Menzies, Archibald (DNB00)

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MENZIES, ARCHIBALD (1754–1842), botanical collector, was born at Weims, Perthshire, on 15 March 1754. His elder brother, William, was employed in the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, and he became a gardener there. Dr. John Hope, then professor of botany, enabled him to go through the training of a surgeon at the university, and after making a botanical tour through the highlands and Hebrides in 1778, he became assistant to a surgeon at Carnarvon. He subsequently entered the navy as assistant-surgeon on board the Nonsuch, under Captain Truscott, and was present at Rodney's victory over the Comte de Grasse on 12 April 1782. On the declaration of peace he was sent to the Halifax station, but in 1786 was engaged as surgeon on board the Prince of Wales, under Lieutenant Colnett, on a fur-trading voyage of discovery to the north-west coast of America. They visited Staten Island, the Sandwich Islands, and China, returning direct from the latter in 1789. In the following year he was chosen as naturalist and surgeon on the Discovery, under Captain George Vancouver, and visited the Cape, King George's Sound, New Zealand, Otaheite, the Sandwich and Galapagos Islands, and North-west America. Vancouver speaks highly of his services in the preface to his account of the voyage, not one man dying from ill-health between the date of the departure of the expedition from the Cape on the way out and that of its return in October 1795. Menzies ascended Wha-ra-rai and Mauna Loa, an active volcano, over thirteen thousand feet in height, in Hawaii, determining their altitude by the barometer, and collected in all the countries visited, especially at Valparaiso and at Nootka Sound. He brought back a great variety of plants, including Ribes speciosum, Araucaria imbricata, and Abies Menziesii, and numerous cryptogams, besides other natural history objects. Vancouver records (loc. cit.) that ‘for the purpose of preserving such … plants as he might deem worthy of a place amongst his Majesty's … collection … at Kew, a glazed frame was erected on the quarter-deck.’ The new species of plants were described by Sir J. E. Smith, Robert Brown, and Sir W. J. Hooker, and Menzies himself gave an account of the voyage in Loudon's ‘Magazine of Natural History,’ vols. i. and ii. Menzies next served on board the Sanspareil in the West Indies, under Lord Hugh Seymour, but soon after his return he retired from the navy, and practised for some time in London. He died at Ladbroke Terrace, Notting Hill, on 15 Feb. 1842, and was buried at Kensal Green. His wife, by whom he had no family, predeceased him by five years. Having been elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1790, Menzies, on the death of A. B. Lambert, became the father of the society. A portrait of him by Eddis is at the society's rooms. His herbarium of grasses, sedges, and cryptogams was bequeathed to the Edinburgh Botanical Garden. Sir J. E. Smith dedicated to him the ericaceous genus Menziesia.

Four papers by Menzies are recorded in the Royal Society's Catalogue (iv. 345):

  1. Descriptions of three new animals found in the Pacific Ocean (Echeneis lineata, Fasciola clavata, Hirudo branchiata), ‘Linnean Transactions,’ 1791, i. 187–8.
  2. A new arrangement of the genus Polytrichum, ib. 1798, iv. 63–84.
  3. Polytrichum rubellum [and] P. subulatum, ib. 1798, iv. 303–4.
  4. Account of an ascent and barometrical measurement of Wha-ra-rai, a mountain in Owhyhee, ‘Magazine of Natural History,’ 1829, i. 201–208, ii. 435–42.

[Proceedings of the Linnean Soc. i. 139–41; Gent. Mag. 1842, i. 668–9.]

G. S. B.