By Bernard Verdcourt
The name Le Roy turns up frequently in J.R. Bourguignat’s work on East African molluscs (1889); I had also come across it occasionally whilst working on various families for the Flora of Tropical East Africa, usually on specimens actually bearing the numbers of Père Sacleux (1856–1939) well known for his interest in East African botany and who later became a professor at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. I could find almost nothing concerning Le Roy in the English or even French works on natural history collectors and I turned to my omniscient friend Dr. Heino Heine in the Laboratoire de Phanèrogamie of the Muséum. He gave me some basic facts and also references to extensive obituaries and how to trace these. I wish to profoundly thank Rev. Père Bernard Noël C.S.Sp. and Rev. Father W. Wilfrid Gandy C.S.Sp. respectively head librarian and archivist in France and archivist of the English Province of the Congrégation du Saint-Esprit (Congregation of the Holy Ghost or more familiarly Holy Ghost Fathers) for sending me photostat copies of obituaries; Father Gandy, who had known Mgr. Le Roy well in his student days, talked to me about him and also showed me some of his works when I visited the provincialate of the Fathers in Bromley.
Monséigneur Alexandre Le Roy, Archeveque titulaire de Carie, Supérieur Général de la Congrégation du Saint-Esprit was a most remarkable man, one of ‘inlassable activité’ as one of his obituary writers described him. He was born on the 19th January 1854* in Normandy at Saint-Sénier de Beuvron in the diocèse de Coutances Manche, but a stone’s-throw away from the border with Brittany, but he always considered himself a Norman. It was a region of small fields, small farms and many forests traversed by small rivers and innumerable slopes; neither a rich nor a poor area but one where honesty, thrift and religion were the basis of life. On his mother’s side he had a famous ancestor Despréaux called Tranche-Montagne, lieutenant of Boisguy, faithful to the white cockade. On the other side a grandfather known as ‘Jambe de Bois’ a republican always doing good without seeking reward, had a great influence and told him inexhaustible stories. His leaning towards liberal ideas in politics throughout his life probably stemmed from this early association. As a youngster although a good scholar he had a love of pranks and escapades, as for example when he and another youth set off to find the source of the tiny stream Beuvron; after a long struggle over numerous hedges and with their breeches torn they returned hours later tired out and hungry to angry mothers. He had a taste for personal research and a need to understand things which never left him.
His education continued at a small college at Saint-James the chief town of the area. He soon revealed a disconcerting ability in all subjects save perhaps mathematics and a rather unappreciated penchant for drawing caricatures! Later at the small seminary at the Abbaye Blanche his literary education progressed. Plays of Sophocles and Euripedes were played in the original Greek and he became a first class classical scholar. Then he passed to the Grand Séminaire at Coutances an imposing granite edifice at the foot of a cathedral which could hold its own with the most perfect in France and England. At that time 30–50 new priests were ordained each year.
When Abbé Le Roy left Coutances he knew little about the congrégation de Saint-Esprit but a compatriot told him of its work in Africa and this was enough – he decided to become a postulant. How many of us have been drawn to Africa by different routes! He arrived in Oct. 1874 at the Abbey of Langonnet in Brittany but after a year moved to Chevilly between Paris and Fontainebleau for his Noviciate. The Maître was a rugged Burgundian from Autun, a leader of men and expert in spiritual pathways. Obliged by his calling to apply a uniform rule to all he was soon nonplussed by the generous gifts Le Roy was unable to conceal. This young man was pious enough and understood all without apparent effort, was deferential and obedient with a facile humour but full of spirit, drew with a lively pen and composed agreeable beautifully written verse. He possessed so many gifts held in marvellous equilibrium but could stop in front of a flower and relish the countryside. He was an artist without vanity and an intellectual without pedantry, insensible to titles. But the Maître wondered if all this revealed a man sufficiently detached from the world and made him suspend his profession and imposed another year of Noviciate upon him but was surprised Le Roy took this with perfect calm. Priest on 10 August 1876 he made his profession in 1877 and was sent to Réunion as Professor at the Collège Spiritain de Saint-Denis. He put up with contradictions, counter-orders and other administrative nonsense which would have severely tried a less well adapted person. Hardly had he arrived than the diocese decided to close the college and he was obliged to return to Europe. This debacle wasted 7 months including the voyage.
