In Clarence's Time - Edward Lear in San Remo

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

edward lear and fossEdward Lear (1812-1888) was not an exact contemporary of Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) but he was comparable to Clarence; a skilled artist, a bachelor, he settled on Riviera and had that Victorian parlour humour. Lear is fashionable with biographers at the moment; David Attenborough has just published his book “The Natural History of Edward Lear” (Oct 2016), saying how there was so much more to him than nonsense verse.

To provide you with some context about Edward Lear on the Riviera, we have the pleasure of publishing here, for the first time, an article about Edward Lear by Michael Nelson, author and Riviera expert. This piece started off as a presentation with the images on slides.

Download Michael Nelson's article here.


Michael Nelson was General Manager of Reuters (, the international news organisation having joined them as a journalist in 1952. Since he retired from Reuters in 1989 he has written four books - War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War (Syracuse University Press and Brasseys, London, 1997); Queen Victoria and the Discovery of the Riviera, (I.B. Tauris, 2001); Americans and the Making of the Riviera (McFarland, 2007) and Castro and Stockmaster: A Life in Reuters (Matador, 2011). Michael, who lives in Notting Hill, London, and Opio, France, is married to the former Helga den Ouden and they have two sons and one daughter. Contact via

In Clarence's Time - postcard to Francesco Ferraironi

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

ventugol postcard p1010821ventugol postcard p1010825ventugol postcard p1010826ventugol postcard p1010827

Nicolas Ventugol was so kind as to send us photos of an old postcard written by Clarence Bicknell in 1913 which he had purchased at Tende. Thank you Nicolas...

ventugol triora-ferraironi-1914Graham Avery writes:  In this postcard of 1913 from Casterino, Clarence Bicknell thanks Padre Francesco Ferraironi for sending him a copy of  'La Storia del Santuario di Loreto' (The History of the Sanctuary of Loreto) and says that when he returns to Bordighera he will make a donation to help the publication of 'Cenni Storici' (Historical Notes). An internet search suggests that Francesco Ferraironi was a priest at or near the mountain village of Triora in Liguria, and later in Rome. He published a number of books on local history including in 1913 'Triora e il suo Santuario di Loreto' (Triora and its Sanctuary of Loreto) and in 1914 'Cenni storici sopra Triora' (Historical Notes on Triora).

We show the an image of the cover of the first of these two books, the one he sent to Clarence: presumably because of their mutual interest in the local history of Liguria.

In Clarence's Time - Esperanto, the Great War and the film

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

1907-lingva-komitatoAmong the plaudits and detailed comments about our new film "The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell", many were from specialists asking for more coverage of one of his interests or another. The Esperantists have been among the most vocal. This fascinating letter from Anna Lowenstein who saw the film is of interest to readers of this blog and I reproduce it (and my reply) here.

Photo right "1907-lingva-komitato".
Is this the Bordighera Esperanto group?

From: "lowenstein, anna" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:05:51 +0100
Subject: Clarence Bicknell and Esperanto
Dear Marcus,

I enjoyed the film, which was beautiful to look at and also to listen to. It ended rather suddenly in 1918, which made me wonder what had happened during the important preceding four years.

I was disappointed however that so little was said about Bicknell's interest in Esperanto, which must have been far more important to him than was suggested in the film. People who are involved in Esperanto usually get very, very involved and very enthusiastic, and this must certainly have been the case for Clarence Bicknell who travelled to Boulogne for the first World Congress, founded the Esperanto groups of Milan and Bordighera, wrote and translated poetry, and financed various Esperanto initiatives. He also collaborated with a Czech woman called Rosa Junck who was co-founder of the Esperanto group in Milan, and later came to live in Bordighera.

I think it is most probable that during this period of his life Esperanto would have been a consuming passion, at the same level as his interest in the local flora and rock engravings. I hope that Valerie Lester will give due attention to this aspect of his life and activities in her biography. Information on him should be available in the library at UEA in Rotterdam, for instance it would be easy to find publications in which his poems appeared, information about his participation in the early congresses etc. The Esperanto Association of Britain also has an excellent library at its headquarters in Barlaston near Stoke-on-Trent.

It would not be difficult to add a voice-over to the film in Esperanto, and this certainly means that Esperanto speakers would listen to the film - in fact you might well find this was your largest and most interested audience. But they will expect to hear a great deal more about his Esperanto activities, since he played an important role particularly in the Italian Esperanto movement.

Best wishes,
-- Anna Lowenstein


My reply of today reads...

Dear Anna

We were so pleased to see you at the projection last week and I thank you for this email. We were so pleased that many people told us or have written that the film makes one wish for more information about Bicknell, which justifies our contention that there is material for a full-scale documentary. I use "full-scale" because it could be one hour or two hours, depending on the broadcasters' appetites. Unsurprisingly, different people want more coverage of different topics. The botanist and the archaeologists have been vocal. Many thought we had abridged his pre-Bordighera life too much. And the Esperantists certainly felt short-changed...a couple of earthenware umbrella pots and a sentence of narration. I apologise!

You'd be interested to know that Dr Daniela Gandolfi, director of the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri which owns the Museo Bicknell, proposed a much more significant Esperanto section as follows:

Narrator: Clarence Bicknell was a pioneer of Esperanto, the universal language invented to encourage international understanding: the word ‘Esperanto’ means ‘hopeful’. He went to Esperanto conventions round Europe, and organised one at his museum in Bordighera. . His Casa Fontanalba had proverbs in Esperanto on the shutters and over the doors. 

Text suggested by Daniela Gandolfi: Clarence Bicknell had become part of the Esperanto movement in 1897, and in 1905 he participated at the first World Congress of Esperanto in Boulogne-sur-mer, where he was elected, along with Rosa Junck, in the top six "Italian" in " Lingva Komitato ". The Italian Federation of Esperanto was founded in Florence March 21, 1910 and the same year, on October 25, Clarence Bicknell formed at the Museum Bicknell the Esperanto group "Antauen". 

Then of course the financial and time requirements chipped in and we had to cut swathes throughout the film. There again, this bodes well for a longer documentary.

