Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Houston, William (1695?-1733)

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HOUSTON or HOUSTOUN, WILLIAM, M.D. (1695?–1733), botanist, seems to have been born in Scotland about 1695, and at an early age to have visited the West Indies as a surgeon, returning about 1727. On 6 Oct. in that year he entered the university of Leyden (Index of Leyden Students, p. 52), where he studied medicine for two years under Boerhaave, graduating M.D. apparently in 1729. At Leyden he performed, in conjunction with Van Swisten, the experiments on animal respiration described in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' vol. xxxix., under the title 'Experimenta de Perforatione Thoracia, ejusque in Respiratione Effectibus.' He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society soon after his return from Holland to England, and seems to have gone immediately to the West Indies. It was probably on this occasion that he entered into the agreement, preserved in the Sloane MS. 4064, p.119, 'for improving botany and agriculture in Georgia' for 200l. a year for three years; the Early of Derby, Lord Petre, the Duke of Richmond, Sloane, the Apothecaries' Company, Charles Dubois, and John Oglethopre subscribed towards the expenses. He collected in Jamaica, Cuba, Venezuela, and Vera Cruz, sending home seeds and plants to Philip Miller [q. v.] at Chelsea. Among these plants was Dorstenia Contrayerva, a reputed cure for snake-bite, described in vol. xxxvii. of the 'Philosophical Transactions.' Houston died from the heat at Jamaïca 14 Aug. 1733. He left a manuscript catalogue of the plants he had collected, with engravings on copper by himself. This manuscript, as well as his specimens, now in the botanical department of the British Museum, came after Philip Miller's death into the hands of Sir Joseph Banks [q.v.], by whom the catalogue was published in 1781 as 'Reliquiae Houstonianae' with the copper-plates. This genus of Cinchonaceae, Houstonia, dedicated to his memory by Gronovius, was retained by Linnaeus, but is now merged in Hedyotis.

[Pulteney's Sketches of Botany, ii.231 ; Reem's Cyclopaedia; Hemsley's Botany of Biologia Centrali-americana, iv. 118.]

G. S. B.