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MENZIES, ARCHIBALD, naval officer, surgeon, botanist, and artist; b. in Weem, Scotland, and baptized 15 March 1754, son of James Menzies and his wife Ann; m. Janet —; they had no children; d. 15 Feb. 1842 in Notting Hill (London), England.

After receiving at the Weem parish school a basic education, of the sort which so often gave Scots gardeners an advantage over their less educated English counterparts, young Archibald Menzies worked as a gardener for Sir Robert Menzies of Menzies, the clan chief, who was keenly interested in new plants. Archibald’s four brothers were also gardeners. One, William, moved to Edinburgh to work in the botanical garden established by Professor John Hope in 1763 and Archibald followed him there. Hope, noting his intelligence, encouraged him to study at the University of Edinburgh, where between 1771 and 1780 he attended classes in medicine, surgery, chemistry, and botany. In 1778 Menzies toured the western Highlands to collect rare plants for two London physicians. After studying at Edinburgh he became assistant to a surgeon in Caernarvon, Wales; in 1782 he joined the Royal Navy as an assistant surgeon. He served that year at the battle of the Saints, in the West Indies, and in 1784 was posted to Halifax, N.S. He collected botanical specimens there and sent seeds for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (London), to Sir Joseph Banks*, then Britain’s most influential patron of science. On his return to England in 1786 he studied in Banks’s rich library and herbarium. His Nova Scotian collections included lichens and seaweeds, one of which was to be illustrated in Dawson Turner’s botanical history, Fuci (1809), and he saw plants raised from his Nova Scotian seeds at Kew.

On Banks’s recommendation, Menzies was appointed surgeon to the Prince of Wales, commanded by James Colnett* on a fur-trading venture to the Pacific coast of North America and to China. It sailed in October 1786 and the following year reached Nootka Sound (B.C.), where Menzies spent a month collecting specimens. The Prince of Wales returned to England in 1789. Again on Banks’s recommendation, he was appointed naturalist in 1790 to the Discovery, under Commander George Vancouver*, who was under instructions to take over from Spanish officers the property at Nootka claimed by Britain and to survey the northwest coast. The Discovery and its companion ship, the Chatham, left England in 1791. In 1792, and again in 1794, Vancouver was at the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands; when David Douglas* visited in 1834 he found that the Hawaiians remembered Menzies as the “red-faced man who cut off the limbs of men and gathered grass.” In 1792 at Nootka, while Juan Francisco de la Bodega* y Quadra and Vancouver negotiated the property transfer, Menzies made further botanical collections.

Vancouver surveyed the coast south from Cook Inlet (Alas.) in 1794 before beginning the long voyage home. Whenever possible Menzies collected material. At Santiago (Chile) seeds served for dessert by the governor caught his attention. He pocketed some, planted them aboard the Discovery, and thus introduced the monkey puzzle tree, a Chilean pine, into British gardens. The Discovery reached England in October 1795. Relations between Menzies and Vancouver, now a sick, irascible man, had become strained. Menzies had had to take on the duties of the ship’s surgeon, as well as preserve the plants destined for Kew. The destruction of a number of them during a rainstorm caused a quarrel which led Vancouver to recommend a court-martial for Menzies, but Menzies later apologized and Vancouver withdrew his charges.

Menzies served in the Royal Navy, mostly in the West Indies, until 1802, when he was forced by asthma to resign. Thereafter he practised medicine in London, busy with patients and much esteemed by naturalists, particularly for his knowledge of mosses and ferns. In 1799 he had received an md from King’s College, Aberdeen. He retired in 1826 and died in 1842 at the age of 88. His portrait by Eden Upton Eddis hangs at Burlington House, London, in the rooms of the Linnean Society, to which he had been elected in 1790.

