Reverend Richard Cresswell (1815-1882)

Objects donated to RAMM by the Cresswell family are diverse. The fine art, natural sciences, world cultures, numismatics and costume collections all include items from the family.

Richard Cresswell – a short biography

Richard Cresswell was born in London but spent most of his life in Devon. In 1840 he followed in family footsteps and took holy orders at St John’s College, Oxford. During his curacy in Hawkshurst Kent he met his future wife Frances Creighton. His health was poor so he took up a curacy at Salcombe Regis, Devon in 1844.

When the resident vicar died, the changes this brought about led Richard to ‘give up’ the church. He moved to Teignmouth taking in private pupils.

Frances bore him six children:

  • Richard Henry (daughter Clarice Mercedes)
  • Christina Frances Emily (children Mary, Frances, Alice and Margaret (twins))
  • Alured Robert and Clara Anastasia (twins, died in infancy)
  • Charlotte Mary Anastasia
  • Beatrix Feodore Clara Augusta Grace

Richard died very suddenly on Easter Monday 1882. His collections passed to his wife and then later their son, Richard Henry. He took them to London and, while his tastes were wholly literary, his personal value of his father’s work led him to preserve the collection with the greatest of care. On his death it passed to his daughter, Clarice, who donated it to RAMM in 1927.

Richard Cresswell the Botanist

Richard and Frances shared a passion for botany. She accompanied him on many of his collecting trips. He found microscopic life particularly fascinating and painted the minute life he observed. Algae and fungi were among his passions. The botanist William Henry Harvey named a species of algae Richard discovered in his honour – Schizothrix cresswelli. Richard was a personal friend to seaweed collector Miss Cutler and pioneering marine biologist Philip Henry Gosse. He published many papers and also wrote a book on the ‘Flowering Plants and Ferns of Sidmouth’.


The most important and well-researched area of Richard’s collection is a group of 86 Company School botanical drawings. All are available online. Researchers at the University of Exeter revealed that at least 17 are by three of the most renowned late 18th-century Indian painters – Sheikh Zain al-Din, Bhawani Das and Ram Das. They were probably created in the 1790s for Frances’ grandfather Henry Creighton.

A new area of research focuses on Richard’s collections of pressed seaweeds. Seaweed collecting was a popular pastime for men and women. He collected many himself. Yet most were collected by women. Some names are very familiar in botanical circles – Amelia Griffiths, Mrs Gulson and Catherine Cutler for example all have seaweeds named after them. Others are relatively unknown including Sarah Lee, Fanny Hindon, Miss Gatty (presumably the naturalist and author Margaret Gatty’s daughter) and Miss Turner. Richard’s daughter Charlotte is also among the collectors. Richard corresponded widely, exchanging specimens, observations and ideas.

Two volumes of drawings and photographs of fungi are particularly intriguing. The family delighted in finding him specimens to draw and the initials of Frances and all their surviving children are annotated on the works.

Drawings by his sister, Sarah, and presumably his daughters are also present among the works of art on paper.

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