The de Robecks have always been fighting men. They descend from a north German family who became all powerful in Estonia during the 17th century. The 2nd Baron de Robeck served with the Franco-American army against the British redcoats in the American War of Independence. His son, the 3rd Baron, fought in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. The 4th Baron opted for a quieter life, building the present family home of Gowran Grange outside Punchestown and serving as Ranger for the Curragh in the reign of Queen Victoria. His son, Admiral Sir John de Robeck (1862 - 1928, reluctantly witnessed the disastrous attempt to capture the Dardanelles Straits in March 1915. The 5th Baron commanded an artillery battalion in the Great War and married one of the Alexanders of County Carlow. In World war Two, the 6th Baron was instrumental in helping General "Punch" Cowan defeat the Japanese in Burma. The present head of the family is 32-year-old John, 8th Baron de Robeck. A military career is not amongst his plans for the future.
The de Robeck family descend from Hans Fock, an ambitious soul from Hansestadt Lübeck in north Germany who moved to Narva in Estonia at about the time it came under the rule of the Swedish crown in the 1560s. In 1651, four of his sons - or more likely grandsons? - were elevated to the Swedish peerage by Queen Kristina of Sweden. This was in part a reward for the services (military, financially, administrative) which the family had given to the Swedish crown, and also a sign of the prominent position they held in Estonia.
One of these four sons was Henrik, whose son Henrik Johan Fock was born in Estonia 1676 and had an active military career in the early 18th century. During the Great Nordic War (1700-1721), he fought against Tsar Peter I's Russian army in the second battle of Narva (1704) where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He escaped and rejoined the Swedish troops with a mission to defend the Swedish provinces in northern Germany, while King Charles XII (accompanied by many of the Fock family) sought to bring an end to Russia’s expansion plans in the west. After a number of successful battles, the Swedish campaign ended up in military disaster at the battle of Poltava (now Ukraine) in 1709 and Russia secured control of Estonia. However, Henrik Johan moved into the Swedish mainland, worked with the security in the southern city of Malmö around 1710 and became commander of various fortresses in the archipelago of Stockholm, in Halmstad and, later, at Varberg in Halland on the Swedish west coast.
Henrik Johan married three times before his death in Varberg in 1737. By his marriage of 1721 to Christina Uggla, he came into ownership of the Uggla family estate at Saleby (in Slöta, Skaraborg) in the north of Sweden's Västergötland province. Their eldest son Jacob Constantin Fock was born at Saleby on 2nd March 1724 and also enjoyed a brief military career. As well as inheriting a number of estates from his mother, he purchased several more, including Råbäck (from which the de Robeck title comes) in the parish of Medelplana in Skaraborg. His importance was such that he was thrice appointed acting “governor” (landshövding) of Skaraborg, for which, in 1778, King Gustaf III honoured him with a life peerage and appointed him a friherre (or baron). [i] According to ‘The Nobilities of Europe’, 'Constantine Fock' was actually created Baron Fock de Robeck [Sweden] by King Frederic I back in 1750, but ‘apparently never took his seat.’ [ii]
On 23rd June 1752, Jakob was married at Bjurback in Sweden to 22-year-old Katraina (or Catharina) Magdalena Hård (1730-1806) of Segerstad, who bore him four sons. [iii] Jakob died at Bjurbank on 7th June 1803 and Katarina on 30th July 1806.
[i] There are three levels of aristocracy in Sweden:
1. Noblemen without any specific title,
2. Friherre /baron
[ii] ‘The Nobilities of Europe’ (Melville and Company, 1910, London) by Melville H. Ruvigny, and Henry Massue, marquis de Ruvigny.
[iii] In 'The Nobilities of Europe' her name is given as 'Catherine Magdelaine Howerd' and she was reputedly ‘born at Westergothland in the Kingdom of Sweden of the Protestant faith.’ In other accounts, her name is spelled Chatarina and Catharina.
When the American colonies went to war against their British overlords in the late 18th century, many in Europe greeted the news with delight. Ever since the Golden Age of Queen Elizabeth, the British had been cresting upon a wave of unprecedented power and prosperity that threatened to give the London elite complete control over the known world. The American Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776 spelled a new age for global politics. Within a decade, the colonial lust for liberty, equality and fraternity would spiral across the Atlantic and engulf France in the one of the bloodiest revolutions of the modern age.
