Roberts, Jane, 1792—1871
Jane Roberts was probably born in 1792 (although she passed herself off as a forty-seven year old to the Royal Literary Fund in 1846) at Hythe, Kent, the daughter of John Roberts (c.1757-1816), an officer in the 10th dragoons, later Barrack Master at Dungeness (‘Civil’ 27), and Martha Roberts, née Bedson (d. c.1823). She never married.
When her father retired from active service in 1811, he was appointed Barrack Master (Royal Mil. Cal.). However, because of failing health, he was increasingly unable to fulfil his duties; Jane Roberts became not only his nurse but also his secretary, keeping up ‘the whole of his correspondence and accounts with the Barrack Department’ (RLF). After her father’s death in 1816 and that of her mother in 1823, she assisted her elder brother Peter Roberts (c. 1788-1860), Deputy Assistant Commissary-General of Stores, Van Diemen’s Land, in correspondence associated with the Swan River Establishment.
In 1829, she travelled with Peter Roberts to join their brother John Roberts (1790-1868) in Australia; she herself returned in 1831, having spent a good deal of her sojourn shipboard. Her experiences, however, furnished the work for which she was best known, Two Years at Sea (1834), which reached a second edition in 1837. She went on to publish two novels, Löwenstein, King of the Forests (1836) and The Court Favourite; or, Facts and Fiction of the Nineteenth Century (1840), as well as contributing poems and prose sketches to various periodicals, including the Court Journal. She also invented the Royal Historical Game of Cards, first printed by Robert Hardwicke around 1835, and periodically updated and reprinted thereafter.
In 1846, she resided at 17 Charlotte Street, Portland Place, on a meagre pension as the daughter of a military officer (£12 per annum) as well as an informal annuity (£40-60 per annum) from a friend, Lady Cork, then upwards of 70 years old. Around this time, an attempt to reprint her card game had involved her with an unscrupulous printer who passed the costs of his spoiled work back to her while attempting to garner profits himself, or so Jane Roberts complained to the Royal Literary Fund, to whom she appealed for funding to tide her over this thwarted investment. Supported by Augusta Leigh (1783-1851), a friend of twenty-years standing, and other influential backers, her appeal was successful.
Little is known of her life after this point. A last entry in a surviving journal is dated 1851 and she appears on the census of 1861 as resident in the Marylebone Road, London. She died ten years later on 11 April 1871 at Walmer House, Notting-Hill, aged 78 or 79 (Daily News; Morning Post).
Basset, Troy J. ‘Jane Roberts’. At the Circulating Library: a Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837-1901. Online.
‘Civil Offices. Returns to an Order of the Honourable House of Commons, dated the 6th of April 1821’. Parliamentary Papers. Vol. 14. London: House of Commons, 1821.
Daily News, no. 7791 (19 April 1871). British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900. Gale Databases.
The Morning Post, no. 30377 (Wed., 19 April 1871): 7. British Library Newspapers, Part IIL 1800-1900. Gale Databases.
Roberts, Jane. Diary and Notebook, 1833-1838 and 1851. Internet Archive. Online.
Royal Literary Fund. Registered Case Vol. 35, No. 1127 Miss Jane Roberts; 1846. Loan 96 RLF 1/1127. British Library, London.
Royal Military Chronicle 2.1 (May 1811): 83.
|Two Years at Sea||1834|