28th October 1845 - 13th Sept 1911
His obituary notice, taken from the Dundee Year Book of 1911
The death of Lord Lochee, which took place on the 13th September at Moat House Farm, Blean, near Canterbury, brought to a close a long and distinguished political and legal career In attaining the high eminence he reached, the singularly gifted man received no help from patronage. He owed everything to his own perseverance and energy. Born in an obscure country Schoolhouse, he rose to be a King's Counsel and Secretary to the Admiralty, and but for the state of his health he would likely have attained to even higher position in the counsels of the nation. His father, who bore the same name as himself, was for many years parish schoolmaster at Kinnaird, in the Carse of Gowrie; and the future politician was born at the schoolhouse of Kinnaird on 28th October 1845. He was the eldest son of the family. Under his father's tuition he obtained the elements of a sound education not only in the mere grounding of schoolwork, but also in the Liberal principles to which he adhered tenaciously during his life. He never forgot the debt which he owed to his father in this respect. Forty years after his birth, when he was about to enter Parliament as the representative of a great constituency, he sent a letter to a meeting of Liberals held in Kinnaird School, in which he wrote:— "I am glad you are going to meet in the old schoolroom, which to me is associated with so many profound emotions. My first instructor in Liberalism, and in everything else, was my father," Having received a thorough preliminary education, Edmund Robertson proceeded to St. Andrews University, where he matriculated in the session of 1863-64. Mr Robertson was a distinguished student of his time, and succeeded in gaining the Rectorial Prize given by John Stuart Mill in 1865, when the philosopher was Rector of St Andrews. Not only was the prize awarded to Edmund Robertson, but he also gained the special commendation of the Rector, which was of far greater value. Having concluded his Arts course in 1867, Mr Robertson proceeded to Oxford, where he entered as a student of Corpus Christi College. Here he graduated as M.A., and was chosen Fellow of Corpus Christi in 1872.
He then entered upon the usual course of study for the English Bar, and was called as a barrister of Lincoln's Inn in 1872, selecting the Northern Circuit for practice. In his capacity he speedily gained a high reputation both as counsel and as speaker. He was appointed as Professor of Law in University College, London, which position he held for several years. Meanwhile he had become a regular contributor to the columns of the "Daily News," and soon proved himself an expert journalist. Literature in another form attracted him, for when his old St Andrews acquaintance, Professor Thomas Spencer Baynes, undertook the editing of the ninth edition of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" in 1873, he enlisted Mr Robertson as one of his staff. Many of the articles upon legal subjects in the "Encyclopaedia" were written by him. The estimation in which he was held by his legal brethren was shown by their selecting him in 1889 as Professor of Common Law at the Inns of Court, London.
Before he obtained this last named appointment a political career had opened before him, and his introduction to politics took place in Dundee, with which burgh his early life had been associated. The general election of 1885 caused more stir in Dundee than had been experienced for many years. The members who had sat for the burgh in the previous Parliament — Mr (now Lord) Armitstead and Mr Frank Henderson — had intimated that they were not to seek re-election. Four candidates appeared for the two vacancies. These were Mr C. C. Lacaita, Mr Edmund Robertson, ex-Provost A. H. Moncur, and Mr Edward Jenkins, who had formerly represented Dundee in 1874-80 as a Liberal, but who now came forward as a Conservative. From the outset Mr Robertson was a favourite with the constituency, his outspoken profession of the Liberal faith and his lucid oratory captivating the electors. Mr Lacaita had been highly recommended by Mr Gladstone, and his oratorical gifts made him a candidate warmly welcomed by the electorate. These two candidates were run together on the Liberal platform, and the result of the election was a triumph for Liberalism.
Parliament assembled on 12th January 1886, and was dissolved in the following June, being thus one of the shortest Parliaments in the history of the nineteenth century. In the division over the question of Irish Home Rule both of the members for Dundee adhered to Mr Gladstone; and the election of 3rd July. 1886 showed that the constituency cordially approved of this action. Other two candidates, Mr Nixon and Major-General Daly, opposed the sitting members in the Conservative interest, but the poll conclusively manifested the Liberal feeling in Dundee.