The ill-equipped American colonials were quick to recognise the traditional French fondness for fighting the English. Invitations for military assistance were posted to the French capital. In July 1880, the Comte de Rochambeau dropped anchor at Rhode Island with a fleet of ships and 6000 soldiers. Amongst this vast army was "Lauzun's Legions", a light cavalry regiment of multi-lingual volunteers, considered to be the finest horse riders in Europe. Their leader was the chivalrous Duc de Lauzun, a favourite of Marie Antoinette and sometime lover to the "English Rose", Lady Sarah Lennox. Lauzun's Legion provided invaluable support to the Americans, taking part in the decisive defeat of the British Redcoats at Yorktown in the autumn of 1782.
Among the most gallant of Lauzun's officers was a nobleman named Johan Henrik Fock, the eldest of Jakob and Katarina Fock's eleven children, who was born in in Slöta, Skaraborg on 21st May 1753. (1) According to ‘The Nobilities of Europe’, the 2nd Baron also served with ‘considerable distinction' in the Swedish army. In any event he was present at a skirmish with British Redcoats at Gloucester, Massachusetts, during which he was wounded in the leg and had his horse shot from underneath him in. He survived and, in 1783, he returned to France to collect an annual pension of 1500 livres for his distinguished services.
At the time of his fathers death in 1803, he was living in England. He duly called himself Baron de Robeck, a reference to the family estate at Råbäck which his brother Carl Georg inherited but later sold. It has been suggested that he changed the name from 'Fock' to 'de Robeck' because, in certain Swedish dialects, 'Fock' translates as 'penis'. And then there is, of couse, the way in which the name sounds kind of rude in English too. In any case, while Johann Henrik's father was never known as the 1st Baron de Robeck, he called himself the 2nd Baron. Descendents of his brothers Carl Georg nor Alexander Gustaf live in Sweden today.
(1) Skaraborg was named after a fortress (in Swedish borg) outside the city of Skara. The county Governor at the time of the 2nd Baron's birth was Gabriel Gabrielsson Falkenberg (1748-1761) who lived at Mariestad. The largest city was Skövde. Johan's siblings who survived childhood were Per Adolf Fock (1756 - 1827) of Svartå Herrgård , Alexander Gustaf Fock (1757 - 1819), Christina Charlotta Fock (1758 - 1826), Karl Georg Fock (1765 - 1838) and Fredrika Fock (1769 - 1783). See Church of Latter Day Saints website for more.
On 9th March 1789, the Baron married Anne Fitzpatrick, youngest daughter and sole heiress of Galway landowner, Richard Fitzpatrick and niece of the 1st Earl of Upper Ossory. Her grandfather Richard Fitzpatrick was captain of HMS Richmond in 1687, and was given a generous grant of land in Offaly for his part in a victory in 1696 against the French. A member of the Irish Parliament, he was raised to the Irish peerage as the 1st Baron Gowran. It was in deference to this title that the name "Gowran Grange" was ultimately chosen for the de Robeck's Kildare house in 1857. Anne's cousin John, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, was one of the great horse racing enthusiasts in the reign of "Mad King" George III. In January 1765 the 2nd Earl began an affair with Lady Grafton, the unhappy wife of the decadent Duke of Grafton. They had a son in 1768 and eloped, much to Grafton's embarrassment. One assumes this was something of a talking point around the de Robeck's dinner table twenty years later.
In 1960, the 6th Baron sold a painting by George Stubbs, dated 1791, of the 2nd Baron ‘riding a bay hunter’ for £20,000. In 2009, Sothebys of Germany sold the same painting for just over STG£2 million.
The 2nd Baron's marriage would produce just one son, Henry. On July 13th 1789, four months after his wedding, an Act of Parliament granted the Baron British citizenship. The reasons for his new life in Britain are unclear but, as an aristocrat, his timing was impeccable. The day after his naturalization, the Bastille in Paris was stormed and the Ancien Regime of France began its rapid descent into bloody pandemonium. The Duc de Lauzun was one of untold thousands to perish on the guillotine.
