Richmond William Hullett

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Richmond William Hullett (15 November 1843 - 1914) was an English 19th century headmaster, explorer and plant collector. He was often associated with Singapore than Hong Kong. His fields of influence include language and education, conservation, exploration and botany in Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia, and England, and his achievements have inspired Chinese scholars.

Hullett discovered the plant Bauhinia hullettii[1] (a synonym for Bauhinia ferruginea var. ferruginea[2]) on Mount Ophir in Malaysia.[1] The Bauhinia, an orchid-like plant with delicate flowers, became his passion. A variant of Bauhinia, known as Bauhinia blakeana, has been adopted by Hong Kong for its national flag. Bauhinia blakeana was adopted as the floral emblem of Hong Kong by the Urban Council in 1965. Since 1997 the flower appears on Hong Kong's coat of arm, its flag and its coins. A statue of the flower was presented to the people of Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China and is today to be found in Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong.[citation needed] Although the flowers are bright pinkish purple in colour, they are depicted in white on the flag of Hong Kong. The origins of Bauhinia blakeana are not known. The plant itself is a cross of two variants.[citation needed] It is sterile and the trees we see today all over Hong Kong came from one plant discovered in Hong Kong in the 1880s, possibly the result of one of Hullett’s many experiments in propagation.[citation needed]

Early years[edit]

Richmond William Hullett was born on 15 November 1843, in the parish of Allstree in Derbyshire, England.[citation needed] He was the third son of The Reverend John Hullett and his wife Cecilia. Hullett had five brothers and one sister. Richmond William Hullett’s father was a clergyman in the parish of Allstree.[citation needed] His father was ordained Deacon of Gloucester in 1838. The Rev John Hullett Snr was a renowned scholar and theologian. He was an undergraduate at St John's College Cambridge in 1834.[citation needed] The Rev John Hullett authored a number of books throughout his life as a country parson. Richmond and his brothers and sister lived in the country parsonage in Allestree, Derbyshire.[citation needed]


Richmond Hullett was sent to Rossall boarding school in Lancashire England.[citation needed] At Rossall he was an exceptional student particularly in mathematics. He won a scholarship to enter Trinity College Cambridge to study maths. He entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1863 and graduated in 1866 as 31st Wrangler, taking a first-class honours degree in the mathematical Tripos[3].[2]


Following his graduation from Cambridge University, Hullett secured a teaching post as assistant master at the prestigious Puritan Felsted School in Essex, England. Felsted was founded in 1564 by the First Baron Riche. Four of Oliver Cromwell's grandsons were pupils here between 1621 and 1674. During Hullett's time here as assistant master under the leadership of Jamaican born headmaster William Stanford Grignon (MA Cantab), Hullett began to show interest in his two lifelong diversified passions; language and botany. Hullett left Felsted Grammar School in 1871 in order to take up a new senior post as principal of Raffles Institution in Singapore.[citation needed]

Headmaster of Raffles Institution[edit]

Hullett became the longest serving (1871–1906) headmasters of Raffles Institution and the Hullett Memorial Library, the Hullett house in the house system, as well as the Hullett block in the Raffles Institution Boarding Complex, are all named in honour of him.[citation needed]

Straits Philosophical Society[edit]

Hullett was a member of a number of learned societies. He was a member of the Straits Philosophical Society which was 1893 to engage in critical discussions on philosophy, theology, history, literature, science, and art. The society played a developmental role in the intellectual and cultural life of colonial Singapore.[citation needed] Its founding members were Major-General Sir Charles Warren (president), the Rev. G. M. Reith (secretary and treasurer), John Winfield Bonser, Walter Napier, Henry Nicholas Ridley (fellow plant collector and explorer), J. Bromhead Matthews, J. McKillop, D. J. Galloway (Dr), A. Knight, Tan Teck Soon, T. Shelford, G. D. Haviland (Dr), R. N. Bland, and C. W. Kynnersley. The society largely comprised the intellectual elite of the colonial administration. Active membership, which was capped at 15, was opened to Singapore residents only. Priority for admission was given to university graduates, fellows of European learned societies, and people with distinguished merit.[citation needed]

