Roberts, Joseph (DNB00)


ROBERTS, JOSEPH (1795–1849), missionary, was ordained in 1818 a Wesleyan minister, and sent by the Wesleyan Missionary Society to Ceylon. He sailed with his wife from Bristol on 28 March 1819, arrived in July, and took up his residence at Jafna, residing afterwards at Batticaloa and Trincomalee. He became a corresponding member of the Royal Asiatic Society soon after its inception, and on 1 Dec. 1832 contributed a paper on ‘The Tabernacle or Car employed by the Hindus in Ceylon to carry their God in Religious Processions.’ With this he sent from Ceylon a model, preserved in the museum of the Asiatic Society. He applied himself to the study of the Tamil language, and in 1831 his translation of extracts from the ‘Sakaa Thevan Saasteram,’ or ‘Book of Fate,’ was published by the Oriental Translation Fund of the Asiatic Society in vol. i. of ‘Miscellaneous Translations from the Oriental Languages,’ London, 8vo. In 1833 he returned to England, and, while living at Faversham, Kent, completed his ‘Oriental Illustrations of the Sacred Scriptures collected from the Customs, Manners, Rites, Superstitions,’ &c., London, 1835, 8vo. Many of Roberts's illustrations were used by George Bush in his ‘Scripture Illustrations,’ Brattleboro, 1839. Roberts remained in England until the beginning of 1843, and in the meantime prepared a second edition (London, 1844, 8vo). He was stationed successively at Canterbury, Bristol, Sheffield, and Manchester. In January 1843 he returned to India, and was appointed general superintendent of the Wesleyan Missionary Society's mission in the Madras Presidency. While living there in 1846 he edited a work on ‘Caste, its Religious and Civil Character,’ London, 1847, 8vo; from papers written by bishops in India, including Heber, Wilson, Corrie, and Spencer. He also published ‘Heaven physically and morally considered,’ 1846, 18mo.

He was an active member of the committee of the Madras Auxiliary Bible Society, and contributed to the ‘Methodist Magazine’ and other periodicals some lucid and argumentative essays on ‘Paganism and Popery,’ and on subjects connected with missions.

Roberts died, after a few days' illness, on 14 April 1849, at Palaveram, near Madras.

[Minutes of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference for 1849, xi. 182; McClintock and Strong's Cyclopæd. of Eccles. Lit. ix. 47; Journals of the Royal Asiatic Society, i. 87, 145, and Annual Reports of the same; Missionary Notices (Wesleyan), 1819, ii. vi. 45, 61, 207, 244, 331; information from the Rev. G. W. Olver, B.A., of the Wesleyan Mission House.]

C. F. S.