Ref NoMS/488
TitleCommentary on the Hortus Malabaricus - Francis Buchanan-Hamilton
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.
DescriptionA commentary by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton on Hendrik van Rheede's 'Hortus Malabaricus' (meaning "Garden of Malabar") which was a treatise, on the properties of the flora of the Western Ghats region principally covering the areas now in the Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa, published in 1678-1693. This manuscript by Buchanan-Hamilton is divided in to 14 parts, including an index and cuttings from the wrappings holding the manuscripts. It is incomplete and was not published in full, though parts of it were published in the Transactions of the Linnean Society.
Date[1810 - 1829]
LevelSeries
Extent14 files
LanguageEnglish
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.
NotesParts 1 - 9 were read between 1 May 1821 and 20 April 1852 at the Linnean Society.
Creator NameFrancis Buchanan-Hamilton collection
Access_StatusOpen
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