Robert Chalmers, 1st Baron Chalmers

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Robert Chalmers, 1st Baron Chalmers, GCB, PC (Ire) (18 August 1858 – 17 November 1938) was a British civil servant, and a Pali and Buddhist scholar. In later life, he served as the Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge.[1]

The Lord Chalmers

21st Governor of Ceylon
In office
18 October 1913 – 4 December 1915
MonarchGeorge V
Preceded byReginald Edward Stubbs
(Acting governor)
Succeeded byReginald Edward Stubbs
(Acting governor)
Permanent Secretary to the Treasury
In office
Preceded byT. L. Heath
Succeeded byWarren Fisher
Personal details
Born(1858-08-18)18 August 1858
Stoke Newington, Middlesex
Died17 November 1938(1938-11-17) (aged 80)
Spouse(s)Maud Piggott
Iris Florence

Background and educationEdit

Chalmers was born in Stoke Newington, Middlesex, the son of John Chalmers and his wife Julia (née Mackay). He was educated at the City of London School and Oriel College, Oxford with a BA in 1881. He eventually went on to become the Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, one of the most traditional and conservative Cambridge colleges.[2]


He joined the Treasury in 1882 and served as Assistant Secretary to the Treasury from 1903 to 1907. He was then Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue between 1907 and 1911, and Permanent Secretary to the Treasury from to 1911 to 1913. In June 1913 Chalmers was appointed Governor of Ceylon,[3] a post he held from 18 October 1913 to 4 December 1915. He was then briefly Under-Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Wimborne in 1916. He was admitted to the Irish Privy Council the same year. He then returned to the Treasury and served as Joint Permanent Secretary to the Treasury from 1916 to 1919.[2] In 1919 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Chalmers, of Northiam in the County of Sussex.[4]

He went on to serve as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge from 1924 to 1931.[2] He spent much of his adult life editing or translating Pali texts. His translations included the Jataka Tales and the Majjhima Nikaya.[5] He was responsible for the Martial Law imposed on Sinhalese Civilians infamous as "100 days of Terror under the British" in Ceylon in 1915.

Ceylonese Barrister E.W. Perera braved submarine-infested seas to travel by ship with a petition concealed in his shoe to London where he succeeded in convincing the British Government the atrocities perpetrated under martial law in Sri Lanka. As a result, Governor Chalmers was recalled to England and a Royal Commission of Inquiry was appointed to probe the atrocities.


Lord Chalmers married, firstly, Maud Mary Piggott, daughter of John George Forde Piggott, in 1888. After her death in 1923 he married, secondly, Iris Florence, daughter of Sir John Biles and widow of Robert Latta, in 1935. His two sons from his first marriage, Captain Ralph Chalmers and Lieutenant Robert Chalmers, were both killed in the First World War (within the same month). His daughter Mabel lived until the 1960s. Lord Chalmers died in November 1938, aged 80. As he had no surviving male issue the barony died with him. Lady Chalmers died in 1966.[2]


Chalmers was appointed a Companion (civil division) of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1900 New Year Honours list on 1 January 1900[6] (the order was gazetted on 16 January 1900[7]), and he was invested by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 1 March 1900.[8] He was promoted to Knight Commander (KCB) of the order in 1908,[9] and to Knight Grand Cross (GCB) late in his career. He was admitted to the Irish Privy Council in 1916.


  1. ^ Padma Edirisinghe (23 September 2007). "Epistemological reflections of the Buddha". The Sunday Observer.
  2. ^ a b c d Robert Chalmers, 1st and last Baron Chalmers
  3. ^ News report, The Straits Times of Singapore, 19 June 1913
  4. ^ "No. 31308". The London Gazette. 25 April 1919. p. 5197.
  5. ^ "Remembering Sir Robert Chalmers".
  6. ^ "New Year Honours". The Times (36027). London. 1 January 1900. p. 9.
  7. ^ "No. 27154". The London Gazette. 16 January 1900. p. 285.
  8. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36079). London. 2 March 1900. p. 6.
  9. ^ "No. 28151". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 June 1908. p. 4642.

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Henry Primrose
Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Reginald Edward Stubbs
acting governor
Governor of Ceylon
Succeeded by
Reginald Edward Stubbs
acting governor
Academic offices
Preceded by
Adolphus Ward
Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge
Succeeded by
William Birdwood
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Chalmers