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The Linnean Society of London, Buchanan-Hamilton’s natural history drawings

Scotsman Francis Buchanan (later Hamilton and often known as Buchanan-Hamilton, MD 1783, University of Edinburgh) was a surgeon-naturalist at the Honourable East India Company’s (EIC) Bengal Presidency. During his career he amassed considerable experience in natural history, voyaging to India and the East Indies. The artwork at the Linnean Society reflects his scientific and collecting activities in three different regions of the Indian subcontinent: Bengal, Nepal and Mysore.

Buchanan joined the EIC in 1794, and spent some 20 years travelling throughout these regions, methodically recording their natural history, geography, natural resources and all facets of human activity. In Bengal, he developed an interest in fishes that would culminate in his magnificent Fishes of the Ganges (1822). He hired a Bengali artist named Haludar, who would become one of the most accomplished Indian artists of natural history, and who most probably accompanied Buchanan on his surveys of Mysore in 1800 and Nepal thereafter. From such trips Buchanan returned with herbarium specimens, manuscripts and drawings, some of which are kept at the Linnean Society.

Worn out and in failing health, Buchanan was briefly in charge of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, before leaving India in 1815. Buchanan retired to family life in Stirlingshire, Scotland, changing his name to Hamilton in 1819 in order to inherit his mother’s estate. He died in 1829, and is buried in Leny House.

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