So I agree with you that Esperanto was a consuming passion for Bicknell and took up a lot of his time, except maybe in the summer when, in the same 15 year period, he was up in the mountains at the Casa Fontanalba or on the rocks. The language was part of his pacifist, altruist and universalist philosophy and for many years Esperanto was his most important and most practical outlet. His pacifism leads me to comment on your mentioning the World War I years; he writes very little about his feelings. The most significant quotes in the research on our website are in letters to the archaeologist Cartailhac (use the little search box top right to bring these up).

32. - De Clarence Bicknell à Emile Cartailhac     Lettre de quatre pages, en français.
/ Val Casterino. S. Dalmazzo di Tenda. 20 Août 1917

Cher Monsieur, cher Professeur et cher allié,
Votre belle lettre du 14 Août, reçu hier soir, quoi que bien triste et pleine de tristes nouvelles, m’a fait le plus grand plaisir, parceque depuis longtemps je ne savais rien de vous, et nos amis chaque jour disparaissent. Je viens de perdre un cher frère 38 (fin de juin) le dernier de 4 frères, et à présent je reste  le dernier de ma famille. J’espèrais tant, comme lui, qu’il arriverait à voir la fin de la guerre - mais non - et à présent à cause de la défection de la Russie , la guerre se prolongera beaucoup, et je crains que moi aussi ne verrai pas le triomphe de la justice et de la liberté - C’est bien terrible, mais c’est très glorieux ce temps. Nous perdons nos chers parents et amis, mais jamais il n’y avait tant de sympathie et d’amitié entre les nations. Depuis 4 ans je nai pas vu ma patrie, et à présent je ne puis pas y aller. On ne donne pas la permission de quitter l’Italie, et même passer la frontière pour passer quelques heures à Menton ou Nice est très difficile. Il faut aller à S. Remo au sous prefet, puis visiter le consul à Vintimille, etc. etc. et puis si on arrive en France, on perd toute la journée pour avoir la permission de retourner

Even in the Baroness von Taube letters ( there is not a lot about his feelings as war approached. I have copied Valerie Lester on this email because she is nearing the end of her first run at writing the biography of Bicknell and she might already have some new source material on this. Bicknell spent time with the Italian soldiers camped at Casterino. He had a brother and two nephews killed in the trenches. But I think he stayed studiously (and with great sorrow) "out of it".

Thinking of the biography, do feel free to feed to us any new information about Bicknell's Esperanto activities. Much of what we know is on our website at > Esperanto and in the blog at >News & Views.

We are on course to make an Esperanto voice over of "The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell" in the next 6 weeks (although it's a secret as I have not yet asked Rémy if he would do it!). Humphrey Tonkin and Michela Lipari are coordinating the voices and the recordings; if you would like to be one of the voices do please get in touch with them. It will not be possible to change the video component but it is not impossible that we could increase the amount of narration about Esperanto in the Esperanto version if there is a clear indication where the extra narration goes in the film. I'm thinking aloud here and have not discussed this with Humphrey and Michela.Your input is much valued and I have put this exchange on the blog (but can take it off if you prefer!)

Please spread the word about the film. The film has now been released on the internet, free of charge and in high definition. Arm yourself with a big computer screen, nice speakers, a drink of your choice and 18 minutes to have a fascinating cinematographic experience…  and linked from the home page of If you prefer YouTube then try (making sure you get the HD version: the configuration icon – a cogwheel – 3rd from the right at the bottom of the screen, should be tagged with a red HD symbol. 

Warmest regards and thanks

Marcus Bicknell

Event - PROIEZIONE IN PRIMA ASSOLUTA - Giovedì 29 settembre 2016

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

bicknell poster2mb gd1 genoa2016 c


Le Meraviglie di Clarence Bicknell

Giovedì 29 settembre 2016 alle ore 17  (ingresso libero fino ad esaurimento posti)

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale “G. Doria”,  Via Brigata Liguria 9 - Genova

In Clarence's Time - Moggridge and Moggridge

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

moggridge brothersIn researching the life of Clarence Bicknell we see the references to Moggridge the archaeologist and Moggridge the botanist, both relevant to Bicknell’s interests. Graham Avery and Marcus Bicknell aided Valerie Browne Lester, Bicknell’s biographer, in recording the salient facts about the two experts. This note gives the findings and records available genealogical information.

Graham Avery, Marcus Bicknell, August 2016 – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

There were two relevant Moggridges, who are easily confused:

Father. Matthew Moggridge (1803-82): archaeologist. His paper entitled The Meraviglie was presented to The International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology whose Third Session opened in Norwich on 20 August 1868 and closed in London on 28 August; the papers were published in London in 1869. The title of the author is given as ‘M. Moggridge Esq. F.G.S. [Fellow of the Geological Society of London] (Member of the Italian Alpine Club)’. In the first sentence he mentions that he had been in the Meraviglie region ‘for the previous six winters’.  Moggridge’s work on these rock engravings pre-dated, and informed, Bicknell’s work  . Matthew was father of J. T. Moggridge, whom he accompanied to Mentone.

moggridge drawingSon. John Traherne Moggridge (1842-1874): an entomologist, botanist and botanical artist, son of M. Moggridge. He wintered in Mentone, and his Flora of Menton published in 1864 was mentioned by Clarence in the Preface of his book Flowering plants and ferns of the Riviera in 1885. When John became too ill to collect specimens his father did so for him. The son writes   “Well-directed research in any definite direction must afford happy employment for the invalid, and tend towards the advancement of knowledge… In the first place, my father was indefatigable in procuring subjects for my pencil, his knowledge of plants and great powers of endurance making him as able a collector as ever searched jungle or climbed Alp.”

J.T. Moggridge’s work pre-dated and informed Bicknell’s botanical work. In 1885 Clarence Bicknell published a selection of his paintings in the book Flowering plants and ferns of the Riviera, splendidly illustrated with 82 coloured plates and accompanying notes on 280 species.  He explained in the Preface that he was inspired by the British botanist J.T. Moggridge who, in a Flora of Menton, a town just across the border from Bordighera, published in London in 1864, had encouraged others to follow his example in publishing illustrations of the local flora.