One of the members Tan Teck Soon was an influential Chinese scholar and former pupil of Hullett who contributed to the reformist impulse within the Chinese community in Singapore around the turn of the 20th century.[citation needed] In 1873, at the age of 14, Tan became the first Straits Chinese to win the Guthrie Scholarship for Chinese boys, which enabled him to go to Amoy to continue his Chinese studies. At the Raffles Institution, Tan was one of the first pupils of Hullett. Tan purchased the Daily Advertiser as a vehicle for communicating to the public their ideas about the need for reform within the Chinese community.[citation needed] Tan was editor and proprietor of the paper from 1890 to 1894. In it he tried to keep the local Chinese community abreast of political and cultural developments in China. Tan was involved in running the Singapore Chinese Educational Institute from 1891, the inaugural lecture for which was given by Tan’s old school master, Hullett. Another of Hullett's pupils was the respected Lim Boon Keng, OBE a Chinese doctor who promoted social and educational reforms in Singapore and China. Lim Boon Keng studied medicine at Edinburgh University in the UK.[citation needed]

The Linnean Society[edit]

Hullett’s passion for plant collecting, recording and discovery of new plant species, led him to him being appointed a Fellow of The Linnean Society (FLS). He remained a member until 1909.[citation needed] The Linnean Society of London is among the oldest of London's Learned Societies and is the world's oldest active organisation devoted exclusively to natural history.[citation needed]

The Straits branch of the Royal Asiatic Society[edit]

Hullett made many contributions to the Straits branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Hullett’s friend and fellow plant collector Henry Nicholas Ridley was also amongst its council members. Apart from enjoying elite patronage, the Society during the colonial period received government grants, donations from the Sultans of the Malay States, franking privileges, government provision of premises and facilities for printing and map-making.[citation needed]

Hullett's achievements[edit]

Whenever Hullett had the opportunity he would embark on expeditions to collect and record plants throughout the 1880s and 1890s.[citation needed] A number of his significant plant discoveries were found on Mt Ophir (4,186 ft/1,276m) in Malaysia. Although today Mount Ophir is one of the most popular and most climbed mountains, in Hullett's day it was a significant trek and often a dangerous expedition.[citation needed]

Hullett's plants[edit]

Another important plant brought back to China from Mount Ophir by Hullett was a variant of Impatiens (Busy Lizzie).

In 1956 in a seeming case of ‘plant envy’ it appears that Hullett was blamed for the inadvertent release to other areas of Southeast Asia Linaria alpina. The following is an extract taken from the original article which apportions blame to Hullett because of the use of ‘old rough drying paper’ to transport the seedlings[3]

"Another singular case of distribution, too strange to be true, is that of Linaria alpina DC. found on Mt Ophir in Malaya, by HULLETT. The sheet contains one miserable 5 cm long flowering branch which can exactly be matched with European specimens. It is glued on the sheet and Mr VAN DER WERFF did not succeed in finding on a tiny fragment, aerial diatoms which might give a clue. Although the locality was very well known in the field, RIDLEY and nobody else has succeeded in recollect Linaria alpina there. The habitat, a wet place would ecologically be abnormal. Personally I am convinced that this specimen has been erroneously localized, the error in all probability having arisen by the use of old, rough drying paper which had been employed formerly in Europe and was brought along to Malaya and to which this tiny specimen adhered and escaped attention until it was loosened with the Mt Ophir collection of HULLETT"

Citrus Halimii[edit]

One of the most significant cases of lost plants is that of the wild Malaysian citrus tree believed to be 12 million years old (now endangered). Citrus halimii (a close relative of the kumquat and pomelo variety of citrus), was collected by William Tatton Egerton on Mount Ophir, 28 December 1902.[citation needed] In a letter to Henry Nicholas Ridley, Egerton writes:

Dear Ridley,

I send to you by Hullett some leaves and fruit of a mountain lemon or citron found growing in primaeval jungle at a height of 2200 feet about 2 miles from the Burkit Tangga Pass to Jelebu. It may well be unknown but I expect to hear that you know it well.

