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

Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton F.L.S. pioneered the scientific study of biodiversity in Nepal during a year spent in the Kathmandu valley as surgeon to the Knox political mission (1802-3). The majority of species Buchanan encountered were new and he had to coin hundreds of new names just to refer to them in his notes and collections. Buchanan recorded well over 1,000 plant species but unfortunately, he ran out of time to fully work them up for publication. Knowing that on his return to India he would be sent on another onerous mission, Buchanan presented his original manuscript records, herbarium specimens and colour drawings to Sir James Edward Smith during his UK furlough in 1806. Tragically, Smith did little with them, publishing only a small fraction of the hundreds of new species that Buchanan had discovered, and barring access to them by contemporaries. On Smith's death the material passed on to the Linnean Society, at last available to scientists, but under-utilised as their true scientific value had not been realised.
Of particular importance amongst the Buchanan-Hamilton collections at the Society are the original watercolour drawings of plants of Nepal. These drawings were prepared by an Indian artist from Calcutta, sadly as yet un-named. They are a key element of ongoing scientific research on the collections and understanding the names Buchanan used.

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