Skip to main content
Penn People

Thomas Ellis Robins 1884 - 1962

Penn Connection

  • A.B. 1904
  • University of Pennsylvania's first Rhodes Scholar 1904
  • Editor in chief of The Pennsylvanian 1904
  • Editor in chief of The Record 1904
  • Class secretary and class historian
  • Member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sphinx Senior Society
  • Member of Delta Phi fraternity, Philomathean Society, and Mask and Wig Club

Thomas Ellis Robins was born in Philadelphia on October 31, 1884, to Robert Patterson Robins, M.D., and Mary Routh Ellis. He attended high school at the Blight School of Philadelphia, where he was a member of the track and football teams before graduating in 1900 and entering the University of Pennsylvania.

Robins was an accomplished student during his time at Penn, serving as editor in chief of both the school newspaper, The Pennsylvanian, and the undergraduate yearbook, The Record. He was also a member of the Delta Phi fraternity, Philomathean Society, and the Mask and Wig Club. Robins was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary fraternity and the Sphinx Senior Society, and also won prizes in English composition and Greek sight reading. In 1904, he was the first University of Pennsylvania student to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship as part of the first group of Rhodes Scholars, allowing him to study modern history at the University of Oxford’s Christ Church from 1904 to 1907.

Robins returned briefly to the United States following his time at Oxford, serving as assistant editor of Everybody’s Magazine in New York until accepting a position as private secretary to the Earl of Winterton, M.P., in 1909, and then assistant editor of The World in London.

He became a naturalized British Subject in 1912 and joined the City of London Yeomanry, with which he was mobilized on the day of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Robins served for the next six and a half years in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Palestine, among other fronts, and finished the War as a Colonel.

From 1921 to 1927, Robins served as secretary of the Conservative Club of London. He also commanded the City of London Yeomanry Battery, R.H.A., from 1923 to 1929. Robins joined the British South Africa Company, which had been founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1889, in 1928 and became its general manager in Africa in 1929 and resident director in Africa four years later.

Upon the outbreak of World War II, Robins was recalled to the British Army and posted to the East Africa Command as an instructor. He subsequently commanded the 1st Battalion of the Rhodesian Regiment and served two periods in India. He was demobilized in 1945 and resumed his duties with the British South Africa Company.

Robins was knighted in 1946 for his military service and in 1958 was named Baron Robins of Rhodesia and Chelsea by Queen Elizabeth.

Robins married Mary Wroughton in 1912, with whom he had two daughters, Diana Mary Wroughton, born in 1920, and Philippa Mary Ellis, born in 1923. He died on July 21, 1962, at age 77.