He was then sent to the college in the Auvergne where he stayed two years before going as principal to the ailing college in Pondichéry. His mission was to re-establish its standing and he succeeded. To be a principal at 27 was exceptional. But he stayed only a year in India since it was decided to pull out of the country, the domain of another mission. This time he was not recalled to France. They wrote to him ‘seeing you are already in the Indian Ocean and want to keep on with Missionary work you can go to Zanzibar and present yourself to the Préfet apostolique of that coast’. Although there was a direct boat from Pondichéry to Zanzibar he chose to go from Bombay and travelled through the Deccan, the Ghats, Golconde and Hyderabad, the Vedic civilisations and the Moslem States. He arrived in Zanzibar in 1881 and was to stay there 11 years.
The mission at Zanzibar was founded on the repurchase of poor slaves that the Arabs had raided just beyond the Great Lakes, particularly young boys who were taught and apprenticed to a trade in the workshops of Bagamoyo. Later they were sent to small stations which had been established among the tribes of the interior, not so far, but in beautiful sites in the mountains, more healthy in every way than the enervating coast. Journeys were made by unhurried caravans allowing a thorough study of the country traversed and the detailed customs of its people. Le Roy learnt several native languages which served him well. He was one of the few lucky missionaries belonging to the category who were allowed to make exploratory voyages of reconnaisance. It was clearly about this time that he collected molluscs, many from the Nguru Mts. but I am not aware of what first interested him nor if he were ever specially interested in them as a youth. More likely some person made it known that natural history material was worth collecting and very probably it was Rev. Père Sacleux. Le Roy made innumerable notes on all subjects. One of his first books was "A travers le Zanguebar". The end of his first leave came promptly, a near tragedy. After being bogged down in a pestilential swamp in the middle of the bush, he contracted iritis which resulted in almost total blindness. This is curable with time and detailed care. His sight returned slowly and his spirits revived. He actually said that more than others a priest must know suffering to help him learn how to console others.
The mission in Zanzibar grew in importance. At that date the fight was against Islam which has always been very strong on the East African coast and making even greater inroads last century. ‘Baptisez d’abord c’est on vaccin contre l’Islam!’. About 1890 Mgr. Raoul de Courmont the first Bishop of Zanzibar decided to reconnoitre the vast mountain Kilimanjaro and get to know the tribes there who were "Menacées à la fois par les protestants et par l’Islam!”. He went with Père Auguste and Père Le Roy. They had the usual adventures such as meeting lions under trees resting from the hot sun. Later during rare periods of relaxation Le Roy wrote a book ‘Au Kilima-Ndjaro’, illustrated with 89 of his own drawings of plants, animals and landscapes. A rare work in England but I have examined a copy and was impressed with its elegance and the excellence of the illustrations – a travel book of the old school. It is not mentioned at all in a recent book devoted to the mountain.
Mgr. Courmont was seized by a persistent fever and stopped at 3000 m. Le Roy and Auguste halted in their turn and mass was said for the first time on this prodigious altar. But they had not gone there for alpinism. After Courmont and Le Roy had returned to the coast Auguste remained behind near his friend Chief Foumba (with whom Le Roy had entered into a blood alliance) and founded the Kilema Mission which in 1938 was ministrating to 9700 local Catholics. Le Roy collected some 5–600 plants during this trip but only 300 reached the coast safely. Sacleux named them and published a list.
With such talents Le Roy gradually came to be regarded as one of the great missionaries. When in 1892 he took his second leave he was chosen to replace in Gabon the venerable Mgr. Le Berre who had just died. Both Zanzibar and Gabon have oppressive moist heat but in the latter it rains 8 months of the year and at that date unbroken forest stretched in every direction. Very few roads and rapids-infested rivers made penetration to the interior difficult but had also prevented the spread of Islam. Le Roy soon advanced the work of this mission during his three years stint in this exacting country not without some disagreements with members of the old brigade. He left to take part in the Chapitre Général of 1896.
The chief botanical discovery by Le Roy was made when he was in the Gabon. Whilst bathing in a small tributary of the Fernand-Vaz he noticed a tree with bright red fruits which he recognised as a coffee. Fournier gives the date 1885 for this but this is not possible since he did not go to the Gabon until 1892. These seeds he sent to Father Klaine to grow in his garden at Libreville and eventually specimens of the resulting plants were sent to Pierre. The species was finally validly described by Froenher who merely cites Pierre 247. Pierre at least on his drawing (of which there is a copy at Kew) does mention Klaine who was a famous collector who sent many seeds and plants from Gabon to Paris and elsewhere. Le Roy does not get mentioned in the original description but Prof. Chevalier relates the tale in his works on coffee. Le Roy had discovered what is now known as Coffea canephora Pierre ex Froenher (also called Coffea robusta), a very important crop, growing rapidly and producing a high yield. In 1894 he found another peculiar plant with flowers growing on its leaves in the Ogové basin. Baillon annotated it with a manuscript name Leroya which was not published. Over 20 years later M. Le Testu discovered it again and Lecomte referred it to Phylloclinium Baillon. Le Roy also reported that the pygmies used Tabernanthe Baillon to obtain ‘des visions merveilleuses’ – an early record of a hallucinogenic plant.