The photograph at the top right shows John Traherne Moggridge (left) with his younger brother Matthew Weston Moggridge in 1853. This Matthew should also not be confused with his father Matthew.

 You can download this article and supporting documents in one pdf document here.


News - Death of Paul Gubbins, Esperanto expert

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

gubboI am sad to relay to friends of Clarence Bicknell the news of the sudden death of Dr Paul Gubbins, Staffordshire University media law expert and Esperanto-lover on Saturday 7th August 2016.

Paul wrote material for this web site on the contribution Bicknell made to Esperanto and was an enthusiastic supporter of the efforts we have been making to keep the universal language as part of our present appreciation of Bicknell's life and work. Some of our website is translated into Esperanto (click the green Esperanto flag at the top left of the page) and we had hoped that Paul and friends would complete the translation. I had also solicited his skills and energies to make an Esperanto version of Rémy Masséglia's film There is No God But Nature - Clarence Bicknell. These projects, by the hand of Paul, will remain dreams. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Here are the pages where you can find Paul's contributions to the Clarence Bicknell website:

You can read more details at...

News - Edward Berry on Bicknell's death

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Clarence-engravings-2 mediumDiscovery by Graham Avery of new material on Clarence’s life - and his last days           

In June 2014 Graham Avery found in Geneva’s Botanical Garden an extraordinary archive of letters and postcards sent by Clarence Bicknell to his friend the Swiss botanist Emile Burnat. In this collection of about 690 letters and postcards, sent over a period of 30 years, Clarence writes not only about botany but about his ideas and activities in many other fields.

On his visit to the archive in 2014 Graham made a first selection of the correspondence, which he published as ‘Cher Monsieur - Clarence Bicknell’s correspondence with Emile Burnat 1886-1917’. You can find it on our website at

In August 2016 Graham completed his exploration of the archive in Geneva, where he found a wealth of new information. The themes covered in the correspondence include Clarence’s comments on life, death, religion, art, opera, prehistoric rock engravings, mountains, Esperanto, the politics of the Great War, bicycles, automobiles, Swiss beer, and much else. Graham plans to edit and publish this on our website.

Meanwhile we can already publish a transcript of one of the letters found by Graham and you can download it here. It was written on 24 July 1918 by Clarence’s nephew Edward Berry to Emile Burnat, to inform him of Clarence’s death. This is a valuable find – it’s the earliest account that we have of Clarence’s last days and hours. Edward Berry knew Emile Burnat and his family, including his son Jean, personally. He writes to them in French (translated by Graham) that in the afternoon of 17 July, at his mountain home Casa Fontanalba, Clarence Bicknell...

‘...went to rest on a chaise longue on the terrace, in full view of the mountains, and a quarter of an hour later he expired without pain. One couldn’t imagine a better death for him’.

In Clarence's Time - the Baroness von Taube letters

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

von taube letters nhm boxResearch note by Susie and Marcus Bicknell, 25 August 2016

Download this article in pdf form here

Clarence Bicknell did not keep many of the letters he received  from friends or researchers in his network. But in some cases the letters he wrote were kept by the recipient. This is the case with his letters to the Baroness Helene von Taube from 1909 to 1914. Quotes from these letters were used by Christopher Chippindale in his academic papers in the 1980s; the letters give insights into Bicknell’s personality and opinions which are hard to glean elsewhere. Therefore, in support of Valerie Lester’s research for her forthcoming biography of Clarence Bicknell, Susie and Marcus Bicknell located this collection of letters, studied, photographed and logged them.

The collection of some 400 letters is unloved and uncatalogued. It is bundled into a folio file box. The letters were given in 1931 to the Natural History Museum by the Baroness’s son, Baron Otto von Taube, after a brief exchange of letters (as part of the collection) with the museum’s secretary G.F. Herbert Smith. Of interest to the Clarence Bicknell researchers were copies of the photo of the Esperanto group of Bordighera (“Antauen”) and negatives of this photo which could possibly be original negatives. However it is not known if the Baroness is in thevon taube letter sample 2 photo (the noble lady on Bicknell’s left in the photo is Rosa Junck) nor how active she was in supporting Bicknell in the universal language and the annual congresses.

Clarence Bicknell’s friend Baroness Helene von Taube was the wife of Baron Otto von Taube (1833-1911), a landlord. The von Taube family is of Danish, Estonian and German descent and has a long history. She refers in letters to her husband’s long illness and his eventual death in 1911; the Baron is buried in Testaccio Cemetery in  Rome from which city many of the Baroness’s letters to Bicknell are written. Helene von Taube’s mother was the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, a publicist and editor. Her father was Count Alexander Friedrich Lebrecht Michael Arthur Nikolaus von Keyserling, a Baltic German geologist and palaeontologist, and politician. In his letter to the Natural History Museum in 1931, her son calls his grandfather a naturalist, which gives some background to Helene’s interest in Bicknell’s botany. Helene wrote her father’s life story  published in 1902.

Her son gives Helene’s death as 1st December 1930. The gift of the letters to the NHM was in 1931. The son signs himself Baron O. v. Taube, Dr. jur. el phil. but he could be the art historian, poet and novelist (1879-1973) referred to on several web sites.Bicknell most likely met the Baroness in Bordighera in about 1909 when she came to stay in one of the great spa hotels, often the Hôtel des Iles Britanniques. Much of the correspondence is about botany, so we imagine that the Baroness made contact with Bicknell and asked his advice on plants she might have collected. Behind the botanical exchanges lies the growth of a friendship of respect and sympathy.

Susie and Marcus Bicknell’s logging of the material is in three parts
1.    This summary of the collection and excerpts from some of the letters
2.    The photographs of each letter which are available on request, sample above. In most cases the envelope is photographed as well, sample below.
3.    An Excel spreadsheet listing every photo, showing the date, provenance and destination. Note that the letters are not numbered or catalogued by the Natural History Museum so the number used here are the photograph numbers. Download the Excel spreadsheet here. The collection also includes some greetings cards made by Clarence (or possibly by his niece Linda).

