Marc Henri Pasteur (1827-1909)

Marc Henri Pasteur of Wynches, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, and of Grand Saconnex, near Geneva was born on 29 October 1827 at Geneva, the elder son of Georges Louis Guillaume Pasteur, the Directeur des Postes, Geneva. Henri, or Henry, Pasteur was educated at the College of Geneva, and came to England in 1846 when he entered the office of his uncle Adolphe Pasteur, carrying on the business of an East India and Colonial Merchant, under the name of Patry and Pasteur in Mincing Lane.

He was sworn a special constable at the lime of the Chartist riots in 1848 and was naturalised as an English citizen in 1851. He joined the 6th Surrey Rifle Volunteers in 1859 and there became acquainted with Sir Alfred Wills. He became a partner in the firm of Patry and Pasteur, but left it in 1887 to carry on various commercial enterprises, in connection with which he travelled to South Africa in 1889 visiting Kimberley, Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Zoutspansberg, and British Bechuanaland. In 1893 he again visited South Africa and also Portuguese East Africa, this time being accompanied by his youngest son, C. H. Pasteur. He was Chairman of Oceana Consolidated Co. Ltd., and of the Southern Land Company Ltd., and was a Director of Conrad Stannite Mines Ltd., South African Agency Ltd., New Egyptian Company Ltd., Van Rym Gold Mines Estate Ltd., and was on the London Board of the Mozambique Company.

So much for his official biography, most of which is given in the Alpine Club Register, vol. ii. But although it all sounds very grand and prosperous, it was not really as good as it might seem. From all accounts, Henri Pasteur was a man of great charm and a delightful companion; he seems to have been a born optimist, trusting in the complete integrity of all his friends and acquaintances and believing, in spite of more than one setback, that all the world was as honourable and upright as he was himself. As a result, of course, his companies were liable to unforeseen hazards and there is little doubt that he was taken in on more than one occasion. But they did well enough, and the Pasteurs lived a happy, contented, and full life;(5) and if they did not leave much money to their children, C. H. Pasteur used always to say that they all had lots of fun together when they were young and got the value of it in that way.

However absorbing his financial hopes and worries may have been to him, there is little doubt that it was in his family relationships that Henry Pasteur and his wife found their real success. They lived for many years at 19 Queen Street, Mayfair, and each summer, usually in June, they migrated to their country house at Grand Saconnex, near Geneva, which had been brought into the Pasteur family by Adrienne Fatio, but which Henry Pasteur had bought from his uncle Adolphe Pasteur’s executors. Mrs. Pasteur disliked any roughness of the sea, and it was not unusual for the whole party to put up at Dover or Folkestone until the wind dropped. They usually took all their English servants, including the page-boy with them; and on one occasion took the coachman and two English horses as well, but the horses died of some kind of typhoid soon after reaching Grand Saconnex and the experiment was not repeated. Lady Morse, their second daughter, told me that the coachman was desolate, but consoled himself by marrying the children’s nurse!

Grand Saconnex is a largish house, as Swiss country houses go — it is now used by some branch of U.N.E.S.C.O. or similar international body — and in their later years was a wonderful centre for all their children and grandchildren. From Grand Saconnex, the family usually moved to the mountains. Like Charles Morse, Henry Pasteur was a very early member of the Alpine Club, and the love of mountains of these two men has persisted in their families to this day and has been the cause of untold pleasure to many of their descendants.(6) He first went to Chamonix in 1846 and ascended the Buet; and from that time onwards he visited the Alps regularly, his ascents including Monte Rosa, Ruitor, Aiguille du Midi, the traverse of Mont Blanc by T. S. Kennedy’s route, with C. E. Mathews, F. Morshead and his youngest son C. H. Pasteur, and the Aiguille de Tacul. His chief love, however, was Chamonix and the Mont Blanc range, and the Montenvers was a very favourite resort of the family, where most years several Pasteurs and their friends would be staying. Henry Pasteur was also a talented draughtsman and his black and white sketches of mountain scenery are very pleasant. He was elected a member of the Alpine Club in 1873, was on the committee from 1882–5, and was Vice-President from 1893–5.

