S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Wright, Mr Charles (plant collection)

Born: 29 October 1811, Wethersfield, Connecticut, United States.
Died: 11 August 1885, Wethersfield, Connecticut, United States.

Charles Wright, American teacher and plant collector, was the son of James Wright and his wife Mary Goodrich. Charles studied at Yale College (later Yale University) in New Haven, Connecticut, graduating in 1835. He was interested in plants from an early age, but was initially employed as a private tutor (1835-1836) and then as a school teacher at various places in eastern Texas (1837-1845), where he also did some surveying and collected plants. He sent his specimens to Professor Asa Gray of Harvard College in 1844. From 1845 he did his teaching and private tutoring in central Texas. In 1849 he accompanied United States troops from San Antonio to El Paso, Texas, collecting plants along the way. During 1851-1852 he was employed as botanist to the United States-Mexican boundary survey and made an extensive plant collection, especially in New Mexico and Arizona. Many of his specimens were sent to Professor Gray, who published descriptions of the new species in Plantae Wrightianae (Part I, 1852-1853; Part 2, 1853) and in Botany of the Mexican Boundary Survey (1859).

In 1852 Wright obtained the position of botanist to the United States North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition, led by John Rodgers and Cadwalader Ringgold, and comprising five well-equipped ships. The expedition set out from Norfolk, Virginia, in June 1853 and spent six or seven weeks in Simon's Bay, Cape of Good Hope. During that time Wright made a large collection of plants, including several species of lichens. The lichens were sent to Tuckerman in the United States, while more than 500 specimens of plants were made available to W.H. Harvey* and O.W. Sonder*, who thanked him for his contribution in the preface to Volume 1 of their Flora Capensis (1860). Before the expedition returned to America in 1856 Wright collected plants also at Hong Kong, Japan, and the Ryukyu Islands (Japan). Subsequently he conducted botanical explorations in Cuba (1856-1867, with interruptions), and in 1868 was acting curator of Professor Gray's herbarium at Harvard College. He ended his career as librarian of the Bussey Institution, a department of Harvard University for agricultural students (1875-1876). During 1869-1870 he published four short papers on natural history topics. After retiring he collected plants at Wethersfield, Connecticut, where he died. The genus of American plants Carlowrightia was named in his honour by Professor Gray.

List of sources:
Bolus, H. The orchids of the Cape Peninsula. Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society, 1888, Vol. 5(1), pp. 75-200 (see notes on collectors, pp. 90-92).

Debus, A.G. (ed.) World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

Dictionary of American biography. New York: Scribner, 1927-1936.

Doidge, E.M. The South African fungi and lichens to the end of 1945. Bothalia, 1950, Vol. 5, pp. 1-1094 (see p. 30).

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

Harvey, W.H. & Sonder, O.W. Flora Capensis, being a systematic description of the plants of the Cape Colony, Caffraria, and Port Natal (Vol. 1). Ashford, Kent: L. Reeve, 1894 (originally published 1860).

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Compiled by: C. Plug