Roberts, Emma, 1791—1840
by Benjamin Colbert
Emma Roberts was born in London on 27 March 1791, the daughter of Captain William Roberts, officer in the Russian service and later paymaster for an English regiment, and Eliza Roberts (d. c.1828). Her mother is reputed to have had literary interests and may be the ‘Eliza Roberts’ who translated extracts from Rousseau, The Beauties of Rousseau; Selected by a Lady (2 vols, 1788).
After her father’s death (date unknown), she resided in Bath with her mother, but little further is known of her early years. By 1826 she was at work on her first major work, Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster, Historical and Biographical (1827) and is likely to have at this time ‘cemented a friendship’ begun much earlier with Letitia Elizabeth Landon, also known to Robert’s elder sister, Laura Newport, née Roberts (‘Memoir of L.E.L’ 16). The three women boarded together at 22 Hans Place in 1827. Perhaps encouraged by Landon, Emma Roberts began at this time to publish poems and tales in periodicals and annuals, including several contributions to the London Weekly Review (Examiner).
Sometime in or before 1828, Emma Roberts’s mother died, leaving her on limited means. That year, Robert’s sister, Laura Newport, married Captain Robert Adair M’Naghten (d. 1845) of the 61st Bengal infantry, and Emma Roberts accompanied them to India. There she continued her literary pursuits, publishing at Calcutta a volume of poems, Oriental Scenes (1830). When her sister died in October 1830, writing became an important source of income and Roberts wrote for and edited the Oriental Observer as well as contributing to other periodicals.
On her return to England in 1832, she continued to contribute sketches of her spinster’s life in India to The Asiatic Journal, collecting them in her book, Scenes and Characteristics of Hindostan (1835), which was well received. On the strength of her expertise demonstrated here, she wrote the descriptions for a new edition of Robert James Elliot’s Views in India, China, and the Shores of the Red Sea (1835), replacing earlier letterpress composed by a variety of contributors. Fisher & Co., the publisher of Elliot's Views, commissioned Roberts to edit and write the letterpress for George Francis White's Views in India, Chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains (1838), one of the first pictorial books to depict this region. Another project at this time was her practical guidebook, The East India Voyager, or Ten Minutes Advice to the Outward Bound (1839).
Roberts was able to put her own advice to the test, for she again set out to India in September 1839, having secured an agreement with The Asiatic Journal for a series of articles on her travels overland via France and Egypt. She reached Bombay in November and again contributed to periodicals and edited a new weekly, The Bombay Service Gazette. Her plans were cut short by illness, a stomach complaint that began in April 1840 on a visit to Satara. She continued to friends at Poona, but there died on 17 September 1840. Her Notes of an Overland Journey (1841) collected from the sketches for The Asiatic Journal appeared posthumously.
The Examiner, no. 1011 (Sun., 17 June 1827); no. 1016 (Sun., 22 July 1827). Gale Databases: British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900. Web. 15 Jan. 2018.
Raza, Rosemary Cargill. 'Roberts, Emma (1791–1840), author'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 3 Jan. 2008. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 Jan. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23747
‘Memoir’. Notes of an Overland Journey through France and Egypt to Bombay. By the Late Miss Emma Roberts. With a Memoir. London: Wm. H. Allen, 1841. xi-xxviii. Print.
‘Miss Emma Roberts’ [Obit.]. Gentleman’s Mag. (May 1841): 544. Print.
Richardson, C. ‘Memoir of Miss Emma Roberts’. Metropolitan Mag. 30.117 (Jan. 1841): 111-20. Print.
Roberts, Emma. ‘Memoir of L.E.L.’ The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L. with a Memoir by Emma Roberts. London: Fisher, Son, & Co. [1839?]. 5-33. Print.
|Views in India, China, and on the Shores of the Red Sea||1835|
|Scenes and Characteristics of Hindostan||1835|
|The East India Voyager||1839|
|Views in India, Chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains||1838||Editor|