Apart from plants and snails, Le Roy is also known to have collected insects and fishes. Berland when dealing with some sphegid wasps mentions his name as having collected Sphex viduatus Christ. in "Zanguebar" in 1885.
The catfish Amphilius leroyi (Vaill.) was described from material Le Roy collected in the Morogoro torrent in the Uluguru Mts. Zanguebar. In those days Zanguebar, it must be remembered, not only meant Zanzibar but all the coast falling under the sultan’s sway and quite a way inland as well.
Since the resignation on health grounds of Très Rev. Père Emonet, the Congrégation had been governed by a Vicaire Général Rev. Père Grizzard. The first duty of the Grand Chapitre of 1896 was to elect a new superior. The choice fell on the young Bishop of the Gabon aged 41. At this stage of his life he was described as a lithe man, very alive, gay and spontaneous, very concerned (perhaps too much so), but also a liker of jokes and even tall stories which he would sometimes use when he did not want to reply to a question. Two assistants aided him, Grizzard a man of long experience and Henri Vanhaecke an austere figure with big black eyes reminiscent of Ignace de Loyola who could in the face of the too easy kindness of Le Roy use the brakes of strict discipline. His life was now of course more and more taken up with meetings with the very important – ministers, parliamentarians, ambassadors etc.. At the end of the first 10 years the electoral chapter of 1906 confirmed his election (which had in any case been for life). The second ten year period started in grave circumstances. The law separating church from state was passed in France and difficulties multiplied. In all large towns churches became cinemas or dance halls, seminaries became government schools, diocesan colleges were used as Lyceés. Many orders not registered and accepted by the state were suppressed and, due to a technicality over fusion with another order many years before under another name, the Congrégation was suppressed but Le Roy was held in high esteem and fought for a reversal. He managed to obtain it – apparently the only one granted. Mainly this was due to the great value ministers placed on the advice on African, indeed all colonial problems, obtainable from the Congrégation. One quite high political personage said it was a political necessity for them to continue. The despoliation of buildings etc. was halted. The priesthood in general rallied under this changed legal system and the Pope (Pius X) condemned it. Rome at this time encouraged the order to undertake more expansion in the Antilles and the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese revolution of 1910 brought more troubles with religion being proscribed and priests massacred. The order was strongly affected since it maintained vast missions in the Congo and Angola, particularly in Loanda, Cubango and Cunene, where they were occupied by pillaging bands, the Fathers put in prison or forced into exile. Eventually, however, conditions once again became more orderly.
He had sayings he liked to repeat to the young. One was ‘never to commit the same error twice’. Another was to have always in preparation a personal work, a disinterested work, a scientific research, a study of a language, a map of one’s district etc.. It lifted the spirit and effectively combatted the boredom and homesickness engendered by tropical isolation. He himself always had something on the go. About this time he wrote a work ‘La religion des Primitifs’ and a little later 1913–14 began another which in the eyes of many is his principal writing. He had always compiled catechisms for the numerous missions, some illustrated some not, but was not really pleased with badly produced little books; he wanted to produce a work of taste, well composed, well-edited and of real value for religious instruction – a volume which could be given to anyone with pleasure – he entitled it ‘Credo’. He was perhaps in his most brilliant period. He also wrote several other books apart from purely religious catechistic works and had a great interest in ethnography. Most important are his detailed studies of the Pygmies and primitive religions, the former apparently from personal knowledge, although I do not know when he visited their territory or whether the information was obtained from slaves. I have listed these works in the bibliography. He also wrote ’L’Esclavage africain’ and ‘Islamisme et civilisation’ particularly important for the ethnography of Zanzibar but I have not seen details of these.
The Great War was another difficult period since the mission had a foot in both camps, both in Europe and Africa, but despite the destruction of much of the old order the mission in Africa advanced considerably with the number of Christians greatly increased. The next Chapitre Général due in 1916 was postponed until 1919. Le Roy, 66, fatigued and scarcely seeking re-election repeated one of his dicta ‘Nul ici-bas voyez–vous n’est indispensables’ but was elected and so as not to embarrass anyone he accepted a third period of 10 years. One of his first jobs was the establishment of the Les Soeurs Missionaires Spiritaines within the order in the provinces. Whatever one’s views on religion these orders were (and often still are) the only effective agents in many countries – for instance these missionary sisters reduced infant mortality in the Cameroun by 50% in a short time. The order grew in importance during his third period.
