Tuesday, 13 November 2012

William Roxburgh – The Father of Indian Botany

Photo: William Roxburgh (Courtesy: wikipedia)

Much development in Botany took place during British Empire in India. Linnean system of ‘Binomial nomenclature’ was introduced only in 1778 by the natural historian engaged with the British East India Company. During this period, botanical gardens were being founded in every significant city in India to study the natural history of the plants. Many botanists and surveyors were recruited by East India Company to report and record Indian flora. One such botanist of this period and the founding father of Indian botany by his contemporaries was William Roxburgh.
                  William Roxburgh was born on June 29th 1751. Different dates published in various sources disputes his date of birth. Royal Botanic Garden, Kew on its website mentions birth place of Roxburgh in Underwood, Ayrshire. He matriculated at Edinburgh University in 1771-1772 to study surgery under Dr. Alexender Monro. Further he was also the student of Dr. John Hope, professor of botany and materia medica. Roxburgh reached Madras (now Chennai) in 1776 as an assistant surgeon in the East India Company’s Madras General Hospital. For the period 1776-1793 he worked at Coromandel Coast, during this period he also met Johann Gerhard Konig (pupil of Linneaeus, who introduced binomial nomenclature in India). In 1789 he was appointed as natural historian of East Indian India Company. He moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to be the superintendent of the Botanic Garden, the present Indian Botanical Garden at Sheopur, Howrah, and Kolkata. Working here, he started getting world-wide recognition as a botanist. He was instrumental in introducing many plant and species to India and simultaneously he sent many species to Kew, London. His Voluminous work, ‘Flora Indica’ was published after his death. Roxburgh left for England from Calcutta in 1813 at the age of 62 spending some 37 years in India. He died at Edinburgh in 1815. Interesting to know that William Roxburgh, Botanists had 3 wives having same first name viz.  1. Mary Bonte 2.Mary Huttemann, 3. Mary Boswell and thereby left a large family behind him. 
Dr. Tin Robinson in his PhD thesis mentioned about a short review of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, written in 1971 wherein it was mentioned, “Dr William Roxburgh was one of the greatest botanists of his time, and during his term converted the garden in its character from its original economic purpose to the service of scientific botany”.  He is often referred as “the Linnaeus of India” The tireless work of Roxburgh earned him the sobriquet ‘The Father of Indian Botany’.

Books on William Roxburgh biography

William Roxburgh: The Founding Father of Indian Botany

William Roxburgh. Indian Botanical Garden. East India Company
Author: Tim Robinson
Publisher: Phillimore & Company
Authors: Lambert M Surhone,
Miriam T Timpledon,  Susan F Marseken
Publisher: Betascript Publishing,
Indian Botanists Blog-o-Journal may publish the review of these books in near future.

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