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January 5th 1922

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Charles McIntosh, Beatrix Potter and fungus

Peter Rabbit Home Charles McIntosh, like Niel Gow, was born in Inver. He worked at the local sawmill but when he was eighteen became involved in an accident and lost all fingers and thumb of his left hand. He was unable to continue with his work at the sawmill and became instead a postman where he spent the rest of his working life. Because his post round was a rural one Charles McIntosh had plenty of opportunities to study the flora and fauna of rural Perthshire.

He became an enthusiastic member of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science. Later his interest in fungi led him to join the Cryptogammic Society of Scotland and exhibit at their shows in Perth and Dunkeld. This interest in fungi later led to an unusual friendship with Beatrix Potter. By 1892 when Beatrix Potter and her family came back to the Dunkeld area on holiday, Charles McIntosh had already become well known:

“I asked him to sit down, his head being somewhere in the chandelier. I would not make fun of him for worlds, but he reminded me so much of a damaged lamp post. He warmed up to his favourite subject, his comments terse and to the point, and conscientiously accurate When we discussed funguses he became quite excited and spoke with quite poetical feeling about their exquisite colours. He promised to send me some through the post, though I very much fear he will never have sufficient assurance to post them.”

In spite of Beatrix's doubts, Charles did sent samples to her through the post, and she on her part sent back paintings by return.

Though the correspondence was formal - “Miss Potter has sent off her drawings by parcel post, and hopes Mr. McIntosh will think them sufficiently accurate to be worth his acceptance” - it continued on and off for the next five years. The wide variety of specimens Charles was able to send, (he discovered thirteen species completely new to Britain) the excellence of Beatrix's draughtsmanship and their mutual love and enthusiasm for fungi formed a close bond between them.

In 1897 a paper written by Beatrix was read on her behalf to the Linnean Society. Though it contained much original research it attracted little interest and probably was one reason why she began to direct her energies into writing children's stories. Her first book The Tale of Peter Rabbit has a gardener, Mr. McGregor, who bears a striking resemblance to Charles McIntosh.

Charles McIntosh died in 1922.

Extracts copyright (c) F. Warne & Co., 1966, 1989

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