During 1896 he moved from Queen Street in London to Wynches, Much Hadham. Wynches, so far as the house is concerned, is still much as it was in those days, and is a very comfortable small- to medium-sized country house. The grounds are entirely ruined by the remains of war-time camps and concrete roads, but like Sacconex at Geneva one can see what a delightful centre it made in England for the whole family — and with all their children they were a big family. Henry Pasteur, who was a J.P. for Hertfordshire, died at Morillon, his brother Adolphe’s house, near Geneva, on 28 July 1909, and was buried at Petit Sacconex. Grand Saconnex was sold, not long afterwards.

Sir Alfred Wills in his obituary for the Alpine Club wrote of him:

In person, Pasteur was rather over the middle height, strongly built and well proportioned. His countenance indicated both firmness and gentleness. He was clean-shaven, except for a moustache. His face had an oval contour, regular and graceful, his features were finely chiselled and well-defined. It was not till within some two years before his death that even streaks of grey began to show on the abundant black hair, which showed no trace of baldness, and to the last his activity was but little impaired, and both at Sacconex and at Wynches he would do a day’s work in his gardens and grounds such as many a young man might have envied. Just as in mental activity, so in his love of Nature, years seemed to have no power over him, and he might well have said

Age hath not dimmed
In me my relish of fair prospect — scenes
Which pleased and charmed me young, no longer young
Still please me, still have power to charm.

His character was marked by integrity, justice, fidelity and charity. To those who differed from him he was scrupulously fair and even generous. He spoke ill of no man and had no uncharitable thoughts. His manners were distinguished, with something of the courtly grace of an older time. There was a heartiness and sincerity about his welcome of a friend of which many readers must have felt the charm. His placidity of temper, his unruffled cheerfulness in all situations and circumstances, his never-failing courtesy and consideration for others as well as his great stores of information and the accuracy of his memory made him a delightful companion, and were never better illustrated than in mountain travel, which has a singular knack of bringing to the surface the roughness as well as the pleasanter elements of character. He was the most faithful and the most constant of friends.

On 11 June 1854, he married Caroline Emma Marcet, second daughter of Professor Marcet, F.R.S. There was a large “dîner de famille” at Malagny on the night before the wedding (7). They sat down thirty-two and there seems to have been rather a lot of food by present-day standards; but in 1854 in England no doubt it would have been much the same.

She was called “carotte” by her husband, and from all accounts was beloved of all her children and grandchildren. Of course, to own two houses like Wynches and Grand Saconnex, one in England and one in Switzerland, and to be able to entertain all one’s children and grandchildren is an advantage which very few people could have in these days, for reasons of staff, if for no other. But even so, these two were obviously particularly skilful and successful at entertaining them all — and there were such a lot of them! William had three children, Isabel had one (a boy who lived much with them when his parents were in India; and how they did spoil him!), Annie had four and Charles had four; and all these young cousins, to say nothing of their Swiss contemporaries, met at Wynches and at Grand Saconnex and got to know each other well. This, I think, explains the unusual way in which all the cousins on this side of the family have kept in touch with each other, even in middle-age; very much more marked than is usually the case in England, and very much more pleasant.

Mrs. Pasteur died at Wynches, Much Hadham on 7 August 1917, aged eighty-two and was buried there. I would say that their children were much in the debt of Henry and Caroline Pasteur, and that their great-grandchildren probably owe them more than they will ever realise.


(5) Their second son, Edward, died as the result of a chill caught at school when he was fifteen years old. The boy’s father wrote a very moving account of his last week of life, from 7 to 13 March 1872, in great detail — and in rather the same way as his mother had done for her father eleven years previously. It consists of a notebook of nineteen clearly written pages and is now in the possession of Col. F. M. Pasteur. It is in French, and it should be remembered that this was Henry Pasteur’s real language, and that he and his wife normally spoke it when together. [back to text]

(6) vide An Alpine Club Pedigree, Appendix V. [back to text]

(7) vide seating plan and menu in Appendix S, also a copy of the marriage contract, and Caroline’s letter of thanks to her future in-laws for some lace, a dress, and other things which they must have sent her as a present. [back to text]

Source: Family Notebook, Volume 2. MORSE-PASTEUR, by Brigadier J.R.T. Aldous. Printed privately for Brigadier J. R. T. Aldous by Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich, 1964. Courtesy of J.G. Aldous

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