Cunningham, Richard (DNB00)

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CUNNINGHAM, RICHARD (1793–1835), botanist, brother of Allan Cunningham (1791–1839) [q. v.], was born at Wimbledon 12 Feb. 1793. After his school days at Putney, under the same master, John Adams, M.A., at fifteen years of age he, like his elder brother, was employed by the king's gardener, W. T. Aiton, on the ‘Hortus Kewensis.’ Six years later, on the completion of that work and its ‘Epitome,’ he was transferred from Kensington to Kew, where he acted as Aiton's amanuensis for eighteen years. In May 1832 Charles Fraser, colonial botanist and superintendent of the Botanic Garden at Sydney, died, and Cunningham was appointed his successor on the recommendation of Robert Brown, and embarked at Sheerness in August of that year. After eighteen weeks at sea he landed at Sydney 5 Jan. 1833 with a cargo of living plants and vines, the latter specially selected from France and Spain. A short time after H.M.S. Buffalo landed its charge of convicts, and embarked Cunningham to superintend the cutting of Kauri pine in New Zealand; here he found a friendly reception from the natives, whom his brother Allan on a previous visit had conciliated. In March 1834 he returned to the Bay of Islands and reached Australia by the Alligator. The next year he started with an exploring party to investigate the course of the Darling river, under Colonel Mitchell. He was found to have a singular faculty for losing himself in the bush when intent on botany, and on 17 April he was missing when the party encamped. Search was made for him during the next four days; then his track was found, showing that he was leading his horse; then its corpse was discovered, and on 2 May his handkerchief. It seems that on 24 or 25 April, when exhausted by hunger and thirst, he fell in with a party of natives, by whom he was fed; during the night his strange manner, the effect probably of his sufferings, exciting their alarm, he was murdered by them [see article on his brother, Cunningham, Allan].

[Hooker's Comp. Bot. Mag. ii. (1826), 210–21; Mitchell's Three Exped. i. 176–204, with map of search for Cunningham; Roy. Soc. Cat. Sci. Papers, ii. 105.]

B. D. J.