The 2nd Baron de Robeck died on 22nd September 1817 and was succeeded by his only son, Henry. Like his father, Henry enjoyed a distinguished military career, this time serving with the Redcoats during the Napoleonic Wars. The Queen's Own Hussars - or the "Saucy Seventh" as his spectacularly uniformed cavalry regiment was known - effectively lost more than 600 of its 750 men during the cruel match across the Pyrenees in the bitter winter of 1808. A further 60 died when a troopship was wrecked on its return to England. The teenaged Henry Fock somehow came through these ordeals intact and was by Sir John Moore's side when the Redcoats secured a critical victory over the French at Corunna on 16th January 1809. He continued to serve with the 7th and resigned in 1814, a year before his regiment was all but decimated at Waterloo following twelve extraordinarily courageous and crazy charges at enemy troops.
The 3rd Baron's penchant for reckless living may have inspired his marriage in 1820 to the vivacious Margaret Lawless, eldest daughter of the 2nd Baron Cloncurry of Lyons. His new father-in-law, a supporter of Wolfe Tone's ill-fated rebellion in 1798, continued to be one of the most controversial peers in Ireland with his ongoing support for Catholic Emancipation. Margaret bore him an heir, John, and two daughters. The elder daughter Anna Maria de Robeck (1821-1868) married William Levinge, seventh son of Sir Richard Levinge of Knockdrin Castle, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. The younger daughter Gertrude died unmarried in 1844 at the tender age of 18.
In 1828, the Parliament of George IV passed a special Act enabling the de Robecks to divorce. Exactly why the de Robecks were obliged to get a divorce is not known. It probably has something to do with Lord Sussex Lennox, the youngest son of the 4th Duke of Richmond. The Duke, a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, died of rabies ten years earlier, having been bitten by a pet fox during a tour of Canada. Famed for his prowess at the Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord Lennox and 24-year-old Margaret embarked on a romance during this time and married on 3rd April 1828. The marriage must have gone down poorly with his elder brother, the 5th Duke, a vehement opponent of Catholic Emancipation. A son, Berkeley Lennox, was born just over three months later on 16th July but died aged 29 in 1857.
But perhaps the origins of the de Robeck's divorce are to be found somewhere in this lively anecdote recorded in The Connaught Journal on February 16th 1824:
"Yesterday morning, about eight o'clock, Mr. Goodison, Chief Peace Officer, of College-street Divisional Police-office, despatched a party of Peace-officers to the neighbourhood of Ball's-bridge, with directions to disperse a number of persons who it was understood were to assemble there for the purpose of fighting dogs and hunting badgers. When the Peace-officers arrived at the place, their attention was drawn to another scene which more imperatively called for their interference. They perceived a party of Gentlemen in an adjoining field, some of whom were evidently about to fight a duel. The officers immediately took the Gentlemen, whom they saw with pistols (which were cocked) in their hands, into custody. The principals, Thomas Spring Rice, Esq., and Waller O'Grady, Esq., to whom the seconds were about to hand the pistols, effected their escape. The seconds, namely, Henry Baron Robeck and James Franks, Esq., were brought to College-st. Police-office, where they were each held to bail, to keep the peace, themselves in 500l. each, & two sureties, in 250l. each.- The sureties for Mr. Franks were Judge Day and Mr. O'Driscoll; sureties for Baron Robeck, were Mr. Gaskin and Mr. O'Driscoll, the latter Gentleman having offered his services, a second friend whom Baron Robeck had sent for as bail not having at that time arrived at the office'. (1)
It is not known precisely when the de Robeck connection with Kildare began but in 1831, Bell's Weekly Messenger announced the 3rd Baron's second marriage to Emily, eldest daughter of John Joseph Henry of Lodge Park, Straffan. Emily's brother Sir Hastings Yelverton would go on to be First Lord of the Admiralty which may explain why her grandson, Sir John de Robeck, joined the Royal Navy. The 3rd Baron and Emily had seven sons.
The eldest, Commander Hastings de Robeck, married a daughter of Dr. William Atherstone, the celebrated South African medical man who first established the genuineness of the 21 carat Hopetown Diamond. Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland says Hastings de Robeck was born on 24 June 1832 and joined the Royal Navy, presumably as a teenager. He married Miss Atherstone on 14th March 1861. The Times says Commander de Robeck died 19 years later of apoplexy, on 17th October 1880, in Malta. He left two daughters, Geraldine Grace and Emily Olivia. The latter was born in Paris shortly before her fathers death and married in 1898 to Edward Marlay Carolin who was born in Bundoran, Co. Sligo, on 23rd April 1870. She was living in South Africa in the 1900s, when her children were born, but emigrated to Canada with her family in 1909 where Burke's give their address as Port Daniel East, Canada. She was a novelist and wrote a handful of book, published 1905 and the 1920s. In the late 1920s, she returned to Canada after visiting relatives in Australia, where she was a widow and a stewardess working on the Royal Mail package service; for some reason she had amended her middle name to Olive.