Download this article in pdf form here


Sample extracts from the letters (date order)

788/789 Feb 1909 Visiting card “I shall very pleased to tell you at any time what little I know about flora and show you my herbaria and drawings”

779 1st Jan 1910 “Here are the two Daisy Books containing all the best things and also much rubbish.”

780    Probably 1910.         “But I shall not be able to tell you the name of the Ceylon plant. I know the leaf insect by sight. I saw very many in Ceylon and at the botanical garden they were breeding them in cages” “I find my sister  very well; she looks younger and more beautiful, and is much as she was some years before her paralytic stroke. She is 78.   …   You will be sorry to hear that by the doctor’s advice Mrs Ray  was sent suddenly home. She is very much worse and no operation is possible and I fear she will not live long. She has had a long life of suffering but I am very pleased for her good daughter and loving sons. … She is in a nursing home in London.”

0965    Probably 1910 according to von Taube note, letter on small card undated
“Dear Baroness. I have 2 guests today (the Prof. did not come yesterday but comes today) but they will leave in the afternoon, and I could see you pm (but only for a few minutes) before dinner. I say a few minutes because I give an Esperanto lesson to 4 people at 5.30. I am glad that you will come again to lunch. Next time we will make proper preparation. Yours sincerely, C. Bicknell.

0882    6 July 1910         Letter Casterino to Wildbad Gastein, Austria,
“I am very sorry to hear of your back troubles. Four weeks ago I was taken ill and could not move for 3 weeks. I had an illness called herpes in English, something caused by inflammation of the sheaths of the nerves in the head and neck. I could not sleep at all on account of the pain for a long time: then followed some breakdown in stomach which quite finished me off, and I became very weak. When they allowed me I came up here on a mule with my niece Margaret Berry and I am now rapidly feeling better, but the Doctor will not let me go uphill or do anything [3 words indistinguishable]. However I can sleep and eat and walk about the gardens and pull up weeds but alas I may not go up higher to see all the gentians and anemones and the rhododendrons and other lovely flowers. So I have to send Luigi and I draw and read at home; but I hope soon to be allowed to take more exercise and work at the rock engravings. I have 2 Bordighera friends with me and when they go down my nephew and wife  will come for 3 weeks as they cannot trust me take care of myself! … My niece Mrs Ray is slowly dying and in great pain. Her sailor son wrote me a very nice letter. He is very sad. He said “She has always been the best and sweetest mother”.

0891     30 July 1910        Letter Casterino to Davos
“We had three batteries of artillery here for nearly 3 weeks, and the soldiers chopped the lines, trampled down our garden, and have left the meadows near covered with paper, rags, tins and messes. Soldiers as individuals are very nice, but collectively they are an abomination.” Some soldiers, possible privates, signed the Casa Fontanalba visitors’ book on 29 July 1910 – normally reserved for someone who had stayed a night – “Soldati Dott. Guildo” spelling uncertain.

0977 Letter Bordighera to Rome     31 March 1912        “…Padre Giacomo  was brought back in an automobile a week ago and I have been to see him. He is better but I do not know if he will recover. We are in a great fix as he will not make his will and the houses which were bought for the Asilo are in his name. I believe that he has written that he hopes the comitals  will carry on the work but that is not a will which the law will accept, and they will go to his sister. If he leaves them to me or any other individual, succession death duties must be paid, and the difficulty will be as great as before. Apparently the only thing to be done is to leave the house to the Congregazione di Carità   which he hates, and I too because it does nothing. But we must hope that the committee will be able to raise sufficient funds to start the thing, though that is very doubtful, for after all the appeals sent to everybody in Bordighera only 200 francs has been given. And now we have to pay 180 frs. hospital expenses and 250-300 frs. to the surgeon. And will the Bordigotti, who are supposed to be so devoted to Padre Giacomo and so glad to have him back, give a sou towards these – all this not very encouraging.” Getting lazy about plant collecting as such hard work. Likes Luigi with him, but hosts don't always welcome him. Views on labour and capital.

997     Probably spring 1912    “The more I think about Lourdes and the trend of modern church teaching, the less I like them. Their multiplied devotional pilgrimages, excitement of miracles, never sufficient cult of the Madonna – what have they to do with the religion of the heart and the welfare of the people and the increase of interest in the poor and suffering. I think that myriade contradictions in the very healthy, and in the advertising at Lourdes very bad. “

1015 to 1018    4 June 1912   “I shall finish typewriting my new pamphlet about the rocks which I have already written once but which needs much alternation and correction. I do not feel sure if it is wise to publish this or not, as I have little (??) more to say, but I (and Luigi too) feel that after 11 years of continuous exploration a last word ought to be said, and that it is only fair to ourselves to say how hard we have worked.  So we are busy packing (to go to Casterino) …..and begin the life of a savage in the wilds, but the wild life is very pleasant, and one quickly reverts (at least I do) to an ancestral simian (?) type.”

1032    6 October 1912        “It is strange how I have been gradually losing my love for gardens in comparison to the country.  Any field of flowers or common hedge interests me more than the best garden with all sorts of wonderful plants”  (Ruskin thought the same!! SB)

1030    Probably 1912        “Perhaps I should come to Rome one day.  I cannot stand all the long winter here. I am so sick of all the ordinary tea party, church-going people who are so conventional and such gossips and have so little of an international spirit”

834.     Probably 1913        On leaving and packing up Casterino, not quite legible  “….my beloved mountain cottage and the free life that I so enjoy.  I dread the winter season”

0866 0867    28 February 1913     Postcard Bordighera to Rome,
“I shall miss my dear old Giacomo very much. 34 years is a long time and he was always faithful and true – I think of the Engish words of the gospel “Well done good and faithful servant”. I am truly grateful to anyone who understands, but there are many of those that knew him well and always saw him here, who think it is not worth while troubling about only a servant”

0861     13 March 1913         Postcard (photo of Bordighera Esperanto Group) sent from Bordighera arrived Firenze 14th March.  “I am glad you will be here for the bazaar on the 29th”0860     22 March 1913         Postcard from Bordighera addressed to her at Nervi (Genoa)
 “A happy Easter to you.   I go to Valescure   today but return on Tuesday. My niece Nora will leave me on Thursday and on the 30th a nephew and wife will arrive.

