Monday, 11 April 2016

I is for interested in India

Eyre Nicholas Champion de Crespigny was born on 7 May 1821 at Vevey, near Montreaux, Switzerland, the son of the Reverend Heaton Champion de Crespigny (1796-1858) and Caroline née Bathurst (1797-1861). He was my third cousin four times removed.

Eyre's father, Heaton, was involved in various scandals and by the late 1820s the family was destitute. In 1832 Heaton was committed to a debtors' prison. (A story for another blog post.)

In 1834 Eyre was at school at Segrave House, Cheltenham. There he received a book prize for 2nd class, Classical. (Leamington Spa Courier 28 June 1834, page 3 retrieved from the British Newspaper Archive) On 2 March 1835 Eyre, aged 13, son of Heaton de Crespigny, clergyman, 27, Queen Street, Grosvenor Square, was admitted to St Paul's School, London.

In the late 1830s Caroline left Heaton and moved with her children, including Eyre, to Heidelberg in Germany. In 1842 at the age of 21 Eyre graduated from the Heidelberg University with a medical degree.

His obituary in the 1895 issue of the Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, page 127 states
After receiving his diploma he returned to England, and went through Bartholomew's and Guy's Hospitals. In 1845 he received an Indian appointment, and arrived in Bombay in September of that year. During his residence in India he was employed in the performance of various military, naval, and civil medical duties. In 1859 Dr. de Crespigny became Acting Conservator of Forests and Superintendent of the Government Botanical Gardens at Dapsorie, near Poonah ; but failing health compelled his return to England in 1862. During his residence in India he made a small but interesting collection of coloured drawings of plants, which were acquired for the Botanical Department of the British Museum.
On 5 November 1850 Eyre married Augusta Cunningham at Malligaum, Bombay.They had five children:
  • Mary Augusta 1853–1930 (born Ahmedabad where Eyre was Assistant surgeon)
  • Grace Caroline 1855–1905 (born Rutnagherry where Eyre was Assistant Surgeon)
  • Augusta Margaret 1856–1935 (born Rutnagherry)
  • Claude 1859–1860 (born and died Rutnagherry; at the time of his son's death Eyre was Civil Surgeon)
  • Herbert Frederick 1860–1941 (born Bombay)
I am not quite sure where the Government Botanical Gardens at Dapsorie near Poonah, now spelled 'Pune', are. The Empress Gardens at Pune, founded in 1830 and acquired by the British Government in 1838, are near the race course. Perhaps it was these gardens that Eyre was responsible for. However, I think Dapsorie is a mis-transcription and the gardens were most likely at Dapuri which is 370 kilometres north of Pune.

The "History of Botany in India"  in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, vol. 54, 1957, page 83, states

The line of botanists in charge of the Bombay forests was continued by the appointment of Eyre Champion de Crespigny (1821-96). He had reached India in 1845. The posts of Conservator of Forests and Superintendent of the Dapuri Garden were combined in his case. He made a herbarium which is now at Manchester.
The Dapuri Botanic Gardens were abandoned in 1865 not long after Eyre departed from India because of his ill health.

Eyre continued his enthusiasm for botany after his return to England and was a member of the Botanical Exchange Club, which later became the Botanical Society of the British Isles. In 1877 he published A new London flora.

Retrieved from http://www.biodiversityheritagelibrary.org/bibliography/32388#/summary
As mentioned in his obituary in the Journal of Botany,
This is a handy little pocket volume, and was reviewed in this Journal (1877, pp. 311-314) by Mr. Reginald Pryor, whose singularly exact mind found a good deal to criticize both as to matter and manner.
The obituary goes on to note "Beyond this Dr. de Crespigny did not publish, but devoted himself quietly to the study which had for many years been his chief interest. "

Eyre de Crespigny died in 1895.

After his death his widow donated his herbarium collection and a collection of Indian snake skins to the Manchester Museum. There were 42 skins in the collection.



Carex distans herbarium specimen from Faversham, VC15 East Kent in 1883 by Dr Eyre Champion de Crespigny. The item is in the collection of the University of Birmingham and includes the biographical details of Eyre, the collector. Retrieved from http://herbariaunited.org/specimen/305571/?image


"Eyre" is not a forename used much by the de Crespigny family. In looking at Eyre's mother's relations, however, I found that Eyre's great-uncle on his mother's side was Sir Eyre Coote (KB (1762-1863) and that Eyre's mother, Caroline Bathurst, had a cousin called Eyre Tilson Coote (1793-1827). 

Sources and further reading

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