Ralph Cobbold was born in Ipswich, the second son of the Ipswich MP John Patteson Cobbold. He explored the Pamirs in 1897–1898. His report on Russian plans to occupy Chitral was an important episode in the Great Game between the Russian and British empires. In his 1900 book about his travels through the Pamirs Cobbold wrote " “My original object in visiting the Pamir region of Central Asia was that of a sportsman, and I had no idea of either troubling myself with inquiries into the social and political conditions of the people", in but in actuality Cobbold was an agent in the British government and was ordered to travel through the Pamirs.
He later took part in British military operations in Somaliland, and in 1902 received the Second class of the Order of the Star of Ethiopia in recognition of services while attached to the Abyssinian Force which cooperated with the British Force.
Cobbold's first marriage was to Minnie Diana Pitt, with whom he had a son, Ralph Hamilton Cobbold. In 1929, he married Joan Rosemary Graves-Sawle, daughter of Rear-Admiral Sir Charles John Graves-Sawle and, in 1932, he changed his name to Ralph Patterson Sawle by royal license.
- 'Col Ralph Cobbold-Sawle', The Times, 8 December 1965.
- Travel in Asia – An Interesting Record of the Impressions of an Alert Traveler, New York Times, May 26, 1900,
- Innermost Asia – Travels and Sport in the Pamirs, Ralph P Cobbold, 1900
- Clarmont Skrine and Pamela Nightingale, Macartney at Kashgar: New Light on British, Chinese and Russian Activities in Sinkiang, 1890–1918 (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1973)
- Peter Hopkirk, The great game: on secret service in high Asia, Oxford University Press, 1991
- K. Warikoo, Himalayan Frontiers of India: Historical, Geo-Political and Strategic Perspectives, Taylor and Francis, 2009 ISBN 0-415-46839-6
- Innermost Asia – Travels and Sport in the Pamirs, Ralph P Cobbold, 1900. p. vii.
- The London Gazette: . 31 January 1902.
- The Cobbold Family History Trust