Robert Stanford was born in Ballinastanford near Claremorris, Co. Mayo in 1806. He made his fortune as a soldier, eventually settling near Cape Town in South Africa. Upon his retirement from military service in 1838, he bought the Kleine Valley estate in the Western Cape. The estate covered almost 27,000 acres, making Stanford a prominent land owner. In 1848 he further expanded his property portfolio buy purchasing 52,000 acres of land near Gustrouw. In spite of his prominent position in society, Stanford is perhaps best known for the part he played in The Blockade of the Neptune in 1849. The Neptune was a convict ship carrying 282 prisoners, the majority of whom were Irish, who were intended to undertake construction projects in Cape Town. The locals petitioned to prevent this as they did not want Cape Town to become a prison colony. The ship was forced to anchor within sight of dry land for 5 months before they finally accepted defeat and changed their course for Tasmania. Stanford provided aid to the people onboard the Neptune by ferrying supplies to them. For his act of mercy he and his family were shunned by society. His children were expelled from school and his family were denied access to medicine, which tragically resulted in the death of a child. Stanford wrote a memoir entitled Loyalty and its Reward (1858), in which he commented on the shameful behaviour of the people of Cape Town. He was indeed rewarded by Queen Victoria with a knighthood and £5,000, but the actions of his neighbours and friends had left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Stanford died on the 20th of December 1877 whilst visiting England. Today the village of Stanford in South Africa bears his name, as does the Sir Robert Stanford Estate vineyard.