833     28 Oct 1913 ?         Postcard of Tende. Dinner Party with 2 old men, one cook, Maddelena's dad, Mercedes, Luigi; all ate together: "the family" CB says


Susie and Marcus Bicknell
25 August 2016
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

In Clarence's Time - Left Brain, Right Brain

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Did Clarence Bicknell's escape from the liturgy of the church free Clarence's right brain to work more effectively with his left brain?

Marcus Bicknell assesses the science of the two parts of the brain and puts Clarence's personality and skills in context.

Clarence's brain was in turmoil as he came to the end of his time in the church, as shown by the "Dearest Friend" letter which is reproduced in the accompanying download. On the 14th of May 1879 his Bordighera congregation rose up in protest at his writing and presenting a prayer for St Ampelio, i.e. promoting Catholicism in a protestant church. Bicknell immediately tore off his dog collar and disappeared for about six months, presumably to re-establish his faith… in something. The seeds of his deception in the church had led on that May day to a moment of revelation in his life, that flowers, sun, mountains and all of nature are just as meaningful as God, or more so. Rémy Masséglia, the director of the 2016 mini-documentary on Clarence Bicknell, adopted the film title “There is no God but Nature – Clarence Bicknell” and depicted his leaving the church by a bold scene in which a cassocked Bicknell pushes open the doors from the inside of the gloomy Bordighera Anglican church and emerges in a white linen suite into the flora and heat of the Riviera.Left Vs Right Brain

Was Clarence right-brained or left-brained? Is this phenomenom real? What conflicts exist between the two sides of the brain?

Jyl Lytle says “Those whom society deems to be geniuses have the ability to use logical left brain thinking in conjunction with the power of the creative right mind.” I am not saying Clarence was a genius, but the way in which his cartesian left brain mastered, and cooperated with, his creative right brain, through his fascinating life could have been a reason he was so successful in his non-religious undertakings.

Download the full pdf version of the paper here.

In Clarence's Time - The Metamorphosis of Bordighera

Written by Helen Blanc-Francard on .

Researched and written by Helen Blanc-Francard

bordighera ieri agenzia berryClarence’s arrival and the time he spent in Bordighera coincided with the rapid and complete metamorphosis of the town.  In the matter of a few decades the slumbering, isolated fishing village it had been for past centuries was transformed into a thriving and cosmopolitan seaside resort of the Victorian era.  Along with its growth its international reputation developed and visitors flocked to enjoy its newly-built, luxurious and convivial hotels, splendid private villas, beneficially healthy climate and an environment lush with exotic palms, semi-tropical vegetation and carefully tended gardens.

The visually rich (sometimes erratic) montage of black-and-white postcards and photographs linked below illustrates just how extraordinary this pace of change was. The images show that, during the rare period of peace, prosperity and refined sensibilities of the Belle Époque, just why the glittering Mediterranean coast beyond the sweeping bay of Menton became famous across the world as the Riviera dei Fiori.

To enjoy some of the details that relate to Clarence’s time and to imagine the sights, sounds and even the smells of the hustling, bustling daily life in Bordighera - do watch the video montage in ‘full screen’ mode with its accompanying (and rather atmospheric) accompanying music. Here it is…

 bordighera british storesOnce upon a time in Bordighera -

Somewhere you might spot Clarence’s bicycle propped up against a roadside kerb when he dashes into a shop or visits a bank.  After all, the bank and travel agency (Agenzia Berry, photo top, with two dromedaries (the one-humped camel, C. dromedarius), established in 1881 by Edward Berry, his nephew, can also be seen opposite the rather grand "British Stores" (2nd photo, Via Vittorio Emanuele)  Clarence must often be out and about: you will glimpse his name painted boldly across the entrance of the 'Ambulatorio Municipale' (3rd photo).
The earliest images though show that a peasant lifestyle prevailed before the great building boom. The almost empty rocky coastal landscape is ribboned with meandering stone tracks and punctuated by clusters of huddled stone buildings.  At the centre of the town shadowy arched streets lead to sunlit squares and the tall facades of Romanesque churches. On the edge of town a lonely chapel stands on a seemingly remote headland, presumably to offer the population of local fishermen the chance to say an arriving prayer of thanks.

bordighera ambulatorio municipaleFollowing the invention of affordable, portable wooden and brass-lensed cameras, roaming itinerant photographers tended to photograph everything they saw. So we see clichés of newly widened roads being paved; a network of iron tramlines laid along streets; the construction of a fine station to welcome the arrival of transcontinental steam trains.  All this for the visitors and tourists pouring in to what is now ‘a destination’, a place designed for pleasure and amusement. Things are going so fast it is bound to end in tears and, indeed in another photo, a rather fine automobile has crash-landed onto the beach.

To cater to the demands of the European visitors, banks, shops, restaurants and cafés jostle for space along the Via Vittorio Emanuele.  New garages are built to fuel the new cars and policemen are needed to direct the traffic and even the occasional file of camels and Palm Sunday soldiers on bicycles.  Gas lamps and then electric lights are installed to light the main thoroughfares. Striding wooden telegraph poles indicate that a new era of connectivity has arrived.

The clash of the old and new is visible everywhere. Donkey carts can be seen navigating between smart horse-drawn carriages, early automobiles and articulated trams.  Look carefully and you can see that the long-cultivated olive groves, artichoke and flower fields in the very centre of town are fast disappearing to make way for splendidly ornate and turreted villas, magnificent, stucco-embellished hotels, theatres and municipal buildings. In a final confident surge of decadent opulence, a monumental casino, studded with electric light bulbs, is built on a rocky spur jutting into the sea.  This really is La Belle Époque.

Even municipal clocks are there to remind the townsfolk that time has taken on another significance.  You will see that a carriage driver, waiting for a client outside The Royal Hotel, hardly has time to slake his thirst at a nearby water trough whilst attendant beach servants on the shore clearly have to wait patiently for fully dressed and hatted bathers to finish their dip in the sea.

An epilogue? On the 12th February 1941, long after Clarence's death in 1918, Francisco Franco will wait for Benito Mussolini in the former residence of Queen Margherita of Savoy (opposite the Museo Bicknell) to discuss the formation of a Latin alliance to wage war against the allied forces in WW2. It was a waste of time because terms were never agreed.

