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Significant Scots
William Roxburgh


ROXBURGH, WILLIAM, a physician and eminent botanist, was born at Underwood in the parish of Craigie, on the 29th June, 1759. His family was not in affluent circumstances, but they nevertheless contrived to give him a liberal education. On acquiring all the learning which the place of his nativity afforded, he was sent to Edinburgh to complete his studies, which were exclusively directed to the medical profession. After attending for some time the various classes at the university necessary to qualify him for this pursuit, he received, while yet but seventeen years of age, the appointment of surgeon’s mate on board of an East Indiaman, and completed two voyages to the East in that capacity before he had attained his twenty-first year. An offer having been now made to him of an advantageous settlement at Madras, he accepted of it, and accordingly established himself there. Shortly after taking up his residence at Madras, Mr Roxburgh turned his attention to botany, and particularly to the study of the indigenous plants, and other vegetable productions of the East, and in this he made such progress, and acquired so much reputation that he was in a short time invited by the government of Bengal, to take charge of the Botanical gardens established there. In this situation he rapidly extended his fame as a botanist, and introduced to notice, and directed to useful purposes many previously unknown and neglected vegetable productions of the country. Mr Roxburgh now also became a member of the Asiatic Society, to whose Transactions he contributed, from time to time, many valuable papers, and amongst these one of singular interest on the lacca insect, from which a colour called lac lake is made, which is largely used as a substitute for cochineal. This paper, which was written in 1789, excited much attention at the time, at once from the ability it displayed, and from the circumstance of its containing some hints which led to a great improvement on the colour yielded by the lacca insect.

In 1797, Mr Roxburgh paid a visit to his native country, and returned (having been in the mean time married,) to Bengal, in 1799, when he resumed his botanical studies with increased ardour and increasing success. 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. He had again, in this year, returned to England, and was now residing at Chelsea, but in a very indifferent health; he, however, once more proceeded to Bengal, and continued in his curatorship of the Botanical Gardens there till 1803, when, broken down in constitution, he finally returned to his native country. In this year he received a second gold medal for a communication on the growth of trees in India, and on the 31st of May, 1814, was presented with a third, in the presence of a large assembly which he personally attended, by the duke of Norfolk, who was then president of the Society of Arts.

Soon after receiving this last honourable testimony of the high respect in which his talents were held, Mr Roxburgh repaired to Edinburgh, where he died, on the 10th of April in the following year, in the 57th year of his age, leaving behind him a reputation of no ordinary character for ability, and for a laudable ambition to confer benefits on mankind, by adding to their comforts and conveniences; which objects he effected to no inconsiderable extent by many original and ingenious suggestions.


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