Now at 71 his majestic beard was white and his stance no longer alert. He was surprised to have lived so long – almost a scandal for a tropical missionary! But his intellectual vigour was undiminished and his spirit sparkled. However, before the end of the third décennat Le Roy’s good health gave way – several maladies arrived together – his stomach ruined by cachets he had abused it with to prolong his nightly vigils when writing, kidney trouble, asthma and emphysema. He tried to fight it all, consulting numerous doctors and specialists, also medical scientists whose researches were still unpublished. He even took useless thermal cures. He allowed himself to be cared for at the Hôpital Pasteur and went to the Côte d’Azur to a house in Monaco owned by the order. But he returned more ill and knew he had to quit. The new Chapter was held in 1926 and accepted his resignation. Mgr. Le Hunsec, Bishop of Senegal became his successor but Le Roy retained the title Supérieur Général Honoraire; Rome had given him in 1926 the rank of Archevéque Titulaire de Cane.
He went now into complete retreat which lasted 12 years, the beginnings of which were atrocious. Every two or three months a new danger of death arose and extreme unction was given several times. His faithful attendant Frère Bathélémi cared for him and the two house doctors were in attendance. His inutility irked him but he never complained of anything else. For five years he was in a very bad way but his spirit and humour remained; in the thirties he even had a certain remission. His room was that of a simple Father but he had a small chapel in which to say Mass. He also had the enjoyment of a library where he spent most of the day. Those of us who can think of no bliss superior to being surrounded by books can well understand the importance of this. He studied and wrote, his distinguished hand becoming shaky towards the end. He wrote letters, articles and books – a biography of Père Frédérick Le Vavasseur S.Sp. and a pamphlet ‘Un Martyr de la Morale Chrétienne’. He enjoyed meetings with missionaries returning on leave, priests, colonial friends and university folk, so long as they were short. On very sunny days he even managed short walks outside. He passed away very quietly at 11 a.m. on 21st April 1938 and is buried in the Order’s small cemetery at Chevilly.
Ennea bulimiformis ** Grandidier, 1887. Hills between Usagara and Uzigua [Ousaghara and Oesegoua]. Type? in MNHN Paris but labelled Zanguebar, Quiryana. Edentulina obese bulimiformis (Grandidier) Leroya Grandidier, 1887. Lanistes subg. Leroya Leroya bourguignati Grandidier, 1887. Basin of the R. Kyngani or the R. Vouami. Type in Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Geneva (lectotype chosen from sample of 8 syntypes – the specimen figured in Ann. Sci. Nat. (7)10: 23, pl. 6, figs. 2–5). Leroya charmetanti Grandidier, 1887. Basin of the R. Kyngani or the R. Vouami. Type in Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Geneva (lectotype chosen from sample of 5 syntypes). Lanistes (Leroya) farleri (Craven) Moaria chaperiana Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts. Type not found. Never recollected, a minute snail perhaps congeneric with species I have referred to Guppya Pachodus leroyi Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts. 2000 m. Type in MNHN Paris but now broken. Rhachidna usagarica (E.A. Sm.) var. leroyi (Bgt.) (But I have an old note that it = Rachis puntatus (Anton) but what I saw then may not have been the type; the figure certainly suggests otherwise). My recent examination of the fragments suggests usagarica, as would be expected from the altitude. Physopsis leroyi Grandidier, 1887. Usagara, cours d’eau aux environs de la maison des R.R. P.P. du Saint-Esprit. Four syntypes in MNHN Paris. Bulinus globosus (Morelet) (fide Mandahl-Barth) Plotia leroyi Bourguignat, 1889. Lower Valley of R. Vouami. Five syntypes in MNHN, Paris Thiara scabra Müll. Stenogyra grandidieriana Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts. 1800–2000 m. Four syntypes in MNHN Paris labelled Mt. de Mgourou (2000 m. alt.) Ousaghara (two very young). Achatina (Leptocallista) grandieriana (Bgt.) Stenogyra leroyi Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts. 1800–2000 m. Type not found Pseudoglessula leroyi (Bgt.) Tapsia leroyi Grandidier, 1887. Near convent of R.R. P.P. du Saint Esprit near to Bagamoyo. Type not seen. Thapsia leroyi Grandidier Trochonanina leroyi Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts. Type not seen. Sitala leroyi (Bgt.)
