|Dr. Clarke Abel (1780-1826) was Chief Medical Officer and Naturalist to the Embassy of Lord Amherst to the Court of Peking, and in Canton 1816-17. This was Britain's second attempt at establishing relations with the emperor of China. After detailed observation and collection of assorted cultivated and wild plants on the Embassy's way to and back from the capital, in January 1817 Abel visited the famous nursery gardens at Fa tee (Fa ti). These were situated on the southern bank of the river, about three miles from Canton. Embassy quarters were in the village of Ho nan on the opposite side of the river to the British Factory. Abel was appointed to the embassy on the suggestion of Sir Joseph Banks. Returning from China in 1818, Abel was subsequently appointed Physician to Lord Amherst in India, where the doctor later died.|
Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China and of
a Voyage to and from that Country, in 1816 and 1817
"The Lycopodium, which
had seen growing in dry places in the Canton Province, and which might
perhaps be best compared to a fir tree in miniature, he found cultivated
in the Fa ti gardens, but in pots, kept in a tub filled with water."
History of European Botanical Discoveries in China
(Leipzig: Zentral-Antiquariat; 1981, reprint of the original 1898 edition), pp.
225, 234, and 235-236, which state that on the 17th of February, the
Embassy's ship struck a coral reef in the Gaspar (Banca) Straights and became a
total wreck, but all the people were saved. All of Abel's original collections
went down with the ship. He then procured a small collection of Chinese
plants while at Batavia in the east Indies, and his later written identifications
came from specimens courtesy of a benefactor to whom Abel also gave the
small collection. And the Embassy, upon reaching St. Helena on
June 27, is recorded as having had an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte.
Per "The Fa Tee Nurseries of South China" by Hazel Le Rougetel (
the Journal of the Garden History Society; London; Vol. 10, No. 1, pp.
70-73), pg. 73, "During the visit to China in 1981 it was quite by
chance, when visiting a Horticultural Commune in this area just outside
Canton, they learned that one of the Brigades works in a nursery which
has existed for two hundred years and so hastened to see it.
The inscription over the gate leading to the small walled garden
gives the name of the Brigade as Hwa Di, mandarin for the Cantonese Fa
Tee. There are a few trees around the perimeter and an aged
frangipani, then in flower, in the middle, bonsai are ranged along the
narow paths and some of the old buildings remain on one side.
Thus it was very much on the lines of the East India Company's garden
; certainly it was contemporary with it and most
probably would have been visted by
and Reeves. Today's garden historians may well have been following in the footsteps
of those three early collectors in China's Flowery Land."
Reeves (1774-1856) arrived in China in 1812 as a tea inspector for the Canton Factory of the East India Company, a lucrative position. Before his departure for China, he had been introduced to Joseph Banks through a relative and had received instructions for collecting curious plants and botanical lore. In China, Reeves developed broad interests in science, including astronomy, but he devoted the majority of his attention to horticulture and natural history. Like most of his contemporaries, he practiced science as a gentlemanly pursuit, a respectable hobby rather than a true vocation. He published a few brief notes in obscure journals, collaborating with the missionary-sinologist Robert Morrison on a paper about Chinese materia medica and a report on a solar eclipse, neither of which received notice from the scientific community in Britain. He also helped Morrison with the scientific terms in his English-Chinese dictionary.
John Reeve's success derived less from his learning than from his zeal, social connections, and economic resources. He purchased large numbers of new finds from the Fa-tee nurseries and sought rarities in the gardens of his Chinese friends, notably Puankequa II and that merchant's brother, "the Squire." Though most died en route, he shipped thousands of plants to Britain. He offered help and patronage to collectors sent out by the Horticultural Society of London, securing them access to the gardens of local Chinese merchants and introducing them to Thomas Beale and John Livingstone. Many of the plants Reeves sent to England were from Beale's garden; as were the exotic birds he brought home with him.
His most important contributions to natural history were the detailed botanical and zoological drawings that he sent to the Horticultural Society and his other scientific correspondents.
( http://www.huntington.org/BotanicalDiv/Timeline.html, 1816; Le Rougetel, pp. 71, 72; Fan, Fa-ti British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press; 2004), pp. 43-45, 174. The above illustration of the Gardens ("Huadi," spelled differently in the writings of British travelers and residents in China) across the river from Canton is Figure 1 after pg. 90 with the caption: "Vicinities of the Canton Factories. The Canton Factories were located outside the southwestern corner of the walled city of Canton, on the banks of the Pearl River. Although foreigners were not allowed to enter the city except on rare occasions, they were in daily contact with the Chinese along the Pearl River and in the neighborhood of the Canton Factories." No source given. Per pg. 15, Western traders were confined to a corner of Canton, staying in a row of warehouses, called the Factories, a few hundred yards long.)
See also Tiffany and Hickok.