Abel, Clarke (DNB00)

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ABEL, CLARKE (1780–1826), botanist, was born about 1780, educated for the medical profession, and on the occasion of Lord Macartney's mission to China was appointed physician on the staff of his lordship, but by the good offices of Sir Joseph Banks he was nominated naturalist with three assistants. He joined H.M.S. Alceste at Spithead on 8 Feb. 1816, accomplished the voyage to China, where he made large collections, and on returning home on 16 Feb. 1817 the ship struck on a reef off Pulo Leat, at the entrance of the straits of Gaspar, and became a total wreck. A portion of the crew proceeded to Batavia in a boat; the remainder were rescued from a position of great peril by H.M.S. Ternate on 6 March.

The whole of Abel's collections went down in the ship, with the exception of a small collection he had previously given to Sir George Staunton. The latter, on hearing of the collector's misfortunes, at once returned the plants, and they were described by Robert Brown in a botanical appendix to an account of the voyage written by Abel under the title of ‘Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China, 1816–7,’ London, 1818. In this volume will be found also descriptions of the ‘orang-outang’ and the boa, and his observations on the geology of the Cape have been highly praised. Dr. Abel was subsequently appointed physician to Lord Amherst, the governor-general of India, and died in that country on 24 Nov. 1826. The immediate cause of his death was a fever, but he had been in feeble health for some time, and his constitution was never robust. He was a fellow of the Linnean and Geological Societies of London, and a member of the Asiatic Society and Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta. Robert Brown dedicated a genus to him, Abelia, founded on one of the plants formerly presented to Sir George Staunton.

[Biog. Nouv. Univ. i. 109; Abel's Narrative; Asiatic Journal, xxiii. (1827) 669; Gent. Mag. xcvii. pt. ii. (1827) 644.]

B. D. J.