Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roberts, Emma

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ROBERTS, EMMA (1794?–1840), author, born about 1794, was the posthumous daughter of Captain William Roberts, at one time in the Russian service, and afterwards paymaster in an English regiment. Her uncle, Thomas Roberts, raised the 111th regiment in 1794, and became a general in 1814. Her girlhood was spent with her mother, a lady of some literary pretensions, at Bath. Later on, when studying at the British Museum, she made the acquaintance of Lætitia E. Landon (L. E. L.). Her first book, ‘Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster,’ was published in 1827. In the following year, after her mother's death, she went out to India with her sister, who had married Captain Robert Adair McNaghten, 61st Bengal Infantry (retired 1839). ‘There cannot be,’ she wrote in one of her books, ‘a more wretched situation than that of a young woman in India who has been induced to follow the fortunes of her married sister under the delusive expectation that she will exchange the privations attached to limited means in England for the far-famed luxuries of the East.’ With the McNaghtens she lived at various stations in Upper India till 1831, when, her sister dying, she went to Calcutta. There she devoted herself more closely to literature and journalism, editing and writing for the ‘Oriental Observer.’ In 1832, when suffering from overwork, she returned to England. In London she wrote articles for the ‘Asiatic Journal,’ edited ‘A New System of Domestic Cookery,’ 1840, and did other literary work. In September 1839 she started a second time for the East, undertaking to write an account of her outward voyage and of her observations in Western India for the ‘Asiatic Journal.’ Travelling by the overland route, an arduous adventure for a lady in those days, she reached Bombay in November, and, after a short stay at Government House, settled down in the suburb of Parell, where she set to work on a book about the presidency. She also became editor of a new weekly paper, ‘The Bombay United Service Gazette,’ and interested herself in a scheme for providing Indian women with suitable employment. When on a visit to Colonel Ovans, political resident at Sattara, in April 1840, she was taken ill, and, having been moved for change of air to Poona, died there at the house of her friend, Colonel Campbell, on 16 Sept. 1840. She had all but completed her investigations, and had arranged for her return home in October. A friend who had known her at Calcutta wrote that ‘she evinced less of what is known as blue than any one of her contemporaries, excepting Miss Landon.’

Besides the works noticed, she published: 1. ‘Oriental Scenes, Dramatic Sketches and Tales, with other Poems,’ Calcutta, 1830; another edition, London, 1832. 2. ‘Scenes and Characteristics of Hindostan,’ 3 vols. 1835, 12mo. 3. ‘The East India Voyager,’ London, 1839. 4. ‘Notes of an Overland Journey to Bombay’ (posthumous), London, 1841.

[Memoir prefixed to Notes of an Overland Journey; Memoirs of Literary Ladies, by Mrs. Elwood; Gent. Mag. 1841, i. 544.]

S. W.