Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Clarke, Charles Baron
CLARKE, CHARLES BARON (1832–1906), botanist, born at Andover, Hampshire, on 17 June 1832, was eldest son of Turner Poulter Clarke, J.P., by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of James Parker and Elizabeth Ward. He inherited botanical tastes from his father's mother, Elizabeth Baron, whose brother Charles founded the Agricultural Society of Saffron Walden and was an enthusiastic gardener (Journal of Botany, 1890, p. 84). Clarke was at a preparatory school at Salisbury (1840-6), and at King's College school, London (1846-52). He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1852. At the university he became the close friend of Henry Fawcett, of Leslie (afterwards Sir Leslie) Stephen (F. W. Maitland, Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, p. 73), and of John (afterwards Sir John) Rigby [q. v. Suppl. II]. All held what were then considered advanced political and social views. In 1856, when Clarke was bracketed third, Rigby came out second wrangler, and Fawcett seventh. After graduating B.A. in 1856, Clarke was elected fellow of Queens' College, and from 1858 to 1865 was lecturer in mathematics there. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1858 and proceeded M.A. in 1859. Clarke, who was through life a tireless walker, spent most of his Easter vacations in the Lake district, and on his last visit in 1865 he and Leslie Stephen climbed together the Pillar Rock, Wastdale. In Switzerland, too, he combined Alpine climbing with plant-collecting. Meanwhile he actively helped Fawcett in his candidature for parliament at Cambridge in 1863 and at Brighton in 1864, and aided him in his studies in political economy.
In 1865 Clarke entered the uncovenanted civil service of Bengal. He joined the staff of the Presidency College at Calcutta, and was subsequently inspector of schools in eastern Bengal, with his headquarters at Dacca. He had already collected with care the plants of his native place; and he published at Calcutta in 1866, in a threepenny pamphlet, 'A List of the Flowering Plants ... of Andover' (cf. Journal of Botany, 1867, pp. 51-9). Clarke continued to collect in India with Spartan zeal. Within two and a half years in Eastern Bengal he got together 7000 specimens, which were lost in the wreck of a boat in 1868. His existing collections date from May 1868. His knowledge of the Indian country soon equalled that of Hamilton, Wallich, or Hooker, and was second only to that of William Griffith [q. v.]. To his specimens he attached full field notes made on the spot. He generally neglected trees, and concentrated his attention for several years together upon single natural orders. From 1869 to 1871 Clarke acted as superintendent of the Calcutta botanical gardens and of cinchona cultivation in Bengal. Returning to his work as an inspector in 1871, Clarke studied in 1872 the Eastern Sundarbans, and in the following year he visited Chittagong. Transferred to Calcutta in 1874, he published there his second work, ‘Commelinaceæ et Cyrtandraceæ Bengalenses,’ and reprinted Roxburgh's ‘Flora Indica’ of 1832 at his own expense. In 1876 he issued a monograph on the Compositæ, to which and to the Gentianaceæ his interest was now directed. In 1875 he was transferred to Darjeeling, and explored the Nipal frontier and British Bhutan. Next year, during a three months' furlough, he visited Kashmir, ascending 17,000 feet in the Karakoram range.
In 1877 Clarke came home on two years' furlough, and presented his herbarium, some 25,000 specimens, representing 5000 species, to the Kew herbarium. Settling down to voluntary botanical work for Sir Joseph Hooker's ‘Flora of British India,’ he was placed on special duty at Kew on the expiration of his leave in 1879, and described, between 1879 and 1883, more than fifty natural orders for the second, third, and fourth volumes of Hooker's work. Returning to India in 1883, Clarke was temporarily appointed director of public instruction in Bengal in 1884, and went in 1885 as inspector to Shillong in Assam, when he studied the flora of the Khasia, Naga, and Manipur hills.
Retiring from India in 1887, Clarke settled at Kew with his brother, Poulter Clarke, to work mainly at Cyperaceæ, on which his authority was soon recognised. In the Linnean Society's ‘Transactions’ he described the Cyperaceæ of the Malay peninsula in 1893–4, those of Mt. Kinabalu in 1894, those of Matto Grosso in 1895, of Madagascar in 1883, those of India in 1884 and 1898, and those of China in 1903–4. In Engler's ‘Jahrbücher’ he described those of Chile; and after his death his descriptions of those of the Philippines appeared in the ‘Philippine Journal of Science,’ and those of the African species in the ‘Bulletin of the French Botanical Society’; whilst 144 plates prepared under his supervision were published, and his monumental monograph of the entire group, although unpublished, was practically completed.
Clarke became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1867, and of the Geological Society in 1868; from 1880 he served on the council of the former, being a vice-president from 1881 and president from 1894 to 1896. He was elected F.R.S. in 1882, and served on the council from 1888 to 1890. He joined the Geologists' Association in 1897, and constantly engaged in its excursions. In his later years he took to bicycling, riding long distances by day only, without lamp, brake, or bell. He died at Kew, unmarried, of internal inflammation, mainly brought on by excessive bicycling, on 25 Aug. 1906, and was buried at Andover.
To Clarke, Sir Joseph Hooker dedicated in 1880 the Rubiaceous genus Clarkella. His exceptionally versatile interests found expression in ‘Speculations from Political Economy’ (1886); in a ‘Class-book of Geography’ (1889); in an ethnological paper, ‘On the Stone Monuments of the Khasi Hills,’ in the ‘Journal of the Anthropological Institute’ for 1874; in a musico-mathematical note on ‘Equal temperament of the scale’ in ‘Nature’ (1883); and in an unpublished history of England down to the reign of James I. His botanical works, besides those cited and many scattered papers in scientific journals, included monographs on the Commelinaceæ (1881) and on the Cyrtandraceæ (1883) for the continuation of De Candolle's ‘Prodromus,’ and an account of the ferns of British India in the Linnean Society's ‘Transactions’ (1879). He described the Acanthaceæ, Gesneraceæ, and Commelinaceæ for Sir William Thiselton-Dyer's ‘Flora Capensis,’ and for Professor Daniel Oliver's ‘Flora of Tropical Africa’; and several orders for Schmidt's ‘Flora of Koh Chang’ and for Sir George King's ‘Malayan Flora.’
[Journal of Botany, 1906, pp. 370–377, by Colonel Prain and the Rev. W. H. Bliss (with an excellent portrait from a photograph); Kew Bulletin, 1906, pp. 271–281, with full bibliography; Nature, 1906, lxxiv. 495; Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1906–7, pp. 38–42; Proceedings of the Royal Society, lxxix. series B, pp. xlix–lvi.]