Yours sincerely,

W. Egerton


The Residency,


Prior to human cultivation the genus citrus originated in South East Asia and consisted of just a few specimens. The leaves and fruit were brought back by Hullett but they seemed to have been ‘lost’ for over 70 years, nobody knows quite what happened to them. However, when the seedling was ‘rediscovered’ in the Herbarium of the Botanic Gardens Singapore, it was documented, and named in 1973.[4] Erroneous labelling of some specimens may account for the seeming disappearance of some varieties of plants. Important varieties of Hullett’s collection remain to this day in the Herbarium of the Botanic Gardens Singapore. Citrus halimii, was named after the King of Malaysia His Majesty Duli Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Yang DiPertuan Agong of Malaysia.

Hullett and Ridley collected plants on the granite island of Pulau Uban, Singapore. The original vegetation probably consisted of lowland forest and mangrove swamps. Today much of the original vegetation has been cleared. Nearly 600 out of 2,257 native plants are now extinct; deforestation and disturbance have been the main causes of plant species extinction in Singapore.[5] During Hullett's collection on the island he discovered the Canavalis bean, seeds of which are in the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens, they were recorded in 1922 in Stanley and Lantao Island.[6]

Macaranga hullettii (The Ant Plant)[edit]

Macaranga, which occurs predominantly in peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra, is the world's largest genus of pioneer trees. It grows in small gaps in forests, along riverbanks, roadsides, and in logged areas. Macaranga hullettii tree species known from Maritime Southeast Asia are colonized by specific ants[7] which are required for the successful pollination of this specific Macaranga tree. Without Hullett's discovery of one of the popular Euphorbia varieties of plants we may not have the distribution in Southeast Asia which we enjoy today, specifically continuation of M. hullettii is most important for the colony of tiny ants which require this to survive.[8] Hullett spent a collected plants in Indonesia particularly in Sindang Laya in Java. Here Hullett found a species, Erechtites valerianifolia[4], which is known for its medicinal properties and its ability to induce sleep.[9]

The later years and death[edit]

Hullett was the author of a book entitled "English sentences with equivalents in colloquial Malay" published in 1887.[citation needed] Following Hullett's 1906 retirement as principal of the Raffles Institution, he became inspector of schools in the Straits settlement and director of public instruction in Singapore.[citation needed]

Hullett died in Wandsworth, London UK in 1914.[citation needed]

Hullett's legacy[edit]

Hullett's legacy has stretched beyond Southeast Asia, but his major contributions were to Hong Kong, Sumatra, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and Singapore. Recent field studies in Hong Kong rediscovered ferns which may have been discovered by Hullett.[citation needed] The earliest reported survey of Hong Kong plants was in 1841 documented by Bentham in 1861.[citation needed]

In 2001, the Hong Kong Herbarium published the Checklist of Hong Kong Plants four times. The most recent checklist (2002) shows that 242 fern species have been recorded in Hong Kong. There have been great changes in the environment, vegetation and species of Hong Kong since the First and Second Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century. Although documented extinctions of species are few, it is certain that some species have disappeared from Hong Kong because of the massive human impact, and complete deforestation at low altitudes must have resulted in the loss of a substantial fraction of Hong Kong’s native flora in the past. Nevertheless, on a more positive note in a recent survey on the biodiversity of Hong Kong during 1996 to 2002, four fern species were ‘rediscovered’ 100 years after they were first collected.[10]

The story of how the Bauhinia arrived in Hong Kong - A short botanical history[edit]