List of molluscs described from material collected by unspecified R.R. P.P. du Saint-Esprit† in Tanzania and several named after Le Roy and other Fathers
Achatina randabeli Bourguignat, 1889. Tabora. Type in MNHN Paris with plate reference V.6 Achatina craveni E.A. Sm. 1881 (not = A. tavaresiana fide Mead) Bulimus bridouxi Bourguignat, 1889. (named for Mgr Bridoux vicaire apostolique du Tanganika). Between Kondoa and Mpwapwa. Seven syntypes in MNHN Paris. Pseudoglessula kirkii (Dohrn) Bulimus lourdeli Bourguignat, 1889. Kondoa. Type in MNHN Paris. Pseudoglessula lourdeli (Bgt.), perhaps a variant of P. bolvini Morelet (not an Edouardi as stated in my 1983 check-list) Burtoa bridouxiana Bourguignat, 1889. Mt. Kidete between Kondoa and Mpwapwa. Type in MNHN Paris (figured in Germain (1923) p.86 fig.31); specimen marked IV. 3, the plate reference in the original description. Germain altered the name to bridouxi. Burtoa nilotica giraudi (Bgt.) Colpanostoma leroyi Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts., 2000 m. Two syntypes in MNHN Paris. Tayloria usambarica leroyi (Bgt.) Cyclostoma leroyi Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts. Type not found Tropidophora (Otopoma) letourneuxi leroyi (Bgt.) Edentulina grandidieri Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts., 2000 m. Type in MNHM Paris marked with plate reference VII. 8–9. Edentulina obesa buliformis (Grandidier) Limicolaria coulboisi Bourguignat, 1889. Usagara, Kérasa. Type in MNHN Paris. Limicolaria martensiana Smith fide Crowley & Pain but neither figure nor locality agree with this species. No such slender species has ever been refound. The exact locality has not been traced; using the l-r substitution Kilosa is a possibility. Maizania olivacea Bourguignat, 1889. Nguru Mts., 2000 m. Type in MNHN Paris. Same. (Bourguignat says "enseigne de vaisseau, M. Maizan, qui le premier de tous les explorateurs, entreprit en 1845, le voyage de Bagamoyo au Tanganika et qui périt lèchement assassiné à l’entrée de l’Ousaghara" – he is not mentioned in English books on African exploration). Marconia gibbosa Bourguignat, 1889. Between Kondoa and Mpwapwa in Usagara also between Dyaza and Ibahi in Ugogo along caravan route. Four syntypes in MNHN Paris, one marked with plate reference VII 6–7. Gonaxis gibbosa (Bgt.) Marconia recta Bourguignat, 1889. Here and there in Usagara and Ugogo, also from M’gounda Mkali, (Oukimbu) ‡. Six syntypes in MNHN Paris, 5 labelled Kondoa and one with plate reference VII 4–5. Gonaxis recta (Bgt.) Meladomus alexandri Bourguignat, 1889. Sadani, tributary of Vouami. Type in Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Geneva (lectotype chosen from 6 syntypes) Lanistes (Meladomus) alexandri (Bgt.) (named after Mgr. Alexandre Leroy).
Le Roy himself makes some reference to snails in his book on Kilimanjaro. Fig. 39 shows "coquilles du lac Dyipé [Jipe] – actually a very poor figure of Biomphalaria sudanica and what is probably Bulinus forskalii.
He refers (p. 337) to a letter from Grandidier telling him that Bourguignat has studied the collection of "coquilles que vous avez si heureusernent faite pendant votre beau et remarquable voyage”. A list is given on p. 338.
|Espéces de la base
|Planorbis courmonti sp. nov.
|Cleopatra leroyi sp. nov.
|Melania courmonti sp. nov.
(secimen found at MNHM labelled Lac Djipé)
|Espéces recueillies a 2000 métres et au-dessus
|Helix leroyi sp. nov.
|Helix courmonti sp. nov.
The ‘new species’ do not appear to have been described. One wonders what the Helicids were – almost certainly the same as those described by von Martens a good deal later in the mid-nineties. Bourguignat died in 1892 before the book was published. It is sad to think Le Roy missed the priority. He himself made a comment very idiomatically something to the effect that one sets out for immortality with one’s name inscribed on the back of a mollusc and ‘we go far provided the small beast does not stop!’ If any museum possesses these snails with manuscript names I would be pleased to examine them.