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Robert McKenzie Cross: Botanical Explorer, Kew Gardens

Chronology : The Years Robert Cross spent at Home and Abroad

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

Reasonable evidence of dates spent at home and abroad through documentary sources.

24 April 1834 : Born at Kilmaronock, Dumbartonshire, Scotland

1841 : Census: With Cross family at Blairoaks, Caldervan, Kilmaronock

Late 1830s -1840s : Schooldays in Kilmaronock

1851 : Census : Mains Farm, Kilmaronock : Labourer

1850 : Apprentice Gardener at Luss, followed by a term at Austin and McAslan's nurseries, Glasgow.

June 1857 : Entered Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew London.

April 1859 : Left Kew Gardens, afterwards appointed as part of the chinchona expedition to South America, under Clements Markham. Cross's role : to assist Richard Spruce.

1860 : Preparations in London for chinchona mission.

17 April 1860 : Writing in Gardeners Chronicle, Robert Cross recalls he left Southampton on 17 April 1860. According to Spruce Cross arrived at Limon on 27 July 1860.The first chinchona plants, grown by Cross from seeds, were sent to Kew, with Cross, in January 1861. Official sources state that Cross then took the rooted plants to India to the Nilgiris of Madras, in total 500 plants, in early 1861. One of these sources is A Manual of Chinchona Cultivation in India by George King who was Superintendent of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Calcutta. He states ( 1876 ) that after depositing his red bark plants in the Nilgiris early in 1861, Mr Cross returned to South America.


May 1861 : Markham writes that he returned from India in May 1861.

1861 : Writing from Sierra de Cajanuma, near Loxa on 9 November 1861, ( report finished at Guayaquil 12 December 1861 and forwarded to Markham by Francis Mocatta British Vice Consul there ) ) Robert Cross states in his report TRIP TO THE FOREST OF LOXA, collect seeds of quinine yielding trees, that he left Guayaquil on 17 September 1861. This trip, lasting several months was full of hardships, yet he successfully collected 100,000 seeds and these were despatched to Fort St George on 17 January 1862 and later to the plantations on the Neilgherries, via Ootacamund for the attention of Mr W G McIvor. Cross may well have been in India thereafter - as he had been in 1861 - with the original chinchona collections.

1862 : Cross was probably at Kew. George King in Manual of Chinchona Cultivation in India ( under Introduction into India ) states Mr Cross's plants of succirubra raised from cuttings at Limon together with six calisyas which had been raised at Kew in 1862 were the only living chinchona plants collected by Mr Markham....


Writing from the N Slopes of Chimborazo ( Andes ) on 10 December 1864, ( initial report forwarded to Markham by Francis Mocatta on 14 February 1864 ) Robert Cross states in his report in connection with the COLLECTION OF SEEDS OF CHINCHONA DE PITAYO IN SOUTH AMERICA ( around PURACE, HAMBALO and TOTORO in Colombia )that he received instructions from Markham to carry out this work on 17 April 1863. Cross was in South America at that time.

Mocatta confirms that Cross began his expedition at the beginning of May 1863. Cross's first entry in his detailed report is 6 May 1863. The resulting plants and seeds from this trip were forwarded to Kew on 14/15 February 1864 via Mocatta at Guayaquil. This trip was full of difficulties - and huge delays - Markham's instruction to Cross were to send the plants via Bogata. Cross was very severely reprimanded by Markham for deviating from these instructions, and sadly the collection of plants failed.

1865-7 : Cross did not hesitate to undertake another mission to collect Pitayo seeds in 1865. This mission was successful. Afterwards Cross was completely exhausted, he records that he returned home in January 1867.

1865-7 : Writing from Glasgow on 13 March 1871 in his report COLLECTING SEEDS AND PLANTS OF THE CHINCHONAS OF PITAYO Robert Cross refers to his next journey ( his 3rd chinchona expedition ) to Pitayo in 1865 ( after the failure of 1864 ). He refers to being completely debilitated by the ague, states he spent some time at Quito, and after recovering returned home in January 1867.

1868-70 : Writing in 1871 ( 13 March Glasgow ) Cross states that he arrived in London in April 1868 where Markham had made arrangements for him to make a futher collection in the Pitayo region. Cross left Southampton on 17 April 1868 and arrived at Colon on 9 May 1868, for a series of long expeditions and he did not arrive back in Southampton until 18 March 1870. He was back at Kew the same day with his new collections.

1871 : The Kew Journal of 1871, page 319 contains the following report - and a stark warning about the shrinking and destruction of the rain forests ....

Mr Robert Cross, who has been collecting seeds and plants for the Government East India plantations, has once more gone to South America, this time, on his own account, to gather Chinchona bark as a commercial speculation. It would seem a pity that the services of so enterprising and daring a traveller should be lost to the East India plantations.

Surely some remunerative situation could be found for one who has gathered , at the peril of his health and life, so much information invaluable to the cultivator. We are glad to see that the East India Office has published Mr Cross's Report on the Collecting of Seeds and Plants of the Chinchonas of Pitayo ( printed for HMSO 1871 ) from which it appears that the spendid Chinchona forest of Pitayo are fast disappearing. Little of this bark goes to England, the greater qualtity to France and Germany, especially to France, whose agents have nearly demolished the forests...

April 1875 : Writing from 11, Sandford Road, Fulham on 28 April 1875 ( in a letter in Kew Gardens Library Archives Ref: English Letters COO-DEW 1866-1900 Volume 83, No 138 )

Robert Cross to Mr J Smith, Curator at Kew, offers to make a collection of plants ( such as young ferns )whilst at Panama and asking for some cases to be sent out to the British Consul at Panama. This request was agreed by Smith.

