Clarke, Charles Baron, 1832-1906

Alternative names
Birth 1832-06-17
Death 1906-08-25

Biographical notes:

Epithet: FRS; botanist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001476.0x000113

Epithet: writer

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001476.0x000114

Born in Andover, England, the eldest son of Turner Poulter Clarke, Charles Baron Clarke (1832-1906) developed an interest in botany early in life which he pursued avidly while employed in the colonial service in India. At Trinity College, Cambridge (1852-1856), Clarke was immersed in a socially and politically progressive set that included Henry Fawcett, Leslie Stephen, and John Rigby, and he maintained these friendships and political connections throughout the remainder of his life. Never entering politics himself, he lent assistance to Fawcett during two campaigns for office in the mid-1860s, and he occasionally entered into political discussions as a pamphleteering critic of free trade.

After receiving an MA at Lincoln's Inn in 1859, Clarke was also elected Fellow and Lecturer in Mathematics at Queen's College, Cambridge, where he remained until 1865. His interest in botany grew during his years in Cambridge, and he frequently took part in arduous hiking and botanizing expeditions in England and the continent. Although critical of some aspects of British colonial policy, he was himself a staunch colonialist, and like his elder brother before him, turned his eyes eastward to further his career.

Clarke entered the civil service in Bengal in 1865, joining the staff of Presidency College in Calcutta and winning appointment as inspector of schools in eastern Bengal. As inspector, his duties took him to schools throughout Bengal, enabling him to collect plants from a startling range of localities and habitats which he meticulously documented in building an unparalleled herbarium of native species. After his transfer to Darjeeling in 1875, Clarke found time to survey the unique flora of Nepal and Bhutan, and during a furlough in 1876, he visited Kashmir, all the while expanding the depth and breadth of his collection. Not merely a collector, Clarke published regularly on his discoveries, producing two major monographs while in India, Commelynaceae et Cyrtandraceae Bengalenses (Calcutta, 1874) and Compositae Indicae Descriptae et Secus Genera Benthamii Ordinatae (Calcutta, 1876).

During his return home on furlough from 1877 to 1879, Clarke presented his herbarium to the botanical gardens at Kew. Numbering over 25,000 specimens and 5,000 species -- the truly massive fruits of colonial natural science -- Clarke's herbarium was a sufficiently important collection to merit retaining him at Kew to assist in its description and its incorporation into volumes 2, 3, and 4 of Joseph Hooker's Flora of British India . It was not until 1883 that Clarke finally returned to India to resume his duties as inspector of schools. During this second tour of duty, he was assigned to Shillong, Assam, near the "frontier" with Burma, enabling him to collect in yet another region. In 1887, Clarke returned home for good and settled at Kew to concentrate his efforts on botany. His later publications, issued mainly through the Transactions of the Linnean Society, include studies of plants from the Philippines, Africa, South America, and Asia.

Clarke gained wide recognition in British scientific circles for his work. In addition to being named superintendent of the botanical gardens in Calcutta from 1869-1871, he became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1867 (of which he was President from 1894-1896), of the Geological Society in 1868, and of the Royal Society (1882). Never married, Clarke died at home in Kew in 1906 after overexerting himself while bicycling.

From the guide to the Charles Baron Clarke papers, 1832-1906, 1867-1906, (American Philosophical Society)


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Ark ID:


  • Botany--India


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  • Assam (India) (as recorded)
  • India (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)