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Bunbury, Sir Charles James Fox, eighth baronetlocked

  • Janet Browne

Bunbury, Sir Charles James Fox, eighth baronet (1809–1886), naturalist and diarist, the oldest surviving son of Sir Henry Edward Bunbury, seventh baronet (1778–1860), and his wife, Louisa Emilia Fox (1788?–1828), was born in Messina, Sicily, on 4 February 1809, while his father was stationed there as head of the quartermaster-general's department of the British army. His mother was a niece of Charles James Fox (1749–1806), hence his baptismal name. He was a sickly child. The family moved back to England to a house owned by the family in Mildenhall, Suffolk, in 1813 when Sir Henry was promoted to under-secretary of state for the war department; in 1824, three years after his father succeeded to the baronetcy, the family moved to the ancestral estate at Great Barton, Suffolk. During these years, young Bunbury visited many spas and seaside resorts for medical treatment and early on became very attached to botany. His mother taught him a great deal about this, in particular fostering an interest in scenery, his father meanwhile encouraging him in minerals and geology. From both parents he acquired markedly cultivated and varied tastes, and while still very young was introduced to some of the best-known experts in these fields as well as leading whig politicians and statesmen of the day. In 1829 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, at the same time as his younger brother Edward. He became a scholar in 1831 but did not graduate.

By then Bunbury was showing much better health, and his father let him travel to Brazil, via Madeira, to work with his uncle Fox, who was minister in Rio de Janeiro. Bunbury lived there from 1833 to 1835, collecting plants and making notes on natural history. On his return he joined the Holland House circle and attended London's scientific societies, primarily the Linnean and Geological, where his accomplishments and remarkable memory stood him in good stead. With no need to work for a living, he pursued a gentleman's scientific and artistic occupations. In 1837 he stood unsuccessfully as a whig candidate for Bury St Edmunds. The following year he accompanied another uncle, Sir George Napier, to the Cape, where he collected plants assiduously, afterwards publishing a well-received Journal of a Residence at the Cape of Good Hope (1848); he also made a brief continental tour through France and Italy in 1842.

A turning point came, however, with Bunbury's connection (in quick succession) with the geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875), followed by Lyell's friend and father-in-law, Leonard Horner (1785–1864), and then Horner's unmarried daughter, Frances [see below], a keen botanist and linguist. Bunbury worked with increasing purpose in geology, becoming close friends with Lyell and others in the Geological Society, and specializing in fossil botany. He identified several of Lyell's coal deposit specimens and catalogued the Carboniferous fossils in the Geological Society museum. His relationship with Lyell and Horner was cemented in 1844 when he married Frances, on 30 or 31 May. Since Frances's older sister Mary was married to Charles Lyell, and her younger sister Katherine was married to Lyell's brother Henry, the two naturalists were now affectionately united as scientific brothers-in-law and shared many natural history excursions and personal experiences thereafter. This close family network gave a focus to Bunbury's endeavours. His letters to Horner and Lyell, and to others such as Charles Darwin, and the copious journal he began to keep at about this time, are full of detail about scientific societies, natural history excursions in Europe, the people he and Frances met, and the life they led in London and Suffolk. He enjoyed art exhibitions, visited historical sites and antiquities with enthusiasm, travelled, collected, and read widely. As well as this, he possessed an eager, enquiring mind that allowed him to accept Darwin's theory of evolution with equanimity, although he was a staunch, church-attending Anglican. Few other journals provide such an intimate view of mid-Victorian natural history. Extracts from the journal and letters were posthumously published in nine volumes, edited by his wife. In 1851 Bunbury was elected FRS.

Bunbury became eighth baronet when Sir Henry died in 1860 and he and Frances moved from Mildenhall to Barton Hall. Like Mary and Charles Lyell, they were childless. His botanical publications included papers on the influence of the chemical nature of the subsoil, the plants of South America and the Cape, and the characteristic features of leaves, using what he knew of fossil leaves to supplement traditional systems of classification. His geological papers were all on fossil plants. He also edited a Memoir and Literary Remains of his father in 1868. From 1868 he was high sheriff of Suffolk. Towards the end of his life Bunbury became depressed by the deaths of members of his close family circle. He died on 17 June 1886 at Barton Hall, and was buried on 24 June at Great Barton church. He was succeeded by his brother Edward Bunbury, himself a keen geologist, and MP for Bury.

Frances Joanna Bunbury [née Horner] Lady Bunbury (1814–1894), was born in London, the second of five daughters of Leonard Horner and his wife, Anne Susan (or Susanna) Lloyd (1786–1862). Frances was a talented linguist, having been brought up in Bonn, and was capable enough as a botanist for Robert Brown to enjoy her company on family collecting excursions in Switzerland. Her father's parliamentary concerns and affability meant that she was from an early age a well-travelled and cultivated young woman. After her marriage to Charles James Fox Bunbury her life was fully taken up with the extended network created by her sisters, father, husband, and brothers-in-law. Although often an invalid, she usually travelled with her husband, and several of their natural history expeditions were made with her convalescence in mind. In 1849 she visited Edinburgh for extended medical attention, and at about that time she began work on Life and Times of Dante Alighieri (1852), a translation from Balbo's original. While in Edinburgh again in 1852 she became so ill that Bunbury feared to move her. However, he took her on a family expedition to Madeira in 1853, where she made barometric recordings for Lyell, and then in 1855 to Germany to see her sister Leonora Pertz. After her husband died she put his diaries and letters into publishable order, helped by her sister Katherine Lyell. A nine-volume set was privately printed at Mildenhall in 1890–93, and afterwards in three-volume form in 1894. A two-volume set was commercially published in 1906, after Frances's death, abbreviated by Katherine Lyell and with an introduction by their close friend Joseph Hooker. Lady Bunbury died at her home, the Manor House, Mildenhall, Suffolk, on 21 July 1894 and was buried at Great Barton church.


  • Memorials of Sir C. J. F. Bunbury, ed. F. J. Bunbury, 9 vols. (1890–93)
  • Mrs. H. Lyell, ed., The life of Sir Charles J. F. Bunbury, 2 vols. (1906) [incl. list of works]
  • C. J. F. Bunbury, Journal of a residence at the Cape of Good Hope (1848)
  • Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1886–7)
  • J. D. H., PRS, 46 (1889), xiii–xiv
  • J. W. Judd, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 43 (1887), 39–40
  • M. Gunn and L. E. Codd, Botanical exploration of southern Africa (1981), 108–9
  • Life, letters, and journals of Sir Charles J. F. Bunbury, ed. F. J. Bunbury, 3 vols. [1894]


  • American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, papers
  • GS Lond., Jurassic plant specimens
  • RBG Kew
  • Suffolk RO, Bury St Edmunds, corresp. and papers
  • U. Cam., department of plant sciences, notes and notebooks on herbarium
  • U. Cam., Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, herbarium and fossil plants
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Lady Caroline Napier


  • photograph, repro. in Lyell, ed., Life of Sir Charles J. F. Bunbury, vol. 2
  • portrait, Hunt. L.
  • portrait (Frances Joanna Bunbury), repro. in Lyell, ed., Life of Sir Charles J. F. Bunbury, vol. 1, p. 186

Wealth at Death

£38,368 10s. 4d.: probate, 6 Sept 1886, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£18,087 2s. 3d.—Frances Joanna Bunbury: resworn probate, Jan 1895, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London
J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)