Home, Robert (1837-1879) (DNB00)

HOME, ROBERT (1837–1879), colonel royal engineers, born in the island of Antigua, West Indies, on 29 Dec. 1837, was eldest son of Major James Home, who served for some years in the 30th regiment, and afterwards settled in Ireland as a land-agent. Robert Home was early thrown on his own resources, and when, for a short time during the Crimean war, commissions in the artillery and engineers were thrown open to public competition without the necessity of passing through the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he succeeded in obtaining one in the royal engineers, and was gazetted lieutenant on 7 April 1856. After serving at Chatham and in Nova Scotia, he was one of the first to join the new staff college at Sandhurst. On the conclusion of the course of study there, he was attached at Aldershot to the other three arms of the service successively, so as to complete his training for the staff. In 1862 he went to Portland, and was employed in the new defences. After his promotion to captain on 9 Dec. 1864 he was sent to Canada, where he wrote a very able report on the defence of the frontier against invasion, which attracted the attention of the authorities at home. The following year he was appointed to the staff at Aldershot as deputy-assistant quartermaster-general. The ability he displayed in this post led to further special employment. In 1870 he became secretary of the royal engineers committee (a standing scientific committee), and in the following year he was appointed to the topographical department of the war office, which developed later into the intelligence branch.

In 1873 he was selected by Sir Garnet (now Lord) Wolseley to be the commanding royal engineer of the Ashantee expedition, and in this pre-eminently engineers' and doctors' campaign he proved himself as able in the field as at the desk, his energy and force of character enabling him to overcome manifold difficulties encountered in preparing the way for the march to Coomassie. For his services Home received the brevet of lieutenant-colonel, the war medal, and the companionship of the Bath. On his return from Africa he resumed his duties at the intelligence branch. The scheme for the mobilisation of the army and the ‘regulations for the organisation of the communications of an army in the field’ were his work, and he rendered good service as the secretary and moving spirit of many war-office committees. On 1 April 1876 he succeeded Major (now Sir Charles) Wilson as assistant quartermaster-general at headquarters.

During the Russo-Turkish war, when there was risk of this country being drawn into the struggle, Home's opinion was frequently sought, and great weight attached to it in military circles. Towards the end of 1876 he was sent to Turkey to report on the defence of Constantinople. His able despatches gained him a brevet-colonelcy, and the masterly knowledge he had acquired of the politico-military situation made him the trusted adviser of the highest authorities. In 1877 he was a second time sent to the East, on this occasion as British commissioner for the delimitation of the boundaries of Bulgaria. He had all but completed the work when he contracted typhoid fever, and came home to die in London on 29 Jan. 1879, at the age of forty-one. He married, in February 1864, a daughter of J. Hunt, a Dublin barrister, who survived him with six children, four sons and two daughters.

Home's real work (according to the ‘Times’ of 31 Jan. 1879) was known to ‘a comparatively limited circle, but that circle comprised most of those to whose hands the destinies of the empire have been entrusted during the last two administrations. … It will be found that most of the statesmen who have been engaged in the difficult work of the last few years attribute no small importance to the assistance derived from Colonel Home's genius and grasp of facts.’

Home achieved his first literary success in a little anonymous pamphlet on army administration. His principal work, ‘A Précis of Modern Tactics,’ was at the time of its publication (1873) one of the very few English books on the subject, and it still remains the best in our language. He translated Baron Stoffel's ‘Military Reports’ in 1872, and a French work on the ‘Law of Recruiting’ in the same year. He was at one time a frequent contributor to the ‘Quarterly Review,’ ‘Macmillan's Magazine,’ and other periodicals. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and an associate of the Society of Telegraph Engineers. A stained-glass window was placed to his memory in Rochester Cathedral by public subscription.

[Despatches; Corps Records; Times, 31 Jan. 1879.]

R. H. V.