In Memoriam: Christopher James Alexander

Photograph of Cchristopher James Alexander in uniform

Christopher James Alexander

Christopher James Alexander of Croydon, Surrey, died in Flanders on 5th October 1917, aged 30 years.

Christopher was born in 1887 and attended Bootham School from 1900 to 1904.  He took a keen interest in many aspects of Natural History while at school, was very observant of wildlife, and this interest lasted throughout his life.  As well as studying birds and plants, in 1902 the school magazine “Bootham” reported that he had won the school natural history prize winner for lepidoptera.  The Natural History Society report for Autumn 1902 as reported in “Bootham” tells us:

“Entomology Report, Lepidoptera:

“C. J. Alexander, the most prominent worker in this subject, spent a great deal of time last term over watching and drawing his insects during their development, and their changes from one stage to another. This term, he has spent a couple of hours every Saturday afternoon in weighing his crysalids and plotting a curve, showing their rate of decrease. He has also added largely to his collection, having reared an Alder Kitten from a caterpillar found just before it turned. He has taken Lesser Lutestrings at sugar and a Buff Arches as it was fluttering round an arc-lamp. These three were all obtained in Kent.”

Art section report:

“C. J. Alexander’s ” Moths,” coloured to perfection,” “

He won the Natural history prize for entomology.

In 1903 Christopher was curator of entomology, microscopy and zoology in the Natural History Society.

“Bootham” of  May 1903 reports that at a meeting of the Natural History Society on February 18th::

“C. J. Alexander followed with a very clear discourse on Fertilization of Orchids, illustrated by diagrams on the black board.”

And later:

“The last meeting of term was occupied by a debate. The motion, “That the collection of eggs involves no real cruelty,” was put before the meeting, in a joint paper, by Horan and C. Milner. C. J. Alexander followed with a good paper in opposition. “Do the birds have emotional and mental feelings and sufferings?”—in some cases probably; why not use Photography and careful observation, to obtain the same end as collecting? The motion was lost by 16 to 5.”

And then the October 1903 issue of “Bootham” tells us, in the Natural History report:

“At a later meeting C. J. Alexander had a good comparison of last year’s flowers with this. On the whole, flowers were earlier this year than last, a mid-April frost giving two distinct sets of flowers. C. J. A dealt in the same way with migrants, which were early this time, though they may not have been so much noticed owing to the cold stopping their singing.”

Moving on to the March 1904 issue of “Bootham”, we are told in the Natural History report:

“A new feature of our Meetings in the Autumn Term was a series of “10 minutes” talks on the various branches by the curators, arranged with the idea of increasing the general knowledge of the Club, whose members are perhaps rather too much inclined to exclusive study of one subject. The first of these short talks was given by C. J. Alexander, on Botany, an able lecture, with the usual fine blackboard drawings added thereto. A photograph of the same gentleman’s illustrations to an Ornithological “10 minutes” is reproduced in this number.

Photograph of blackboard with C J Alexander's drawings of birds

C J Alexander’s illustration of birds for ornithological lecture

By this time, Christopher had joined the committee of the Natural History Society.

In the Inter-Schools Diaries Competition of 1903, Christopher won first prize in the Natural History Section with his diary of Botany and Entomology. In the school Christmas Exhibition some of the diaries were commended, especially those of the brothers C. J. and H. G. Alexander in Natural History.

Also in “Bootham” of March 1904, the Ornithological section reports:

“C. J. Alexander has been making careful notes on the times birds sing. He has discovered that the Hedge Sparrow and Wren sing from October to mid November, and that the Thrush and Missel Thrush start about when they end, while the Robin sings all the time.”

The Art section reports:

“There has been more originality in the drawings this year than last. C. J. Alexander, G. Leckie and A. Hamilton being the chief. The best exhibit of original paintings was C. J. Alexander’s caterpillars, chrysalids and moths, which were coloured to perfection.”

and goes on to say:

“Quite the most beautiful coloured drawings were those of moths, butterflies, and chrysalids, and a spray of Blackberry, by C. J. Alexander. Very minute and exquisite in painting, they also showed accurate observation of form, and deserved careful mounting and naming.”

