Ref NoMS/405
TitleCatalogues of the herbarium of the Honourable East India Company
AdminHistoryFrancis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762 - 1829) was a surgeon, botanist, geographer and natural historian. His talent for methodical observation and his interest in a wide variety of subjects assisted him in making surveys and collecting specimens from the regions of India, Nepal and Myanmar in which he stayed.

Buchanan (later Hamilton, and now known as Buchanan-Hamilton or Hamilton-Buchanan) was born on 15 February 1762 in his family's estate of Bardowie, Scotland, to Thomas Buchanan, a physician, and Elizabeth Hamilton. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and was a founding member of the university's Natural History Society alongside his friend James Edward Smith (1759 - 1828). After graduation, Buchanan served as a medical officer on the British East Indian Company's (EIC) ships bound for Bombay, Bengal and China before being employed by the company's medical service in 1794 as an assistant surgeon in Bengal.

Buchanan-Hamilton's career with the EIC spanned twenty years and afforded him with opportunities to explore the Indian subcontinent and collect natural history specimens for his research. He was often commissioned by the EIC to investigate and report on the regions he was stationed in. His surveys recorded the topography of the landscape and its geology, the species of plants and animals he encountered, the people and their daily lives, the economy and the different aspects of the culture and societies he observed.

The first of these surveys was of the Kingdom of Ava (Myanmar), which he made while on a political mission led by Captain Michael Symes in 1795. This survey became known as the 'Ava Catalogue', parts of which were later included in Syme's book on the mission. However, the plants described in this publication were mistakenly attributed to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks (1743 - 1820), who merely selected the plants for inclusion and used Buchanan-Hamilton's descriptions and drawings. Following his time in Ava, Buchanan-Hamilton was commissioned to survey the dominions of Tipu Sultan (1750 - 1799) in southern India, following his defeat in the third Anglo-Mysore war. Buchanan-Hamilton went on to make the first botanical collections from Nepal when stationed a year in Kathmandu, and later conducted an extensive seven-year survey of the Bengal Presidency. These detailed accounts were effectively the first of their kind for these regions and were helpful in developing scientific and cultural knowledge of south Asia.

These explorations also afforded Buchanan-Hamilton the opportunity to collect many botanical specimens, which he would often send to his friend William Roxburgh (1751 - 1815), Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Garden to be studied and kept in his herbarium. Alongside his plant collecting he also hired several local artists to accompany him on his expeditions and create pen and ink and watercolour drawings of the plants he collected. Unfortunately, only a few of these artists are known to us since the drawings are unsigned. However, the artists that are known to have drawn for Buchanan-Hamilton were called Singey Bey, Haludar and Vishnuprasad. Bey was appointed by Symes to assist Buchanan-Hamilton during the Ava expedition and learnt how to sketch plants from the surgeon-botanist. Haludar accompanied Buchanan-Hamilton on his expeditions to Mysore, Nepal and possibly during his survey of Bengal; the last alongside Vishnuprasad in 1807. Buchanan-Hamilton's reports, specimens and drawings from his early surveys were given to his employers, who in turn gave them to Banks. His collections from Mysore and Nepal were given to Smith and Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761 - 1842), and his Bengal material was presented to Company officials in Calcutta and London.

In 1814 Buchanan-Hamilton succeeded William Roxburgh as the superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, but only held the position for a few months. He left India in 1815 due to ill health and returned to Scotland to retire. Having used the name Buchanan for most of his life he changed it to Hamilton in 1818 so that he could inherit his mother's estate. However, it seems that both of his surnames are still used when referring to his work often in the form of a double-barrelled name. He died in 1829 and is buried in the family burial ground on Leny Estate, near Callander, Perthshire.
DescriptionFair copies of manuscripts, relating to the Herbarium of the Honourable East India Company, written into a hardback leather folio Letter book, ruled pages with watermark 'T Edmonds 1823'.
Date[1823 - 1825]
LevelSeries
Extent3 files
Related MaterialFor Buchanan-Hamilton collection see: MS/399, MS/401, MS/401D, MS/401F, MS/401M, MS/402, MS/402D, MS/403, MS/405 and MS/488.
NotesThese relate to when the East India Company presented its herbarium, and residual plant collections, to the Linnean Society in 1832, at the end of the first stage of Nathaniel Wallich's 1828-1832 distribution. The Linnean Society Council Minutes for 6 November 1832 refer to the loaning of the original Hamilton, Heyne and Russell catalogues by the EIC, for copying by the Linnean Society.
Creator NameFrancis Buchanan-Hamilton collection
Access_StatusOpen
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