19th Century Collectors
This section displays the early scientific discoveries and encounters between European explorers and local species through the lens of scientific accumulation which supplied many natural history collections in Europe and beyond. Emphasizing the historical role of Hong Kong as a trade port within the British imperial network
Scroll to read the stories ↓
Story 1: 1816 Clarke Abel
As chief medical officer on Lord Amherst’s embassy to China, Abel was the first Western naturalist to describe the natural environment of Hong Kong. Stopping en route to China, Abel spent a day and a half in Hong Kong collecting rock and plant specimen for future study.
Dichotomy Forked Fern
A common fern of Hong Kong. On arriving in Hong Kong in 1816, Abel was drawn to ‘a beautiful cascade’ and islands that ‘in the distance…appears fertile’. However, he soon found them to be ‘remarkably barren’, with few plants apart from the teeming Dichotomy Forked Ferns he found on two separate islands (identified as Polypodium trichotomum in his records)
Narrative of a journey in the interior of China, and of a voyage to and from that country, in the years 1816 and 1817
University of Hong Kong Libraries Collection
Over 200 years old, this rare book serves as an account of Abel’s observations of southwestern Hong Kong Island at the time. Apart from his naturalist records, it also contains a watercolour painting of Waterfall Bay in Aberdeen. The illustration is one of the earliest Western paintings of Hong Kong and now resides in the Hong Kong Museum of Art collection.
Story 2: 1848 John Eyre
Serving in Hong Kong from 1847-51, Eyre often took time to walk on the many narrow mountain paths of Hong Kong Island. From his walks, he painted close to 200 watercolour paintings of flowering plants. He also sent plant seeds he had collected to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London (also known as the Kew Gardens). After his death, his paintings eventually became a part of the Kew Gardens collection.
Hong Kong Gordonia