Cuming, Hugh (DNB00)

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CUMING, HUGH (1791–1865), naturalist, was born at West Alvington, Kingsbridge, Devonshire, on 14 Feb. 1791. His early love for natural history was fostered by Colonel Montagu, who lived in the neighbourhood. He was apprenticed to a sail-maker, and in 1819 he sailed to South America and settled at Valparaiso. Here he found an ample opportunity for collecting shells, and was encouraged by the consul there, and several naval officers, particularly Captains King and FitzRoy. In 1826 he gave up business in order to devote himself to his favourite pursuit. For this he built a yacht and cruised for twelve months among the Pacific Islands, so successfully that on a second voyage the Chilian government gave him special exemption from port dues, and privileges of buying stores free of duty. He thus spent two years on the coast of Chili, returning to his native land with his abundant collections.

In 1835 he determined to explore the Philippine Islands, and credentials from the Spanish authorities at Madrid, with his knowledge of the language, placed him at once on the most favourable footing. He was thus able to enlist the services of the clergy and their scholars, who were encouraged to hunt the wood for snails and other shells. Cuming returned after four years' labours, paying passing visits to Malacca, Singapore, and St. Helena. The dried plants amounted to a hundred and thirty thousand specimens; these, with the living orchids, were at once distributed, and his zoological collections also rendered available for science by being placed in museums at home and abroad. He died on 10 Aug. 1865 at his house in Gower Street, London, after long suffering from bronchitis and asthma.

G. B. Sowerby named a genus of bivalved shells Cumingia, after him, in 1833.

[Athenæum, 19 Aug. 1865, pp. 247–8; Gent. Mag. 3rd ser. xix. (1865), 517–19 (reprint of former); Proc. Linn. Soc. (1865–6), pp. 57–9; Roy. Soc. Cat. Sci. Papers, ii. 103–4.]

B. D. J.