Robinson, Sir Hercules George Robert (1824–97), colonial governor and 1st Baron Rosmead , was born 19 December 1824 at Rosmead, Co. Westmeath, second among six sons of Adm. Hercules Robinson, and Frances Elizabeth Robinson (née Widman Wood); he was the great-grandson of Sir Hercules Langrishe (qv), the distinguished eighteenth-century Irish politician. His younger brother, William Cleaver Francis Robinson also became a successful colonial governor. Educated at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Hercules Robinson was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 87th Regiment (Royal Irish Fusiliers) on 27 January 1843. He became a first lieutenant the following year but resigned his commission in 1846. During the Irish famine he served as a poor law commissioner and worked tirelessly to ease the massive hardship. For his services he was appointed chief commissioner of fairs and markets in Ireland in 1852.
When Robinson became president of Montserrat on 3 March 1854 it marked the beginning of his distinguished career as a colonial governor. He served in that office for one year and it gave him vital experience in British imperial administration. On 28 March 1855 he was appointed lieutenant governor of the nearby island of St Christopher. Moving to Hong Kong as governor in 1859, and knighted the same year, he found his work complicated by the war with China (1860–61). Successfully negotiating the annexation of Kowloon, he followed this by regulating the finances of the colony and eliminating much of the corruption of its administration.
Seconded to the Straits settlements commission in 1863, he was appointed governor of Ceylon in 1865. His skilful reorganisation of the colony won much praise, and when his term ended in 1872 he was rewarded with immediate promotion: he became governor of New South Wales in February. There he negotiated the cession of the Fiji Islands (1874) and ensured through skilful diplomacy that party interests were not put before imperial concerns in parliament. In 1879 he moved to New Zealand to assume the governorship of the colony. He did not remain long. In August 1880 he was appointed governor of the Cape Colony and high commissioner of South Africa and it was in this dual role that he did his greatest work. He arrived in Cape Town on 22 January 1881 at one of the most volatile periods in the colony's history. The Boers in the Transvaal region had declared their independence, and tensions were high between them and their British neighbours. In 1885 the Cape Colony annexed Bechuanaland to help protect the territory from Boer raiders, but this success was marred by a clash between Robinson and Sir Charles Warren, the head of the expedition. In the event the colonial parliament backed Robinson in the dispute and his position went unchallenged.
In October 1886 Robinson served as a special commissioner in Mauritius, investigating charges of corruption against his fellow Irishman, Sir John Pope Hennessy (qv), governor of the colony. After a detailed examination of the evidence he upheld the allegations and suspended the governor. On his return to the Cape in 1887 his term of office was extended by two years. He retired to Britain in 1889 and caused some controversy in a farewell speech when he admitted that there was no long-term future for imperial rule in South Africa. He became a director of the London and Westminster Bank in 1890 and was awarded a baronetcy the following year. Regarded as one of the finest colonial governors of the century, and particularly admired for his work in South Africa, he was the immediate choice of the government in 1895 when trouble flared in Johannesburg. Reluctantly, he returned to the Cape for a second term as governor. It was the most difficult period of his career, marked by crisis and impending conflict, and he struggled to maintain order and stability. The Jameson raid ignited passions in the area and there was little Robinson could do to halt the slide towards war. He left the Cape in May 1896 and was rewarded for his lifetime of services, and especially his recent endeavours, by being raised to the peerage as Baron Rosmead of Rosmead, Co. Westmeath, and of Tafelberg, in South Africa, on 11 August. He died 28 October 1897 at Prince's Gardens, London.
He married (24 April 1846) Nea Arthur Ada Rose d'Amour, daughter of Viscount Valentia; they had one son and one daughter. He was succeeded by his only son, Hercules Arthur Temple Robinson (1866–1933) as 2nd Baron Rosmead; on his death the barony became extinct. Sir Henry Parkes left a detailed profile of Sir Hercules Robinson that was rich in its appreciation: ‘He was a man of much personal dignity, who walked and rode like a king . . . it is not surprising that the new governor became popular with all classes’ (Parkes, i, 296–7).