Sir Henry Barkly was a British colonial governor with a lifelong interest in statistics and the natural sciences. After a largely mercantile education and some years as a sugar broker in his father's business, he entered politics in 1845 as representative of Leominster in the House of Commons. He was appointed governor of British Guiana in 1848, and in July 1853 was nominated Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) in recognition of his remarkable skill and ability. From 1853 to 1856 he was governor of Jamaica, and then governor of Victoria, Australia, to 1863. His first wife, Elizabeth H. Timmins, whom he had married in 1840, died in an accident in Melbourne in 1857 and three years later he married Anne M. Pratt, who thus became the second Lady Barkly*. Henry served as governor of Mauritius from 1863 to 1870 and published Notes on the fauna and flora or Round Island (a small island north-east of Mauritius) in 1870. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1864, and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1870.
Barkly succeeded Sir Philip Woodhouse as governor at the Cape of Good Hope from August 1870 to March 1877. His efforts to institute responsible government met with considerable local opposition, and he had the difficult task of handling the problems created by the discovery of diamonds in the Kimberley area. He proclaimed Griqualand West a British dependency in 1871, a move which led to lengthy political problems. Meanwhile he was also required to convince the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal) to enter a federation with the British colonies in southern Africa, according to the plans of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Carnarvon. In 1874 he was awarded the title Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG).
Despite his busy political life, Barkly found time to pursue his interest in botany. Particularly from 1873 to 1877 he made every effort to collect Stapeliae from all over South Africa, and cultivated them at Government House in Cape Town. As they flowered, drawings were made by Lady Barkly and Henry's daughter, Miss Emily B. Barkly. Copies of the drawings were sent to Kew Gardens, near London, with specimens (both live and preserved in alcohol) and Henry's descriptions of the living plants. Not all the new species were discovered by Barkly himself. Some were received from Mrs M.E. Barber*, Colonel J.H. Bowker*, Thomas C.J. Bain*, and other collectors. The Stapeliae Barklyanae were described by N.E. Brown* and published in Sir Joseph Hooker's Icones Plantarum in 1890. Henry corresponded with Hooker*, then director of Kew Gardens, who discussed his donations at length in a letter to Henry dated 13 March 1874. Also among his correspondents were the British geologist Sir Roderick Murchison and other scientists of the time. With Lady Barkly he collected ferns, and assisted her in compiling her revised list of South African ferns, published in 1875. At his insistence the compilation of the Flora Capensis was resumed, and his efforts secured financial support for the project from the legislatures of the Cape Colony and Natal. In the prefaces to Volume 6 (1897) and Volume 4.1 (1909) of the Flora Capensis the editor, W.T. Thiselton-Dyer*, thanked him for these efforts, and for the specimens of succulents he presented to Kew Gardens.
Barkly also presented a few trilobite and mollusc fossils from the Cedarberg to the Albany Museum, Grahamstown. He is commemorated in the names of the Australian plant genus Barklya, in Stapelia barklyi and several other species of plants, and in the names of the towns Barkly East and Barkly West. He retired on pension in March 1877 and returned to England, where he served as director of various companies and devoted himself to literary pursuits. He also became president of the Bristol and Gloucester Archaeological Society, and contributed various papers to its Transactions.