Born in Azores in 1850, in 1861 Roberto Ivens attended the Navy School in Lisbon, where he was known as “Roberto of the Devil” and he became viewed as an intelligent young gentleman.
He joined the Portuguese Navy in 1870 at the age of 20 and attended Escola Prática de Artilharia Naval in 1871. Ivens left for the Suez Canal in September of the same year, where he was the garrison of the Estefânia.
He began his travels in Angola in 1872.
On October 10, 1874, he completed three years of travels in the colonies. Returning to Portugal on January 1875, Ivens made examination for lieutenant. In April 1875, he sailed on the Duque de Terceira for Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe and various ports of South America.
In 1876, Ivens set out for the United States, bringing Portuguese products to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition. His ancestor (great grandfather), Thomas Hickling, had been an ardent American revolutionary, and had in fact left Boston for the Azores following an argument with his loyalist father.
Roberto Ivens went on an expedition into the provinces of Angola and Mozambique beginning on May 11, 1877 and studied relations between hydrographic basins in Zambezi. His hydrographic studies are considered even today to be “amazingly perfect”. In the same year he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.
Ivens went on a further expedition on June 21, 1885 at Quelimane in Mozambique. Ivens, as requested by the King Luís I, and in the aftermath of the Berlin Conference, was to travel between Angola and Mozambique, which ended in over 4,500 miles (about 8,300 km) of which 1/3 was uncharted in what was called “Contracosta”.
For his service to Portugal, Roberto had the honour of being named aide-de-camp to King Luís. In 1895, he was made Officer of Military Order of Aviz and was nominated on October 17 as secretary of the Commission of Cartography.
In 2003 Portugal issued a pair of stamps to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Society. From left to right the stamp shows a 15 year old Hemba girl from Angola drawn by Ivens; a transit, and a sextant for navigation and for mapping routes and positions; the logo or seal of the Society; a picture of Serpa Pinto from a picture taken in 1846; a map of a part of Angola in the regions of Quipungo and Quihita (probably near Huila) made in 1884; and a picture of zebras, both by Ivens.