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Three Major Gardens in Hong Kong

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East Point (1868)


Photograph by Floyd, William Pryor

©️ Vacher-Hilditch Collection and Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution


When Jardine Matheson & Co. entered Hong Kong in 1841, they built houses, factories piers, and private gardens in East Point (now Causeway Bay). Whether the East Point garden, like Green Bank, was involved in the plant cultivation, research, and logistical affairs of plants; and the role of Bowring in this garden, remain unknown.

Before a public botanical garden existed in Hong Kong, East Point of Jardine Matheson & Co., Green Bank of their rival Dent & Co., and the Spring Garden (now Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai), which had by then been converted into the residence of the Governor of Hong Kong, were the most renowned gardens in Hong Kong.

Type Specimen of Cycad-fern

© The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Cycad-fern (Brainea insignis), a native fern to Hong Kong, was confirmed as a new species by Kew’s director Hooker and named as Bowringia in 1851 after receiving the specimen from Bowring. In fact, Kew had already received a live plant of Cycad-fern back in 1850, brought to England by Braine; the plant was thought to be dead at the time, and was found growing new shoots only two years later. After realising that another new genus (Bowringia) had been named after Bowring, the genus was named after Braine as Brainea instead.

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All stories in Chapter 1


Other Stories

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Period of stay in Hong Kong: 1842–1864

Interest in natural history: Insects, especially beetles; ferns and orchids

John Charles Bowring (1821–1893)


The Insect Master

Bowring was a successful merchant who came to China in his early twenties. He became a partner of Jardine Matheson & Co. in 1854, one of the few outside the Jardine family. It is said that his vast connections in Chinese business circles greatly contributed to his father’s appointment (Sir Bowring) as British Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade in 1849, and later the fourth Governor of Hong Kong.

An insect enthusiast, he ventured into the wild whenever he could. In 1847, when Captain Champion came to Hong Kong, they became friends and often went insect-collecting together. By the time Bowring returned to England, his insect specimen collection exceeded 80,000, all of which were donated to the British Museum (the collection was later split and became part of the Natural History Museum). In recognition of his contributions, the entomological community had been naming new species after him since the 1840s. Over the next century, nearly 50 species of insects were named bowringi or bowringii.

Not only did Bowring collect insects, he also studied their behaviours. In 1850, he found a new moth (Genus Epipyrops) and found its larvae to be parasitic. It was the first time that a moth with parasitic behaviour was discovered. Unfortunately, the specimen he sent to the Entomological Society of London (now Royal Entomological Society) in the same year was damaged during transport, and the new species therefore was not recognised. Nonetheless, his subsequent attempts to send specimens to the Society, not only resulted in the confirmation of the new species, but also led to the creation of a new genus in 1876 and a new family (Parasitidae*) for the moth in 1902.

Influenced by Champion, Bowring started collecting plants and became more passionate about ferns. His greatest contribution to botany was the delivery of two living Pith Paper Plants from Hong Kong to Kew in 1852, which helped Hooker solve the mystery that had puzzled the Western botanical community for decades. He also kept two plants and published a paper on them when they flowered. It was the only botanical paper he ever published. When he left Hong Kong and returned to England, he was just around forty years old. The wealth he had accumulated in China allowed him to focus on his naturalist interests. He began growing orchids and got into hybrid orchid breeding, an experimental process that was still at a nascent stage at the time. He was the first amateur naturalist to experiment with this type of breeding. In 1876, he successfully bred Selenipedium x stenophyllum (now Phragmipedium × stenophyllum, a hybrid of the Genus Paphiopedilum). 

*There are eight distinct categories in taxonomic classifications: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. With each step down the taxonomy, organisms are classified into more specific groups. For example, humans belong to Animalia (kingdom), Chordata (phylum), Mammalia (class), Primates (order), Hominidae (family), Homo (genus), and H. sapiens (species).

Bowring's Discoveries

Black Flightless Tiger Beetle

The Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1844)

©️ Natural History Museum, London

The journal records the insect specimens from Hong Kong Island that Bowring sent to the British Museum. He drew the picture on page 422 to give British entomologists a better understanding of the features of Black Flightless Tiger Beetle. He wrote, "I have been much surprised at finding that there is so great a difference between the insects on this island and those on Macao Peninsula, a difference for which it is difficult to account, in places so close to each other (Macao is only 40 miles off).”

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