Henry Whitehead, Anglican clergyman and plant collector, came to the Cape Colony late in 1855 and was appointed curate of the English Episcopal Church in Namaqualand. He was stationed on the farm Modderfontein, just west of Springbok, to minister to the many English persons who had flocked to the region as result of the copper mining boom. He spent only about a year there and during this time collected plants, mainly on Modderfontein, the adjacent farm Ezelsfontein, and in the Clanwilliam district. He sent his specimens to W.H. Harvey* in Dublin, Ireland, who thanked him in the preface to Volume 2 of the Flora Capensis (1862) "for a collection of plants from Namaqualand, carefully dried and well selected, containing some new and many rare species, in better condition than any which we have previously received from that arid district". Harvey named the genus Whiteheadia (with a single species; family Liliaceae) after him, as well as the species Crassula whiteheadii (since renamed).
In 1856, following a decline in mining activity in Namaqualiand, Whitehead was transferred to Tulbagh, where he remained for about five years. At some time before 1858 he collected ferns for the Synopsis Filicum Africae Australis (1858) by C.W.L. Pappe* and R.W. Rawson*. In 1861 he was sent to St Helena, where he remained for the rest of his life. From there he sent ferns to Kew Gardens.