Researched and written by Helen Blanc-Francard

NEWS - Video on Clarence Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

trailer video linkTHERE IS NO GOD BUT NATURE - CLARENCE BICKNELL - the film. The 18 minute documentary biopic of Clarence Bicknell, in the evocative visual style of French director Rémy Masséglia, will be released at selective screenings in September/October 2016. For the time being, please enjoy the trailer by clicking on the image (right) or here.

  • Friday 30th September at the Musée des Merveilles, Tende, France - version in French (world premier) - sponsored by the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri
  • Saturday 1st October at the Museo Bicknell, Bordighera, Italy - version in Italian (world premier) sponsored by Conseil Régional Provence Alpes Côtes d'Azur
  • Sunday 2nd October in Breil-sur-Roya, France (Masséglia's home town) - version in French
  • Monday 3rd October at the Museo Bicknell, Bordighera, Italy - version in English (world premier) sponsored by the Bicknell Museum Group
  • Tuesday 4th October at the Natural History Museum, Genoa, Italy - to be confirmed
  • Italian Cultural Institue in London - date to be confirmed
  • British School in Rome - date to be confirmed

The filming of the video, in Bordighera, Casterino and the Val Fontanalba, has been exciting and successful. Susie and Marcus Bicknell, Vanessa and Renchi Bicknell, Gwen and Rémy Masseglia were in Bordighera, Casterino and the Val Fontanalba in the week of 27 June to 1st July 2016.

The Italian press have been giving us coverage already. La Stampa of 30 June reports "The Museo Bicknell become a cinema set for the documentary about Clarence Bicknell in which he is played by his nephew Renchi Bicknell". You can see a scan of the article on Facebook at You can also see there some more photos taken during the shooting of the video.

My cousin Renchi's portrayal of his video title 1 2016great grand uncle has been remarkable both in his acting and in his likeness. Rémy Masseglia's direction and camera work are both to the point and very creative. A film to look forward to. We expect a trailer in mid-July and a release of a 20 minute video on a date in the autumn coordinated with events in Bordighera and Tende.

Following enquires from the media we put together in August 2016 a list of Frequently-Asked Questions and their answers which you can download here.

If you would like to read more about the shoot and see some behind-the-scenes pictures then you can download my June 2016 diary here.

Marcus Bicknell 4th July 2016

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell's 37,000 artefacts in 40 collections

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

As research by the Clarence Bicknell Association continues, led by Graham Avery with the support of Valerie Lester, Susie and Marcus Bicknell, Helen Blancfrancard, Christopher Chippindale and others, our analysis of the wealth of materials left by Clarence Bicknell becomes more apparent. Our database now lists over 37,000 botanical drawings, rubbing of rock engravings, pressed flowers, albums, letters, photos and more creations from his life’s work.

Graham Avery continues to find museums and institutions where scientists and researchers who corresponded with Bicknell have stored, in particular, pressed flowers ("herbaria") and letters. As the following list shows, there are 35 universities and museums with items from Bicknell's output, to which can be added 5 individuals (known to me) who have one or more item of Bicknell's. These institutions are in 10 different countries in Europe, plus the USA. The two biggest collections are the ones endowed by Bicknell late in his life, at the University of Genoa and the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri which runs the Museo Bicknell which he built in Bordighera.

Berlin, Dahlem Botanischer Garten, Germany
Bordighera, IISL, Italy
genoa-university-logoBordighera, Museo Bicknell, Italy
Bordighera, Museo Civico, Italy
British Museum, London, UK
Cambridge Mass. Ames Herbarium, USA
Cambridge Mass. Gray Herbarium, USA
Cambridge University, Fitzwilliam Museum, UK
Cuneo, Museo Civico, Italy
Edinburgh, UK
Florence (Civic Museum), Italy
Florence University, Italy
Frankfurt, Herbarium Senckenbergianum, Germany
Geneva, Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, Switzerland
Genoa University "Legate Bicknell", Italy
Genoa University Botanical Dept, Italyiisl-logo
Genoa, Museo Civico (Natural History), Italy
Genoa, Museo Civico Archeologica, Italy
Genoa, Museum of Natural History, Italy
Göteborg Botaniska Trädgård, Sweden
La Mortola, Giardini Botanici Hanbury, Italy
Leiden, Hortus botanicus, Netherlands
London, Kew Gardens, UK
Meise Plantentuin, Belgium
Montpellier University, France
New York Botanical Garden, USA
Oxford University Herbaria, UK
Sassari University, Italy
Shrewsbury, Shropshire Archive, UK
St.Germain-en-Laye, Musée d'Archéologie Nationale, France
Stuttgart, Museum für Naturkunde, Germany
Tende, Musée des Merveilles, France
Torino, Superintendenza, Italy
Torino University, Italy
Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum, Austria

The complete database of artefacts is available in spreadsheet form to academics working on aspects of Bicknell's life and work but is kept confidential otherwise. Please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to express an interest.

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell and Stefano Sommier

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

‘Caro Dottore’ - Clarence Bicknell’s correspondence with Stefano Sommier 1903-1918

by Graham Avery 18th June 2016

The Botanical Library of the University of Florence (Biblioteca di scienze, sede Botanica, Universita'  degli Studi di Firenze) has in its archives a collection of letters and postcards written by the British botanist Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) to the Italian botanist Stefano Sommier (1848-1922).

Sommier, born in Florencestefano sommier 7131 of French parents, was a founder member of the Società Botanica Italiana and its President from 1898 to 1902. An active collector of plants, he travelled to Crimea, the Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia, Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the Balkans, and islands in the Mediterranean. His many botanical publications include floras of Siberia, the Caucasus, Malta, Pantelleria, the Isole Pelagie (between Malta and Tunisia) and the Isola del Giglio. He participated in botanical exchanges, donated his herbarium to the Central Herbarium in Florence, and contributed specimens to other herbaria in Italy.

