Sir Everard im Thurn : born 1852 : died 7 October, 1932.

Sir Everard im Thurn, who, to the regret of his many friends, died at his residence, Cockenzie House, Prestonpans, on 7 October, combined scientific attainments and marked administrative ability. He had had a remarkable and romantic career as botanist, explorer, anthropologist, and Colonial Governor.

Born in 1852 he was educated at Marlborough, under Dr. Bradley, and Exeter College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1875 and received an Honorary Fellowship in 1925. In 1877 he was appointed Curator of the Museum of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Hooker, the famous Director of Kew, and thereafter he never looked back. He landed at Georgetown, Demerara, in July and, to use his own expression, spent two and a half years in about equal proportion wandering among the Indians and in the chief town. He left again on Christmas Day 1879. During this period and, indeed, throughout his residence in the Colony, where he was back again in 1881— having presumably eaten labba and drunk creek water, of which it is said that he who partakes must inevitably return to Guiana—he periodically sent collections of plants, and flowers to Kew, a practice which he continued during his long career in the Colonial Service. In 1882 im Thurn was appointed Stipendiary Magistrate in the Pomeroon, and in 1891 he was promoted to be Government Agent in the North-West District, an appointment which brought him into close touch with the Venezuelan Boundary Commission from 1897 to 1899, when he was made a 1st Class Clerk in the Colonial Office, where he rose to be Principal Clerk two years later. Meanwhile im Thurn had left his mark on British Guiana. In 1882 he founded ‘Timehri,’ the literary and scientific journal of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana, which had never yet published anything in the thirty-eight years of its existence. In the first number he explained that ‘Timehri’ was a Carib word, belonging to a language which was spoken in Guiana before any European tongue wagged there, signifying certain marks or figures which, like our letters and words, expressed ideas, which, to use a long word, were ideographic. Volume I of that brilliant little magazine was followed by ‘Among the Indians of ‘Guiana’ (1883). This disclosed the extensive and intimate knowledge which im Thurn had attained of the habits and customs of the aboriginal Indians of Guiana. It embodied many papers on anthropological subjects, folk-lore, and antiquities, and an entertaining account of Paiwari Feasts. His most notable feat of exploration was the ascent of Roraima, the mysterious mountain in the Pakaraima range where the boundaries of Guiana, Venezuela and Brazil meet. It was he who discovered the edge which proved the key to that mountain hitherto regarded as inaccessible which had baffled many explorers, and his account of the expedition which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (1885) is fascinating to laymen no less than to mountaineers and botanists. He was also one of the earliest visitors to the Kaieteur (1878), the great waterfall on the Potaro River, five times the height of Niagara, which had been discovered by Barrington Brown, of the Geological Survey, in 1870. After his brief experience at the Colonial Office, which must have proved irksome to one who had been accustomed to live in the wilds for so many years, he was appointed Colonial Secretary and Lieutenant-Governor of Ceylon (1901-4), and in 1904 Governor of Fiji and High Commissioner of the Western Pacific, an appointment which he continued to fill with great ability until he retired in 1910. Thereafter he was properly regarded as an authority on the Colonies in which he had served, and his advice was constantly sought and ungrudgingly given.

At the outbreak of war Sir Everard readily accepted the invitation of Lord Milner to look after the officers, non-commissioned officers and men from Fiji, and to be Chairman of the West Indian Contingent Committee, and it was largely due to his persistence and efforts, which had the support of seven late Governors of West Indian Colonies, that the increased pay and gratuities granted to the rest of the Imperial Army, but at first withheld from the British West Indies Regiment, were extended to that unit. His solicitude for the welfare of those under his care was unbounded, and his constant good humour and patience made him an ideal chairman with whom it was a pleasure to work. These characteristics stood out when he was incapacitated for several weeks through being knocked over by a tramcar when he was crossing the darkened embankment from Scotland House to see a captured German submarine. Describing what happened he said that he remembered that the driver of the tram had called out “You are a --- old fool!” and that he had replied, “I quite agree with you!”

Sir Everard received the C.M.G. in 1892 and the C.B. in 1900. He was created a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1905, and received the K.B.E. in 1918 in recognition of his war services. He also had conferred on him the LL.D. by Edinburgh and Sydney Universities.

He was married in 1895 to Hannah, daughter of Sir Robert Lorimer of Edinburgh University, who survives him.    


This obituary first appeared as: Aspinall, Algernon. 1933. 'Sir Everard im Thurn: Born 1852: Died 7 October, 1932.'. Man Vol. 33, pp. 36-37. Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

ASPINALL, ALGERNON. 1933. 'Sir Everard im Thurn: Born 1852: Died 7 October, 1932.'. Man Vol. 33, pp. 36-37. (available on-line:


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