Robert John Lechmere Guppy


Lechmere Guppy

Two pictures of Lechmere Guppy

Lechmere Guppy

Born in London, England, August 15, 1836
Died in Trinidad, August 5, 1916

Known for: Giving his name to the Guppy fish. Also published extensively on various topics of interest to naturalists.

Occupation: A civil engineer, Colonial Secretaries Office and Chief Inspector of Schools. Contrary to popular myth, Lechmere Guppy, as he was known, was NOT a clergyman. He was, in fact, an agnostic.

Regarding the naming of the fish, Lechmere Guppy's daughter Enid Fraser was quoted in The Aquarium, Vol. XIV No. 7, November, 1945, as writing the following:

". . .chief credit for the name should go to my father, the late Dr. Robert John Lechmere Guppy who, although a conchologist and geologist was the first to discover the small livebearer here [Trinidad] and was rather intrigued by its appearance. He sent specimens to London for cataloguing and scientific description by the then Keeper (Curator) of Zoology of the British Museum, the late Dr. Albert Carl Ludwig Gotthilf Guenther. The latter named the fish Girardinus guppii in honor of my father, and this scientific label was employed long enough for its specific designation to be returned, by popular terminology, to its original form: Guppy. Later on, after research by many scientists had been collated, the title Lebistes reticulatus was decide upon as being the best scientific term for the fish, but despite all this technical change Dr. Guenther's original specific designation based upon my father's name, has continued in good standing throughout the world as the common name for the fish."

Note that the reason for the change of scientific name was at least in part that it was discovered that another naturalist, Wilhelm C. H. Peters, had described the fish in a paper on Venezuelan fishes in the bulletin of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin many years before Lechmere Guppy sent his specimens to the British Museum.

Other: With brother Francis founded Trinidad Almanack in 1866 - a reference book eventually taken over by the government as the official year book.

Founder of the Victoria Institute, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, at the time of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, 1887. He acted as president of the Institute for years.

Some of his publications:

  • 1866. On the Tertiary Mollusca of Jamaica. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 22: 281-295, London.
  • 1866. On the lingual dentition of some west-indian Gasteropoda
  • 1872. Third series of additions to the Catalogue of the land and freshwater Molluska of Trinidad: with a revised list of all the species
  • 1873. On some new Tertiary fossils from Jamaica. Proceedings of the Science Association of Trinidad. 2(2): 72-88, London.
  • 1874. Geological Magazine, 1874: pl.14, fig.11
  • 1875. Geological Magazine, 1875: p.41.
  • 1876. On the Miocene Fossils of Haiti. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 32: 516- 532, London.
  • 1896. (with William H. Dall) Descriptions of tertiary fossils from the Antillean region. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 19(1110): 303-331, Washington, D.C
  • 1911. The Geology of Antigua & Other West Indian Islands, Quart. Journ. Geological Soc. Vol. 67, Part 4
  • 1912. Fossils from Springvale near Couva, Trinidad. Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago, 2: London

"Apart from his contributions to scientific periodicals, lectures, etc., Mr. Lechmere Guppy was a man of remarkable individuality. Tall, gaunt, white-haired, grey-bearded, rugged in speech, combative in his opinions. A whiff of cold air seemed to go with him wherever he went. Watching him stride over this savannah, one imagined a Yorkshire moor."
-- A.D. Russel, Legends of the Bocas, Trinidad, 1922

Loathed deceit, disloyalty, dishonesty and cant, felt all men should find work well done its own reward. Enjoyed making furniture, reading books, taught himself to read at age of three. (according to his daughter Yseult Bridges in Child of the Tropics by Yseult Bridges, ed. by Nicholas Guppy, Collins and Harvill Press, London, 1980)


(details of his family history can be found here)

Wife: Alice Mary Rostant, descendent of French aristocracy who fled to Trinidad to escape the French Revolution

Father: Robert Guppy, Barrrister, Magistrate, Mayor of San Fernando, Member of the Legislative Assembly, Trinidad

Mother: Amelia Elizabeth Parkinson, artist, portrait painter, photographer

Lechmere was raised in England at Kinnersley Castle in Herefordshire by his mother's father, Richard Parkinson of Kinnersley Castle, Herefordshire, England. When his grandfather died, Lechmere's uncle John Parkinson wanted Lechmere to take over the castle, something Lechmere did not want to do. Having come into an inheirance when he was 18 from his great uncle James de Saumarez of Geurnsey in the Channel Islands, Lechmere left for Tasmania, spent two years with Mauris in New Zealand, came to Trinidad at age of 22 (see The Guppy family in Trinidad for a links to map of Taupo and comments in Lechmere's handwriting done in 1857 while he was in New Zealand)

"Lechmere had been wrecked on North Island, New Zealand, and had been living very happily amongsy the Maoris who had rescued him, roaming the hills and forests, collecting specimens, and thoroughly enjoying himself. Although this was the time of the Maori wars, they treated him with great hospitality, and to the end of his life he loved to talk of his adventures with them, and to display the tatoos on his back -- of various designs, including a sailing canoe, and on his wedding finger -- a ring! He had left only just in time, he declared, to avoid marrying the chief's daughter!"
-- p. 29, Child of the Tropics by Yseult Bridges, ed. by Nicholas Guppy, Collins and Harvill Press, London, 1980