Archibald Menzies (1754-1842)

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The botanist Archibald Menzies (1754-1842) was an alumnus of Edinburgh University's Medical School.

Beginnings and Edinburgh University

Menzies was born in Weem, Perthshire, where, having received a basic education at the parish school, he began work as a gardener at Castle Menzies, seat of clan chief Sir Robert Menzies of Menzies. He then followed his older brother William to Edinburgh to work in the botanical garden established by Professor John Hope (1725-1786) in 1763. Struck by his intelligence, Hope encouraged Menzies to study at Edinburgh University, where he attended classes in [[Medicine], Chemistry, and Botany between 1771 and 1779.

Botanical Career

After studying at Edinburgh, Menzies joined the Royal Navy as an assistant surgeon, serving at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 (a major British victory in the US War of Independence). In 1784, he was posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he collected botanical specimens, including lichens and seaweeds, and sent seeds to Sir Joseph Banks for planting at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Returning to England in 1786, he studied in Banks's library and herbarium. On the recommendation of Banks, the most significant patron of science in Britain, he was appointed surgeon in 1786 to a fur-trading expedition to the Pacific Coast of North America and China. During this voyage, he collected important specimens at Nootka Sound, British Columbia. Banks was again instrumental in Menzies's appointment as naturalist to the Discovery, commanded by George Vancouver, from 1790 to 1795). In this capacity, Menzies collected further samples at Nootka Sound, the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, and Chile (from which he introduced the monkey puzzle tree to Britain).

Later Life

Menzies remained in the Royal Navy until 1802 when he resigned on health grounds. He practised medicine in London (having obtained an MD from King's College Aberdeen in 1799), retiring in 1826. Elected to the Linnean Society in 1790, he was held in high esteem by naturalists, especially for his knowledge of mosses and ferns.


Menzies gathered at least 400 species unknown to science, many from the western coast of North America. His discoveries included the madroño (Arbutus menziesii) and the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Many other plants, including species of delphinium, ribes, and spiræa, bear the botanical epithet menziesii. Menzie was a fine botanical artist, and many of his drawings were included in Sir William Jackson Hooker's Flora Boreali-Americana (1840). Hooker, whose work drew substantially on Menzie's discoveries, named the Menzies' Camion or Silene menziesii in his honour. Menzies is further commemorated in a number of place-names in British Columbia, including Menzies Bay and Mount Menzies. Menzies's private herbarium is in the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.



  • William T. Stearn, 'MENZIES, ARCHIBALD', in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003– [[1], accessed September 29, 2014]