Tuesday, 17 November 2015

George James Robarts

My 4x great uncle was a military and political figure and as as such embellished his time with his probity and liberal politics viz:

LIEUT.-Col. GEORGE JAMES ROBARTS, C.B. CORNET 23d dragoons 8th Dec., 1803; Lieut. 19th Oct., 1804; Lieut. 10th dragoons 23d Nov., 1804; Capt. 3d April, 1806; Capt. 10th dragoons 25th April, 1806; Maj. 1st Aug., 1811; L.-Col. in the army 2d June, 1813; Maj. 7th light dragoons 12th Aug., 1810: he is now on the half-pay of the 9th dragoons. This officer served in Spain and Portugal, and commanded the 10th hussars at the battle of Vittoria, for which he has received a medal: the is a Companion of the Bath.

ROBARTS, LIEUT.-Col. GEORGE JAMES, C.B. sat for Wallingford in the Parliaments of 1820-26, resigning his seat in the latter parliament, in the same year that he was returned. Adopting the military profession he entered the army as cornet in the 23rd dragoons, in 1803; received his commission as lieutenant of the 10th dragoons, in 1804; was promoted to the rank of captain, in 1806; major, in 1811; brevet lieutenant-colonel, 2nd June, 1813; was appointed major of the 7th light dragoons, in 1819; and was subsequently on the half pay of the 9th dragoons. He served in Spain and Portugal, and commanded the 10th hussars at the battle of Vittoria, for which he received a medal. Mr. Robarts who was brother to A. W. ROBARTS, Esq. so many years M.P. for Maidstone, died the 16th October, 1829, in the 47th year of his age. His political principles were liberal.

The Royal Military Chronicle: Or, British Officers Monthly Register 1813

We have much satisfaction in being enabled to mention with so much just praise the name of Major Robarts; a friend and contributor to this work, and to whom the army, in common with the country, is peculiarly indebted for embellishing the military character with all the chastities of Christian life. It is no small praise, in difficult times, to perform even the duties of an arduous profession; but it is a greater praise, and the proof of a noble mind, to carry a liberal and generous enthusiasm into such performance; and by thus outstripping the mere quantum of due service to become a benefactor instead of a servant. It does not belong to our uncourtly language to give a due eulogy to a character of this kind; but let the sincerity of our praise excuse any rusticity in our style. I pretend to nothing but to write my own language as it is spoken in good company.

Offices Held

Cornet 23 Drag. 1803; lt. 10 (Prince's Own) Drag. 1804, capt. 1806, maj. 1811, brevet lt.-col. 1813; maj. 24 Drag. Nov. 1814, 9 Drag. Dec. 1814 (half-pay).


Robarts served in the Peninsula, distinguished himself in command of the Prince of Wales's Hussars at Morales, 2 June 1813, and fought at Vitoria later in the month. On his return home he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. He was the senior of the 24 officers of the regiment who in August 1814 signed a letter requesting a court martial on the allegedly reprehensible conduct of their colonel, George Quentin, in France the previous spring. Quentin was largely exonerated and, to mark the prince regent's displeasure, his officers were disbanded as a corps. Robarts was transferred to the 24th Hussars on 12 Nov. 1814. In the Commons, 23 Nov., his uncle George Tierney refuted an official statement, placed in the Courier, that in an earlier debate he had made light of Robarts's personal indebtedness to the regent for his promotion. Like the chief scapegoat in the affair, Colonel Charles Palmer, Robarts was placed on half-pay shortly afterwards.

