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Robert McKenzie Cross: Botanical Explorer, Kew Gardens

Achievements of Robert Cross

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



Markham's tribute to Cross on one of the Chinchona missions to Loxa

Mr Cross's report is exceedingly interesting, because very few really observant travellers have ever gone over the same ground,and even Humbolt, who visted Popayan never penetrated into the forests which were carefully examined by Mr Cross.

The Report also contains valuable information respecting the climate of the Pitayo Region, which will be very serviceable to cultivators in INdia. Mr Cross deserves great credit for the skilful and energetic way in which he performed a difficult task, and for his courage and perseverance in facing dangers and hardships of no ordinary nature....

Cross's Chinchona collection from South America formed the basis of the entire Indian stock...

According to a Report compiled by the Superintendent of the Government Chinchona Plantations to the Commissioner of Nigiris dated 12 July 1873...

The entire collection of Mr Markham and Mr Pritchett ( another gardener on the project ) perished from confinement in Wardian cases...the only plants which survived long confinment in cases were those brought by Mr Cross to Madras. These plants survived because Mr Cross kept the cases open, and daily forked up the earth about the roots. From these latter plants the Nigiris stock was raised.....

Dictionary of National Biography page 839

Under the entry for Richard Spruce the following acknowledgment of Cross's contribution is recorded.

In 1859 he ( Spruce ) was commissioned by the India office to collect seeds and young plants of the cinchona for India, and succeeded in procuring on the western slope of Chimborazo one hundred thousand seeds and six hundred plants, which he conveyed to Guayaquil; thence Robert Cross transported them to India.

Royal Geographical Society, London

In the Library Catalogue of 1893 referring to Sir Clements Markham's address of 26 November 1877 on the Unexplored Parts of South America he states:-

Modern travellers will have to emulate the daring of these searchers for El Dorado ( Markham mentions Fedreman, Quesada, Philip von Huten in this context ) the rediscovery of the now unknown region. But its exploration is undoubedly a matter of great geographical interest. Morover, there are many parts of the Colombian Andes which need further examination. I may mention that I have despatched that admirable collector, Mr Robert Cross, no less than three times to obtain valuable species of Chinchona plants in the forests of Popayan and the Upper Magdelena, and on every occasion his work has involved more or less of geographical discovery ...

Robert Cross's Life's Work


One word sums it up ...service.

That is to say ..service to his country and to his fellow man.

Family intimation of his death

The Kirkintilloch Gazette March 10th 1911

Deaths : CROSS : At West Cottage, Balgrochan, Torrance of Campsie on the 1st instant ROBERT MACKENZIE CROSS ( formerly of KILMARONOCK ) aged 76 years.

The informant of the death was Robert's nephew James McLelland, Bank Manager and Inspector of Poor at Cadder.

The same year, 1911, Robert's brother William Paterson Cross died at Greenock.

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Publications by Kew Gardens

Extract from Kew Bulletin 1911

We regret to have to announce the death of Mr R M Cross in Scotland at the age of 75....He entered the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in June 1857. He left in April 1859, and shortly afterwards ( See Kew Report for 1859, page 3 ) was selected by Sir Clements Markham, on the recommendation of Sir William Hooker, to go out to Ecuador to assist Richard Spruce in the collection of Chinchona in the forests and to establish the plants in Wardian cases at Guayaquil.

The able way in which Cross performed these services and the successes which attended the hazardous journeys he undertook in Ecuador and Colombia are duly recorded in Sir Clements Markham's book Peruvian Bark. An account of his arrival at Ventanas in July 1860, and of the difficulties he encountered is given by Spruce in the second volume of his book on the Amazon and Andes.

In 1861 Cross went to Loxa and collected seeds of Cinchona condaminea on which he wrote a short report to the Secretary of State for India, and a much longer report on the Pitayo Cinchona was published giving an account of the results of his expeditions to obtain this plant in Colombia. Three journeys were made to Pitayo, and a report on the last , undertaken in 1868-69, was published on the correspondence relating to Cinchona cultivation in India laid before the House of Commons in 1876.

In 1875, Cross went out to collect plants and seeds of Castilloa elastica. The following year he sailed from Liverpool for Para and was engaged in Brazil in an investigation of the Para and Ceara Rubber trees and the Balsam of Copaiba, of all of which he collected both plants and seeds. The report which he wrote on the conclusion of his journey is illustrayed with numerous figures and gives an interesting and useful account of the mode of tapping of the trees and of the preparation of the rubber in the Brazilian forests.

After his return from the Amazon, Mr Cross settled in Edinburgh and a few years ago went to live at Torrance of Campsie where he died on 1 March, last. He was of a retiring disposition and the value of his work is probably not generally known.

Newspapers and Journals

Gardeners Chronicle March 18 1911

The death is announced of Robert McKenzie Cross the veteran plant collector at the age of 76 years. After serving in various gardens he came to London and Mr J Smith, the Curator of Kew Gardens procured an appointment for him to go to Ecuador to obtain the red-barked Cinchona ( Quinine ) and establish it in the Neilgherries, India, a mission in which he was highly successful. He continued his services in collecting other species of Cinchona. In 1875, he went to Panama for Castilloa Elastica and later to the Amazon River where he collected seeds and plants of the Hevea Brasiliensis, both species being needed for the rubber industry.

Mr Cross also introduced several interesting plants to British gardens, one of the best known being the pretty scarlet Masdevallia Racemosa ( syn. M Crossii ). His importation of this species was not very successful, but later the plant was introduced in better conditions and it is now well represented in gardens.

Mr Cross was a most indefatigable and observant traveller and his excellent constitution enabled him to pass safely through many unhealthy districts. He retired to Edinburgh with the thanks of the Indian government and a few years ago went to reside at Torrance of Campsie.

The Journal of the Kew Guild of December 1911

This covers the same ground as the Kew Bullitin but adds:-

Robert M Cross was a typical Scotsman, with grit, and penetrated places in Panama that the natives refused to enter, so afraid were they of its deadly climate.

The India Rubber Journal of 18 March 1911 records similar points.

Robert McKenzie Cross of Kew Gardens