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Charles Ottley Groom-Napier

Charles Ottley Groom-Napier was born May 14, 1839 in Merchiston, Tobago, the posthumous son of Charles Edward Groom (1815–1838), a very wealthy sugar planter, and his wife, Ann Napier (1815–1895), daughter of Archibald Napier. He grew up in Sussex, England, and was a sickly child with a precocious interest in natural history. He and his mother later lived at various addresses in Bristol, Lewes and London, where in the late 1870's he began styling himself as the Prince of Mantua and Montferrat with subsidiary titles as prince of Ferrera, Nevers, Rethel, and Alençon; Baron de Tobago; and master of Lennox, Kilmahew, and Merchiston. In 1879 he held a banquet for 7000 guests in a specially constructed pavilion at Greenwich, the walls of which were hung with 700 illuminated leaves of vellum illustrating his (purported) pedigree. He introduced an edition of his own literary works with 64 pages of fictitious rave reviews from celebrities ("miraculous", Victor Hugo; "a marvel", Faraday; "too much for this wicked world", Trollope - all recently deceased).

Was he a madman, a charlatan, "a notorious rogue and thief," or a satirist with a wry sense of humor? No one is sure. He allegedly tried to kill the mineralogist Thomas Davies of the British Museum by dropping a boulder on him from a ladder in James Tennant's mineral shop! As a collector he was voracious--he acquired huge collections of minerals, plants, and other curiosities. Part of his mineral collection (which he purchased at some time between 1850 and 1890) he claimed had been begun by his Italian noblemen ancestors in the 1700's, with the apparent intention of building a comprehensive systematic collection, including many specimens from the New World, and numerous small specimens obviously not selected for their aesthetic qualities. He bought James Tennant's personal collection of fossils, which was later purchased by Robert Damon and sold to the Western Australian Museum in Perth where it remains today. A large part of his herbarium is currently preserved in Bolton Museum. He died of long-standing cardiac disease on 17 January 1894 at 18 Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale, his death being registered as that of Charles de Bourbon d'Este Paleologues Gonzaga, prince of Mantua and Montferrat.

The mineral labels with red “Ex. Mus. P[rince] of Mantua & Monferrat” and smaller ones reading just “Mus. M. & M.” were said to have been written by a relative of his who became Prince of Mantua and Montferrat. This, as with much of his history, is questionable. Eventually the mineral portion of his collection was purchased by the German mineral dealer Friedrich Krantz, taken to Bonn, and dispersed.

DAVENPORT-HINES, R. (2004) Groom, Charles Ottley (1839–1894. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2016)
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The Mineralogical Record - Charles Ottley Groom-Napier
The Mineralogical Record - Charles Ottley Groom-Napier Label attributing the specimen as having come from the Museum of the Prince (or Princess) of Mantua and Montferrat (a fictitious person)
The Mineralogical Record - Charles Ottley Groom-Napier 11 x 26 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Charles Ottley Groom-Napier 12 x 27 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Charles Ottley Groom-Napier 14 x 22 mm
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