Dombeya wallichi is the scientific name for this attractive plant and is named after a certain Josephe Dombey, a noted French botanist and plant collector, but who seemed cursed with bad fortune.
His outstanding exploration, cataloguing and collecting of new species all form important parts of botanical collections in the British Museum, The Royal Garden Collection in Madrid and the Museum of Natural History in Paris. In 1778 the French government sent him to Peru, where he amassed a significant herbarium. In 1780 he sent the collection back to France, but the ship carrying his cargo was captured by the British, who kept the collection, despite overtures from the French government that continue to this day. Josephe Dombey was able to assemble another collection containing some 300 specimens but when it was prepared for shipping the Spanish authorities confiscated it on grounds that indigenous specimens were not permitted export to foreign countries. This collection was subsequently sent to Spain where it formed the basis for a florilegium of "La Flora Peruana" produced for the Spanish Crown by noted Spanish botanists Pavon and Ruiz. As if that was not bad enough, he proceeded to Chile in 1782 where he assembled an outstanding collection of Chilean flora, but on his return to Europe he landed in Cadiz, Spain in 1785 whereupon his collection was confiscated and he himself was imprisoned. Dombey was only able to secure his release after assuring authorities he would not compete with Pavon and Ruiz' work, and even then was only about half of his Chilean herbarium was returned to him.
Such was his reputation for thorough work that he was able to secure a stipend from the French government, and retired to practise medicine in Lyon.
This turned out to be also not fortuitous as Lyon was a hotbed of the revolutionary resistance, and Dombey found many of his patients being removed from his practice and dispatched to the guillotine during the French Revolution. With the assistance of friends within the "Committee for Public Safety" Dombey, was given an important diplomatic mission to introduce the new Metric system to the US congress, with the sponsorship of many luminaries including Thomas Jefferson. He set sail for North America in 1794, yet the same bad fortune that plagued his entire professional life struck again, and even as the prospect of Philadelphia was on the horizon, a sudden violent storm swept the brig he was on down to the Caribbean where Dombey made landfall on the island of Guadeloupe. The governor of the island was still loyal to the French crown and immediately imprisoned the poor doctor. However, many of the townsfolk who were supporters of the Revolution, upon learning a representative of the new French government had been imprisoned rose up and stormed the garrison, freeing Dombey. However, in the ensuing violence Dombey caught a fever and rapidly perished.
It is quite amazing that the USA came so close to adopting the metric system early in its history, especially when one considers the disaffection for all thing British was quite prevailing in the New World. Yet literally, the winds of history blew that opportunity away, and to this day we continue to use a ponderous sytem of measurement based on an English monarch's shoe size that has even been abandoned by Britain.