The third son, Captain Rawdon de Robeck, served with the King's Own Regiment but died in Nova Scotia in 1867, shortly before his regiment's outstanding victory over the insane King Theodore II of Abyssinia's army at the battle of Magdala. (See "Flashman on the March" by George MacDonald Fraser).
The sixth son, Major Charles de Robeck, served with the 60th Rifles during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as a young man and married an Australian, Eleanor Okeden. Her father, William Parry Okeden, was the Police Commissioner in charge of halting illicit smuggling on the Queensland - New South Wales from 1870 to 1886. he was subsequently responsible for Australia's immigration policy and the protection of aborigines. Their daughter, Nesta de Robeck, was a renowned expert on the Renaissance.
The 3rd Baron was High Sheriff of Co. Kildare in 1834, Co. Dublin in 1838 and Co. Wicklow in 1839. He had a Dublin townhouse at 40 Merrion Square which he redesigned in 1855 in what Christine Casey described as ‘a showy Louis XV style’, with ‘mirrored wall panels divided by long thin panels of pendants, urns and leaves’, ‘elaborate pelmets with gilded leaves’ around the windows ‘a large gilded mirror with foliate garlands [surmounting] a Scamozzian Ionic chimneypiece.’[i]
And for a while in the 1850s, the 3rd Baron de Robeck rented Leixlip Castle in Co. Dublin. [ii] But his colourful life came to a tragic end in October 1856 as the Cork Examiner noted in this report:
The search for Baron de Robeck, whose mysterious disappearance from Leixlip Castle we reported yesterday, still continues fruitless, notwithstanding that it has been most unremitting and energetic. About 40 men were engaged yesterday, as on the former days, in dragging the river carefully, but without success. The police of the various districts in the neighbourhood, who have been on the alert to learn tidings of the Baron, have been equally unsuccessful. A reward of £20 has, we understand, been offered to the person who shall first bring intelligence respecting him.
He was found dead eleven days later, having slipped into the river at the Salmon Leap near the castle.
[i] Casey, Christine, ‘Dublin: the city within the Grand and Royal Canals and the Circular Road with the Phoenix Park’ (Yale University Press, 2005), p. 586. 2. In 1844, the 3rd Baron had an address at 6 Merrion Square East.
[ii] Fraser, James ‘Hand book for travellers in Ireland: descriptive of its scenery, towns, seats, antiquities, etc., with all the railways now open, and various statistical tables : also, an outline of its mineral structure, a brief view of its botany, and information for anglers’ (James McGlashan, 1854), p. 67.
The family fortune and the baronetcy now passed onto his firstborn son by Margaret Lawless, 26-year-old John Henry Fock. Born in November 1823, the 4th Baron was a captain in the King’s Own Regiment of Infantry. He had already showed his financial acumen when, just months before his father died, he married Sophia Burton, the daughter of William Fitzwilliam Burton, a wealthy County Carlow landowner. Her grandfather Benjamin Burton married Anne Mainwaring, sole heiress of the estate of Goltho Hall in Lincolnshire. Sophia was one of nine children - her brothers followed the traditional gentry role of becoming magistrates, clergymen and soldiers. Of their ten children, three sons and two daughters survived childhood.
In 1857, he put his riches into a pot and commissioned Dublin architect John McCurdy to design a new mansion on the de Robeck family lands at Swordlestown, right beside the Punchestown racecourse. Completed in 1872 and based on the designs of Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, the 4th Baron named the new gabled Tudor Revival house ‘Gowran Grange’ in deference to the Barony of Gowran which his Fitzpatrick ancestors once held.
In 1858, less than a year after he had taken the Mastership of the Kildare Hunt, Lord Naas (later Earl of Mayo) was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland. One might have expected him to resign his Mastership under such circumstances but Lord Mayo had an exceptional ability to deputize. And there could be no finer man to deputize Mastership duties to than his friend, Henry de Robeck, aka, the 4th Baron de Robeck, the Hunt’s Honorary Treasurer and one of the sprightliest men to ever adorn a saddle. Over the next five years, Lord Naas and the Baron raised the standard of the Kildares so much that it becamse the premier pack in Ireland.
