Clan Cunningham People


Poet Allan Cunningham by Henry Room

Allan Cunningham 1784-1842
When ten years old, Alan Cunningham became his brother’s apprentice, but while learning to be a stonemason by day, he was practicing his writing and reading the work of a family friend Robert Burns, in his own time.

He was among Burns’ funeral procession in 1796 and later became a friend of Scotland’s other great writer, Sir Walter Scott. With Scottish ballads he had written already in print, Cunningham moved to London in 1811 to work as a parliamentary reporter and then the superintendent of works for Frances Legatt Chantrey, the Sculptor.

He was a prolific writer, leaving as such works as ‘Traditional Tales of the English and Scottish Peasantry (1822) and ‘Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1829-33) and ‘The Songs of Scotland’ (1825), in which was written his famous ‘A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea’.

Allan Cunningham 1791-1839

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Richard Cunningham 1793-1835

With a Renfrewshire gardener for a father, the two brothers were born into an environment of botanical interests. They were employed by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew as plant collectors, a job that took them to the other side of the world. Via some exploration and plant collecting in South America, Allan arrived in Australia in 1817 and worked with a number of expeditions exploring into New South Wales.

Whilst on his own expeditions he charted the first passage through the daunting Blue Mountains in 1824, and three years later found the Darling Downs, the fertile plateau. The route he established between the plateau and the coast made use of a pass soon known as Cunningham’s Gap.

In 1833 Richard became Colonial Botanist but died whilst on expedition two years later. His brother was appointed to the post, though after being weakened by such a hard life he died four years later in Sydney.

Sir Alexander Cunningham 1814-93
Through Sir Walter Scott’s influence, Cunningham was given an Indian cadetship, arrived in India as a Second Lieutenant in 1833, and spent his entire military career in those lands. From the outset he was fascinated by India’s ancient history, most of which lay unexplored or misunderstood.

In 1837 he was the first westerner to study the Buddhist stupa at Sarnath, build where Buddha delivered his first sermon. With the aid of newly available Chinese translations of the early pilgrim’s travels in India, Cunningham searched for and dated Buddhist temples and historical events.

His work continued fifteen years after his retirement from the army as a Major General and he is remembered as ‘the father of Indian achaeology’.

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