Obituary: Cornish Torbock

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The Independent Online
Henry Cornish Torbock, art collector: born Appleby 23 March 1905; died near Penrith 17 June 1993.

CORNISH TORBOCK and his elder brother Dick (Commander RN retired) spent most of their long lives in the battlemented and mullioned Victorian house near Penrith in which they had been brought up; neither married. Cornish, chivalrous and extrovert, devoted much of his inheritance to forwarding his chosen good causes, reserving enough to enjoy his chief pleasures in life, which were gardening, social life, music, collecting, watercolours, shooting with friends over his grouse moor and flower arranging.

Cornish was educated at Eton (where he was the first boy to be allowed leave to attend Chelsea Flower Show) and New College, Oxford, later qualifying as a chartered accountant. As Captain RA during the Second World War, he was ordered to arrange the deportation of a group of White Russians: knowing that in Russia they would face certain death, he played for time by repeatedly bodging the forms, eg, under 'Racial Origin' entering 'Neo-Georgian', until the order was rescinded some weeks later.

Cornish Torbock worked tirelessly for the causes of his choice. Chief among these was the National Art Collections Fund, which he had joined at the age of 15 while still an Eton. He was the NACF Area Representative for Cumberland and Westmorland for 50 years; he was also a Governor (and benefactor) of Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, an energetic worker for the Red Cross in Westmorland, and a member of the Carlisle Diocesan Board of Finance. He was never timid about fund-raising, and had a powerfully idiosyncratic voice; few could resist what one of his friends called 'Cornish's trombone entry'.

Gardening was Torbock's greatest passion. He generously shared his skills as plantsman and designer, and kept a special bed in his garden for plants to give to friends. Highly gregarious, he belonged to societies as various as the International Dendrology Society, the Handel Opera Society and the Georgian Group.

From the 1930s, Cornish Torbock collected English watercolours. Since he could not afford the works of the greatest masters, he resolved to pursue good examples by obscure artists, jubilantly rescuing such nonentities (his word) as Tobias Smith of Southampton or John Anderson of Dudley from oblivion.

Trees and Lake District scenes dominated his eventually large collection, housed in the old billiard room, which also accommodated the fading colours and scents of innumerable hanging bunches of dried flowers (for charity sales).

(Photograph omitted)