The 4th Baron was a fine horseman with nerves of steel, a light-weight ‘with good hands, a quick, cool head’, who was always up with the pack. He was one of the leading figures at Punchestown for many years and ‘rode many a stiff race over the famous course’. On one celebrated occasion, he fell at the first but caught the horse, remounted and went on to win the race ‘amid a scene of enthusiasm which has rarely been witnessed on the great Irish steeplechase course.’
In March 1862, Lord Mayo’s political duties obliged him to step down and the Baron, ‘by the unanimous suffrage of the county’, was appointed Master of the Hounds. Over the next six seasons, he rarely missed a day, showing ‘sport of the best’ kind and, to quote one contemporary, all went ‘swimmingly’. Few could keep up with him when hounds ran, as he and the small thick-blooded horses he rode were ‘almost always with his pack’. Maurice O’Connor Morris recalled him as a man who, ‘well mounted himself, mounted his men very well, and showed grand sport for a series of years.’[i] Another contemporary described him as ‘one of the most genial of men, racy to the soil and open-handed’. And another noted how ‘he always rode particularly straight, but was so fine a horseman that he met with comparatively few falls, having the happy knack of leaving his hunters’ heads alone, more particularly in bank country’.
The 4th Baron was generous but he was also prudent, as evidenced by the careful calculations he made about the feeding of hounds almost as soon as he became Master. Bearing in mind that the pack numbered fifty and a half couple when he took over, he noted that one pound of oatmeal or one and a half pound of Indian meal made sufficient stirabout for a hound's daily ration. And based on the fact that the Duke of Rutland's eighty couple of hounds consumed 280 carcasses in a year, he concluded that twelve carcasses for the Kildare pack per month should be ample.
The Baron also carried on Lord Naas’s policy of increasing the coverts and, by 1865, the Kildare Hunt possessed 116 coverts, all apparently in reasonable condition.
The 4th Baron resigned as Master in 1868, presumably to concentrate on his family affairs and duties as magistrate and farmer. (In 1870, he was the registered owner of 1838 acres in Kildare, 2638 in Wicklow, and 1660 in Dublin, with a combined value of £5,1 10.) At the end of his term, The Irish Times described him as ‘just what a master of foxhounds should be - kind and jovial with his field, liberal with his purse, courteous and considerate to strangers, affable with the farmers, and bent upon showing sport if sport can be shown; and though last, not least, the best of landlords, which increases his popularity very much amongst the occupiers of land, who always welcome him wherever he goes."
The ‘Old Baron’ may have retired as Master but he certainly did not cease riding. Continually hailed as ‘one of the best of sportsmen’ in Ireland, he was ‘still hale and hearty’ in 1895, according to that year’s Irish Sporty, which reckoned he could ‘ride to hounds as well as, if not better than, any other man of his age in Europe.’[ii] Peter O’Brien, Baron O’Brien, who served as Chief Justice of Ireland from 1889 to 1913 likewise recalled the ‘Old Baron’ as an ‘excellent and much-loved sportsman … who was to be seen, almost until the day of his death, in the saddle in all weathers.’[iii]
The 4th Baron served variously as High Sheriff, Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for County Kildare, although his strong military genes also propelled him to serve as a sometime Captain with the King’s 8th Regiment of Foot and as a Major with the Kildare Militia. During the Land Wars on the 1880s, the Baron initially called for more police but when the anti-hunting campaign got underway, he changed tact, assuring a meeting of farmers in Naas that he had ‘got the message’ and that ‘he would be glad to see every jail in Ireland empty.’[iv]
In 1892, the 4th Baron was appointed Queen's Ranger at the Curragh, by which he was to oversee the running of the 5000-acre park, now famous as the headquarters of Irish flat racing.
The 4th Baron died at Gowran Grange, aged 81, on 23rd August 1904, the opening day of the Dublin Horse Show with which he had been keenly associated for many long years. In their obituary, Baily’s stated that ‘though foreign by lineage, he was in proclivities as Irish as the Irish, and probably the most popular man that ever lived in Kildare.’ The Irish Times concurred that he was ‘ one of the most urbane, off-handed, kindly and outspoken of men, and was never happier than when in the saddle.’
