Buchanan, Francis

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Buchanan, Francis (1762-1829) British scientific explorer and surveyor who observed and recorded Bengal flora and fauna, ecology, society and economy. Born in Scotland Buchanan qualified as a medical doctor from Edinburgh, and first joined the merchant navy as a ship's surgeon. After several voyages to Asia and the West Indies, Francis Buchanan was posted in Bengal in 1793. He was attached as surgeon with Captain Michael Symes' Embassy to Ava, the capital of Burma. After this mission, he was stationed at Pattahaut near modem Chandpur. In 1798 the Company government appointed Buchanan to make a survey of Chittagong and its neighbouring areas in order to see whether some spices and crops could be cultivated there for export. Buchanan in his survey did more than that. From March 2 to May 21, 1798 he made a survey of the region and observed soil conditions, cropping patterns, botanical subjects, social institutions, livestock conditions and many other aspects concerning the society and economy of the region.

Buchanan was in charge of developing the Calcutta Botanical Garden. In 1800, he was sent to Mysore, Malabar and other newly conquered territories for collecting information on the society and economy and natural conditions. In 1802 and 1803, he was attached to the Knox Mission to Nepal where he made similar surveys. In 1803-1804, Buchanan was surgeon to the Governor General of India. While in Calcutta, he organised a zoo that subsequently became the Calcutta Alipore Zoo.

From 1807 Francis Buchanan began his most memorable venture by undertaking a study tour through Northern Bengal and Bihar. He spent seven years in surveying the region. His reports run into many volumes of statistical, geographical and ethnic descriptions in manuscripts, which are now preserved in the Oriental section of the British Library. Parts of his reports have been printed posthumously. In 1814, Buchanan was appointed Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens. But ill health forced him to return to his homeland. In 1815, Buchanan dropped the surname from his name and added his maternal surname 'Hamilton'. Historians, social scientists and natural scientists draw heavily on the reports of Buchanan Hamilton for information on Bengal of his time. [Sirajul Islam]