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Section 1

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


Abel Clarke

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 / Polypodium dichotomum

Dichotomy Forked Fern

Polypodium dichotomum

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)

Clarke Abel

Narrative of a journey in the interior of China, and of a voyage to and from that country, in the years 1816 and 1817

published 1818

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

The Soldier

John Eyre.png

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.

John Eyre
Hong Kong Gordonia / Polyspora axillaris

Hong Kong Gordonia

Polyspora axillaris

A native plant of Hong Kong, it was originally classified as part of the genus Camellia in 1818. John wrote in his 1851 watercolor painting memo: "one of the most frequent trees in the Island, its clusters of white blossoms meeting the eye on every side as you wander among the hills. It blossoms in October, November, December;  the seed I gave to Sir W. Hooker in the month of September 1851.” 

Botanical Watercolour Paintings 

Collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


Eyre drew close to 200 watercolours of flowering plants in Hong Kong. They were all accompanied by short botanical summaries with details of when and where he found the plant. They also occasionally included the names of his fellow travellers as well. Reproduced for public display in Hong Kong for the first time, the 20 watercolour paintings reproduced in the exhibition are plants still commonly found on Lung Fu Shan and the Peak.

Story 3: 1893 S.B.J. Skertchly


S.B.J. Skertchly

Living in Hong Kong from 1883-95, Skertchly taught botany at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese. An enthusiast for the natural sciences, he had a passion for butterflies in particular and in 1893 published Hong Kong’s first butterfly list with 116 recorded species.

S.B.J. Skertchly
The Butterflies of Hong Kong

The Butterflies of

Hong Kong

In the late 19th century, Skertchly had already complied a list of 116 species of butterflies on Hong Kong Island. Most of these are still present in Hong Kong and 40 of these species can be found on Lung Fu Shan. Currently, the number of species recorded in Hong Kong is 266. Approximately half of these (129 species) can be spotted on Lung Fu Shan.

Our Island—A Naturalist's Description of Hong Kong (1893)

Our Island is the first popular science book entirely dedicated to Hong Kong Island's natural history. Beginning with examining Hong Kong’s geological origin, the book explores the island’s wildlife in detail. Ever the butterfly enthusiast, Skertchly ends the book with a list of butterflies in Hong Kong.

Our Island—A Naturalist's Description of Hong Kong (1893)
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