Laffan, Sir Robert Michael (1821–82), soldier and governor of Bermuda, was born 21 September 1821 in Co. Limerick, the second son of John Laffan, a supervisor of excise whose brother Dr Robert Laffan (1765–1833) was catholic archbishop of Cashel (1823–33). Educated at the college of Pont Levoy, near Blois, Robert entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich at the age of fourteen and was gazetted to the corps of the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant on 5 May 1837. After serving for two years at Chatham and Woolwich he was sent to South Africa, where he successfully organised the engineering details for the relief of a British garrison. He made a brief tour of duty in Mauritius and was promoted to captain (1 May 1846); soon after he was dispatched to Belfast, where he served as commander of the Royal Engineers. In November 1847 he was appointed inspector of railways by the Board of Trade, a position in which he served until his resignation in November 1852.
A tory, Laffan became MP for St Ives in Cornwall in July 1852. In the house of commons he waged an unsuccessful campaign against customs duties and consistently argued that there should be a religious component to national education. He also supported a widening of the franchise, but not below a ten shilling property qualification. During his time in parliament he was sent on a mission to Paris to report on the French war ministry (1855) and as a reward was made deputy inspector general of fortifications at the War Office. He retired from parliament in 1857, and because of poor health took a year's sick leave in France and Switzerland.
By this time he held the rank of regimental lieutenant colonel, and upon his recovery he was given a command in Malta (1860–65). He efficiently reorganised the Maltese fortifications, and was made a brevet colonel in 1864. Impressing with his ability to handle difficult overseas appointments, in 1865 he was sent to Ceylon to report on the military state of the colony. Following his return home he also visited the incomplete Suez Canal for a government study, and revisited the canal when it was opened in 1869. In 1866 he was appointed commander of the Royal Engineers at Aldershot and spent six years making improvements to the camp, especially in the areas of landscaping and the planting of trees. As a reward, the old Queen's Birthday Parade was later renamed Laffan's Plain in his honour. Promoted regimental colonel on 9 February 1870, he was sent to Gibraltar as commander of the Royal Engineers there (1872–7).
On 27 April 1877 Laffan was given the respected appointment of governor and commander-in-chief of Bermuda, and the following month was made a KCMG. Upon his arrival in August he discovered that the assembly was threatening to reject any money bill unless it was allowed to examine the government's accounts, which the receiver general was refusing to permit. Laffan skilfully defused the controversy by having his ADC carry the books informally to the assembly for inspection; as a result he was sent the assembly's best wishes for health and long life and his administration began on a harmonious note. Promoted lieutenant general on 1 July 1881, he served with distinction in Bermuda, and an endemic fern was named Governor Laffan's fern (Diplazium laffanianum) in his honour; this is now extinct in the wild, but a few specimens survive in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Laffan died 22 March 1882 and was buried at Pembroke churchyard in Bermuda. In 1852 he had married Emma Norsworthy; they had four sons and one daughter.