Some tribes rose, attacked the outposts, and blocked the roads; but Sandeman, trusting the people, made over his stores in out-stations, and those posts themselves, to the charge of the village headmen, and was thus set free to assist the troops who were in evil plight at Kandahár. Order was soon restored by his good management, and the zeal and energy displayed were brought to the notice of the queen. In September 1880 General Sir Frederick (afterwards Lord) Roberts, when on his way to the scene of war, stayed with Sandeman at Quetta, and Sandeman effectively aided Sir Frederick Roberts in the transport service to Quetta and Kandahar. ‘He was,’ Lord Roberts wrote of Sandeman, ‘intimately acquainted with every leading man [of the native tribes], and there was not a village, however out of the way, which he had not visited’ (Lord Roberts, Forty-one Years in India, ii. 372–3). ‘After the war he was instrumental in adding to the empire a new province, of much strategic importance, commanding the passes into South Afghanistan, and access to three trade-routes between Persia, Kandahár, and British India. … Outside the limits of the new province, in the mountain region westward of the Sulimáns, between the Gumal river and the Marrí hills, he opened out hundreds of miles of highway, through territories till then unknown, and, in concert with the surrounding Patán tribes, made them as safe as the highways of British India. … But perhaps the most important of his achievements was this—that he succeeded in revolutionising the attitude of the government of India towards the frontier tribes, and made our “sphere of influence” on the western border no longer a mere diplomatic expression, but a reality’ (Thornton).

Sandeman's last days were spent at Lus Beyla, the capital of a small state on the Sind frontier about 120 miles north-west of Kurráchi. He had gone thither in hope of healing a misunderstanding between the chief and his eldest son, and to arrange for carrying on the affairs of the state. After a short illness he died there on 29 Jan. 1892, and over his grave the jám or chief caused a handsome dome to be erected. The governor-general, Lord Lansdowne, issued a notification in the ‘Gazette’ of India, dated 6 Feb., in which testimony was borne to Sandeman's good qualities, and his death was lamented as a public misfortune.

He married, first, in 1864, Catherine, daughter of John Allen, esq., of Kirkby Lonsdale; and secondly, on 17 Jan. 1882, Helen Kate, daughter of Lieutenant-colonel John William Gaisford of Clonee, co. Meath. There is an excellent portrait of Sir Robert Sandeman, by the Hon. John Collier, which is reproduced in his biography.

[Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman, by Thomas Henry Thornton, C.S.I., D.C.L., 1895; Athenæum, 20 July 1895; personal knowledge.]

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