The Chronology of Clarence’s Life and Works

We publish today the spreadsheet of every letter and drawing by Clarence in the Bicknell Family Collection. We have over 2,000 data points, those are works by Clarence which have a date and place written on them. We have been able to trace his movements from his arrival in Bordighera in 1878 to his death in 1918.

One of the reasons for refreshing this list has been to analyse the dates at which he could have travelled to Tasmania and New Zealand, a chestnit of a subject which has been plaguing us for years. Enzo Bernardini wrote that he had been there but quoted no sources.

Tasman Ant Iridomyrmex bicknelli 

What links Clarence to Australasia? The Tasman ant is named  Iridomyrmex bicknelli (1898) (image, right) after Bicknell although the reasons are unclear. A different Clarence Bicknell went to Australia with the army. Now we find that one of the 2017 acquisitions by the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera, No.2 photo album, has Tasmania and New Zealand mentioned on the front cover but no photos from either place. Is the photo album cover Clarence’s hand-writing? Could someone else have prepared the photo album in Clarence’s absence, think that he was going to travel there?

Valerie Lester, supported by the research team of Graham Avery, Helen Blanc-Francard, Christopher Chipiindale, Libby Peachey, Renchi Bicknell, Susie Bicknell and Marcus Bicknell, writes in MARVELS that she could not find evidence that he travelled east beyond Ceylon. In this detailed chronology of Clarence’s life as established by letters and drawings that he dated, there are five gaps when he could have embarked on travels outside Europe …

1)            40 day gap in 1879, after he had visited Bordighera in 1878 and was making up his mind whether to go back and stay:

27 June 1879 sketch in England (Sketch book. Bussage, Near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

5 August 1879 back in Stoke upon Tern Minute book Guild of the Holy Redeemer (Temperance Society)

2)            6 months gap 4 July 1893 to 4 Jan 1894. This is a period when he is busy with the rock engravings, botanical exchanges, Bordighera life and family. No travels in this period are shown in letters or dated drawings.

3)            4 months gap 8 Dec 1912 to 5 April 1913. No travels in this period are shown in letters or dated drawings.

4)            4 months gap 1 Sept 1913 to 31 Dec 1913. No travels in this period are shown in letters or dated drawings.

5)            6 months gap 22 Aug 1917 – 29 March 1918. No travels in this period are shown in letters or dated drawings.

But … how long would it have taken for Clarence to get to New Zealand and Tasmania? What were travel conditions like in the period 1880-1920? Internet sources are agreed on the length of time a commercial boat would take, England to New Zealand 75 to 120 days i.e. up to 4 months on the sea, each way. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 made the loop round the southern tip of Africa un-necessary and brought the journey time down from 120, but many cargo and migrant ships took that route anyway and would take up to six months including stops. We can assume that Clarence, in making a plan to go, would assume 3 months out, two weeks in Tasmania and two weeks in New Zealand (he had botanical contacts in both places), 2 weeks from Tasmania to New Zealand each way, and 3 months home. Even if he wanted on stay longer in each place, having made such a long journey, the minimum trip time would be 8 months. Therefore none of the gaps in his chronology (above) is long enough for him to make the trip. While many of his letters tell his correspondents of his travel plans, a trip to Tasmania and New Zealand is never mentioned.

He physically could not have got there and back. I have put this brain teaser to Daniela Gandolfi at the Museo Bicknell and will let you know if any progress is made.