Richard C. Prior, medical practitioner and amateur botanist, originally had the surname Alexander, but in 1859 his maternal uncle left him property with the request that he change his name to Prior, which he did. He was educated at the University of Oxford, where he obtained the degrees Bachelor of Arts (BA, 1830) and Bachelor of Medicine (MB, 1837). He qualified as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP), and was later elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS).
Prior had wide-ranging interests, as can be judged from his publications. He published his Poetical works in London in 1835, translated ancient Danish ballads (London, 1860), wrote a pamphlet on the dialects of Somerset (1870), and a monograph on croquet and ancient bat and ball games (London, 1872). His only book relating to botany was On the popular names of British plants... (London, 1863), dealing with their origins and meaning. There were several later editions.
Prior came to the Cape Colony in April 1846 with a letter of introduction to Dr C.W.L. Pappe* from Sir W.J. Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London. He resided in Cape Town for thirteen months and then travelled to George and Uitenhage, collecting a large number of plants. He also undertook a journey into the Karoo by ox-wagon. After returning to England in May 1848 he travelled to the United States, Canada and Jamaica in 1849 to collect plants and also made periodic visits to various European countries. His herbarium collection, including about 7000 South African plants, was left to Kew Gardens, but there are also many of his South African specimens in the herbarium of the Natural History Museum, London. The West Indian plant genus Prioria was named after him, as were the species Sterculia alexandri and Aspalathus priorii (both by W.H. Harvey*), Erica priorii (by F. Guthrie* and H. Bolus*), and Stachys priorii.