Selection of moth and caterpillar paintings by C J Alexander

Selection of moth and caterpillar paintings by C J Alexander

The report of the Old Scholars Natural History Exhibition tells us:

“The one competitor is C. J. Alexander, of Tunbridge Wells. He presents a voluminous and very careful diary illustrated with unusual ability and extending over three years; with great variety of observation, especially in the fields of Entomology, Ornithology, and Botany. …………..They have decided to award to C. J. Alexander an exhibition of £5, and to remind him that according to the rules they will be glad to give consideration to his future work at the end of July.”

Pictures of birds by C J Alexander, one in colout

Pictures of birds by C J Alexander

In 1904 Christopher was curator of botany, entomology, microscopy and zoology in the Natural History Society.

The Autumn Term report for the school tells us:

“The end of Term brought the customary “charades.” The turn this time was for “Vice Versa,” short, but immense fun throughout. The difficult parts of “Paul ” and “Dick Bultitude” were well sustained by C. J . and V. W. Alexander”

Christopher was doing well at school and the School Term report tells us:

“The Term closed with the reading out of places, showing C. J. Alexander to be top of the School.”

In “Bootham” of May 1904, we learn that in the Natural History Society:

“C. J. Alexander held the office of President for the Term”

And the Natural History Society report:

“During the holding of the Quarterly Meeting in York in January, a very interesting meeting of the Natural History Society took place……… Another most interesting feature of the meeting was the imitation of the songs of birds by C. J. Alexander, the winner of the Old Scholars’ Natural History Exhibition. The songs of several of our common wild birds were so faithfully reproduced that a thrush actually began to answer him from the playground.”

Christopher left Bootham School in July 1904 and his “Bene Decessit” entry reads:

“C. J. ALEXANDER, of Tunbridge Wells, entered the School in September, 1900, and is now top of the School and a Reeve. In December, 1903, he was awarded the Old Scholars’ Natural History Exhibition. In June, 1904, he obtained the London University School-Leaving Certificate with distinction in French. In July, 1904, he was placed first in the Upper Senior by the Examiners of the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds, and was awarded the Bootham Leaving Scholarship of £50. He goes to study Agriculture at Wye College, near Tunbridge Wells.”

In “Bootham” of February 1905, in the Annual Report of the Bootham School Natural History, Literary and Polytechnic Society, we read that:

“We are glad to learn that C. J. Alexander, last year’s winner, took and passed both the new Zoology Paper at the London Matriculation and also the Natural History Papers in the Victoria University Preliminary Examination, both examinations requiring, in addition to book work, a practical knowledge of field work.”

In this issue we also learn that:

“CHRISTOPHER J. ALEXANDER (1900—4) has been awarded a 1st class Entrance Scholarship in the South Eastern Agricultural College, Wye.”

“Bootham” of February 1909 reports:

“CHRISTOPHER J. ALEXANDER (1900-4) has passed the B.Sc. Examination, Faculty of Science (Agriculture), South-Eastern Agricultural College.”

Christopher J. Alexander became County Instructor for Insect and Fungoid Diseases under Berkshire Education Committee in 1910.  In 1911, he moved to Rome to be Rédacteur at the International Institute of Agriculture.

The March 1913 issue of “Bootham” contains the following:

“NORMAN D. RAE, Neuchatel (1907-1910) ……… was at home for Christmas, as was also C. J. ALEXANDER (1900-1904), who was reminded by the last BOOTHAM to send thanks for our “card from O.S., which, of course, I was delighted to get; it came several days later than I had expected, and I had a horrid fear that I had been forgotten. ” He also endorses Frith’s views given in the last number, and concludes with the suggestion that any O.Y.S. visiting Rome can find him at the International Institute of Agriculture, Villa Umberto I., any day between 8.30—3.00. [Does he finish work at 3.00? If so, we are envious.—Ed.”

