Osborn, Robert Durie (DNB00)

OSBORN, ROBERT DURIE (1835–1889), lieutenant-colonel, was born at Agra 6 Aug. 1835. His father, Henry Roche Osborn, entered the East India Company's service in May 1819, and served most of time in the 64th native infantry, but latterly was lieutenant-colonel of the 18th native infantry; he died at Feromepore in 1819. Robert was educated for a cadet at Dr. Greig's school at Walthamstow, and was appointed ensign of the 26th Bengal native infantry 16 Aug. 185i, becoming lieutenant on 31 July 1857. He served throughout the Indian mutiny campaign of 1857-9, and was present in the actions of Boolundshuhur on 27 Sept., and at Allyghur on 5 Oct. 1867. He commanded a detachment of the 4th Punjaub infantry at the actions of Gungeree and Puttiallee, was present in various operations against the rebels in the Agra district, served with Colonel Troup‘s column in Oude in November 1858, and took part in the action at Biswah. From January to May 1859 he was with the Saugor field force under General Whitelock; he afterwards commanded a field detachment in the Ooraie district, and later on defeated the party of rebels at Tudhoorkee. In 1859-60 he was with the Bundelcund field force under Brigadier Wheeler, and for his services received a medal. He was lieutenant in the Bengal staff corps 30 July 1857 and captain 20 Dec. 1865. On 25 Aug. 1869 he became adjutant of the 2nd regiment of Sikh irregular cavalry, a regiment converted into the 12th regiment of Bengal cavalry in 1861, in which Osborn was third squad officer from 4 Nov. 1865 to 17 May 1866. He was captain in his regiment 8 June 1868 to 1872. In the Latter year he was appointed tutor to the Paikharah wards, became major 20 Dec. 1873, and retired with the honorary rank of lieutenant-colonel 1 May 1879. 1Ie served through the Afghan campaign of that year, but retired after the signature of the treaty of Gundamuk.

Osborn was a serious thinker on both religious and political topics. As a young man he enjoyed the friendship of F. D. Maurice and of Charles Kingsley, and occasionally write papers in the magazines on Maurice’s religious position and influence. While in India he was a conscientious student of oriental religions, and spent fourteen years in digesting the tangled materials for his two works, ‘Islam under the Arabs,' 1876, and ‘Islam under the Khalifs of Baghdad,’ 1877; 2nd ed. 1880. These books are highly valued by serious students. They are models of lucid and graceful treatment of a perplexing subject. At the same time Osborn was always a zealous advocate of the rights of the native Indians, and his retirement from the army was largely due to his dissatisfaction with the policy of Lord Lytton, which, in his opinion, outraged native sentiment and needlessly provoked the Afghan war of 1879. On his return from India he settled at Hampstead, and mainly devoted himself to journalistic and literary work. He became London correspondent of the Calcutta ‘Statesman,’ and took a leading part in the conduct of the London ‘Statesman,’ which was published for a few months in 1879 and 1880 with a view to resisting Lord Beaconsfield's policy in India. In the ‘Scotsman,’ the New York ‘Nation,’ and the ‘Contemporary Review’ he also wrote much on India and on native claims to popular government.

Osborn was an indefatigable lawn-tennis player, and died of syncope on Good Friday, 19 April 1889, while engaged playing a match with Mr. Ernest Renshaw, the champion of all England, at the Hyde Park tennis-court, London. He married at Trinity Church, Bayswater, 12 Nov. 1864, Edith, daughter of the Rev. Gregory Rhodes, by whom he had two daughters.

A portrait in oils of Osborn was painted by Mr. J. R. Hodgson, R.A., in 1877, and was exhibited in the Royal Academy. It was presented to Osborn by the artist, and descended to his family.

Besides the works mentioned, Osborn also wrote ‘Friends of the Foreigner in the Nineteenth Century: a Critique,’ 1879, and ‘Lawn Tennis: its Players and how to Play,’ 1881; 2nd edit. 1884.

[Times, 25 April 1889 p. 7, 27 April p. 9; Barnes's Records of Hampstead, 1890, p. 466; East India Register, 1853 et seq.; Athenæum, 27 April 1889; Calcutta Statesman, May 1889; information from Miss Christabel Osborn.]

G. C. B.