Saturday 15 March 2014

Archibald Menzies: Doctor, Scientist, Adventurer

Archibald Menzies (Easter Styx, Perthshire, Scotland, 15th March 1754 – London, England, 15th February 1842)

It is time to see something of the world today in the company of Archibald Menzies, erstwhile naval doctor, botanist and all-round intrepid gentleman. Menzies travelled the globe, ascended mountains and made his mark on the world of natural history.

Born the son of James and Ann Menzies, the young man attended a local school in Weems whilst his older brother, William, took a job in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden. The young man was delighted to take a job alongside his sibling and it was in Edinburgh that he made the acquaintance of Dr John Hope, a professor of botany at Edinburgh University. Dr Hope encouraged Menzies to expand his interests and under the academic's watchful eye he took a position at the University to study medicine.

Following his graduation and a period as an apprentice, Menzies took a job as an assistant surgeon on HMS Nonsuch and served in battle as well as spending peacetime in Nova Scotia. Here he was able to indulge his love of botany, regularly corresponding with those who shared his interests. With the Navy he was able to see the world and vastly improve his knowledge, gathering rare specimens. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he joined the Linnean Society on his return to England in 1790 and would come to lead the Society later in life.

Also in 1790, Menzies joined the crew of HMS Discovery, voyaging around north-west America. It was during this voyage that Menzies made the first recorded ascent to Mokuaweoweo, the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii and was able to measure its height to within 120 feet. On his return to England, he had amassed a vast collection of plants and other items of interest to natural historians.

Settling into an academic career in Scotland, Menzies took one final overseas trip in 1799 before establishing a medical practice in London. Here he married and lived a peaceful life, though he never achieved wide recognition as his interests were in collection and cataloguing. He did not pursue publication and left this to others, with the result that some of his works were not publicly available until over a century after his death.


Unknown said...

An amazing life and such humility. What a great contribution to the world!

Catherine Curzon said...

He deserves much more recognition, but so nice to read of one who had so much dedication *and* didn't end horribly!