Robertson, James (d.1820) (DNB00)


ROBERTSON, JAMES (d. 1820), Benedictine monk, was a native of Scotland, and at an early age was taken by his uncle, Father Marianus Brockie, to the monastery belonging to the Scottish Benedictines at Ratisbon. There he became a professed father of the order, taking in religion the name of Gallus. It is stated that ‘this short, stout, merry little monk was always jesting and poking fun’ (Stothert, Catholic Mission in Scotland, p. 406). As he did not promise well at Ratisbon, he was sent home on the mission, and in 1797 he was chaplain at Munshes in Galloway.

In 1808, at the special suggestion of the Duke of Wellington, Canning sent Robertson to Denmark on a dangerous mission. The Spanish general, the Marquis de la Romana, had been, with his troops, treacherously detained in Denmark while the French overran Spain. Robertson was directed to invite the marquis to avail himself of the assistance of the English fleet in withdrawing his troops. He made his way successfully through the French forces in the assumed character of a dealer in cigars and chocolate, and at length gained access in the island of Fünen to the Spanish commander, who accepted the offer of the English ministry. An account of the difficulties he encountered in getting back to England will be found in the ‘Narrative of a Secret Mission to the Danish Islands in 1808. By the Rev. James Robertson. Edited, from the author's manuscript, by his nephew, Alexander Clinton Fraser,’ London, 1863, 8vo. For some years after his escape from the continent in 1809 he resided at Dublin, but in 1813 he was officially employed abroad in diplomacy by the Duke of Wellington. On the entrance of the allies into Paris he at once went thither, and put himself in communication with the duke. A liberal pension was subsequently bestowed on him by the British Government. Leaving Paris in 1815, he went to the monastery at Ratisbon. It appears that at this period he interested himself in the education of the deaf and dumb. John Bulwer [q. v.] had about 1640 first noticed ‘the capacity which deaf persons usually possess of enjoying music through the medium of the teeth.’ Robertson turned Bulwer's observation to excellent account in Germany, and by his exertions a new source of instruction and enjoyment was opened to those otherwise insensible to sounds (Edinburgh Review, July 1835, p. 413). Robertson was also the founder of the first blind asylum in Bavaria. A large and finely decorated hall belonging to the Scottish monastery was given by Abbot Benedict Arbuthnot and his chapter for a school for the blind. The Bavarian government provided the necessary material, including books with raised letters, and the crown prince presented Robertson with a donation of ten thousand florins for his new undertaking. The solemn opening of this asylum took place with great ceremony on 5 May 1816, when 3,260 florins were subscribed, Robertson himself contributing one thousand (Reid, Chronicles of St. James's Scotch Monastery at Ratisbon, manuscript in the possession of the Marquis of Bute). In 1818 Robertson visited Scotland, but returning to Ratisbon, he died there in 1820.

[Information from the Rev. Oswald Hunter-Blair, O.S.B.; Napier's Hist. of the War in the Peninsula, 1851, i. 219, 220.]

T. C.