2 May 1875 : Cross left Southampton and arrived at Panama on 26 May 1875. This mission was to collect Castilloa Elastica plants. This trip was the memorable one that ended in Cross being shipwrecked off the coast of Jamaica on board the Shannon steamer. Full details will appear on this site. Suffice to say that Cross returned home ( with plants secured ) on the steamer Nile and reached Southampton on 2 October 1875. It was from this 1875 collection that some 134 Castilloa plants flourished at Kew and in the course of 1876 were forwarded to India, to form the nucleus of a series of plantations..

August 1875 : Writing from Panama on 4 August 1875, ( in a letter in Kew Gardens Library Archives Ref: India Office Caout II In Misc. Reports items 535-6 ) Robert Cross to C R Markham he refers to enclosing a small bag containing upwards of 7000 seeds of the Caucho tree, collected in the centre of Darien.

1876 : Writing from Grove Street, Edinburgh, on 29 March 1877 in his detailed REPORT ON THE INVESTIGATION AND COLLECTING OF PLANTS AND SEEDS OF THE INDIA RUBBER TREES OF PARA AND CEARA AND BALSAM OF COPAIBA Robert Cross refers to leaving Liverpool on 19 June 1876 and arriving at Para on 15 July 1876. Cross and his rubber collections arrived back in Liverpool on 22 November 1876 and hence to Kew Gardens on 23 November 1876. There were fully 1,000 plants of Para rubber, Hevea Braziliensis, in the best condition.

Exclusive were the Ceara plants, all of which arrived sound. This report is illustrated with sketches and refers to methods of tapping for rubber.

1877 : Writing from 7 Grove Street, Edinburgh on 26 April 1877 ( in a letter in Kew Gardens Library Archives Ref as per August 1875 entry above item 547 ) Robert Cross to Mr R Irwin Lynch, at Kew about the success of the Ceara rubber plants.

1878-9 : Writing on 13 September 1879 in his 1878-8 report to COLLECT PLANTS OF THE QUININE BARK TREE KNOWN AS CALISAYA OF SANTA FE OR SOFT COLUMBIAN ON THE EASTERN ANDES OF NEW GRANADA AND OF THE CARTHAGENA BARK ON THE CENTRAL CORDILLERA, published by HMSO in 1879, Robert Cross records that he left Southampton on 2 August 1877 and arrived at Buenaventura on 22 August 1877. This is a most remarkable report of 55 pages. A mature, experienced Cross - who could by this time very well reflect on nearly 20 years of his life spent in the collecting of chinchona seeds, plants, trees and bark. One memorable quote on the local natives is a personal statement... I have travelled in South America.. nine years of which I have spent amonst thirteen different tribes....Cross arrived back in Southampton after this mission on 16 March 1878. He then laboured with at Kew in the two Springs periods between 1878-9.

1879 : Writing from 5, Cumberland Place, Kew on 16 April 1879 ( in a letter in Kew Gardens Library Archives Ref India Economic Products Cinchona In Misc. reports 5 item 134 )Robert Cross to Mr J Smith, Curator at Kew, about about the progress of growing two types of chinchona trees, the Santa Fe ( soft Columbian bark) and Carthagena or Magdalena tree.

September 1880 : Documents ( Letters of Instruction from the India Office ) show Cross was booked on a First Class Steamer passage to India Southampton to Bombay, to take chinchona plants out there and return. Ticket arrangements seen.

March 1881 : Cross is recorded as Conservator of Forests, Madras. Source : Rubber Growers Association Archives Newspaper cuttings 1912. These appointments were temporary ones, to cover for vacation periods by the permanebt staff.

March 1882 Letters ( in Kew Archives ) written by Robert Cross from 3 Wardie Cottages, Granton, Edinburgh on 21 March ( to Professor Oliver, Curator at Kew ) and 25 March 1882 ( to W Thisleton Dyer ) show Cross was at home.
These leters were about the quality of chinchona samples Cross had taken away.

1882 : Writing from Government Gardens at Oot'y, India, on 21 July 1882, ( in a letter in Kew Gardens Library Archives Ref : Madras - Chinchona 1860-97 In Misc. Reports 5, 2 items 131-2 ) Robert Cross to Clements R Markham, London, encloses a copy of a newspaper article from the South of India Observer. Cross held a post as Acting Superintendent of Gardens at this time. He refers to evidence of the most stupendous mistake that had ever occurred in the history of planting. He alleged that the whole chinchona plantation at Neddivattum contained mostly low yielding chinchona plants, not the type that had previously been prescribed by Cross. This situation had being going on for years. Cross calculated the loss as 2 milliion pound sterling!!! Cross blamed no one by name - but he hoped that those responsible would make a clean breast of things. Instead this had a direct affect on his remaining employment with Kew and The India Office. Sir Joseph Hooker lauched an enquiry into the whole affair, which resulted in some discredit being shown on the work being done in Indian planatations and particularly involving hybrid type of chinchona. Although Cross was vindicated - it sorely affected him.

Cross returned home a few days after writing this letter to Markham. He refers in detail in that letter to Markham to the fact his revelations had caused a lot of ill-will against him - some people saying that he had depreciated estates. Notably this was a Dr Bidie who had responsible for the plantation on behalf of the Indian Government. Bidie argued against Cross's findings.

1883 - References in correspondence to ongoing debate regarding the quality of Chinchona cultivation. There are no other refernces traced after 1884 to Cross making further trips to India.

Mid 1880s - to mid 1890s in Edinburgh ( exact dates to be verified )

1894 : Living at Victor Park Cottage, Corstorphine, Edinburgh

1890s - Torrance of Campsie

1901 Census : West Cottage, Torrance of Campsie

1 March 1911 : Dies at Torrance of Campsie aged 76 years


NP19 7JF


Robert McKenzie Cross of Kew Gardens