Robert was born in 1789. Little is known of his parents, except that his father took his 15 year-old son, who had pretensions as a writer, to the offices of the East India Company in Leadenhall St, London to thank the directors for giving Robert a cadetship with their company, in Penang. While there he witnessed one young clerk give another young clerk a good kicking, while the management's backs were turned. That receiver of said kicking later went on to greatness, his name was Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, who founded Singapore.
Robert steadily climbed the ranks within the company. Twenty years later he was provisionally appointed a member of the governing Council of one of the Straits Settlements, Malacca. A year later he was Resident Councillor at Prince of Wales Island, effectively the most senior official in residence in that Settlement. By 1830, four years later, he had become the Governor and Treasurer of the Presidency of the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, a post he held for three years. Not much is known about his influence on the history of the Straits Settlements, but it is said that at that time Government business there was performed in a slovenly manner, with property registration being as impenetrable as the jungle which surrounded many properties, and with Government accounts being very casually audited. Although Robert may not have been the instigator of these aspects of the regime, neither did he perhaps turn out to be the reformer. He was Old School, in that by the time he became Governor he was the sole survivor of the officials appointed to the new Penang Presidency of 1805.
At that time officials were allowed to trade, and quite early on in his career Robert had gone into cultivating in a big way. At the time of the termination of his office as Governor his property was worth a wapping £10,000 a year, particularly as this was boom time for nutmeg. Around that time he generously settled £10,000 on each of his married daughters.
He returned to England, probably around 1841. In 1848 he was living in Marylebone, London, but then returned to Penang where he remained till well into his eighties. At some point his nutmeg plantations were converted to cocoa, after the price of nutmeg fell, and the trees became plagued with disease. There are several records of him during the 1860s, dining with the then Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Major General Archibald Anson.
Around 1879 he returned to England for the last time and seems to have settled in Portsmouth. He died on the 4th November 1880.
This biography has been compiled with much help from Winson Saw of Penang, who has researched various archives, which includes articles by Donald Davies in the Sunday Gazette, Penang, and writings by Governor Anson.