Gilbert Clyde Roberts: An Appreciation

Colonel PD Ramanayake

Gilbert Clyde Roberts son of the late Mr. T. W. Roberts C. C. S. and brother of Mr. T. F. C. Roberts, District Judge, was born in Barbados[1] where he had his early education. He came to Sri Lanka fresh from the University of Durham, after obtaining a degree in Western Classics. He joined the Staff of St. John’s College, Panadura when Cyril A. Jansz (senior) was the principal. In addition to being Prefect of Games at St. John’s, he taught English and Latin in the Cambridge and London Matriculation forms of the school.

Mr. Roberts took to teaching so enthusiastically that the students soon found in him an ideal teacher. In his Latin classes his interpretations of Virgil were so vivid that one felt that one accompanying Aeneas down to the neither[2] regions.

Mr. Roberts’ lessons in English were no less interesting, you felt you were about to see Macbeth when he said, “A drum, a drum Macbeth doth come.”

His students learned to like him and respect him and there was perfect discipline in his classes. When the classes had to be moved he would say “Boys, even to the gallows, ladies first”. St. John’s was then the only coeducational school in the island.

Throughout his career Mr. Roberts worked with such devotion to duty and sincerity that he never thought of his own future, but of those his pupils. He took over the cadets from Mr. Harold Jansz who had just won the Herman Loos Cup for St. John’s for the first time and within two years Gilbert Roberts had repeated this feat. He then resigned from the Cadet Platoon to attend to more onerous duties.

Mr Roberts was an excellent cricketer. He had played for Barbados with Leary Constantine who set the pace to win for West Indian cricket a glorious future. Mr. Roberts was one of the most natural batsman of the Caribbean style. His straight drive for six over the sight screen was a treat to watch. He was a tower of strength to the Panadura Sports Club. In the field of sports he was always with the boys. Cricket was his forte and in all competitions he stressed the need for team spirit.

Mr. Roberts was also a swimmer who produced quite a few champion swimmers for Panadura. He was a fine allround sportsman who did well in any sport he took to, be it cricket, football, hockey, tennis or aquatics.

His was a rare combination of an ideal teacher and allround sportsman. He imbibed in his students a sense of loyalty to the school and patriotism to the country and he emulated his words by joining as a Commissioned Officer in the Ceylon Engineers during the World War II from 1942-1943; where he had to work with some of his old pupils.

A few years after joining the Staff Mr. Roberts married Miss Jean Bastiansz[3]of Matara, to whom he was very devoted and who looked after him with great attention right to the end.

After spending over thirty years of the best part of his life in the service of St John’s, he and his wife were obliged to leave Sri Lanka to live with their children who had settled down in Australia.

Death had come, peacefully, to him, in his sleep.

Every student who had the good fortune to meet him, feels all the richer by the association, a man so honest, so upright, so guileless – a gentleman.

As George Eliot said

“Not God himself can make men’s best

Without best men to help him.”


ADDENDUM: Gilbert’s Cricketing Prowess descibed by SS Perera in his Janshakthi Book of Cricket (Colombo 1899, pp. 459-60: GC Roberts was “a wiry sixfooter who never thought an an innings was complete without a sixer. A genail soul, his batting ws in the West Indian mould. …. He came for Harrions’s College, Barbados, to the staff of St. John’s College. One big hitof his on the Panadura Esplanadewas agaisnt the Colombo CC; it landed alongside the walls of St. John’s Churc across the upper road.”

A NOTE from The Editor Thuppahi: This is the reproduction of an old news cutting which I discovered in my papers — now typed up with Footnote Corrections by his granddaughter Marcelle Weeraratne of Melbourne.

[1] Gilbert was born in England, not Barbados, but was sent to Bardados as a young boy.

[2] nether

[3] Correct Name and spelling: Jeanette Bastiaensz

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