Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Russell, Patrick (1727-1805)

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RUSSELL, PATRICK (1727–1805), physician and naturalist, fifth son of John Russell of Braidshaw, Midlothian, by his third wife, and half-brother of Alexander Russell (1715?–1768) [q. v.], was born in Edinburgh on 6 Feb. 1726–7, and graduated M.D., doubtless in his native city. In 1750 he joined his brother Alexander at Aleppo, and in 1753 succeeded him as physician to the English factory. He was much respected there, and was granted by the pasha the privilege of wearing a turban. From the date of the publication of his brother's ‘Natural History of Aleppo’ (1756) until Alexander's death in 1768 Patrick forwarded many emendations for the work. The epidemic of plague at Aleppo in 1760, 1761, and 1762 afforded him exceptional opportunities of adding to his brother's studies of the disease, and in 1759 and 1768 he sent home accounts of destructive earthquakes in Syria, and of the method of inoculation practised in Arabia, which were published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1760 and 1768 respectively. In 1771 he left Aleppo, returning, as his brother had done, through Italy and France, in order to examine the lazarettos. Reaching home in 1772, he at first thought of practising as a physician in Edinburgh, but, by Fothergill's advice, settled in London. He was elected F.R.S. in 1777.

In 1781 his younger brother, Claud, having been appointed administrator of Vizagapatam, Russell accompanied him to India, and in November 1785 he succeeded John Gerard Koenig as botanist or naturalist to the East India Company in the Carnatic. In this capacity he made large collections of specimens and drawings of the plants, fishes, and reptiles of the country; and he proposed to the governor of Madras in 1785 that the company's medical officers and others should be officially requested to collect specimens and information concerning useful plants of the various districts of India. In 1787 he drew up a preliminary memoir on the poisonous snakes of the Coromandel coast, which was printed officially at Madras in quarto; and in 1788 he sent Sir Joseph Banks an account of the siliceous secretion in the bamboo known as tabashír, which was printed in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1791. Russell while in India also arranged the materials he had collected as to the plague. These he sent home in 1787 for the revision of his friends, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith.

He left India with his brother Claud in January 1789, placing his collections of plants and fishes in the company's museum at Madras. His ‘Treatise on the Plague’ appeared at London in 2 vols. 4to in 1791. In 1794 he issued a much enlarged edition, in two volumes quarto, of his brother's ‘Natural History of Aleppo.’ In 1795 he wrote the preface to the ‘Plants of the Coromandel Coast,’ by William Roxburgh [q. v.], a sumptuous work published at the expense of the East India Company, and one outcome of his own recommendations made ten years before. In 1796 he published on the same scale, at the cost of the company, the first fasciculus of his ‘Account of Indian Serpents collected on the Coast of Coromandel,’ in folio, with forty-six plates, forty-four of which were coloured. A second fasciculus, comprising twenty-two coloured plates, issued in 1801 and 1802, and twenty-four issued in 1804, was all that appeared during his lifetime; but the third fasciculus was published in 1807, and the fourth in 1809, the latter reprinting two papers by him from the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1804, and accompanied by a memoir and a portrait of the author in his fifty-fifth year, engraved by Evans after Varlet of Bath. In 1799 Russell was consulted by the privy council as to quarantine regulations after a fresh outbreak of plague in the Levant. In 1803 he published, ‘by order of the court of directors,’ ‘Descriptions and Figures of Two Hundred Fishes collected [by him] at Vizagapatam,’ in two folio volumes. He died in London, unmarried, on 2 July 1805. He bequeathed his collection of Indian plants to the university of Edinburgh; but those made over to the East India Company are now at Kew, and his drawings and specimens from Aleppo, together with those of his brother Alexander, are in the botanical department of the British (Natural History) Museum.

[Cunningham's Lives of Eminent Englishmen, viii. 118–20; Thomson's Hist. of Royal Soc. App. p. lvi; Memoir in Russell's Indian Serpents, 4th fasciculus, 1809.]

G. S. B.