Menzies’s contribution to science by publication was small. However, between 1783 and 1795 he gathered at least 400 species new to science, a number of them from the western coast of North America, especially Vancouver Island. Through his collections in an area botanically so little known, he added much to the pool of information. His specimens, along with those collected by John Scouler, John Richardson*, Thomas Drummond,* and David Douglas, were of great value to the noted botanist Sir William Jackson Hooker for his Flora Boreali-Americana (2v., London, 1840), and Hooker named Silene menziesii in his honour. Menzies was a skilled botanical artist; Hooker published several of his accurate and sensitive drawings of plants. His other discoveries included the madroño (Arbutus menziesii), one of the most beautiful of Canadian trees, and the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), popularly named for David Douglas and one of the tallest trees in the country. Western species of delphinium, ribes, and spiræa, among other plants, likewise bear the botanical epithet menziesii. Other species named for him grow in Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. A number of place names in present-day British Columbia, notably Menzies Bay and Mount Menzies, commemorate him. His private herbarium is in the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh, and there are numerous specimens collected by him in the herbaria of the British Museum (Natural History), London, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

William T. Stearn

Of Archibald Menzies’s small body of published research, only one report pertains to Canada: “A description of the anatomy of the sea otter, from a dissection made November 15th, 1795,” written jointly with Everard Home and published in the Royal Soc. of London, Philosophical Trans., 86 (1796): 385–94. Several other scientific papers are mentioned in his DNB biography. Menzies kept extensive journals during the voyage of the Discovery, portions of which have been published as Hawaii Nei 128 years ago, [ed. W. F. Wilson] (Honolulu, 1920); Menzies’ journal of Vancouver’s voyage, April to October, 1792, ed. C. F. Newcombe and John Forsyth (Victoria, 1923); “Archibald Menzies’ journal of the Vancouver expedition: extracts covering the visit to California,” ed. Alice Eastwood, Calif. Hist. Soc., Quarterly (San Francisco), 2 (1924): 265–340; and “Le Discovery à Rapa et à Tahiti, 1791–1792; journal d’Archibald Menzies,” ed. Dorothy Shineberg, Soc. d’études océaniennes (Polynésie Orientale), Bull. (Papeete, Tahiti), 18 (1981): 789–826.

GRO (Edinburgh), Weem, reg. of births and baptisms, 15 March 1754. Univ. of Aberdeen Library, ms and Arch. Sect. (Aberdeen, Scot.), King’s College and Univ., record of md degree, 22 July 1799. Univ. of Edinburgh Library, Special Coll. Dept., Medical matriculation index, 1771–80. “Archibald Menzies,” Linnean Soc. of London, Proc., 1 (1842): 139–41. The Banks letters: a calendar of the manuscript correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks . . . , ed. W. R. Dawson (London, 1958). Gentleman’s Magazine, January–June 1842: 668–69. George Vancouver, A voyage of discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and round the world, 1791–1795, ed. W. K. Lamb (4v., London, 1984). Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists, including plant collectors and botanical artists, comp. Ray Desmond, intro. W. T. Steam (London, 1977). G. [S.] Godwin, Vancouver; a life, 1757–1798 (London, 1930; repr. New York, 1931). F. R. S. Balfour, “Archibald Menzies, 1754–1842, botanist, zoologist, medico and explorer,” Linnean Soc. of London, Proc., 156 (1943–44): 170–83. D. J. Galloway and E. W. Groves, “Archibald Menzies, MD, FLS (1754–1842), aspects of his life, travels and collections,” Arch. of Natural Hist. (London), 14 (October 1987): 3–43. W. L. Jepson, “The botanical explorers of California, 6: Archibald Menzies,” Madroño (San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.), 1 (1929): 262–66. J. J. Keevil, “Archibald Menzies, 1754–1842,” Bull. of the Hist. of Medicine (Baltimore, Md.), 22 (1948): 796–811.

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Cite This Article

William T. Stearn, “MENZIES, ARCHIBALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/menzies_archibald_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/menzies_archibald_7E.html
Author of Article:   William T. Stearn
Title of Article:   MENZIES, ARCHIBALD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   June 8, 2023