He received £6,107 from his wealthy father in his lifetime and on his death in 1816 inherited a further £33,893 plus £10,000 in trust. He joined Brooks's in 1817 and bought five houses in the venal borough of Wallingford, which he unsuccessfully contested in 1818. He tried again at the general election of 1820, when some of the respectable electors formed an association to promote independence and root out corruption. He professed sympathy with their aims, came second in the poll and so joined two of his brothers in the House. (The other son of Abraham Robarts, James Thomas, was a supercargo with the East India Company in Canton.) Robarts followed the family line and was a steady, though apparently silent adherent of the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry. He was a regular voter for economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, favoured making Leeds, proposed for enfranchisement in place of Grampound, a scot and lot borough, 2 Mar. 1821, and divided for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824. He led the Wallingford deputation which presented a supportive address to Queen Caroline, 22 Jan. 1821. He was apparently a lukewarm supporter of Catholic relief: his only certain vote for it was on 1 Mar. 1825. His last recorded votes were against the president of the board of trade's ministerial salary, 7, 10 Apr., and for reform of Edinburgh's representation, 13 Apr., and relaxation of the corn laws, 18 Apr. 1826. That day, as Tierney told Lady Holland, 28 Apr., his family came 'very near losing' him:

He was suddenly attacked in the House of Commons ... by loss of speech and for the four following days the physicians gave hardly a hope of his being likely to live. A favourable change has however taken place and he is now out of danger, though still attended by the doctors four times a day. The case is not paralytic but is connected with some pressure of the brain.

On 16 May Tierney wrote:

 My poor nephew is still in a very precarious state, but the physicians encourage us to hope that he will ultimately recover. I should have more confidence in them if they were able to say distinctly what was his complaint.

He had come in for criticism in Wallingford for failing to pay the expected rewards to his supporters; and two months before the general election of 1826 (a few days before his seizure in the House) he was persuaded that his only chance of re-election lay in coalescing with the other veteran Whig sitting Member William Hughes, an enthusiastic briber. He was too ill to take any part in the campaign, and his brother-in-law John Maddox stood in for him. He was returned in second place, but he vacated his seat soon after the new Parliament met. He survived in a state of vegetation for a further three years, but on 27 Aug. 1829 Tierney told Lord Holland that he:

 cannot possibly last long. He is in as wretched a condition as can well be imagined, his bones through his skin and his faculties entirely gone. The physician who lives with him says that he cannot answer for him from day to day, at the same time that he may linger on for some weeks.

He died in October 1829, 'aged 47'. On the 19th his brother Abraham, the only survivor of the four (William had died in 1820 and James in 1825, at Macao), told Lord Salisbury, to whom Robarts left his shooting equipment:

The illness which led to this fatal event has been of such long duration, and was attended with so many distressing and melancholy circumstances, the termination of it can scarcely be considered otherwise than [as] a providential release from a miserable existence.

Having been extolled "for embellishing the military character with all the chastities of Christian life" it came as a surprise to find the following -

By his will, dated 24 Nov. 1823, and proved under £70,000, he bequeathed £10,000 to Mary Ann Harben, who lived in a house he owned at 57 Welbeck Street; £10,000 each to their bastard children  Georgiana Charlotte and James George, and the same sum to another illegitimate child, George Francis Stuart Andrews *. He commended the first two to the 'favourable notice' of his mother and sisters, trusting that they would 'have some feeling in consideration for the circumstances of their birth and do all in their power to make them respectable and happy in life'. His daughter received his Vitoria medal and a set of dental instruments looted from Joseph Buonaparte's carriage at that engagement.

Georgiana died aged 12 in 1832.

James (1823-1886) married Hannah Hewitt (1829-1908) in 1867 in Kensington and had a son, George Harben Robarts (1873-1900). He, James, is buried in Ipswich Cemetery.

 His, George, will led to an extensive court case regarding his children's legacies.

Hannah died in 1866 in Essex.

To us a run of the mill story but back in the day to have a mistress and two illegitimate children whilst being a sitting MP would have been scandalous - I wonder if his family knew prior to his death (particularly his younger brother, James Thomas, who died in Macao four years before him and who had his own illegitimate family).

* I'm fairly sure George Francis was his Godchild (it's the way the will reads) not another bastard son.


  1. James Robarts and Hannah Robarts nee' Hewitt are buried together in Woodbridge cemetery with Hannah's parents. A diary written by Hannah about her life with James is published. HANNAH's DIARY Life and Love in Victorian Essex by C.L.Bennett

    1. Thank you for the information, I didn't know they were buried in Woodbridge and will definitely visit; and also look for a copy of the diary.