An Expedition to India
Mervyn Edward Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt (1836–1904) of Powerscourt House, Wicklow, was an Irish peer, art collector and avid gardener. His memoir, Description and History of Powerscourt, is a particularly valuable resource that details the history of this magnificent house and contents. He recounts the acquisition of the present table: "In the Entrance Hall is a large table made of a single plank of a tree called the chumpa or sampage tree, given to me by Major F. Cunningham at Bangalore, Madras, India, in 1861. This tree grows in the southern forests of India to an enormous size; I measured one tree of this kind, which was 57 ft. in girth, in the Beelgharungum Hills." 7th Viscount Powerscourt, Ibid, 1903, p. 16. Lord Powerscourt travelled to India on a sporting expedition between November 1860 and June 1861 accompanied by Captain Richard Bateson. The present table appears in a photograph, circa 1903 of the entrance hall at Powerscourt, surrounded by many other souvenirs acquired in India during this trip. Francis Cunningham, who gave this table to Lord Powerscourt was an officer in the Madras Army, a member of the Mysore Commission as secretary to Mark Cubbon, and a literary editor. Described by Powerscourt as Sampage or Chumpawood, the present table is made of Magnolia champaca, more commonly referred to as Champak. This is perhaps the only known piece of British or Irish furniture made from this exotic wood.
Powerscourt House and Gardens
Powerscourt, one of Ireland's great historic homes, was granted to the Wingfield family by James I in 1609 and the house and formal gardens were largely redesigned by the architect Richard Castle in the 1730s and 1740s. The 7th Viscount, who acquired this table, was an inveterate collector and well-known connoisseur who spent considerable sums ornamenting the house, its interiors and gardens. He was an important figure in the cultural life of Dublin in the late 19th century, an avid supporter of the Royal Hibernian Academy. He also served as chairman of the Art Union of Ireland and president of the Royal Dublin Society.