Sommier’s botanical correspondence (10,000 documents relating to 500 correspondents) is conserved in the Botanical Library of Florence University; a catalogue compiled in 2006 is at

In June 2016, with the kind assistance of Cristina Scarcella and Sig. Renzo Nelli of the Botanical Library, I examined Bicknell’s correspondence with Sommier. It consists of 31 documents (19 letters and 12 postcards) sent by Bicknell mostly from his home in Bordighera (but 2 from Val Casterino, 1 from Malta, 1 from England, 1 from Florence), mostly addressed to Sommier at his home in Florence (Lungarno Corsini 2) but some sent to him in Florence at the Museum of Natural History (Museo Storia Naturale) or the Società Botanica Italiana.

The earliest of the documents is dated 21 July 1903 and the latest 29 March 1918, a few months before Bicknell’s death. All are written in Italian, until 1914-18 when one letter and two postcards are in English. Some of them are undated, but after examining their contents I have guessed the dates of all but 3. My images of the documents are numbered in the order in which I found them in the archive; if I can establish all their dates, I may be able to renumber them in chronological order.

Although the main topic of the correspondence is botany, there are frequent references to Bicknell’s travels, to his interest in Esperanto, and his reflections on social and cultural matters: these include the popularity of the tango, the liturgy of the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, and the situation in Val Fontanalba during the 1914-18 war.

...To be continued

To be included:
In 1904 Sommier published in the Bullettino della Societa Botanica Italiana (pages 193-202) an article by Bicknell entitled Une Gita Primaverile in Sardegna (‘A Visit to Sardinia in Springtime’) which describes a botanical visit made by the author and his assistant Luigi Pollini in 1904 from 25 March to 8 April. After mentioning the places that they visited (Porto Torres, Sassari, Macomer, Cagliari, Golfo Aranci) and the excursions that they made, the article describes the flowering plants found in different parts of Sardinia and concludes with a complete list of plants found – a total of 223 species or subspecies. (See documents 27, 8, 7 for correspondence with Sommier about this article).

In 1907 Sommier named a botanical subspecies after Bicknell. Writing in the Bulletino della Societa Botanica Italiana, 1907, page 38, he explained that Clarence Bicknell, a fellow-member of the Societa, had sent him a new hybrid of Pedicularis (Lousewort in English); this specimen had been found on 8 July 1906 in the Maritime Alps, below Castello di Ciavraireu in Val Fontanalba, near Bicknell’s summer home at Casterino; to this new hybrid, a cross between Pedicularis incarnata and Pedicularis Allionii, Sommier gave the name Pedicularis Bicknelli. (See documents 12, 10, 17 for correspondence with Sommier about this plant).

The photo of Sommier is from

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell and Sir Thomas Hanbury

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

marcus carolyn hanbury IMG 6966cOn Monday 23rd May 2016, Marcus Bicknell (photo, left) hosted a dinner at the Garrick Club in London for Carolyn Hanbury (photo, right) and "L'Associazione Amici dei Giardini Botanici Hanbury", the Friends of the Hanbury Gardens in la Mortola on the Italian Riviera. 30 flower-seeking members were in London for visits to the Chelsea Flower Show, Kew Gardens, Sissinghurst and Savoy Gardens and graced the hallowed Milne Room of the Garrick for the evening.

The menu card announced the presence of the ghosts of Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) and and Sir Thomas Hanbury (1832-1907) who knew each other, just 12 kilometres separating Clarence's Bordighera from Hanbury's La Mortola. Clarence worked with the Hanbury Gardens curator Alwin Berger on collecting and documenting flowers and plants of the area, as documented by Graham Avery for the Clarence Bicknell Association in his new paper just uploaded to our web site (click here to download the paper).

Carolyn Hanbury has been very supportive of our efforts to ensure a better knowledge of Clarence Bicknell (biography and video coming up in the next year) and we thank her and Alessandro Bartoli, Secretary of the "L'Associazione Amici dei Giardini Botanici Hanbury", for their enthusiastic cooperation in preparing the evening.

In the background of the first photo is the Temple of Balbec by David Roberts RA, for whom the Garrick was "his second home" and whose daughter Christine married one of Clarence's elder brothers, Henry Sanford Bicknell.

At the same event we took a photograph of an interesting encounter over the visitors book of the Casa Fontanalba, Clarence's summer house up in the mountains... 4 botanists reunited. Graham Avery, Vice-chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association and author of several papers on Bicknell's avery ursula IMG 6963cinternational network of botanists ( >Downloads) is with Ursula Salghetti Drioli Piacenza, delegate of the Friends to the main board of the Hanbury Gardens and whose Boccanegra Garden is next to the Hanbury Garden at La Mortola on the Italian Riviera west of Ventimiglia. She is holding one of the treasures of the Clarence Bicknell collection held by Marcus Bicknell... it is the visitors book of the Casa Fontanalba. The signatures of guests on the left hand pages are complimented by a stunning water-colour of a botanical specimen from the area, painted by Clarence. This page shows the signature of Reginald Farrer, botanist of the Victorian age, whom Graham has documented (click here to download the paper) for example. Farrer visited Bicknell on 19th July 1910. When Marcus had transcribed every name from this book onto the web in 2005, Graham had been searching the net for Farrer and came across this entry. From that moment Graham became an ardent follower of Bicknell and works tirelessly for the Clarence Bicknell Association. So, my 4 botanists are Graham and Ursula with, skipping 106 years, Clarence Bicknell and Reginald Farrer.

Interested in knowing more about the Hanbury Gardens? Check out their web site (in Italian and English languages) and the excellent video about their citrus collection narrated rather expertly by Carolyn Hanbury herself: Then go to visit it when you are next in the region!

