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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robinson, Sir Roy Lister (1883–1952)

by L. T. Carron

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Sir Roy Lister Robinson, 1st Baron Robinson of Kielder Forest and of Adelaide (1883-1952), forester, was born on 8 March 1883 at Macclesfield, South Australia, eldest son of William Robinson, blacksmith, and his wife Annie Blanche, née Lowe. Educated at Macclesfield and Port Adelaide Public schools, he won an exhibition to the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, in 1896. He entered the School of Mines and Industries in 1900 to study mining engineering, and combined study for its fellowship diploma (passing eleven subjects with distinction in one year) with his course at the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1905). In 1904 while on field-work for both courses he was briefly sports master at Townsville Grammar School, Queensland. Following brilliant academic and athletic performances, he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1905 (the second from South Australia) to Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1908). He obtained first-class honours (1907) in natural science (geology) and the diploma (1908), with distinction, in forestry (under Professor (Sir) William Schlich), also representing the university in cricket, athletics and lacrosse.

In 1909 Robinson was appointed assistant inspector for forestry at the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, London, and laid the foundations of what was to become an unrivalled knowledge of the forests and forestry of Britain. On 26 November 1910 at St James' Church, Marylebone, London, he married Charlotte Marion Bradshaw. Seconded to the explosives department, Ministry of Munitions and Agriculture (1915-18), he subsequently became secretary to the forestry sub-committee of the Cabinet Reconstruction (Acland) Committee and was largely responsible for the report which led to the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919 and his appointment as its technical commissioner. He became vice-chairman of the commission in 1929, and chairman in 1932, holding that office until he died. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1918, knighted in 1931 and raised to the peerage in 1947.

Lord Robinson is regarded as the chief architect of state forestry in Great Britain, being largely responsible for the planning and initiation of the extensive government plantation programme designed to make the country less dependent on imports of wood, particularly in time of war; for the formation of National Forests Parks for public enjoyment; and for co-operative schemes with private woodland owners. Gifted with a first-class brain, an impressive physique, a forceful but engaging personality and tenacity of purpose, he provided inspired leadership, especially during World War II and the following difficult reconstruction period. Widely respected internationally, he was regarded as the elder forestry statesman of the Commonwealth. He was the only man to attend the six British Empire (Commonwealth) Forestry conferences held between 1918 and 1952, being secretary and vice-chairman to the third (Australia, 1928), and chairman of the fourth (South Africa, 1935) and the fifth (Britain, 1947). He was leading the United Kingdom delegation to the sixth (Canada, 1952) when he died.

Robinson was one of the founders of the Society of Foresters of Great Britain and first president and first recipient of its medal (1947) for eminent services to British forestry; an honorary member (1940) of the Society of American Foresters and the Institute of Foresters of Australia; corresponding member (1947) of the Académie d'Agriculture de France; and an honorary LL.D. of the University of Aberdeen.

He died in Ottawa on 5 September 1952 of pneumonia; his ashes were scattered in Kielder Forest. His wife and two daughters survived him. A son was killed on active service in 1942.

Select Bibliography

  • Empire Forestry Review, 31, 1952
  • Forestry (London), 26-27, 1953-54
  • Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, 12, 1984
  • Times (London), 11 Sept 1952.

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Citation details

L. T. Carron, 'Robinson, Sir Roy Lister (1883–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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