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Significant Scots
Buchanan, Francis


BUCHANAN, FRANCIS, M.D. author of Travels in the Mysore, a History of Nepal, &c. was born at Branziet, in Stirlingshire, February 15th, 1762. He was the third son of Dr. Thomas Buchanan of Spital, who afterwards succeeded as heir of entail to the estate of Leney, in Perthshire, and Elizabeth Hamilton heiress of Bardowie, near Glasgow. As a younger brother he was, of course, destined to a profession. He chose that of his father; and after the finishing the elementary parts of his classical education with considerable credit, at the Grammar School of Glasgow, he commenced his medical studies at the university, where he remained till he had received his diploma.

Glasgow college has always enjoyed a high reputation for literature and ethics; but, with the exception, perhaps, of the department of anatomy, its fame, as a medical school, has never equalled that of Edinburgh. During the latter part of the eighteenth century especially, the capital enjoyed a reputation for medical science scarcely inferior to that of any medical school in Europe. Its degrees were eagerly desired by students from all parts of Great Britain, and from many parts of the continent, and its diploma was available in almost every part of the world as a powerful letter of recommendation. Buchanan was anxious to secure for himself the advantage of pursuing his professional studies under the eminent professors, who, at that time, more than sustained the high reputation which Edinburgh college had already acquired. Here he remained till he received his degree in 1783. He soon after was appointed assistant-surgeon on board a man-of-war, a situation from which he was afterwards obliged to retire on account of ill health.

He now spent some years at home, in the country, his health being so bad as to disqualify him for all active exertion, till 1794, when he received an appointment as surgeon in the East India Company's service, on the Bengal establishment. The voyage to India completely restored his health, and on his arrival he was sent with Captain Symes on his mission to the court of Ava. In the course of his medical studies, Dr. Buchanan had paid particular attention to botany, and its cognate branches of natural science; and during his present visit to the Birman Empire, he had an opportunity of making some valuable collections of the plants of Pegu, Ava, and the Andaman Islands, which, together with several interesting drawings, he transmitted to the court of directors, by whom they were presented to Sir Joseph Banks. On his return from Ava, he was stationed at Luckipoor, near the mouth of the Burrampooter, where he remained two years, principally occupied in describing the fishes found in the neighbourhood.

In 1798, he was employed by the board of trade at Calcutta, on the recommendation of Dr. Roxburgh, superintendant of the botanical garden, to visit the district of Chatigang and its neighbourhood, forming the chief part of the ancient kingdom of Tripura. The extensive and well-watered districts of India beyond the Ganges, afforded him a wide and rich field for pursuing his favourite study. The numerous specimens which he collected in this interesting country were also transmitted to Sir Joseph Banks, and added to his collection. Part of the following year, Dr. Buchanan spent in describing the fishes of the Ganges, of which he afterwards published an account.

In 1800, he was employed by Marquis Wellesley, then governor-general of India, to examine the state of the country which the company's forces had lately conquered from Tippoo Sultan, together with the province of Malabar. The results of his inquiries in the Carnatic and Mysore he afterwards, on his return to England, in 1807, published under the patronage of the court of directors. This work, " Travels in the Mysore," &c., extending to three large quarto volumes, illustrated with maps and drawings, contains much valuable information concerning the agriculture, laws, customs, religious sects, history, &c., of India generally, and particularly of the interior dependencies of Madras. In criticising the work the Edinburgh reviewers observe, "Those who will take the trouble to peruse Dr. Buchanan's book, will certainly obtain a far more accurate and correct notion of the actual condition and appearance of India, and of its existing arts, usages, and manners, than could be derived from all the other books relating to it in existence." The reviewer adds still more valuable praise - a praise not always deserved by travellers in countries comparatively little known - when he acknowledges that "every thing the author has seen is described perspicuously, unaffectedly, and, beyond all question, with the strictest veracity." Edinburgh Review, vol xiii. Oct. 1808.

Soon after Dr. Buchanan had finished his survey of the Mysore country, he changed the scene of his labours from the south to the north-east of Hindoostan, being appointed, in 1802, to accompany the embassy to Nepal, conducted by Captain Knox. In the course of this journey, and his subsequent residence in Nepal, be made large additions to his former collections of rare plants; which, with descriptions and numerous drawings, he transmitted to Mr. J. E. Smith. It was during this period also that be collected the greater part of the materials for his "History of Nepal," which he published in 1818, some years after he had retired from the Company's service. On his return from Nepal he was appointed surgeon to the governor-general, and he employed such leisure time as he had for the study of natural history, in superintending the menagerie founded by the Marquis Wellesley, and in describing the animals which it contained. Of Lord Wellesley Dr. Buchanan always spoke in terms of high admiration and devoted attachment; he considered his government in India as being not less wise and beneficent, than it was eminently successful. Undoubtedly India owes much to this distinguished nobleman; and it would have been happy, both for her native population, and her merchant princes, had her government been always intrusted to men of such practical capacity and unblemished integrity.

