Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hance, Henry Fletcher

HANCE, HENRY FLETCHER (1827–1886), botanist, was born on 4 Aug. 1827 at Old Brompton, London. Much of his early childhood was spent at the house of his maternal grandfather, Colonel Fletcher, R.N., at Plymouth, but he received his education in London and on the continent. At the age of seventeen (1844), when he had already begun the study which was to make his name famous, he entered the civil service of Hongkong, from which in 1854 he was transferred to the superintendency of trade in China, and shortly afterwards to the British consulate at Canton. There, during the riots consequent upon the Arrow affair, he lost valuable collections of books and botanical specimens. During the war which followed Hance was stationed again at Hongkong; but on the conclusion of the treaties he returned to the consulate at Canton. In 1861 he was appointed vice-consul at Whampoa, near Canton, and continued to occupy that post until 1878, when he took temporary charge of the Canton consulate, on the retirement of Sir Brooke Robertson. In 1881 and again in 1883 he acted as consul at Canton, and it was during this last year that he was called upon to face one of the most serious riots which have occurred in that turbulent city. In May 1886 he was appointed acting consul at Amoy, where he died of fever on 22 June following. Four days later he was buried in the Happy Valley at Hongkong. Though possessing a decided gift of acquiring languages, as his very perfect knowledge of Latin, French, and German testified, Hance declined to study Chinese, and hence obtained little promotion. He devoted all his leisure to botanical studies, and thus added greatly to our knowledge of the flora of China. Among his papers, contributed to Hooker's 'Journal of Botany,' were: 1. 'On some new Chinese Plants.' 2. 'On some Chinese Plants.' 3 'Notes on new and little known Plants in China.' He added a supplement to Bentham's 'Flora Hongkongensis,' containing seventy-five new species of plants, and was a constant contributor to the 'Journal of Botany,' the 'Proceedings of the Linnean Society,' the 'Annales des Sciences Naturelles,'and other scientific journals. Sir Joseph Hooker says: 'With regard to Dr. Hance's botanical attainments and the value of his labours, I can speak in very high terms. For upwards of forty years he devoted all his spare time to investigating the vegetation of China, displaying rare ability in mastering the technicalities of structural and descriptive botany, at the same time enriching the scientific journals in England with accounts of new plants of great interest, in a botanical and economic point of view. In all that he attempted he aimed at critical accuracy in identification and diagnosis, and this he attained in an eminent degree, so that there is no possibility of failure in recognising from his descriptions the plants he had under examination.' In 1877 Hance was elected a member of the Imp. Leopoldino-Carolina Acad. Naturæ Curiosorum, one of the oldest scientific institutions in Germany, and he was also a fellow of the leading botanical societies in England and abroad. By the terms of his will his herbarium, consisting of over twenty-two thousand different species or varieties, has been offered to the trustees of the British Museum.

[Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, ed. James Britten, F.L.S., No. 289, January 1887.]

R. K. D.