Spruce, Richard (DNB00)

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SPRUCE, RICHARD (1817–1893), botanist and traveller, was born in 1817 at Ganthorpe in the North Riding of Yorkshire, where his father was village schoolmaster. Evincing skill as a mathematician, he obtained a mastership at St. Peter's School, York. He began his work as a botanical collector, especially of mosses and liverworts, among the moors of his native county, publishing his first paper, on the mosses and hepatics of Eskdale, in the ‘Phytologist’ for 1841 (i. 540–4), and subsequently one on those of Teesdale (Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 1844), and one on those of Yorkshire (Phytologist, vol. ii.) A visit to Dr. Thomas Glanville Taylor (d. 1848) [q. v.] in Ireland, in 1842, confirmed his interest in this group of plants. In 1846, being ordered abroad for his health, he went to the Pyrenees, where he spent a year in collecting, describing his work in three letters addressed to Sir William Jackson Hooker's ‘Journal of Botany.’ He then issued sets of the mosses and described them in the ‘Annals and Magazine’ for 1849–50 and the ‘Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh’ for 1850. In 1849 he was sent to South America by Sir William Jackson Hooker [q. v.], George Bentham [q. v.], and a few other botanists, Bentham receiving, naming, and distributing the plants sent home by him. Towards the close of the year he started up the Amazon to Santarem, at the mouth of the Tapajos, where he met Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, who was mainly engaged in zoological investigations. Spruce explored the river Trombetas almost to the borders of British Guiana, and reached Manaos at the mouth of the Rio Negro about the end of 1850. He spent three years on the Rio Negro and Orinoco, crossing to the latter by the natural canal of the Casiquiari, penetrating some distance into Venezuela, and discovering many plants new to science, including new genera of Leguminosæ, and no less than two hundred species of fungi in the rainy forests of the Uaupes. Having reached the borders of New Granada, he returned to Manaos at the close of 1854, and then ascended the Amazon by steamer to Nanta in Peru, proceeding by canoe up the Huallaga to Tarapoto at the eastern foot of the Andes, where he stayed two years and collected, within a twenty-five mile radius, 250 species of ferns. In 1857 he again descended the Amazon, and went up the Pastasa to Canelos in Ecuador, and then for a fortnight's journey through the deadly forests to Baños at the foot of the volcano of Tunguragua, temporarily losing most of his baggage in the swollen torrent of the Topo. Six months later he moved on to Ambato, which he made his headquarters for two years (1857–9), and whence, in spite of the civil war then raging, he explored the Quitensian Andes. In 1859 he 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. Spruce's report on this undertaking was published in 1861. His health being completely shattered, he remained on the Pacific coast until 1864; when, having lost all his savings through fraud, he returned to England after an absence of fifteen years. He brought home with him vocabularies of twenty-one Amazonian languages and maps of three previously unexplored rivers. His flowering plants, numbering seven thousand species, were worked out by Bentham, Professor Daniel Oliver, and others; the ferns by Sir W. J. Hooker and John Gilbert Baker; the mosses by Mitten; the lichens by Rev. William Allport Leighton [q. v.]; and the fungi by Rev. Miles Joseph Berkeley. He received a small government pension, and the Imperial German Academy gave him the degree of doctor of philosophy. He retired to Coneysthorpe, Castle Howard, near Malton, Yorkshire, close to his native place, and here he spent the last twenty-seven years of his life, working out his plants, though compelled to do most of his work lying down. Spruce died at Coneysthorpe, 28 Dec. 1893, and was buried in the churchyard at Terrington near by. He was elected a fellow of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1842 and an associate of the Linnean Society in 1893, and he was also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His name is commemorated by a moss, Sprucea, and a liverwort, Sprucella.

Besides various letters in Hooker's ‘Journal of Botany,’ between 1849 and 1857, describing his travels, of which a summary was given in the ‘Journal of Botany’ for 1864 (pp. 199–201), and various separate papers, Spruce published ‘Palmæ Amazonicæ’ in the ‘Journal of the Linnean Society’ for 1871, pp. 65–183; ‘The Hepatics of the Amazons and Andes,’ forming vol. xv. of the ‘Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh,’ 1884–5; ‘Voyage de Richard Spruce dans l'Amérique équatoriale pendant les années 1849–64,’ in the ‘Revue Bryologique,’ 1886, pp. 61–79; and the ‘Hepatics of St. Vincent and Dominica’ in the ‘Journal of the Linnean Society’ for 1894.

[Life by A. Gepp, Journal of Botany, 1894, pp. 50–3; Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, March 1894; Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1893–4, p. 35.]

G. S. B.