He is not very well known to Trinidadians, especially those of the younger generation. But botanist, writer, environmentalist and explorer Nicholas Gareth Lechmere Guppy, well known to the British, was born in Port-of-Spain on December 22, 1925. At the time of his death on May 16, he lived in Bali with his third wife, Anna. The UK Telegraph, which offered a splendid obituary on June 10, said Guppy, an only child, migrated to England with his mother at 12, after his father died. After being educated at Cambridge and Oxford Universities, Guppy rose to fame shortly after World War II when, still in his twenties, he led a number of expeditions into the interior of then British Guiana, then to the northern Amazonian jungles. He was the author of a number of books, including Wai-Wai —Through the Forests North of the Amazon, on his travel to British Guiana and his encounter with the Wai Wai people who inhabited the region. One of his other noted publications was Journey of A Young Man, his autobiography. Guppy’s passion for exploring also brought him close to the creme de la creme of society. The Telegraph described his social meetings with notables such as British artist Francis Bacon, and scientists like Julian Huxley. He also rubbed elbows with British economists Ernst Friedrich Schumacher and Nicholas Kaldor, British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough and French environmentalist, author and philosopher, Teddy Goldsmith. Guppy’s zeal for exploring dwindled in the late 80s when his son Darius, whose mother was the Persian singer Shusha, was imprisoned after being found guilty on charges of fraud. Added to that, Guppy also became ill, battling the side effects of a hookworm he caught in his earlier years during one of his adventures.
Trinidad historian remembers Guppy
Trinidad historian Jerry Besson had the pleasure of meeting Guppy in person during a business trip to England in 1983. He remembers a handsome, tall, slender man who shared drinks with him and gave him his first copy of Child of the Tropics: Victorian Memoirs—an autobiography by Guppy’s great-aunt Yseult Bridges, who grew up in Trinidad. Besson said Nicholas Guppy’s roots in Trinidad were “so important.” He said Guppy’s grandfather, British-born (Robert John) Lechmere Guppy was a naturalist who came to Trinidad to live. He studied the flora and fauna here, and one of his discoveries was the peculiar tropical fish which became his namesake—the guppy. Nicholas also had a distinguished ancestry which included the Plantagenets, the 14 kings who ruled England from 1154-1485. Among his notable ancestors were the inventor Sarah Guppy of Bristol and Amelia Guppy, the first woman to navigate the Orinoco. She was 65 at the time. Besson said Guppy’s contribution as a Trinidadian and to Trinidad history was rewriting and editing his aunt’s book and making it available to Trinidadians. “Bridges was the daughter of Lechmere Guppy and Alice Rostant (a French Creole Trinidadian). She was born in 1888 in Trinidad and grew up around the Queen’s Park Savannah in a house known today as the ‘gingerbread’ house. She eventually married Alfred Low, a principal at the Queen’s Royal College.”
Besson said Bridges became a famous author specialising in crime novels. “She was a writer of novels that really studied unsolved crimes,” he said. He said Nicholas was able to get her book Child of the Tropics published through Trinidadian publisher Geoffrey MacLean. “This book is a very important book. It is used by people doing Caribbean history at UWI. “It gives a very good reference into the life of Trinidad in the 19th century.” The book captured the life of vendors, vagrants and washerwomen who came to Bridges’ mother’s house, the “aristocrats” of Trinidad, and an amusing chapter on her elder sister trying to find a husband in Trinidad in those times, he explained. “She wrote both from the ordinary folks’ point of view as well as those of the high society,” he said. Besson said had it not been for the book, the history of the Guppies in Trinidad might not even have been known.