NEWS - 50 volunteers at the Museo Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

collage1La “Giornata di cittadinanza attiva” organizzata dagli “Amici del Museo Bicknell” e dal “Group Bicknell”, gli amici di lingua inglese del Museo, ha riportato un notevole successo con la partecipazione di oltre 50 persone che si sono fatte carico della pulizia del Giardino, cui hanno man mano restituito il decoro e il fascino originario, condividendo una giornata di impegno, cultura e amicizia. La collaborazione prestata da molte Istituzioni ed Enti è stata una dimostrazione tangibile della vicinanza con cui sono seguite le sorti del Museo Bicknell, del suo Giardino, oggi esaltato dal glicine in fiore, e dell’Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri, istituto culturale riconosciuto di interesse nazionale dal Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo. L’Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri-Museo Bicknell ringrazia per la generosa collaborazione l’Amministrazione Comunale di Bordighera, la Filiale di Bordighera della Banca CARIGE, i Giardini Esotici Pallanca, l’Università della Terza Età Intemelia, la Cooperativa San Lorenzo di Vallecrosia, i Vivai Pirotelli, i Vivai Piante e Giardini Antonio Laganà, Romolo aMAREa, La Cicala, la Ditta Matteo Anfosso di Camporosso. Un grazie particolare alla senatrice Donatella Albano per la sua visita ai lavori. Con l'invito a partecipare sempre più numerosi alle iniziative promosse per la valorizzazione del Museo, vi aspettiamo al prossimo incontro mensile, venerdì 6 maggio ore 10 presso il Museo Bicknell. > per gli Amici del Museo-Biblioteca Clarence Bicknell > Claudia Roggero Felici > contatti > 335 437068 > ufficio 0184 267028 Collage fotografico della giornata foto P. Raneri

NEWS - Miles Burkitt, archaeologist, at the Casa Fontanalba in 1929

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

breakfast at casa fontanalba mile burkitt 1929Helen Blancfrancard sends us two photos by Miles Burkitt in the archives of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

The intro given there is "In the summer of 1929, Miles and Margaret Burkitt, Aileen Henderson (later Aileen Fox) and her father Walter Henderson, spent a month recording the Bronze Age rock art in the Italian Maritime Alps above Fontanalba".

Caption, first photo - Margaret Burkitt, Walter Henderson and Eileen Henderson sitting at the breakfast table at Casa Fontanalba 1929.  Helen remarks "This photo makes me feel rather sad to see other people are in CB's handmade house - I hope that they appreciated its unique character!". The Casa Fontanalba was administered after Clarence Bicknell's death, by Edward and Margaret Berry (Edward was Clarence's nephew). They even maintained the visitor's book and over-night guests continued to sign it. In 1929 about 20 people signed the book, but the names of the Hendersons and the Burkitts are not among them. I would normally assume that they did not spend the night, but this certainly looks like breakfast and the photographer, Miles Burkitt himself claims it's breakfast in the title of the photo.

The misspelling of Aileen's first name (pronounced like a capital A), "Eileen" by Miles Burkitt, above, is a common error because "Eileen" is the normal spelling in English (pronounced like a capital I or eye).

Caption, second photo - Via Sacra. Here is Burkitt's team up in the Val Fontanalba, Clarence's favorite research area. I cannot be certain in identifying the indivudals, but if Burkitt took the photo again then the reclining gent would be Walter Henderson (Aileen's fvia sacra miles burkitt july 1929ather). The two figures with their backs to the camera, would be Aileen, doing what she liked best and which she had done there for two previous summers, and Margaret Burkitt. 

Helen comments "What prickles my curiosity, is that in the second photograph do you think that it is Luigi Pollini who is acting as the mountain guide on a hot summer's day?". I can't answer that, but if any reader can help us compare that image to others of Pollini we would be grateful.

These photos are relevant to the paper that our Vice-Chairman Graham Avery wrote in June 2014 about Aileen Fox (born Aileen Henderson) which is on the downloads page of or interest to me, Marcus Bicknell, is the family link. Graham ends his piece "Although Aileen never revisited Casa Fontanalba, she later acquired an important link to Clarence Bicknell: in 1936 her sister Mari married Clarence’s great-nephew Peter Bicknell". Peter was my uncle and bequeathed me the Clarence collection from which much data has been published on and from which more is available for researchers. Aunt Mari (née Henderson) was a great character and I'm sure Aileen was as well.
Postscript, 12th April 2016
On seeing these photos and this posting, Graham Avery writes as follows

I was very interested to see the photos by Miles Burkitt. Here are some comments, based on my research for my piece on Aileen Fox published at

In her autobiography (quoted in my piece) Aileen wrote

  • “When the Berrys came to England that winter it was arranged that they would lend Casa Fontanalba to us and the Burkitts for a month the following summer, complete with their servants, Giuseppe and his wife, Matilde, to run the house and cook for us. We had Clarence Bicknell’s illustrated book Prehistoric Rock Engravings (1913), as well as Giuseppe to be our guide”
This gives a clue to the question who the 'guide' in the second photo may have been - but see below for another possibility.

There is also the question of the date of the photos. In your piece headed ‘Casa Fontanalba in 1929’ you cite ‘the summer of 1929’ from the 'intro'. But I’m sure that is incorrect. Aileen’s autobiography indicates that her visit with the Burkitts took place in 1928: her phrase ‘that winter’ refers to 1927, so ‘the following summer’ must refer to 1928, and therefore I inserted ‘[1928]’ in my piece after ‘the following summer’. This date is confirmed by other evidence:

  • Aileen wrote in her autobiography (page 45) that after staying at Casa Fontanalba ‘I went back to Cambridge for my final year’: we know that she graduated at Cambridge in 1929, so she must have stayed at Casa Fontanalba in the preceding year.
  • Miles Burkitt’s article ‘Rock Carvings in the Italian Alps’, inspired by his stay at Casa Fontanalba, appeared in Antiquity, Volume  3, Issue 10, 1929; we know that Issue 10 was published in June 1929, so his article must have been written before then.
It’s not difficult to guess why Burkitt’s visit has been attributed to 1929: that was the year of publication of his article ‘Rock Carvings in the Italian Alps’, frequently cited since then as ‘Burkitt (1929)’. So people have supposed that his visit was made in that year. For example, Christopher Chipperfield mentions 1929 in relation to Burkitt in his piece at .

I wonder if you are aware that on Flickr there are altogether 14 photos (see my note attached) from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, with the caption ‘Photograph by Miles Burkitt, July 1929’. Various persons appear in six of these photos, including a group with Carlo Conti, who may have acted as guide.

Finally, for information on Miles and Margaret Burkitt, with a photo of Miles, see


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