Biographical data


Cunningham (or Cuninghame), James


(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 1: Cyclopaedia of collectors)

(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 5: Cyclopaedia of collectors, Supplement I)

(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 8: Cyclopaedia of collectors, Supplement II)


Born: in Scotland. Died: in 1708 or 1709 embarked for England, but apparently died on the home voyage, as he disappears completely from record.



Surgeon, entered the service of the English E.I. Comp. in 1698, and was sent at once to Amoy, returning home in the next year. In 1700 he again set sail for China, during which voyage he evidently touched at and collected in the Straits of Malacca, Java,1 and Borneo (July 17-19),2 and reached Chusan in October. In 1703 he was sent to Pulo Condor(e), one of the Company’s factories, for the purpose of trying to open up trade with Cochin-China. According to Cox (cf. sub Biogr. data below) he is next heard of in Makassar (SW. Celebes) in 1705, when the station was attacked and the English killed almost to a man. Cunningham was spared and was taken to Cochin-China where he was a captive for 2 years. Finally in 1707 he was sent to Batavia to try and start trade, this time with Java. He was expelled at the instigation of the Chinese in 1708 or 1709.

His 2nd voyage to China took place in 1700 (not 1701) o/b Eaton-Fryatt. According to Dandy on both voyages Batavia (Java) was touched (not in June 1700, however, cf. SL. 3321, f. 52, in which letter it is stated that they did not go ashore in Borneo either in July of that year). His 2-years’ imprisonment in Cochinchina took place after the massacre at Pulo Condor(e). He arrived at Batavia in April 1707. His last letter to Sloane is dated Calcutta, Jan. 4, 1708/9.3

One of the few survivors of the massacre at Pulo Condor by Macassar soldiers on March 2, 1704/05.

Evidently Cox’s comment that Cunningham was later found at Macassar is wrong. The English had no factory there at that time, it rightly was at Bandjermasin, where an attack by the natives took place in 1707, after which the settlement was left. The statement that he was a captive for two years in Cochin-China probably does not hold either.

Though ‘bred a surgeon’, he appears to have been serving the Company as a Factor, and not as a medical officer.

Hamilton (cf. sub Biogr. Data) describes him as follows: ‘He ... would spend whole days in contemplating on the Nature, Shape, and Qualities of a Butterfly or a Shellfish, and left the Management of the Company’s Business to others as little capable as himself, so every one but he was Master.’

The genus Cunninghamia Schreb. was named after him.



Herb. Brit. Mus. [BM]: > 600 species, acq. with Herb. Sloane. He originally sent plants from China, Java (and P. Kombuys in the Bay of Batavia), Malacca, the Cape, and Ascension to Ray, Petiver, and Plukenet (see Herb. Sloane 94 vol. 2; from Batavia and Java in H.S. 289). In Java a Dutch gardener presented him with plants too.

In Sherardian Herb. Oxford [OXF]: ferns from Chusan and Malacca.4

Plants of his were described by Plukenet in ‘Amaltheum’ and ‘Phytographia’, and by Petiver in ‘Museum’.



(1) cf. Mus. Petiv. 1695-1703, p. 44, 94.

(2) cf. Philos. Transact. Lond. 23, 1702, no 280, p. (1201).

(3) Cf. J.E. Dandy: ‘The Sloane Herbarium’ (1958) p. 117-122, pl. 5; letters in Sloane MSS vols 3321, 4025, 4038, 4039, 4040, 4041, 4064, f. div., from Cuninghame to Petiver and Sloane.

(4) Cf. H. Newman Clokie: ‘Account of the Herbaria, Dept. Bot. Univ. Oxford’ (1964) p. 76.


biographical data:

A. Hamilton, A new Account of the East Indies 2, 1744, p. 144-145, 205; Pulteney, Sketches, 2, 1790, p. 59-62, and Esquisses Hist., 2, 1809, p. 58-60; Pritzel, Thes. Lit. Bot., 1872; Biogr. Ind. Britten & Boulger in Journ. Bot. 26, 1888, p. 247, and in 2nd ed. by Rendle, 1931; Bretschneider, Hist. Bot. Discov. China, 1898, p. 31, 33; in E.H.M Cox Plant-hunting in China, 1945, p. 40-42.