Robert Roberts

Table of Contents | Preface | An Indian Childhood | Genealogy | Colonialism and The Raj


[Genealogy] [IndoEuropeans] [Separate and Unequal] [Mum and Dad] [Dad] [Mum] [William  Blanchette] [Thomas Blanchette II] [Thomas Blanchett 1] [Mum Paternal] [Robert Roberts] [Dad Maternal] [Mum Maternal]

Blanchette_Roberts Family Tree
Robert Roberts (b~1780 m 1806  d1817)
Population of England and Wales (in millions)
1730 6
1760 6.6
1790 8.2
1700 5.8
1820 12
1850 18
Industrial Revolution Children
Toynbee's excellent and very long (277K) essay on the Industrial Revolution
In the 18th and early 19th centuries  British soldiers were known as  "bloody backs" because of the frequency of flogging in the Royal Army.


Great Great Great Grand Father --Robert Havelock Roberts

And here is my mother's paternal patriarch from Wales -- the soldier Robert Havelock Roberts

Robert Roberts was a Welsh laborer from St Asaph, in the county of Flintshire in Wales.  St Asaph was then and  is now a teeny weeny little place in North Wales.  He was born in about 1780 and, unlike Thomas Blanchette who joined the HEIC army in 1817,  Robert joined the regular British Army (the Royal Army).  He enlisted in the 53rd Regiment in April 1800 and was in St Lucia in the West Indies in July 1800—three months later.   St Lucia is a tiny island near Trinidad.  It is only 600 km in area and had been fought over between Britain and France throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  It changed  hands 17 times, ending up British after the Britain’s victory at Waterloo in 1815.  In 1800 the 53rd Shropshire including our warrior ancestor was sent to St. Lucia to protect it from France during the Napoleonic war.  Robert spent two years in the West Indies and in October 1802 embarked for England.  When he was killed at Trichinopoly he was a color sergeant.  Robert Roberts like many other English soldiers and civilians did not survive long in India.  He landed in 1805 and died in 1817 in the Pindaree war.  He married “a European widow” named Elizabeth Ruck in 1806—one year after he landed in India--and that is all I presently know about her, and his life in India.  Judging by her name I would guess that Ms. Ruck was of Dutch descent.  The fact that she married a British soldier would indicate she was probably a soldier's daughter.  Robert Roberts and Elizabeth Ruek had at least one child -- Edward -- who was later killed during the "Mutiny" of 1857.

 Robert was about a generation older than Thomas Blanchette.  He died only 12 years after coming to India.  Since his life in India was so short, and since I have included in Thomas Blanchett's life much of what was happening in India in the early 19th century, I will concentrate in this section on a laborer's life in England and a soldier's life in the Royal Army in the late 18th and early 19th century. 

A laborers life in England and Wales in the late 18th century must have been hellish.  The English countryside was transformed between 1760 and 1830 as the open-field system of cultivation gave way to compact farms and enclosed fields due to the "Enclosure Acts".  Despite massive increases in agricultural output, British per capita income fell in the period 1770-1820.  The rich got much richer and the poor became penniless.  In 1800, 15% of the population of London were domestic servants -- surplus labor had dropped labor rates, and colonial booty had created a class of nouveau riche nabobs.

The population of England and Wales nearly tripled in the century between 1750 and 1850 due to falling death rates.  After 1750 there was a surplus of labor which provided the fodder for the Industrial Revolution.  Britain sacrificed at least two generations of its peasants and laborers during the  late 18th century through the mid 19th century.  The increase in population in England, together with the increasing gap between rich and poor, the demands of the Industrial Revolution, coupled with the rigors of the 22 years of Napoleonic wars (1793 - 1815) and the paranoia about revolution in England, made England into a two society nation. 

As an example of the plight of the poor, between 1790 and 1796 the price of bread rose from 54s  a qtr in 1791 to 90s in 1796.  This was in a period when per capita income was falling.  There were bread riots throughout the country.  The government under William Pitt passed several laws restricting civil liberties.  In May 1792  "seditious meetings" were outlawed.  In Dec 1792 Pitt told the militia to be ready for rebellion.  In 1794 Parliament suspended habeas corpus—indefinite jail without trial.  In 1795 the seditious meetings acts and the treasonable practices act allowed transportation to penal colonies for anyone who spoke against the king or tried for reforms.  In 1798 labor unions were outlawed by the “combination act".

The Penal Code (the "Bloody Code") in England was based heavily on its provisions for capital punishment. In 1688, the death penalty was the standard punishment for about fifty crimes, but by 1765, the number rose to around 165 crimes, and it finally reached 225 before the system of law was abolished in 1815.  Thee is an interesting web tour of Newgate Prison here discussing various cases of capital punishment.

Not only was the population of Britain exploding, the Industrial revolution was increasing productivity.  The textile industry provided the most jobs, and it was natural that new machinery would be applied to cost reduction there.   By 1800 the number of workers needed to turn wool into yarn had been reduced by four-fifths.  By 1812 the cost of making cotton yarn had dropped nine-tenths.  In 1815, after Wellington's victory over Napoleon 250,000 soldiers were demobilized and landed on an England already staggering under massive unemployment.  An article on Industrial  Revolution -- Weavers is here.

One of the many workers protests during this time was the Luddites in 1811.  The movement was crushed by the government using spies and provocateurs.

This was the context in which Roberts and Blanchett chose to join the Army.  Roberts was probably a displaced agricultural laborer, and Blanchett was probably a skilled wool worker with no future.

While the British laborers life was hell, a soldiers life may have been worse.  The soldier, however, had guaranteed meals and an opportunity to collect loot (bounty) from his victims. 

You will find a description of the 53rd in action in India at 53rd in South India CampaignPart of the the article appears to have been written by the regimental historian.  Note  the statement that the 53rd was in Trichinopoly -- that is where Roberts died.  Note particularly the references to flogging  and "starvation at home"   This article appears to be factually sound.  You will also find the activities of the 53rd at 53rd Foot Timeline

I found researching the military connection quite fascinating.  It turns out that Regiments like the Royal Irish Fusilliers had nothing to do with Ireland!  These were troops, many of them Irish, who were probably fleeing Cromwell's Irish persecutions in the 17th century, who were recruited in India to fight for the HEIC --see "Irish" BatallionsOn to Dad Maternal

Table of Contents | Preface | An Indian Childhood | Genealogy | Colonialism and The Raj

[Genealogy] [IndoEuropeans] [Separate and Unequal] [Mum and Dad] [Dad] [Mum] [William  Blanchette] [Thomas Blanchette II] [Thomas Blanchett 1] [Mum Paternal] [Robert Roberts] [Dad Maternal] [Mum Maternal]