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The Unlikely Hero: George Scott Robertson

Author: Dorothy Anderson
Publisher: Spellmount (November 2008)
ISBN-10: 1862274622

Language, we are told, is constantly changing. One word now sadly degraded by the vulgar media is 'hero'. However, some still use it in its earlier, nobler meaning, and among them is Dorothy Anderson with her book The Unlikely Hero: George Scott Robertson. Mrs Anderson is a retired librarian formerly responsible for the 'seminal work' Universal Bibliographic Control, and the author of The Balkan Volunteers and Baker Pasha. She is a valued contributor to this journal and to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for which she wrote the entry on Robertson.

George Scott Robertson (1852-1916) was a Londoner of Orcadian descent, the son of a pawnbroker-turned-jeweller, and trained as a doctor. He entered the Indian Medical Service, served under Roberts in the Second Afghan War, and was a civil surgeon in India. In 1888 he entered the Foreign Department and thereafter served on the North West Frontier. In 1895 he was besieged, with a small force under Charles Townshend (later of post-Kut notoriety), at Chitral fort. The siege became famous and the surviving besieged were well rewarded: Robertson was made KCSI. Several accounts of the siege and relief were published, including Robertson's Chitral; the story of a minor siege, and Henty's part-fictional Through Three Campaigns: a story of Chitral Tirah, and Ashanti. Robertson returned to England and Jrom 1906 was MP for Bradford Central.

It is a treat in store for aficionados of the Raj, the Great Game, and the North West Frontier, and of an era when heroes really were heroes.

Researched from various archives and with the help of Robertson's family, The Unlikely Hero is an attractive book with chapter endnotes, a short bibliography, and thirty monochrome illustrations. It contains much information not in the DNB entry, including the failure of Robertson's second marriage, and his relationship with the dowager Lady Brabourne, to whom he bequeathed the residue of his estate. Yet questions remain unanswered. His schools are not named, and his role in the firms of which he was a director is not specified. This reviewer suspects he may have been only an ornamental 'guinea pig' director. This is the first and only book-length biography of Robertson. It isa treat in store for aficionados of the Raj, the Great Game, and the North West Frontier, and of an era when heroes really were heroes.

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