Manuscripts and drawings of Francis Buchanan-Hamilton now on the archive catalogue!

Working from home this year, the Collections staff has markedly increased remote access to our heritage material via our catalogues and website

Published on 17th December 2020

Drawing of Aphanomixis polystachya from Bengal (MS/401D/2/1)

Drawing of Aphanomixis polystachya, Bengal (MS/401D/2/1)

One of the projects which I have been working on is facilitating access to the drawings and manuscripts of Scottish surgeon naturalist, Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1829), which he commissioned from local artists whilst working abroad in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Myanmar.

For further details about the life of Buchanan-Hamilton and the significance of his work, see our blogs and previous events focussed on his botanical and zoological drawings, and maps of Nepal. We also have a fascinating podcast by Dr Mark Watson, Head of Major Floras at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, who has worked closely with these collections and continues Buchanan-Hamilton’s research today.

Research has also recently revealed the name of one of the artists Buchanan-Hamilton employed while he was in Bengal: Haludar, an artist probably trained in the schools of Kolkata to draw for Western commissioners and the East India Company. Claire Banks, currently undertaking a PhD on Company drawings at the Edinburgh College of Arts spoke about Haludar and his paintings at our 2019 Diversity within Natural History conference.

Drawing of Lophura leucomelanos (Kalij Pheasant) (MS/401D/3/2)

Drawing of Lophura leucomelanos (Kalij Pheasant), Nepal (MS/401D/3/2)

The Linnean Society was fortunate enough to inherit Buchanan-Hamilton’s manuscripts and hundreds of drawings, who had been given by Buchanan-Hamilton to James Edward Smith, founder of the Society in 1806. The maps were acquired more recently, in 2005. A large scale digitisation project in 2011 resulted in high-quality images of each drawing being available to view on our Online Collections page, and they also can be seen on Watercolour World.

Online Collections page: Buchanan-Hamilton drawings
Online Collections page: Buchanan-Hamilton drawings

These drawings appear as part of the Manuscript sequence (Ref: MS) in our Collected Archive, and for a long time I have wanted the data to be included in our Online Archive catalogue, so that researchers could see the drawings in context alongside Buchanan-Hamilton’s other material, as well as the rest of our archive collections.

With the help of our Digital Asset Manager, Andrea Deneau, all of Buchanan-Hamilton’s drawings (plants, fishes and animals) are now included on the archive catalogue and for each drawing there is a description, a date, details of the genus and species, as well as any annotations. These records also contain direct links to the Online Collections page for each drawing so you can quickly and easily access the image of the drawing too.

Catalogue entry for Zodubu jula (MS/401D/1/9) with link (in red) to digital image

Catalogue entry for Zodubu jula (MS/401D/1/9) with link (in red) to digital image

Another bonus of the Buchanan-Hamilton data being included on the archive catalogue is that, due to its browsing functionality, it is possible to get an overview of the different drawings for each series, which was not possible when the images were only on the Online Collections page.

Hierarchy for entire Manuscript Sequence
Hierarchy for entire Manuscript Sequence

For example, you can open up all of the 95 drawings of plants which Buchanan-Hamilton collected from Nepal and see the titles at the same time.

Hierarchy for Nepal plant drawings (MS/401D)
Hierarchy for Nepal plant drawings (MS/401D)

In addition to the drawings, all of the Buchanan-Hamilton manuscripts have now been catalogued with the help of Dr Mark Watson and these provide further details of Buchanan-Hamilton’s important work.

Buchanan-Hamilton Epidendrum Landscape

Drawing of Epidendrum (Pleonie) praecox from Nepal with associated manuscript notes.

Amongst these are material relating to Buchanan-Hamilton’s botanical research in Nepal [MS/403], including his unpublished manuscript, ‘Flora Nepalensis’ [MS/401] and index slips [MS/399]; material relating to his Bengal fish drawings, including a letter to his friend, Sir James Edward Smith and notes [MS/401F]; an unpublished commentary by Buchanan-Hamilton on Hendrik Van Rheede’s ‘Hortus Malibarus’ [MS/488]; an undated manuscript entitled ‘Mysore Survey Natural History Catalogue, “Animalium et Plantarum Descriptiones”’ documenting plants and animals of Mysore [MS/402]; copies of catalogues of the East India Company, for whom Buchanan-Hamilton worked [MS/405]; and finally 3 hand-drawn maps of Nepal, c. 1802-1803, prepared for Buchanan-Hamilton by Major Charles Crawford [MS/401M].

Map of Nepal (MS/401M/1)

Crawford’s map of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal (MS/401M/1)

To find out more about this wonderful collection see our archives catalogue, and if you would like to take a closer look at the newly catalogued material, it will be ready to consult once the library reopens to the public.

Liz McGow (Archivist)