Walter Adolphe Roberts

Roberts was born in Kingston in 1886 and died in 1962. He was the son of Adolphus Roberts a clergyman Curate of the Kingston Parish Church, Chaplain at Port Royal and Rector at Luidas Vale.  His mother Josephine Fannie (nee Napier), was of French ancestry. Walter Adolphe spent his early years at his home near Mandeville, Manchester where he received his early education. 


He was entirely educated by private tutors, mostly his fatherand at the age of 16 was a Gleaner reporter, associating with great journalists such as Tom Redcam, who subsequently was recognised as the first Poet Laureate of Jamaica; and Herbert George deLisser, generally regarded at the time as one of the finest editors in the West Indies. He migrated to the United States in 1904 and there developed into a leading historian, poet, and journalist.


He was affluent in different languages; he spoke both French and Spanish which assisted him in his many travels to France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Latin America, the U.S.A. and Britain.


Between 1914 and1916 he became the war correspondent in Europe for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and in 1918 he was appointed editor of Ainslee’s Magazine, a fiction monthly and remained in charge for three years.In 1936, Roberts launched the Jamaica Progressive League in New York.


The organisation’s primary purpose was founded in the belief “that any people that have seen its generations come and go on the same soil for centuries is, in fact, a nation”.


The first branch of the League was organised and led by W.G. McFarlane in 1937; and he invited Roberts and the others to come to Jamaica to help energise the campaign; and they did so in December 1937. Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s he continued writing and publishing novels, poems as well as historical works. 


In 1941 The Pomegranateappeared, followed in 1942 by The French in the West Indies, Royal Street in 1944, Brave Mardi Gras in 1946, Lake Pontchartrain, 1927 and went on to write numerous detective novels and books of travel writing, focusing much of his non-fiction work on Caribbean history and culture. All these based on life in New Orleans.  In 1948 Creole Dust and Lands of the Inner Sea came out. 


Walter Adolphe Roberts fought a great battle for Jamaican self-government within the British family; and on the eve of Independence, in 1961, the Queen of England awarded him the prestigious order of Member of the British Empire.


Ironically, when Independence was declared in August 1962, the new Jamaican Constitution banned him and the other pioneers from any participation in Jamaica’s parliamentary affairs.


Six weeks later, at the age of 76, he was dead. 15 years after his death Jamaica honour Adolphe Roberts with the posthumous award of the Order of Distinction (Commander), the equivalent of what he had received from the British Queen in his lifetime.


From as far back as the 1950s Walter Adolphe became president of many organizations in Jamaica including the Jamaica Historical Society (1955-57), Jamaica Library Association (1958), The Poetry League of Jamaica and the Natural History Society of Jamaica.


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