Francis Buchanan [later Hamilton] (1762-1829)

botanist, surgeon, and East India Company man.

BORN in Perthshire into the minor aristocracy, Buchanan took an MA from Glasgow in 1779 and an MD from Edinburgh University in 1783. Hoping to pursue a career as a botanist, Buchanan joined the East India Company, spending a decade as a ship’s surgeon before securing the post of Assistant Surgeon for Bengal in 1794, where he participated in Britain’s first political mission to Ava and collected a substantial Burmese herbarium along the way.

After the fall of Mysore and victory over Tipu Sultan, Wellesley appointed Buchanan to survey the newly conquered territory. Buchanan collected a multitude of new plant specimens and continued his botanising as a member of the British Embassy to Kathmandu in 1802. By 1804, Buchanan had been appointed Wellesley’s personal surgeon and made director of the Natural History Project of India, an enterprise that would attempt to classify and illustrate all the animals and birds of Southern Asia. Buchanan returned to London in 1805 and in 1806 was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1807, Buchanan was promoted to Surgeon and returned to India, embarking on a topographical survey of Bengal that would occupy most of his time in India. In 1814, he was appointed superintendent of the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta, but only a year later ill health forced a return to Scotland, where he inherited his mother’s estates and changed his name to Hamilton. By the time of his death in 1829 he was chief of Clan Buchanan.

Elias Greig and William Christie, University of Sydney

Mungo Park (1771-1806)


PARK was apprenticed to a Selkirk surgeon in his teens and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh.  In 1793, he travelled as a ship’s surgeon to Sumatra.  In 1795, the African Association sent him to Western Africa to try to trace the route of the river Niger, as yet unseen by Europeans.  Park reached the river in July 1796, confirming that it flowed east, not west, and after an arduous journey back to the coast, returned to London the following year.  His Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (1799) became an instant classic.  Acclaimed as a hero, Park returned to West Africa in 1805 on a larger-scale government-sponsored expedition.  Of the 38 white men accompanying him, only seven survived to reach the Niger.  After shooting a number of tribesmen during their canoe journey down the river, Park and his remaining companions died in a hostile encounter with natives near Bussa.  His posthumous Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa in the Year 1805 (1815) contains a second-hand account of his death.   Brougham’s review offers a tribute to Park, calling him ‘a martyr’: ‘We … bid a mournful farewell to that … illustrious man … In Mungo Park … the world has lost a great man’ [ER, 24:490].  Subsequent explorers, including Park’s son, tried to piece together the circumstances of his disappearance, amid sporadic speculations that he remained alive somewhere in Africa.