The story of how Bauhinia arrived in Hong Kong takes us back more than 500 years, to a time of plague, pirates and perseverance, for it was a time when early botanists began to make their mark on the world. The earliest printed herbal to include a series of plant illustrations: The Herbarium Apulei, Rome, circa 1481- was one of the most widely used, and most practical, remedy books of the Middle Ages. It describes 131 plants, giving a multitude of prescriptions for maladies, ranging from madness, paralysis, dysentery, fertility, stomach ache and ulcers, to antidotes for various poisons. Similarly, Macer Floridus's ‘De viribus herbarum carmen’, Milan, is considered the first printed herbal, with poems describing the medicinal and dietary properties of 77 herbs. The Renaissance saw an immense increase in botanic study and publication. Perhaps the most celebrated botanical work ever printed was written by Leonard Fuchs (a physician who gained his initial fame by finding a cure for the English sweating sickness) ‘De historia stirpium’, Basel, 1542 (or, Notable commentaries on the history of plants) was first published in 1542. A massive, folio volume, this landmark work describes in Latin some 497 plants, and is illustrated by over 500 woodcuts based upon first-hand observation, this provided the first comprehensive study of plants. The Historia is undoubtedly Fuchs' greatest work, and is without equal among the herb books of that era. A labour of love some thirty one years in the making.

Within a short period, botanical texts were being published throughout Europe. Notable contributors and contemporaries of Fuchs to the advancement of botany are Hieronymus Bock’s ‘De stirpium commentariorum libri tres’, Strassburg, 1552. Hieronymus Bock (1498–1554), who directed the botanical garden in Zweibrücken, Germany, was a close observer of nature, he was probably the first botanist of the 16th century to feel the necessity of some sort of classification. Bock did not limit his descriptions to the flowering stage of the plants, but described them accurately at various stages in development, providing a concise life-history of each plant. His observations on plant communities foreshadowed the modern science of ecology. In fact, Bock was the first to have recorded the seasons of annual flowering, and he is regarded as the earliest forerunner of Linnaeus, who, as we shall see later was important in naming Bauhinia.

After Bock came Otto Brunfels’s ‘Herbarum vivae eicones ad naturae imitationem’, Strassburg, 1531–36 and the next generation of scientists, from the great Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens to Italy's Pietro Andrea Mattioli were born. Johann Bauhin (1541–1630) who was a student of Leonard Fuchs wrote an equally weighty tome the ‘Historia plantarum universalis’, a compilation of all that was then known about botany, this was incomplete at his death, but was published at Yverdon in 1650-1651, thirty-seven years later. Gaspard (or Casper) Bauhin (17 January 1560 – 5 December 1624), Johanns brother later wrote his magnum opus The ‘Pinax theatri botanici’ (English, Illustrated exposition of plants) which is a landmark of botanical history, describing some 6,000 species and classifying them.

Whilst the classification system Gaspard Bauhin used was not particularly innovative, using traditional groups such as "trees", "shrubs", and "herbs", and for instance grouping spices into the Aromata, he did correctly group grasses and legumes. It is most likely that this is the work which led Carl Linnaeus (inspiration for the Linnean Society) in deference to the Bauhin brothers 200 years earlier to honour Casper and his brother Johann by naming the genus Bauhinia after them in his 1753 Species Plantarum whose prime importance is perhaps that it is the primary starting point of plant nomenclature as it exists today. After the legume was named Bauhinia by Linnaeus and documented in his Herbarium in 1755 there is little record of the genus. It is recorded in The Linnean Proceedings of 1858 and 1909. On 7 November 1912, H. N. Ridley addressed the Linnean Society to discuss his discovery of a Bauhinia found in Mount Menuang, Selangor, Malaysia.

