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Charles St Mark Murray Hornibrook

B. 10 July 1873 at Hampstead, Middlesex, England 

D. 9 September 1949 at Etretat, Normandy, France 


Attended Trinity College Dublin for two years, then received a BA from St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1898. 


Was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal 15 November 1900, for saving the life of Miss Christy at Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland. 


Art collector, tennis player, inventor, Private Secretary (1903-1905) to the George Wyndham, Attorney General of Ireland, and Resident Magistrate, Templemore, County Tipperary, 1905 (Think Somerville and Ross Irish RM stories) 


Best known for his collection of dwarf conifers at his home, Knapton House, the dower house of the de Vesci estate, Abbeyleix, County Laois, which included specimens he acquired from his wife Gladys’s aunt, Susan Stoker in British Columbia, Canada – a well-known authority on alpine plants. Hornibrook was the first author to collect in one book, all the many forms of conifers known in cultivation and recorded in literature. His Dwarf and Slow-growing Conifers (1923) revised and enlarged in 1939, in which he recorded about 500 forms, became and remains the standard.  

Some of Murray Hornibrook’s very fine art collection “was looted during the German invasion of France, when he and his wife, Gladys escaped to Cornwall from Etretat, via le Havre. Much of what remained was sold at auction. The National Gallery in London now holds several pieces of his collection.” (This based in part on research by Dr. Roger Willoughby, the complete version of which is due to appear in his forthcoming book Saved Lives.) 

Murray Hornibrook- Despatch Box exterior
Murray Hornibrook- Despatch box.jpg

“An Edward VII red leather covered Parliamentary Dispatch Box belonging to MURRAY HORNIBROOK, with two brass handles, the central campaign handle, and a large swing handle at the rear. The top is stamped with the royal insignia of Edward VII and the initials M.H.”  

Images and information about the box are from 

Murray Hornibrook was mentioned in an article “The British rock garden in the twentieth century”, by Brent Eliott, May, 2011, The Lindley Library, The Royal Horticultural Society, London 


“But this was not the first use of peat blocks; Murray Hornibrook, whose wife appears to have been the real innovator, had developed the idea after moving to Knapton, near Abbeyleix in Ireland, in 1906: 


Close beside us was a large peat bog; the workpeople on the various estates 

had the right to cut peat – “turf” – on it. In doing so they first cut off the top spit which consisted of yard square blocks of peat full of heather roots and exposed to the air for ages. My wife proposed that, failing further supplies of large stones, we should utilise these blocks of peat to retain the ordinary soil in place. We did so with excellent results and next season, finding that the majority of the plants appreciated the peat, we experimented further, making “Rock works” entirely of peat – the retaining “stones” being these top spit blocks and the soil being sometimes peat mixed with leaf mould but more often pure peat... In course of time these peat “rock-works” spread over the remainder of the available space and I ceased to use ordinary soil, anything that did not like the peat being put into one of the Moraines’  (Hornibrook, 1938: 2–3).” 

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