Title: Robley — Soldier with a Pencil

Author: L. W. Melvin

Publication details: Tauranga Historical Society, 1957

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Ronald Melvin

Part of: The Moko Texts Collection

This text is the subject of: National Library of New Zealand Catalogue

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Robley — Soldier with a Pencil


page 10


The Imperial troops were withdrawn from Tauranga early in 1866 and sailing from Auckland arrived at Spithead on June 28th — Robley's twenty-sixth birthday. Thereafter his career followed a typical service pattern. In 1870 he was able to purchase an unattached captaincy for £1100, and on 4th February 1871 transferred to the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. He remained on Home Service until 1880 when he was promoted major and despatched to Mauritius, where three companies of his regiment were on detached service from South Africa.

By now his sketches were being published in the London Graphic to which journal he had transferred his contributions. While in Mauritius the health of officers and men became so bad that Robley decided to report direct to the Adjutant-General in London, Lord Wolseley, instead of through headquarters in Africa. His unusual action brought immediate results, for the three companies under his command were transferred to Capetown and placed on a month's sick-leave. Although Lord Wolseley acted on the direct report, he kept in mind the omission to correspond through proper authority. Some two years later when Robley had occasion to report to him in London, Lord Wolseley satisfied himself on the circumstances of the incident before allowing it to drop.

Following the transfer to Capetown, Robley saw service in Cape Colony, Natal, Zululand and Ceylon. In 1882 he was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel, and the next year assumed command of the regiment, and wrote its history. He retired with the rank of Major-Genera1 in 1887 and fare-welled the regiment in Ceylon, to live in London.

Largely because he contrived it that way, Robley's service life was never dull, and he had his moments right to the last. During his final term in Ceylon he had become well-known as a coin collector who assiduously pursued his interest in the bazaars and shops, and by hints and requests among the natives. Nor was he above scrounging a quid pro quo in the way of some rare specimen when requests came from the upper Ceylonese families for the regimental pipers to play at important social functions.2 The outcome of all this was that during the night before he left Ceylon, a native came to his bungalow and submitted a bag of coins for his inspection. They were obviously rare and the General soon came to terms, paying what cash he had on hand and arranging for the balance of the purchase price to be called for in the morning. The vendor never came back however, and after a busy day of farewells, the General boarded the liner for England.

In the saloon that evening he read of a recent robbery at the Colombo Museum, and the latest acquisitions to his collection, then reposing in his luggage, were listed among the missing treasures. There was nothing for it but to return the loot, which he arranged to do at the first European port of call. It was a sad disappointment and he admitted to "almost a gloat" on that first evening when the coins had been brought to him.2