S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Owen, Miss M C (plant collection)

Born: 1802, London, United Kingdom.
Died: 1854, Alexandria, Egypt.

Miss M.C. Owen was a sister of the British missionary Reverend Francis Owen (1802-1854), who came to southern Africa under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society in 1837 to establish a mission station in Zululand. Miss Owen accompanied her brother and his wife. They arrived in Cape Town on 2 March 1837 and two weeks later sailed for Algoa Bay, where they landed on 25 March. After making preparations in Grahamstown they left for Port Natal (now Durban) by ox-waggon on 28 April. At the recently named King William's Town they met Reverend John Brownlee*. From the Wesleyan mission station at Butterworth they followed more or less the same route as had been taken earlier by J.F. Drege* and arrived at Port Natal on 17 June. Miss Owen remained there while Francis visited the Zulu King Dingaan. On 15 September that year the party left Port Natal and settled near Dingaan's kraal at Gingindlovu. After witnessing the massacre of Pieter Retief and his party of Voortrekkers on 6 February 1838 they decided to abandon the mission and were allowed to leave after most of their possessions had been confiscated. They reached Port Natal after a difficult journey owing to sickness among the oxen and flooded rivers. Here they met the lay preacher Wallace Hewetson*, who had come to assist Francis. In May that year they all sailed for Lourenco Marques, and from there to Algoa Bay.

After some time in Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort, the party (including Hewetson) set out in August 1839 to re-open the French mission station at Mosega, south of present Zeerust, where the fugitive Zulu chief Mzilikazi had established his people. The Owens arrived there in December 1839. However, the Church Missionary Society closed down its operations in South Africa the next year, with the result that the Owens left Mosega on 30 September 1840. After a stay of five months at Kuruman, partly because Miss Owen had suffered an accident, they reached Grahamstown in May 1841 and sailed for England on 30 September.

A parcel of plants said to have been collected by Miss Owen during her travels reached W.H. Harvey* in Dublin through an intermediary in Grahamstown. Over 40 specimens in the first three volumes of Harvey and Sonder's Flora Capensis (1859-1865) are recorded as collected by Miss Owen at Port Natal or in the "Zooloo Country", which would make her only the second collector of note (after Drege) to have visited that territory. However, the specimens had no collector's labels and it seems unlikely that they would have survived her return from Zululand. Furthermore, many of the plants do not occur in KwaZulu-Natal, and some of the citations are dated 1840, when she was at Mosega. It seems likely therefore that the specimens from the "Zooloo Country" were collected mainly during the second part of her travels, and they may furthermore have been collected jointly by her and Hewetson. Whatever the case may be, Harvey named Clematis oweniae after her. Miss Owen's specimens remain in the Trinity College Herbarium, Dublin.

List of sources:
Bayer, A.W. Aspects of Natal's botanical history. South African Journal of Science, 1971, Vol. 67, pp. 401-411.

Bayer, A.W. Discovering he Natal flora. Natalia, December 1974, No. 4, pp. 42-48.

Cory, G.E. (ed.) The diary of the Reverend Francis Owen. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, VRS No. 7, 1926.

Desmond, R. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturalists. London: Taylor & Francis and Natural History Museum, 1994.

Dyer, R.A. The botanical collections of Miss Owen recorded from Port Natal and the "Zooloo Country". South African Journal of Science, 1959, Vol. 55, pp. 319-320.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botancal exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Compiled by: C. Plug