‘There's a grand one to ride who as iveryone knows
Is troubled with neither the shakes nor the slows
Wid judgment that's true and a firm huntin' sate
The Baron de Robeck's a hard man to bate.’
‘It is no exaggeration to say that few better men to hounds ever rode over the plains of Kildare. Hogg was promoted to be huntsman by Lord Mayo, and a great mistake it was on his lordship’s part, for a worse huntsman never handled hounds in the country; and I believe the only hounds he hunted after he left Kildare were the hounds at Rome, so his services were not appreciated in England or Ireland; he was huntsman for a short time to the Baron, and then Richard Lyons, who had been first whip, was promoted to be huntsman. The sport shown by Baron de Robeck during his regime will bear comparison with any of his predecessors; and on his retiring after six years’ service, hunting men of all classes in the county subscribed a slight token of their gratefulness to him for the satisfaction he gave during his term of office.'
B.M. Fitzpatrick, "Irish Sport and Sportsmen"
[i] Maurice O'Connor Morris, Memini, or reminiscences of Irish life’ (Harrison & Sons, 1892), p. 210.
[ii] The 4th Baron’s Journal ‘containing many references to social life in Co. Kildare and to fox-hunting, 1 Jan. 1863 - 14 Aug. 1901’ is held by the National Library. (Dublin: National Library of Ireland: De Robeck Papers, N.6307, P.7144).
[iii] The reminiscences of the Right Hon. Lord O'Brien (of Kilfenora): Lord chief justice of Ireland (Longmans, Green, 1916), p. 98.
[iv] Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland, Charles H. E. Philpin (Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 376.
The 4th Baron died aged 81 in August 1904 and was succeeded by his 45-year-old son Henry Edward Wiliam Fock, aka Colonel Harry de Robeck, then Master of the Kildare Hounds. Born in March 1859, Harry was sometime Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Kildare. On 21st December 1886 he married Anne Cranston Alexander, youngest daughter of Lorenzo Alexander of Straw Hall, Co. Carlow. Lorenzo's grandfather John Alexander was a prosperous Belfast miller who relocated to Milford, Co. Carlow, in the late 18th century. In 1879, Anne's first cousin John Alexander was with the scouts who tracked down the last Zulu king Cetshwayo. Four years after the 4th Baron's wedding, the Alexander's waterwheel at Milford began supplying power to Carlow, making it the first inland town in Britain or Ireland to be lit by electricity. Anne seems to have inherited some of the Alexander's penchant for science. She was certainly keen on astronomy, making note of a meteor's appearance during a lunar eclipse on November 16th 1910. Her mother, Harriet Burton, was a daughter of the influential Tory landowner, Colonel Henry Bruen of Oak Park, Co. Carlow. This marriage brought the de Robeck's into close connection with the gentry of Carlow, particularly the Bruen, Alexander and McClintock Bunbury families.
The 4th Baron and Lady Anne had two further sons and three daughters who survived to adulthood. I shall turn to the second son, Admiral Sir John de Robeck, in due course. The third son Major Charles de Robeck served with the Sherwood Foresters during World War One and married Louisa Warren, second daughter of Major William Warren. The eldest daughter Emily de Robeck was married in April 1878 to Thomas de Burgh of Oldtown (see de Burgh of Oldtown), a soldier who served with her cousin John Alexander in the Zulu campaign. She was mother to General Sir Eric de Burgh, Lieutenant Thomas de Burgh (killed in 1917) and Captain Charles de Burgh, DSO, who served under her brother Admiral Sir John de Robeck in World War One. The second daughter Gertrude de Robeck died unmarried in March 1935. The youngest daughter Zoe de Robeck was married on 19th August 1890 to Major William Francis Tremayne, JP, of Carclew Estate in Cornwall. Major Tremayne was a scion of the family responsible for building the "Lost Gardens of Heligan". Zoe died on 22nd November 1952, leaving issue.
During the First World War, the elderly 5th Baron served as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Royal Field Artillery. Alas, this most brutal of wars was all about artillery. It was the bombs and mortars that terrified and terrorized the soldiers and citizens of Europe, the exploding shrapnel that caused the greatest injury and loss of life.
