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Francis Buchanan-Hamilton

Dr Francis Buchanan, later known as Francis Hamilton but often referred to as Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (February 15, 1762 - June 15, 1829) was a Scottish physician who made significant contributions as a geographer zoologist and botanist while living in India.

He was born Francis Buchanan at Bardowie, Callander, Perthshire; his family originated in Spittal and claimed the chiefdom of the name of Buchanan. Francis studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. After several voyages on Merchant Navy ships to Asia, he served in the Bengal Medical Service from 1794 to 1815. He also studied botany under John Hope in Edinburgh.

From 1803 to 1804 he was surgeon to the Governor General of India Lord Wellesley in Calcutta, where he also organized a zoo that was to become the Calcutta Alipore Zoo. From 1807 to 1814, under the instructions of the government of Bengal, he made a comprehensive survey of the areas within the jurisdiction of the British East India Company. He was asked to report on topography, history, antiquities, the condition of the inhabitants, religion, natural productions (particularly fisheries, forests, mines, and quarries), agriculture (covering vegetables, implements, manure, floods, domestic animals, fences, farms, and landed property, fine and common arts, and commerce (exports and imports, weights and measures, and conveyance of goods). His conclusions are reported in a series of treatises that are retained in major United Kingdom libraries; many have been re-issued in modern editions. They include an important work on Indian fish species, entitled An account of the fishes found in the river Ganges and its branches (1822), which describes over 100 species not formerly recognised scientifically. He also collected and described many new plants in the region, and collected a series of watercolours of Indian and Nepalese plants and animals, probably painted by Indian artists, which are now in the library of the Linnean Society of London. After Tippu's defeat in 1799, he was asked to survey southern India resulting in A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar (1807). He also wrote An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal (1819).

He succeeded William Roxburgh to become the Superintendent of the Calcutta botanical garden in 1814, but had to return to Britain in 1815 due to his ill health. In an interesting incident the notes that he took of Hope's botany lectures in 1780 was lent to his shipmate Alexander Boswell during a voyage in 1785. Boswell, lost the notes in Satyamangalam in Mysore and the notes went into the hands of Tippu Sultan who had them rebound. In 1800 they were found in Tippu's library by a major Ogg who returned it to Buchanan.

The standard botanical author abbreviation Buch.-Ham. is applied to plants and animals he described, though the form "Buchanan, 1822" is more often seen in ichthyology and is preferred by Fishbase.

Buchanan left India in 1815, and in the same year inherited his mother's estate and in consequence took her surname of Hamilton, referring to himself as "Francis Hamilton, formerly Buchanan" or simply "Francis Hamilton". However he is variously referred to by others as "Buchanan-Hamilton", "Francis Hamilton Buchanan" or "Francis Buchanan Hamilton".


  • Noltie, H.J. (1999) Indian botanical drawings 1793-1868. ISBN 1-872291-23-6
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Francis_Buchanan-Hamilton". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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