Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robertson, Eben William
ROBERTSON, EBEN WILLIAM (1815–1874), historical writer, only surviving son of Francis Robertson (1765–1852), by his wife Laura Dorothea, daughter of William Sutherland Ross, was born at his father's seat of Chilcote in Derbyshire on 17 Sept. 1815. His family, like that of William Robertson the great historian, was one of the derivative branches of the Robertsons of Struan or Strowan (see Douglas, Baronage, 1798, pp. 407 sq.). He matriculated from Worcester College, Oxford, on 2 May 1833, and, after graduating B.A. in 1837, was called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn in 1845. In 1852 he succeeded to the family estate, and took up his abode at Netherseale Hall, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. He was a justice for the county, and in 1870 was nominated high sheriff and deputy lieutenant. But Robertson combined with the position of a country squire the habits of a thorough student and an ardent book collector.
He concentrated his attention at first upon early Scottish history, and produced in 1862 ‘Scotland under her Early Kings: a History of the Kingdom to the Close of the Thirteenth Century’ (Edinburgh, 2 vols. 8vo), a work in which fertility of illustration and power of generalisation are combined with originality and depth of research. He places a study of this period for the first time on the firm basis of a critical analysis of the authorities. Freeman endeavoured, without complete success, to impugn his vindication of the early independence of Scotland (Norman Conquest, i. note B). Ten years later he gave to the world a work even more illustrative of his exceptional power of condensing erudite information in ‘Historical Essays in connection with the Land, the Church, &c.’ (Edinburgh, 8vo). The title is in some respects misleading, as the researches deal more particularly with early currencies, mediæval standards of weight and measurement, and divers problems touching the social life of the early English, than with ecclesiastical or agrarian topics. His intention of treating the relations of the English church with Rome in a subsequent volume was rendered nugatory by his premature death. Early in May 1874 he injured himself in an attempt to save from death by burning two young ladies, his nieces, who were staying at Netherseale. Shortly afterwards, at the consecration of a new burial-ground which he had presented to Netherseale church, Robertson caught a cold, which aggravated the shock his system had received, and he died, after much suffering, on 3 June 1874 (Leicester Advertiser, 13 June). His style was dry and unadorned, but the original and suggestive quality of his researches rendered the loss to historical science far greater than the amount of his published work might seem to indicate. By his marriage, on 11 June 1838, to Isabella, youngest daughter of William Manby Colegrave of Bracebridge Hall, Robertson left a son, Francis William (1849–1882), and two daughters.
[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1882, p. 1363; Walford's County Families; Proc. of Soc. of Antiquaries of Scotland (of which Robertson was a fellow), xi. 5; Athenæum, 25 July 1874; Leicester Daily Mail, 20 June 1874.]