In 1805, Dr. Buchanan accompanied his noble patron to England; and, in the following year, was again sent to India by the court of directors, for the purpose of making a statistical survey of the territory under the presidency of Fort William, which comprehends Bengal Proper and several of the adjoining districts. With this laborious undertaking he was occupied for upwards of seven years, after which he returned to Calcutta; and, on the death of Dr. Roxburgh, in 1814, succeeded him as superintendant of the botanical garden, having been appointed successor to that respectable botanist by the Court of Directors so early as 1807. But he was now exhausted with long continued exertion: his services had been liberally rewarded by the East India Company; an independant and honourably acquired fortune relieved him from the necessity of encountering any longer the hardships incident to his former mode of life, among tribes half-civilized, and often somewhat less than half-friendly, and exposed to the malignant influence of Indian climate; and he naturally wished to enjoy the close of a busy life, free from the responsibility and inquietudes of public service, in some peaceful retirement in his native land.

While he was preparing for his voyage home, he was deprived, by the Marquis of Hastings, of all the botanical drawings which had been made under his inspection, during his last stay in India, and which he intended to have deposited with his other collections in the library of the India house. This circumstance he greatly regretted, as he feared that the drawings would thus be totally lost to the public. "To me," says Dr. Buchanan, in a paper which was published among the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, "to me, as an individual, they were of no value, as I preserve no collection, and as I have no occasion to convert them into money."

On his arrival in England in 1815, he presented to the court of Directors, his collection of plants and minerals, some papers on the geography of Ava, several genealogical tables, nine hundred Indian coins, gold and silver, a collection of Indian drugs, his notes on Natural History, a few drawings, and about twenty curious Hindoo MSS. He then proceeded to Scotland, where he hoped to enjoy the fruits of his toil in quiet. On his arrival, he found his elder brother, Colonel Hamilton, involved in pecuniary difficulties, from which he could only be partially relieved by the sale of such parts of the family estates as had not been entailed. Dr. Buchanan, who was himself next heir, Colonel Hamilton having no children, agreed to pay his brother's debts, which amounted altogether to upwards of 15,000. His brother soon after died abroad, whither he had gone in the hope of recovering his health, and Dr. Buchanan, succeeding him in his estates, adopted his mother's family name of Hamilton.

He now fixed his residence at Leney, where he amused himself with adding to the natural beauties of one of the loveliest spots in Perthshire, such improvements as a cultivated taste and an ample fortune enabled him to supply. In this sweet retirement he still found pleasure in prosecuting the studies and scientific pursuits which had engrossed the busier part of his life. His garden occupied much of his attention; he introduced into his grounds many curious plants, shrubs, and flowers; he contributed largely to the scientific journals of the day, particularly the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, the Edinburgh Journal of Science, the transactions of the Linnaean Society of London, the Memoirs of the Hibernian Natural History Society, and the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Also in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society are several papers taken from his statistical survey of the provinces under the Presidency of Fort William, deposited in the Library of the East India Company: these papers, at the instance of Dr. Buchanan were liberally communicated to the Society, accompanied with explanations by Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Esq., one of the Directors. In 1819, he published his History of the Kingdom of Nepal, already mentioned, and in the same year a Genealogy of the Hindoo Gods, which he had drawn up some years before with the assistance of an intelligent Brahman. In 1822 appeared his Account of the Fishes of the Ganges, with plates.

Dr. Buchanan was connected with several distinguished literary and scientific societies. He was a member of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta - a fellow of the Royal Society, the Linnaean Society, and Society of Antiquaries of London - an ordinary member of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries - a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh - member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, &c. &c. In 1826, he was appointed a deputy lieutenant for Perthshire, and took a warm interest in the politics of the day. His own principles were Tory, and he was not a little apt to be violent and overbearing in discussion with men of the opposite party. But although hasty in his temper and violent in his politics, Dr. Buchanan was of a generous and liberal disposition: he was extremely charitable to the poor, warm in his personal attachments, and just and honourable in his public capacity of magistrate. He married late in life, and fondness for the society of his children, joined with studious habits, left him little leisure or inclination for mixing in the gayeties of the fashionable world. He lived, however, on terms of good understanding and easy intercourse with his neighbours.

His own high attainments and extensive information eminently qualified him for enjoying the conversation and appearing to advantage in the society of men of liberal education, and to such his house was always open. His intimate acquaintance with oriental manners, geography, and history, made his conversation interesting and instructive; his unobtrusive manners, his sober habits, his unostentatious and unaffected hospitality made him an agreeable companion and a good neighbour; while the warmth and steadiness of his attachments rendered his friendship valuable. The following high estimate of his character we find in Dr. Robertson's statistical account of the Parish of Callander, so early as the year 1793. 'The most learned person who is known to have belonged to this parish is Dr. Francis Buchanan, at present in the East Indies. In classical and medical knowledge he has few equals, and he is well acquainted with the whole system of nature.' Dr. Buchanan carried on an extensive correspondence with men of eminence in the literary and scientific world; he repeatedly received the public thanks of the Court of Directors, and of the Governor-General in council, for his useful collections and his information on Indian affairs; and when his former patron Marquis Wellesley went as Lord Lieutenant to Ireland he was solicited to accompany him in an official capacity – an offer which his declining health and love of domestic quiet induce him to decline. Dr. Buchanan died, June 15th, 1829, in the 67th year of his age.


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