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Brown, Robert


was born at Montrose, Scotland, on 21 December 1773, the second son of the Rev. James Brown, Episcopalian minister at Montrose, and Helen, daughter of the Rev. Robert Taylor. He was educated at the Grammar School at Montrose, and in 1787 was entered at Marischal College, Aberdeen. He obtained a Ramsay bursary but two years later transferred to Edinburgh university intending to do a medical course. Having developed an interest in botany he wrote a paper for the Natural History Society before he was 18. In 1795 he obtained a commission in a Fifeshire regiment as ensign and assistant-surgeon, and remained in the army until December 1800, when he received a letter from Sir Joseph Banks (q.v.) offering him the position of botanist to the expedition for surveying the coast of New Holland under Captain Matthew Flinders (q.v.). He resigned his commission and on 18 July 1801 sailed with Flinders in the Investigator, and accompanied him on all his voyages until Flinders left for England on the Porpoise in August 1803. Brown remained at Sydney to continue his researches, and paid visits to Kent's Group in Bass Strait, Port Dalrymple (Launceston), Port Phillip and Hobart, where he arrived with Colonel Collins (q.v.) in February 1804. He left for England in June 1805 and arrived at Liverpool on 13 October. Unfortunately a large number of his best botanical specimens was lost in the wreck of the Porpoise, but in spite of this he was able to bring to Europe about 3000 species (H.R. of N.S. W., vol. VI, p. 11 ). Soon after his arrival he became librarian to the Linnean Society, and in 1810 published the first volume of his Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van Diemen, which was followed by various other publications including his General Remarks Geographical and Systematical on the Botany of Terra Australis, printed as appendix No. III to Flinders's Voyage to Terra Australis. Towards the end of 1810 he had been appointed librarian to Sir Joseph Banks and in 1811 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society. Sir Joseph Banks died in 1820 and left Brown the use of his house, library and collections for the rest of his life. In 1827 the collections were transferred to the British Museum, Brown was appointed keeper of the botanical collections there, and held this office for the remainder of his days. In 1839 he received the Copley medal from the Royal Society, and in 1849 he was elected president of the Linnean Society. His name was renowned not only in the scientific societies of Great Britain but also on the continent as one of the greatest of botanists. The author of the obituary notice in the Proceedings of the Royal Society said of his writings: "The pervading and distinguishing character is to be found in the combination of the minutest accuracy of detail with the most comprehensive generalization." He died on 10 June 1858.

Personally Brown was a man of the finest character. He was very modest, and his apparent reserve only hid his real kindliness. His simplemindedness, devotion to truth, excellent judgment and sense of humour, made him a wise councillor and endeared him to his many friends. Towards the end of his life he was given a civil list pension Of 200 a year. His Miscellaneous Botanical Works were collected and published by the Ray Society in three volumes, 1866-8.


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