Roebuck, Thomas (DNB00)


ROEBUCK, THOMAS (1781–1819), orientalist, grandson of John Roebuck [q. v.] the inventor, was born in Linlithgowshire in 1781. He went to school at Alloa, and afterwards to the high school at Edinburgh. His uncle Benjamin Roebuck (d. 1809), of the Madras civil service, procured him an appointment with the East India Company, and early in 1801 he left England to enter the 17th regiment of native infantry as a cadet. He became lieutenant-captain 17 Sept. 1812, and captain 15 June 1815.

Roebuck soon acquired a complete command of Hindustani, and, on account of his proficiency, was frequently sent in advance when the regiment was on active service. His health suffering, he obtained leave in 1806–9, returned to England, and spent much time in Edinburgh assisting Dr. John Borthwick Gilchrist [q. v.] to prepare an English and Hindu dictionary, and two volumes of the ‘British-Indian Monitor,’ 1806–8. On the return voyage he compiled ‘An English and Hindustani Naval Dictionary,’ with a short grammar (Calcutta, 1811; 2nd edit. 1813; 4th 1848; 5th, re-edited and enlarged as a ‘Laskari Dictionary’ by George Small, M.A., London, 1882). In March 1811 Roebuck was attached to the college of Fort William, Madras, as assistant-secretary and examiner. Here he had leisure to pursue his oriental studies, to superintend the publication of a Hindustani version of Persian tales, and to edit, with notes in Persian, a Hindu-Persian dictionary (Calcutta, 1818). He died prematurely of fever at Calcutta on 8 Dec. 1819. Just before his death he completed ‘The Annals of the College of Fort William’ (Calcutta, 1819, 8vo) and ‘A Collection of Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases in the Persian and Hindustani Languages’ (Calcutta, 1824). His unpublished materials for a lexicon of the latter language, which he had long projected, became, after his death, the property of the government, and were deposited in the library of the college. Roebuck was a member of the Asiatic Society.

[Memoir by Professor H. H. Wilson in his edition of Roebuck's Persian Proverbs; Registers of the East India Company, 1803–1819; Roebuck's Works; Dodwell and Miles's Indian Army List, pp. 148–9.]

C. F. S.