Francis Buchanan Hamilton

Birth: 1762


Francis Hamilton Buchanan, M.D. (1762-1829), a medical officer in the service of the East India Company, author of 'A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canura, and Malabar,' of a 'History of Nepal,' and of other works on Indian subjects, was the third son of Thomas Buchanan of Spittal and Elizabeth Hamilton, heiress of Bardowie. He was born at Branziet in the parish of Callander, Perthshire, on 15 Feb. 1762.

Having been educated for the medical profession, he took his degree at Edinburgh in 1783, and was shortly afterwards appointed a surgeon on board a man-of-war, but was compelled by ill-health to relinquish this appointment. Eventually, in 1794, he entered the East India Company's service as a surgeon on the Bengal establishment. Shortly after reaching India lie accompanied a mission to the court of Ava, and devoted himself to botanical researches in Ava, Pegu, and the Andaman islands. On the return of the mission, being stationed at Lakkipur, near the mouth of the Brahmaputra, he wrote an admirable description of the fishes of that river, which was published in 1822.

In 1800 he was deputed by Lord Wellesley, then governor-general of India, 'to travel through and report upon the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar, investigating the state of agriculture, arts, and commerce; the religion, manners and customs; the history, natural and civil; and antiquities in the dominions of the Raja of Mysore, and the countries acquired by the honorable East India Company in the late and former wars from Tippoo Sultan.'

This report, which is very voluminous and cast in the form of a journal, was published in England in 1807 by order of the court of directors, in three quarto volumes. A second edition, in two octavo volumes, was published at Madras in 1870. It is full of valuable information on all the points which Buchanan was ordered to investigate, and is illustrated by explanatory engravings, but it would have been far more useful if the matter contained in it had been entirely recast and condensed previous to publication.

Buchanan's tour in southern India was followed by a visit to Nepál, in company with another British mission, in 1802, which resulted in his writing a history of Nepál, and making large additions to his botanical collections. On his return he was appointed surgeon to the governor-general, and accompanied Lord Wellesley on his voyage to England in 1806.

Shortly afterwards he was deputed by the court of directors to make a statistical survey of the residency of Bengal, an enormous work upon which he was employed for seven years, and which then was only partially accomplished. The results of this survey, which were forwarded to the East India House in 1816, do not appear to have been published, if we except a geographical and statistical description of Dinajpur, published at Calcutta after Buchanan's death.

In 1814 Buchanan was appointed superintendent of the Botanical Garden at Calcutta, but returned to England in the following year. His latter years were spent principally in Scotland, where, on the death of his eldest brother,' he succeeded to the estate which had been the property of his mother, and took the additional name of Hamilton. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and a member of the Roval Asiatic Society. In 1826 he was appointed deputy-lieutenant of Perthshire. The same year he made good his claims to be regarded the chief of the clan Buchanan. He died on 15 June 1829, in his sixty-seventh year.

[Buchanan's Mysore, Canara, and Malabar (Madras, 1870); Men whom India has known (Madras, 1871).]


Alexander John Arbuthnot, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07. pg. 186.

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