The 5th Baron's younger brother, John, bore witness to the devastating supremacy of 20th century artillery during one of the greatest disasters of the war - Gallipoli and the Dardanelles campaign. Sir John de Robeck was born at Gowran Grange on 10th June 1862 and joined the Royal Navy aged 13, training on HMS Britannia. Forty years later, the Kildare-born sailor was fast approaching the height of his profession, serving as second-in-command to Admiral Sir Sackville Carden, Commander-in-Chief of the British fleet in the East Mediterranean. In World War One, the Dardanelle Straits offered the Allied armies of Britain and France a direct route via the Black Sea to their Russian allies in the east. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, recognised that the war on the Western Front had plunged into a devastating stalemate. Every day the newspapers carried the names of hundreds of soldiers slain in the muddy trenches. Opening up an Eastern Front was, Churchill believed, imperative if the Germans were to be defeated. Admiral Cardon was instructed to send his fleet into the Dardanelles and force a way through to Russia.
Anxious to prevent this link up from taking place, the Germans had signed a treaty with the Turks by which the former Ottoman Empire was instructed to secure the straits. The Straits -65km in length and 7km in width - were overlooked by steep, heavily fortified cliffs with Gallipoli to the northwest and the coast of Asia Minor to the south. Navigation through the wildly erratic current would present a further hindrance. Cardon's initial plan was to use his battleships to neutralise the Turkish fortresses, starting with the outer guns and gradually homing in on the forts themselves. Intrinsic to this plan was the capture of The Narrows, a short passage of water regularly mined by the Turks.
The attack on The Narrows was scheduled to take place on 18th March 1915. That same day, Cardon collapsed from nervous exhaustion and control of the entire operation passed to Rear Admiral Sir John de Robeck. Sir John duly sent sixteen battleships and many other smaller vessels up the Straits. Alas, he was misinformed that minesweepers had cleared the Turkish mines. The small fleet ran directly into a drifting minefield set ten days earlier. Five British and French warships were sunk and destroyed with 700 men dead. Sir John reeled backwards in shock and called off the operation, insisting no further attempt be made until Allied ground troops captured the high ground overlooking the Narrows and made it safe from any further mine-setters. Churchill and Roger Keyes, Sir John's own chief of staff, tried to force him to change his mind but the Admiral was insistent. For this, his name was greatly blackened by those in London who felt his stance had doomed the entire Dardanelles campaign to failure. Churchill, the campaign's original conductor, was swiftly demoted and, the following November, resigned from the government and returned to soldiering, seeing active service in France. It is said that he never forgave Sir John for his downfall.
On 25th April 1915, a British army that would ultimately include 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders landed at Gallipoli in an attempt to wrestle control of the Dardanelles. The campaign proved disastrous with more than 10,000 Australians and New Zealanders killed and 34,000 wounded. However, Sir John made considerable amends with the British public for his role in assisting the evacuation of troops from Gallipoli in December 1915. He was promoted to Vice-Admiral and saw out the remainder of the war in command of the Grand Fleet's 2nd Battle Squadron.
In 1919, Sir John was sent to Constantinople as British High Commissioner. Amongst his principal tasks was a review of the position of some one hundred Turks being held in Malta on charges of mass murder in Armenia. Sir John showed considerable tact in this role, realising that while the government was locked in political negotiation with the rapidly rising Turkish National Party of Mustafa Kemal, Britain would be ill-advised to intervene. That said, he was careful to stress that many of the Maltese prisoners had been arrested on nothing more than statements made by informers and intriguers. One wonders if such judgment is ever shown by those in charge of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Sir John was given command of the Atlantic Fleet in 1922, the same year he married Hilda MacDonald-Moreton, widow of Sir Simon MacDonald Lockart of Lee Castle in East Lanarkshire. They had no children before his death, aged 66, on 20th January 1928. (3)
The 5th Baron de Robeck died on 27th April 1929 at the age of 70. His widow, Anne de Robeck, lived on until 28th March 1937. They had three sons - John, Bernard and Michael - and three daughters - Dorothy, Harriet and Muriel.
The second son, Bernard "Barney" Lorenzo de Robeck, was born in January 1898 and educated at Clifton and the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. At the age of 16 he joined the Royal Horse Artillery, with whom he served in World War One, being wounded on three occasions and winning the Military Cross in 1917. Promoted Brevet Major in 1936, he served in World War Two, retiring with the rank of Brigadier in 1943. On 5th May 1932 he married the Hon. Peggy Cunliffe. Her father, Baron Cunliffe, was a prominent financier and Governor of the Bank of England from 1913 to 1918. Brigadier Bernard de Robeck died on 3rd June 1957, leaving two sons, Bryan Michael and Hugh Alexander.
