Engraving by Charles Turner Warren
|Born||29 June 1751
Underwood, Craigie, Ayrshire
|Died||10 April 1815
Park Place, Edinburgh
|Doctoral advisor||John Hope|
|Author abbrev. (botany)||Roxb.|
Roxburgh was born at Underwood in the parish of Craigie, Ayrshire. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University. He had been a surgeon's mate on an East India Company ship at the age of 17 and had completed two voyages to the East in that capacity until the age of 21. He also studied botany in Edinburgh under John Hope. He joined the Madras Medical Service as an assistant surgeon in 1776 and became a surgeon in 1780.
At Madras he turned his attention to botany. The East India Company recognised his botanical knowledge and made him superintendent in the Samalkot garden in the Northern Circars in 1781. Here he conducted economic botany experiments. He employed native artists to illustrate plants. He had 700 illustrations by 1790. He then succeeded Patrick Russell (1727–1805) as Naturalist to the Madras Government. He made rapid progress and acquired a good reputation and was in a short time invited by the government of Bengal, to take charge of the Calcutta Botanical gardens from Colonel Robert Kyd. In 1793 he succeeded Colonel Robert Kyd as Superintendent of the Company garden at Sibpur near Calcutta. A catalogue of the garden was made in 1814 – Hortus Bengalensis. He sent many of his illustrations to Sir Joseph Banks. He was succeeded by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton.
He meticulously collected vast amounts of meteorological data for years, and is considered as a pioneer in the collection of tropical meteorological data, to an extent unrivalled elsewhere until the 1820s. He had begun collecting detailed meteorological data as soon as he set foot in India, at Madras, and is known to have taken measurements three times a day, using Ramsden barometers and Nairne thermometers, made by then reputed scientific instrument makers, Jesse Ramsden and Edward Nairne. He trained under John Hope, who was the curator of the Edinburgh botanical garden as well an experimental physiologist. Roxburgh's interest in systematic meteorology may have stemmed from the influence of John Hope as well as his experiences at the Royal Society of Arts which, in the early 1770s, was greatly influenced by the climatic theories of Stephen Hales and Duhamel du Monceau. Such detailed measurements over many years led him to form an opinion on widespread famine and climate change in the empire.
He became a member of the Asiatic Society, to whose Transactions he contributed, from time to time, many valuable papers. Amongst these was one of singular interest on the lacca insect, from which the substance lac is made.
Recognition and Death
In 1805, he received the gold medal of the Society for the Promotion of Arts for a series of highly interesting and valuable communications on the subject of the productions of the East and a second gold medal in 1803 for a communication on the growth of trees in India. On 31 May 1814, he was presented, in the presence of a large assembly, a third gold medal by the Duke of Norfolk (then, the president of the Society of Arts).
Soon after receiving this last honourable testimony of high respect, Roxburgh returned to Edinburgh, where he later died.
In 1820, at the Mission Press in Serampore, William Carey posthumously edited and published vol. 1 of Dr. William Roxburgh's Flora Indica; or Descriptions of Indian Plants. In 1824, Carey edited and published vol. 2 of Roxburgh's Flora Indica, including extensive remarks and contributions by Dr. Nathaniel Wallich. Carey and Wallich continued to work in the field of botany and in 1834, both Carey and Wallich contributed botanical specimens to the Royal Society for Agriculture and Botany's Winter Show in Ghent, Belgium.
- Grove, R. H. (1997) Ecology, Climate and Empire, The White House Press, UK, ISBN 1874267189 p. 128
- Bole, P. V. (1976). "Review of Flora Indica or Descriptions of Indian Plants by William Roxburgh, William Carey". The Quarterly Review of Biology 51 (3): 442–443. doi:10.1086/409525. JSTOR 2824918.
- Noltie, H.J. (1999) Indian botanical drawings 1793–1868. ISBN 1-872291-23-6
- "The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Metro | Restore Plan for Ruin." The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Metro | Restore Plan for Ruin. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 April 2013.
- Roxburgh, W; Pringle, J. (1790). "A meteorological diary kept at Fort St George in the East Indies". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 68: 180. doi:10.1098/rstl.1778.0012.
- "Author Query for 'Roxb.'". International Plant Names Index.
- Plants of the coast of Coromandel on Botanicus
- Searchable online version of Flora Indica Scanned volumes