In February 1886 the University of St Andrews had conferred the title of LL.D. upon Mr Robertson in recognition of the distinction he had won in academic circles; while Dundee had expressed approval of his politics by placing him at the head of the poll. But the Liberal party in the House of Commons was so much in a minority that Lord Salisbury became Premier, and the Conservative Government remained in office for six years. During that time Mr Robertson proved himself an important member of the Opposition, speaking frequently and effectively upon numerous topics, especially upon such as related to education in Scotland, and introducing what was known as the Homestead Bill. In April 1888, when the famous case of the Oregonian Railway Company came before the Higher Courts of the United States, Mr Robertson was sent thither as counsel for the Company; and he was one of the few British barristers ever allowed to plead in an American Court of Law. The result was satisfactory so far as the British investors were concerned.
The retiral of Mr Lacaita in 1888 had made way for the election of Mr J. B. Firth; but the sudden death of Mr Firth in September 1889 left the burgh with only one member. Mr (afterwards Sir) John Leng, who had always been a strong supporter of Mr Robertson, was elected as his colleague without opposition; and this union continued without interruption till the retiral of Sir John Leng in 1905.
In the Parliament assembled in August 1892 the Liberals were in the majority, and Mr Gladstone formed his fourth and last Administration. Mr Robertson's claims upon the Liberal party could not be overlooked, and he was appointed a Civil Lord of the Admiralty. While he held this, office under Earl Spencer (First Lord of the Admiralty) he effected a great reform in shortening the hours of the workmen engaged in the naval dockyards. When Mr Gladstone resigned office in February 1894 he was succeeded by Lord Rosebery, and Mr .Robertson retained his office as Civil Lord of the Admiralty until the Government was defeated in June 1896, and a general election followed. On this occasion all the five candidates were old acquaintances. Sir John Long and Mr Robertson ran together as before. The city once more returned its old members. The Conservatives returned with a majority to the House, and the Marquess of Salisbury came again into power. In July 1895 Mr Robertson was appointed Queen's Counsel, and he resumed his place as an active member of the Opposition. Parliament was dissolved in September 1900, but the Dundee representation remained unchanged. As the Conservatives were again in a majority, Lord Salisbury retained office, and held it till July 1902, when Mr A. J. Balfour became Prime Minister, and continued in power till the close of 1905. During this long period of Tory rule Mr Robertson took up a determined attitude against the South African War, and delivered several stirring speeches in Dundee. Parliament was dissolved in December 1906, and as Sir John Leng had intimated that he was not to seek re-election, an eager contest was the result. The candidates were Mr Robertson and Mr Henry Robson, who ran together as Liberals; Mr A. Duncan Smith (Conservative), who had stood at the previous election; Mr A. Wilkie, Labour candidate; and Lieutenant Shackleton, R.N. Hitherto the Labour candidate had not shown well at the elections, but on 16th January 1906 a surprise was provided when Mr Wilkie secured a seat. Mr Robertson held the office of Secretary to the Admiralty in the Government formed by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and was appointed one of the Privy Council. There seemed every prospect of his rising to even higher positions, for he had proved himself a capable administrator, an effective man in debate, and a discreet and temperate official. But fate decreed otherwise. His health, which had been failing for some time, became gradually worse, and the exacting duties of his office were too great for his powers.
Relief and honour for past services came to him in the spring of 1908. That time was one of great political change. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Liberal Premier was forced by ill-health to resign, and Mr Asquith took his place. The reconstruction of the Government necessarily followed. Mr Robertson retired from the Ministry, and was elevated to the Peerage, taking the title of Lord Lochee of Gowrie.
In the course of his farewell address to the electors he wrote: — "My long political connection with Dundee comes to an end. How well I remember its beginning; how greatly I rejoiced in its continuance; how deeply I lament its termination no words of mine can adequately tell. No member ever had a more generous or a more considerate constituency. The debt I owe to them for having given me a Career in the House of Commons I may still hope to repay in part by service in another place. The debt I owe them for their unabated confidence I can never repay. A generation, has almost passed away since I first became member for Dundee. I believe I can justly claim that I have during that long period stood faithfully by the Liberal principles to which Dundee has ever been attached, and in what may remain to me of political life I shall not depart from them."
He was not destined to serve his party further. Death intervened, and Edmund Robertson — for so he continued to be called passed away, and was laid to rest at Oxford. Thus ended a romance of real life, in which the studious reader discerns the irresistible power of merit and legitimate ambition. From humble life rich in high ideal Edmund Robertson toiled successfully to reach lofty position in the service of the nation.