Robert Napier was born in Ceylon and educated at Addiscombe College in Croydon. At the age of 18 he was a lieutenant in the Bengal Engineers. He fought in all the major batttles of the Sikh Wars being severely wounded at Ferozeshah. On the North-West Frontier he commanded a column in the First Black Mountain Hazara Expedition in 1852 and the next year was fighting the Jowaki Afridis in the Peshawar district.
He served with Havelock and Outram at the reief of Lucknow and was active in the mopping-up campaigns in Oudh and Gwalior as the Mutiny came to an end. He was a divisional commander in the war with China in 1860, and was appointed commander-in-chief of the Bombay Army until 1867 when the British Government chose him to lead the expeditionary force to Abyssinia.
The great success of the expedition brought Sir Robert a rich harvest of rewards. He became Lord
Napier of Magdala, he was thanked by Parliament and given a pension. He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Commander of the Star of India, appointed honorary Colonel of the 3rd London Rifles, made a Freeman of the City of London, an Honorary citizen of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army in India and was a Field Marshal when he died in 1890.