A hybrid of Bauhinia, the Bauhinia blakeana (also known as the Hong Kong Orchid Tree Bauhinia blakeana), was first discovered in Hong Kong by a French missionary in the 1880s, growing in the grounds of an abandoned house close to the shore near Pokfulam, Hong Kong Island. The close proximity of the tree to a former habitation led S. T. Dunn, in 1908 (then superintendent of the Botanical and Forestry Department) to suggest that it was an introduction (but by whom and when?). The missionary collector subsequently propagated it in the grounds of the nearby Pokfulam Sanatorium run by the Missions Étrangères de Paris, and from there it was introduced to the Hong Kong Botanic Gardens and the grounds of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Canton (now Guangzhou). Dunn (1908) subsequently formally named it Bauhinia blakeana in honor of Sir Henry Blake, Governor of Hong Kong between 1898 and 1939.[11]

The Hong Kong Orchid Tree is of great horticultural value. It is completely sterile and is shown to be the result of, probably natural, hybridization between Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia variegata. Vegetative propagation occurs in Bauhinia blakeana, but only artificially, as a result of active horticultural practices such as grafting and rooting of cuttings: there is no evidence that B. blakeana is capable of self-propagating. It has only been perpetuated genetically by artificial horticultural practices and therefore it is not capable of reproducing itself independently. Additionally, there is no evidence that B. blakeana originated more than once, and there is strong circumstantial evidence suggesting that all trees cultivated today originate from a single ancestor, grown in the Hong Kong Botanic Gardens. It is often called the orchid tree in Hong Kong. The flower of B. blakeana was adopted as the emblem of Hong Kong in 1965 and since 1997 has been part of the flag of the SAR. How the single ancestor tree came to the shores of Hong Kong remains shrouded in mystery.


  1. ^ 1. Journal of the Linnean Society, Botany, Vol. XLI, July, 1913
  2. ^ "Hullett, William (HLT863W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ 2. Diatoms as Tracers to Localize Erroneously Labelled Specimens. C. G. G. J. van Steenis Source: Taxon, Vol. 5, No. 7 (Sep. - Oct., 1956), pp. 157-158 Published by: International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT) Stable URL:
  4. ^ 3. Citrus halimii: A New Species from Malaya and Peninsular Thailand. Benjamin C. Stone, J. Brian Lowry, R. W. Scora, Kwiton Jong Source: Biotropica, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Sep., 1973), pp. 102-110 Published by: The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation. Stable URL:
  5. ^ 4. A Study of Plant Species Extinction in Singapore: Lessons for the Conservation of Tropical Biodiversity. I. M. Turner, H. T. W. Tan, Y. C. Wee, Ali Bin Ibrahim, P. T. Chew, R. T. Corlett Source: Conservation Biology, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 705-712 Published by: Blackwell Publishing for Society for Conservation Biology Stable URL:
  6. ^ 5. A Revision of Canavalia (1922), C. V. Piper and S. T. Dunn, Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew), No. 4, p. 129-145 Published by: Springer on behalf of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Stable URL:
  7. ^ 6. The Contribution of Ant-Plant Protection Studies to Our Understanding of Mutualism, (Jun., 1998) Judith L. Bronstein Biotropica, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 150-161. Published by: The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Stable URL:
  8. ^ 7. Thrips pollination of the dioecious ant plant Macaranga Hullettii (Euphorbiaceae) in southeast Asia, (2002). American Journal of Botany, Vol. 89, No. 1, pp. 50–59. Ute Moog, Brigitta Fiala, Walter Federle, and Ulrich Maschwitz.
  9. ^ Corlett, R.T. 1992. The naturalized flora of Hong Kong: a comparison with Singapore. Journal of Biogeography 19, 421-430.
  10. ^ 8. Rediscovered ferns from Hong Kong, China, (2004) Yue-Hong Yan, Fu-Wu Xing , Zhong-Liang Huang, South China Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China. Newsletter of the Department of ecology and biodiversity, The University of Hong Kong, July 2004, No. 31.
  11. ^ Hybrid origin of "Bauhinia blakeana" (Leguminosae: Caesalpinioideae), inferred using morphological, reproductive, and molecular data. (2005) American Journal of Botany. Vol. 92, pp. 525-533. Carol P. Y. Lau, Lawrence Ramsden and Richard M. K. Saunders.