Topic: Evan Oswald McRoberts (1883-1917)

Topic type:

Evan Oswald McRoberts received a Royal Humane Society’s medal for gallantry for saving lives in the Tauranga Harbour in March 1905. Whilst serving during World War I he was killed in action at Ypres in Belgium on 4 October 1917, aged 38. Story by Debbie McCauley.

Does this article look wrong? View an archived version here.

Evan Oswald McRoberts was born in Tauranga on 8 October 1883 (reg. 1883/15792). He was the son of James and Mary Harriet McRoberts (nee Wallis) who married in New Zealand on 13 January 1870 (reg. 1870/4731).

In March 1905 Evan saved lives in the Tauranga habour for which he received a Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal for gallantry. On 24 March 1905 the Bay of Plenty Times reported:

Narrow Escape of a Boating Party: A narrow escape from drowning befell a party of picnickers yesterday afternoon in the arm of the harbour behind Matapihi. It appears that Mr G. E. Spooner with his wife and her sister, Miss Garland, and Mr E. Roberts went for a sail up the arm of the harbour between Maungatapu and Matapihi, and when in deep water a squall capsized the boat, from the leeward side, thus throwing all the occupants into the water and under the sail of the boat. After considerable exertion the whole party extricated themselves, and the ladies having been got on to the keel of the boat, it was decided that McRoberts, being a strong swimmer should try and get help from the shore. Accordingly he struck out and after a long swim only reached the Matapihi shore to find no boat available, and then with rare courage, took to the water again with the intention of crossing the wide and rough channel between Matapihi and Maungatapu. After an exhausting swim against wind and waves, most fortunately he was seen by two Maori who called to Mr F. Chappell, who was working on the new church, and he with one of the Maori at once went to McRoberts’ rescue, picking him up greatly exhausted, but nevertheless able to explain the predicament of his friends. The rescue party immediately pulled with all speed in the direction indicated and succeeded in taking off the other three, who were also in an exhausted state having been in the water over an hour, and the boat having turned over with them several times. The party was landed and helped by the Maori to a house which was placed at their disposal in a most hospitable manner by the Maoris, who did everything they could for the comfort of the unfortunate people and looked after them all night, enabling them to return to their homes this morning little the worse for their trying experience. Too much cannot be said for the courageous conduct of McRoberts, who, by the way, is a member of the local Post Office Staff, for whether or not the other members of the party might possibly have been rescued by the means in his absence, he undoubtedly took his own life in his hands, and narrowly escaped losing it, in carrying out his manly intention to save them at all hazards to himself.

Evan worked as a clerk for the Postal Department and was also a lay preacher for the Methodist Church. 

On 1 January 1916 Evan married Sarah Isabel Whitehouse in Ponsonby, Auckland (reg. 1916/8905). Sarah was born at Turua in Thames, New Zealand, on 5 November 1892 (reg. 1892/11857). Her parents were Samuel Thomas and Elizabeth Cantels Whitehouse.

Evan and Sarah had one child together:

  1. Norma Isabel McRoberts (1916-1999). Born in Palmerson North, New Zealand, on 23 November 1916 (reg. 1916/25918). Norma married George Killen Mawson (1913-2000) in 1939. She died on 14 October 1999 (reg. 1999/22797).

On 7 April 1916 Evan enlisted to serve during World War I. He was with the Auckland Infantry Regiment (Service No. 22550).

Second Lieutenant Evan Oswald McRoberts was killed in action at Ypes in Belgium on 4 October 1917, aged 38 (reg. 1918/62569). He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial in the Tyne Cot Cemetery at Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

Evan's medals were sent to his wife Sarah at ‘Ranui’ in Hillsborough Road, Onehunga, Auckland.

Evan Oswald McRoberts (1883-1917)

Evan's younger brother, Lieutenant James Irwin McRoberts (1889-1974), was wounded at Messines during World War I (Service No. 22551). Another brother, Constable Wilfred Gilmore McRoberts (1881-1918), died during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Sarah died in 1939 at the age of 46 (reg. 1939/20727). She was buried in Hillsborough Cemetery in Auckland (Grave Ref: Area 11 Block B Lot No 741). Her headstone reads:

In loving memory of Isabel beloved wife of the late Second Lieut, E O McRoberts died 3 July 1939.



Archives New Zealand: Military Personnel File.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Bay of Plenty Times (1905, March 24, p. 2): Narrow Escape of a Boating Party.

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Hillsborough Cemetery Records Online.

Kean, Fiona (2015, June 26). Brave McRoberts Brothers (Tauranga Historical Society blog).


This article was archived in August at Perma CC (

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Evan Oswald McRoberts (1883-1917)

Note:Service Number: 22550
First Names:Evan Oswald
Last Name:McRoberts
Date of Birth:8 October 1883
Place of Birth:Tauranga
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:4 October 1917
Place of death:Ypres, Belgium
Place of burial:Tyne Cot Memorial, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Spouses name:Sarah Isabel Whitehouse
Spouses date of birth:5 November 1892
Spouses place of birth:Turua, Thames, New Zealand
Spouses date of death:3 July 1939
Spouses place of death:New Zealand
Spouses place of burial:Hillsborough Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand
Date of marriage:1 January 1916
Place of marriage:Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand
Fathers name:James McRoberts
Fathers date of birth:12 April 1835
Fathers place of birth:Ballygowan, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Fathers date of death:28 February 1926
Fathers place of death:Auckland, New Zealand
Mothers name:Mary Harriet Wallis
Mothers date of birth:20 May 1846
Mothers place of birth:Nihinihi, Raglan, New Zealand
Mothers date of death:11 February 1928
Mothers place of death:Auckland, New Zealand
Name of sibilings:Emily Ethel Lyle McRoberts (1874), Harold Thorburn McRoberts (1872), James Irwin McRoberts (1889), Wilfred Gilmore McRoberts (1881), Crawford Wallis McRoberts (1876), Ella Harriet May McRoberts (1886), and Beattrice Anna Mary McRoberts (1870)
Name of the children:Norma McRoberts
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)