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Robert McKenzie Cross: Botanical Explorer, Kew Gardens

Home | Forgotten Legend : Tribute to Robert Cross- Sample | Further Reading : Some Books, Journals and Web Sites | Early Life in Kilmaronock Loch Lomondside 1830s and 1840s | While Robert entered Kew Gardens, London 1850s his siblings flew the nest too! | Chronology : The Years Robert Cross spent at Home and Abroad | Chinchona Missions : First Trip to South America 1859 | Robert Cross's Report on his travel to South America in 1860 | Spruce's Journal First Chinchona Mission | Chinchona : Later Trips to South America | Rubber Trees : Mission to South America 1876 | Para Rubber Images | Clements Markham, Richard Spruce and Henry Wickham | Achievements of Robert Cross | Publications of Robert M Cross | Last Years at West Cottage Torrance of Campsie | Last Will and Testament of Robert McKenzie Cross

Greetings, and a warm welcome

This site celebrates the life and work of my kinsman, Robert McKenzie Cross 1834-1911. He was a remarkable man, the value of his life's work is not well known outside of a few academic circles. Robert Cross was an explorer and plant collector. He was one of a small band of pioneers who were involved in the two great transfers of plants from South America to the Far East by Kew Gardens, London in the second half of the 19th century.

The plants transferred were chinchona ( from which the malaria - fighting drug quinine is extracted ) and rubber.

We can all cite the name of a great own favourites would include David Livingstone and Charles Darwin... and in our own time Sir Ranulph Fiennes and perhaps the popular Michael Palin; these names are known to most schoolweans. But the names of folk like Richard Spruce ( who? ), Charles Ledger ( who ?), Clements Markham ( who? ) and certainly Robert McKenzie Cross are not remembered - although latter day projects ( e.g. involving Spruce - in writing up his notebooks at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew ) - and some recent publications - bring them slowly to the public's attention. Spruce, Ledger, Markham and Cross were among the great pioneers who were involved in collecting chinchona plants and seeds - which changed history - their work has saved millions of lives - in the fight against malaria.

The same names of Spruce, Markham and Cross were involved in the other great Victorian venture of collecting and transferring - of rubber plants and seeds - and to their number add the names of Henry Wickham and Henry Ridley. Wickham pipped Cross at the post in terms of getting credit and a knighthood for his remarkable exploits of 1876 - described elsewhere on this site. Ridley was one of the men who fought to promote rubber in the Far East - in his capacity as sometime Director of Botanical Gardens in Singapore. Ridley spoke out - saying at one point that all Wickham had really done was to sell seeds to Kew Gardens!!! The jury is still out on whether Wickham or Cross provided the spark, that one single germ, seed or plant - that was the entire basis for the Rubber Industry outside of South America.

Centre stage for the action - on both projects - was South America - the Andes- the Amazon Rain Forests - where chinchona and rubber trees grow naturally. The transfer of these commodities to Southern India - to Ceylon - and across the Far East. Overseeing the projects the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the governments of the day through the India Office.

The prime motive - in all this - for the sake of the Empire - to enable the British to have control or influence over world supplies of quinine and rubber.


Above : Memorial stone to Robert Cross at Cadder
Cemetery, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow - being cleaned up
by the late John Cross



This site is being added to week by week, please add it to your favourites.

The compiler is working on a book on Robert M Cross and his contemporaries - to be published in 2006.


Robert McKenzie Cross excelled as a botanical explorer attached to Kew Gardens and the India Office in the 19th Century. The story passed down the family was of a man who " brought quinine from over the Andes to save lives blighted by malaria in India ". Cross was involved in the important transfer of chinchona and rubber plants and seeds from South America to India. Born in Scotland on Loch Lomondside, where my family originate, he spent his life in his country's service. His travels abroad are recorded in a series of reports and letters. Robert's story reads like a boy's own adventure, full of huge dangers while travelling in an environment not previously explored by any European. He had to speak the local languages, and literally had to live with the native South American Indians when searching and collecting plants. The family story mentioned a man who always slept with a gun under his head at night!

On one trip the ship he was on took in water. Robert hung manfully by his precious plants ( destined for Kew ) until another ship arrived, and before leaving the doomed ship he made sure his plants had first been safely transferred to the rescue ship, without any thought for his own life. Quinine and rubber were important to the British Empire, in controlling the world market. Robert established plantations in Southern India, and the Far East. He never married and is buried Scotland.

Pictured below is the Chinchona plant.


Robert Cross's parents and Family Roots

Robert's father was Alexander Cross (1802-1866) a Master Quarrier, born Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, his mother was Elizabeth Glen ( 1798-1880), the daughter of a calico printer, John Glen. Alexander married Elizabeth in Erskine in 1824 and they moved to Caldervan, Kilmaronock in the late 1820s. Alexander was a well known man in his adopted parish - he was a Church Elder - in Kilmaronock Church - and quarried " Kilmaronock Stone " around Duncryne ( The Dumpling ) and at Blairoaks, Gartocharn. Robert was one of 12 children born to Alexander and Elizabeth Cross.

Robert's grandfather was James Cross ( 1765-1846) who spent his entire life building the roads of Renfrewshire.

The compiler of this site, William Cross is a 4 x great grandson of James Cross the roadmaker and 3x great grandson of Alexander Cross, Master Quarrier.

Please get in touch with any comments or reactions to my site.

William Cross
58, Sutton Road
Gwent, S Wales
NP19 7JF


See also my web site with this link, below.

Robert McKenzie Cross of Kew Gardens