Carl Alfred Bock (Biographical details)

Carl Alfred Bock (collector; scientist/engineer; Norwegian; Male; 1849 - 1932)

Also known as

Bock, Carl Alfred; Bock, Charles Alfred


Natural scientist and traveller. The son of a merchant, Bock was brought up and educated in Oslo. In 1868 he went to England where he married Mary Jane Absalon, and after a year of study and travel found a job with the Swedish-Norwegian Consul in Grimsby. When the Consul died, he moved to London to pursue his interest in natural science, building up a circle of contacts which included members of the London Zoological Society.

After an expedition to Norweigen Lapland in 1877, Bock travelled to Indonesia in 1878 under commission of the ninth Marquis of Tweedale, Arthur Hay, to undertake a bird-collecting trip to Sumatra. He arrived in Batavia (modern Jakarta) and then travelled by steamer to the port of Pandang in West Sumatra. After collecting at several sites in this area he returned to Pandang and then again to Batavia in June 1879. He made two shipments, one which arrived safely in London and was reported to the London Zoological Society on 6th January 1880. The second and more important shipment, containing species of birds, mammals and reptiles, was lost when the ship carrying the container sunk in the Red Sea.

Bock was then commissioned to undertake an expedition to Borneo by the Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies, Johan Willem van Lansberge, to gather information on the native peoples of the south-eastern interior. After spending some time around Batavia, Bock set sail for Borneo, via Java, Bali and Sulawesi. His ship departed from Bali headed for Macassar on the 7th July 1879, and he travelled onwards for Borneo on the 14th. His memoirs mention a brief stop at Pare-Pare, north of Macassar, where he had a meeting with the Rajah and asked for specimens of native workmanship. He reports of buying some “neatly made boxes of coloured straw” and of bargaining with the men for some lances and knives when the ship’s bell summoned him to return. During his expedition he met Modang Dayak, Penan, 'orang bukit’ Dayak and Tring Dayak people.

Bock’s self-funded trip to Thailand (then called Siam) and what is now northern Thailand in 1881-2 included visits to the towns of Bangkok and Ayutthaya in central Thailand, Raheng (Tak) in the west, and in the north, Lamphun, Lakhon (Lampang), Chiangmai, Fang, Kiang Hai (Chiang Rai), and Kiang Tsen (Chiang Saen). He travelled in Sichuan (Szechuan) and Tibet in 1893.

Works include: various articles in 'Proceedings from the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London' in 1878, 1879, and 1881; 'The Head-Hunters of Borneo: a narrative of Travel up the Mahakkam and down the Barito; also, Journeyings in Sumatra' (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1881; reprinted Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1985); 'Temples and Elephants: The Narrative of a Journey of Exploration Through Upper Siam and Lao', (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1884; reprinted Singapore Oxford University Press, 1986).


Chapter by Bob Reece in 'Explorers of South-East Asia: Six Lives', edited by Victor T King, pp.194-228 (1995, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press); also Reece's introduction to 'The Head-Hunters of Borneo' (reprinted in Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1985).