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William Roxburgh

Engraving by Charles Turner Warren
Born June 29, 1751
Died April 10, 1815 (aged 63)
Residence Calcutta
Citizenship Scotland
Fields surgeon, botanist
Doctoral advisor John Hope
Author abbreviation (botany) Roxb.

William Roxburgh (June 29, 1751 – April 10, 1815) was a Scottish surgeon[1] and botanist. He has been called the Father of Indian Botany.[2]


Early life

Roxburgh was born at Underwood in the parish of Craigie, Ayrshire. He studied medicine in Edinburgh. He had been a surgeon's mate on an East India Company ship at the age of 17 and had completed two voyages to the East in that capacity until the age of 21. He also studied botany in Edinburgh under John Hope. He joined the Madras Medical Service as an assistant surgeon in 1776 and became a surgeon in 1780.[3]


At Madras he turned his attention to botany. The East India Company recognized his botanical knowledge and made him superintendent in the Samalkot garden in the Northern Circars in 1781. Here he conducted economic botany experiments. He employed native artists to illustrate plants. He had 700 illustrations by 1790. He then succeeded Patrick Russell (1727-1805) as Naturalist to the Madras Government. He made rapid progress and acquired a good reputation and was in a short time invited by the government of Bengal, to take charge of the Calcutta Botanical gardens from Colonel Robert Kyd. In 1793 he succeeded Colonel Robert Kyd as Superintendent of the Company garden at Sibpur near Calcutta. A catalog of the garden was made in 1814 - Hortus Bengalensis. He sent many of his illustrations to Sir Joseph Banks. He was succeeded by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton.

He meticulously collected vast amounts of meteorological data for years, and is considered as a pioneer in the collection of tropical meteorological data, to an extent unrivalled elsewhere until the 1820s.[1] He had begun collecting detailed meteorological data as soon as he set foot in India, at Madras, and is known to have taken measurements three times a day, using Ramsden barometers and Nairne thermometers, made by then reputed scientific instrument makers, Jesse Ramsden and Edward Nairne.[4] He trained under John Hope, who was the curator of the Edinburgh botanical garden as well an experimental physiologist. Roxburgh's interest in systematic meteorology may have stemmed from the influence of John Hope as well as his experiences at the Royal Society of Arts which, in the early 1770s, was greatly influenced by the climatic theories of Stephen Hales and Duhamel du Monceau. Such detailed measurements over many years led him to form an opinion on widespread famine and climate change in the empire.[1]

He became a member of the Asiatic Society, to whose Transactions he contributed, from time to time, many valuable papers. Amongst these was one of singular interest on the lacca insect, from which the substance lac is made.

Recognition and Death

In 1805, he received the gold medal of the Society for the Promotion of Arts for a series of highly interesting and valuable communications on the subject of the productions of the East and a second gold medal in 1803 for a communication on the growth of trees in India. On the 31st of May, 1814, he was presented, in the presence of a large assembly, a third gold medal by the Duke of Norfolk (then, the president of the Society of Arts).

Soon after receiving this last honourable testimony of high respect, Roxburgh returned to Edinburgh, where he later died.

Posthumous honours

In 1820, at the Mission Press in Serampore, William Carey posthumously edited and published vol. 1 of Dr. William Roxburgh's Flora Indica; or Descriptions of Indian Plants. In 1824, Carey edited and published vol. 2 of Roxburgh's Flora Indica, including extensive remarks and contributions by Dr. Nathaniel Wallich. Carey and Wallich continued to work in the field of botany and in 1834, both Carey and Wallich contributed botanical specimens to the Royal Society for Agriculture and Botany's Winter Show in Ghent, Belgium.


  1. ^ a b c Grove, R. H. (1997) Ecology, Climate and Empire The White House Press, UK, p.128
  2. ^ Bole, P. V. 1976. Review of Flora Indica or Descriptions of Indian Plants. by William Roxburgh, William CareyThe Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 51, No. 3:442-443
  3. ^ Noltie, H.J. (1999) Indian botanical drawings 1793-1868. ISBN 1-872291-23-6
  4. ^ Roxburgh, W 1790 A meteorological diary kept at Fort St George in the East Indies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 80
  5. ^ "Author Query". International Plant Names Index. 

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

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