The 5th Baron's third son Michael Charles de Robeck died mysteriously on 30th December 1922, aged 19. The eldest daughter Dorothy de Robeck was married in October 1910 to Major Digby Peel, a keen yachtsman from the Isle of Wight whose father, William Peel, was a prominent administrator in Egypt at this time. Continuing with the maritime theme of the de Robeck family, it is worth noting that Major Peel's sister Edith was married to Rear Admiral Robert Anstruther, the senior officer commanding the east coast of China during World War One. Dorothy's sister, Olave de Robeck, served with the Red Cross during that same war, operating in Italy and France. After the war, she married Brigadier Robert Peel Waller, DSO, who would go on to command the Royal Artillery in Persia and the Middle East during World War Two. Their son Patrick Waller served with 12th Lancers in the war. The youngest daughter Muriel de Robeck also served with the Red Cross during the war and, on 18th July 1933, she married Michael Bentley of Hoey's Bridge, British East Africa (now Kenya). Alas, she died just over a year later on 12th August 1934.
The 5th Baron was succeeded at Gowran Grange by his eldest son, John "Jackie" (Henry Edward) Fock. Born on 10th April 1895, he had also schooled at Clifton and Woolwich, serving with the Royal Artillery in World War One and being awarded an MBE in 1919. During World War Two, "Brigadier the Baron de Robeck" commanded the Artillery Division of the 17th Indian Infantry, otherwise known as the "Black Cats". In December 1944, the Black Cats took part in the overland campaign to oust the Japanese from the then British colony of Burma. The ensuing battle of Meiktila was the decisive battle of the Burma campaign and resulted in the liberation of Burma, the capture of Rangoon and the virtual destruction of the Japanese Burma Area Army. General William Slim, who orchestrated the campaign, believed it would be possible to re-conquer Burma over land if the Japanese army could be seriously weakened first. In the subsequent campaign Slim overcame immense logistical problems, executed a large-scale deception plan, oversaw the longest opposed river crossing conducted in World War II and carried out an armoured dash behind enemy lines supplied entirely from the air. Seven Victoria Crosses and 161 Military crosses were distributed amongst Slim's formation by way of thanks.
On 17th August 1940, the 6th Baron married Katherine Simpson, eldest daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Simpson of Hutton House, Penrith, Cumberland. They had two sons, Martin and Richard.
The 6th Baron died on his 70th birthday in 1965 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Martin de Robeck. (4) Born on 21st August 1941, the 7th Baron was a universally respected individual whose hands on approach to life, both at Gowran Grange and in the surrounding counties, showed a most extraordinary energy, devotion and zest for life. Amongst his many portfolios he was chairman of Punchestown Racecourse, Chief Steward of the Grand Parade at the Dublin Horse Show and Commodore of the Blessington Sailing Club. His sudden death at the age of 54 in 1998 was a tremendous blow to all who knew him. He is survived by his wife, Caroline, his son John, the 8th Baron, and two daughters Gunilla and Melissa.
1. Spring-Rice later served as Secretary for War and the Colonies in 1834
and was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1835-39. He was created Baron Monteagle
in 1839. O'Grady may have been John Waller O'Grady, RN, JP, of Fort Etna,
3. The archives of Admiral Sir John de Robeck were deposited at the Churchill Archives Centre by his great nephew, the 7th Baron de Robeck, in July 1965. By the terms of the Admiral's will they had been kept in the family's possession, first in London and then at Gowran Grange, Naas, County Kildare, until the last of his contemporaries had died. Mrs Jocelyn Proby (widow of the 7th Baron) added the Midshipman's Logs to the collection in 1982.
4. In 1969 the widowed Katherine, Baroness de Robeck, was married secondly to Jocelyn Campbell Patrick Proby, fourth son of Douglas James Hamilton of Elton Hall, Peterborough, M.P. for Saffron Walden in 1910.
With thanks to the Baroness de Robeck, John de Robeck, Olivia Emily de Robeck Carolin, Stefan Madden, Ursula Osmond, John Herrington and others.