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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Roberts, Charles Fyshe (1837–1914)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Charles Fyshe Roberts (1837-1914), soldier, was born on 20 August 1837 at Ickwell, Bedfordshire, England, son of Captain Charles Roberts, 59th Regiment, and his wife Emma Gertrude, née Hornsby, a connexion of Thomas Fyshe Palmer. Educated at Carshalton House School, he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, on 23 August 1852 and was commissioned second lieutenant on 28 February 1855. A lieutenant in April, he was sent to the Crimea where he served in the siege of Sebastopol. Personally commended in June by Lord Raglan, he was severely injured on 15 November, but was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Sardinian Order of Military Valour. In October 1858 he went to India, served at Fort William, Calcutta and Dacca and from January to April 1861 commanded the artillery with the Sikkim Field Force under Colonel Gawler. He was promoted second captain in September 1862 and major in January 1863.

In 1865-68 Roberts served with the Royal Artillery in Sydney and was acting aide-de-camp to Governor Young. On half-pay from July 1869 he retired on an annuity of £110 on 28 September 1871. In January 1873 he became secretary to the New South Wales agent-general in London at £400 a year, but resigned and returned to New South Wales in mid-1874. On 28 August 1876 he was appointed colonel commanding all the artillery forces in the colony at £500 a year; in the same year he was appointed to the commission on defence from foreign aggression and to the board for inspecting and maintaining the supply of colonial warlike stores. In 1881 as one of the royal commissioners inquiring into the military defences of the colony he favoured a permanent artillery force, a small nucleus of permanent infantry supported by unpaid volunteers on the English model, and advocated forming an Australian federal regiment of artillery.

In 1885 he assumed command of all the military forces in the colony when Colonel J. S. Richardson led the Sudan Contingent. In 1887-88 he quarrelled with Richardson over his treatment when the artillery was placed under the general staff. In letters to Sir Henry Parkes, a close friend, in February and August 1888 he set out his complaint and his disagreements with Richardson on rearranging the defence forces. In November, though he had misgivings, he asked Parkes to be considered for the proposed new office of secretary for defence. In 1890-91 he twice visited England. In April 1892 he became military secretary of the new Defence Department at £800 a year and in June and July was examined at length by a royal commission into the military service of New South Wales which found the defence system unsatisfactory.

Roberts retired in 1902. In 1905 the royal commission on the claims of members of the New South Wales contingents in South Africa noted that there was some friction between Roberts and General Sir George French and suggested that Roberts had neglected to settle the great confusion over the soldiers' pay. Roberts was absent from the state and did not give evidence.

A competent and very popular officer, he helped form the Australian military tradition. Honorary aide-de-camp to three sovereigns Roberts had been made C.M.G. in 1885. He was a member of the Union Club. He died on 9 September 1914 at his residence, Valensole, Lower Ocean Street, Double Bay, and was buried in the South Head cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Alice Caroline (d. 10 February 1932), youngest daughter of William Bradley, whom he had married at Goulburn on 15 November 1866, and by a son and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • List of Officers of the Royal Regiment of Artillery from the Year 1716 to the Year 1899. To Which are Added the Notes on Officers’ Services Collected by General W. H. Askwith
  • (Lond, 1900)
  • J. R. J. Jocelyn, The History of the Royal Artillery: Crimean Period (Lond, 1911)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1881 4, 664, Royal Commission, Evidence, 1892-93, 7, 28-46, 1906, 3, 30
  • Town and Country Journal, 9 Jan 1892
  • Sydney Mail, 16 Jan 1892
  • Bulletin, 11 Mar 1892
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 4 June 1892
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10, 12 Sept 1914
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales), WO 76/368.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Roberts, Charles Fyshe (1837–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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