The March 1914 issue of Bootham, in the Bootham Oversea section reports:

“C. J. ALEXANDER (1900-1904) now treats “Rome as if it were London and lives out at Albano; it necessitates leaving at 6.56 a.m., but I find I easily get used to that (we believe we are right in giving his hours at the Institute as 8.30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) . I amuse myself in the train on the way down (Albano standing at 1,250 feet) by holding a thermometer out of the window. A short distance from Albano the line tunnels through to the inside of the crater, about half way up the slope above the lake, and keeps round inside (with one station) for some way; then out through another tunnel to Marino. Along the lake the temperature is markedly higher, no doubt owing to the lake water, which I think hardly goes below 50 deg. F. in winter; on the north slope at Marino it is much cooler again, but still a good deal higher than down on the more or less level Campagna. In the late autumn I several times got a difference of 14 deg. F. between the part above the lake and the minimum on the Campagna. “”

 By the December 917 issue of “Bootham” magazine, C. J. Alexander was serving in the War.  He had returned to England in 1916 to join the Army.  The “Across the Months” section reports:

“THE attention of Old Scholars is drawn to these two of our Dumber whose relatives are very anxious about them: CHRISTOPHER J. ALEXANDER (1900-04) was “pretty badly hit” —face, stomach, hand, and knee—in the Passchendaele fighting on October 4th. He was still conscious when put into an ambulance car, after which there is no trace of him. His name and number are Pte. C. J. Alexander, 24732, (Queen’s) Royal West Surreys. If any Old Scholar could give any further news of him it would be most thankfully received.”

It wasn’t to be good news.   The May 1918 issue of “Bootham” lists under “Deaths”:

“ALEXANDER.—On the 4th October (or soon after), of wounds, in Flanders, Christopher James Alexander, B.Sc. (1900-4), of the International Agricultural Institute, Rome, aged 30 years.”

This issue also contains an entry for Christopher in the “In Memoriam” section as follows:

“CHRISTOPHER J. ALEXANDER first came to Bootham at the time of the Scarborough exile, after the fire, and he left in 1904, having- won the N.H. Exhibition and the Leaving Scholarship. He played his part in all that was best in the life of the School, especially in the N.H. Club. He joined in the great exploration of “heaven” by No. 8 Bedroom, and was a perfect Mr. Bultitude in ‘ ‘ Vice Versa.” But perhaps his character was best revealed in a simple act of courage, freely criticised at the time. One of our American gym. Masters —kindest-hearted of men—had spent a year with us, and none of us treated him very well; Christopher, in making a presentation to him when he left, frankly confessed our fault. All through his life, shy and modest as he was, when the occasion came, both in speech and action he showed the same outspoken integrity.

At Wye Agricultural College, and for five years at the International Institute of Agriculture at Rome, he devoted himself to many kinds of scientific work, and especially found increasing delight, even to the last week of his life in Flanders, in observing birds. During his eighteen months in the Army he was able to give his best, that had before been hidden from most, to all the other men. They have written with real affection and concern since he was hit, on October 4th, but all they could tell us has only led us to the surmise, now at last confirmed by the War Office, that he must have been killed after he was put in the ambulance.

The only “Old Scholars” he ever got to was in 1914.  When by good fortune he got back to his old company in France last September, after having been in England with a broken leg, he wrote that it seemed quite like getting to York at Whitsuntide.  Like many more, he will not again be with us in the flesh, but we know that his spirit will be among us when we meet.”

The Bootham School Register records that Christopher was killed by a shell whilst being conveyed in an ambulance after being wounded.

An obituary for Christopher was published in the journal “Ibis”, the International Journal of Avian Science, in April 1918, see https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1474-919X.1918.tb00784.x .

Private Christopher James Alexander of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>