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"Local Heroes" 1.1 Archibald Menzies (1754-1842)


By david


Weem Parish Church

“March 15th. James Menzies and Ann Menzies in Easter Stix had a child baptised & nam’d Archibald.” (1)

This simple entry in the Old Parish Register for 1754 of Weem, Perthshire, is the first documented record of a man who was to have a long, and very active, life, as a surgeon in the Royal Navy, and a naturalist, who discovered more than 400 species previously unknown beyond their natural habitats.

Archibald Menzies, Detail of a portrait in Burlington House, Piccadilly, premises of the Linnean Society of London (2)

Archibald had three brothers and four sisters (3). Their father was a gardener on the local estate of Castle Menzies, seat of the clan chief, Sir Robert Menzies of Menzies.

Castle Menzies

All the Menzies boys joined their father as gardeners at the castle. Here, they learned about plants and botany, whilst receiving a general education at the local parish school. Archibald had a flair for drawing, which was to stand him in good stead later, on his scientific voyages.

In 1763, Dr. John Hope, Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University, succeeded in bringing together collections from two separate gardens in the city at a single new location, and founded the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (not its present site, which was not acquired until 1820, and henceforth, in this blog, abrreviated to RBGE).

Archibald and one of his brothers, Robert, went to work there and Professor Hope, noticing Archibald’s work, encouraged him to begin studying medicine, botany, surgery and chemistry at the University.

Coat of Arms of the University of Edinburgh

Most short, online biographies of Menzies say that he qualified as a surgeon, but I have found a statement saying that he did not graduate, due to financial difficulties. (4) His first post-university post, however, seems to have been as an assistant surgeon to a surgeon/doctor in Caernarfon, Wales! (1780 or 1781).

There is mention, however, of him touring the West Highlands of Scotland collecting rare, and hitherto unknown, plants, during his University days, prompted by Hope, and the recent publication of "Flora Scotica, by the Reverend John Lightfoot. (5) The RBGE, on its website, states that the oldest alga specimen in its Herbarium collection of more than 25,000 algae specimens is one collected by Menzies in 1779. (6)

In 1782, Menzies enlisted with the Royal Navy, and was appointed assistant surgeon onboard HMS Nonsuch, an intrepid-class, third-rate, 64-gunner. He was involved in warfare, almost immediately, as the ship was part of the British fleet who thwarted a French and Spanish invasion of Jamaica, at the Battle of Les Saintes, in April 1782, during the American War of Independence/American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

Battle of Les Saints/Saintes/The Saints, April 1782 (7)

In 1784 he was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he studied and collected plants for Sir joseph Banks, sending them on to Kew Gardens. En route to Halifax, Menzies’ ship called in at Sandy Hook (near New York), and the islands of Barbados, Dominica, St. Christopher’s and Nevis, where Menzies collected seed to be sent to Banks. He was able to see some of the plants growiing at Kew, upon his return in 1786, and study in Banks’ extensive library and herbarium.

In October of that year, having been released from naval duties through Banks’ influence, Menzies set sail again, as surgeon on board the “Prince of Wales”. The ship was part of a fur-trading (sea otter pelts) voyage to the Pacific coast of North America, Hawaii and China, being undertaken by Richard Cadman Etches & Co./King George’s Sound Co. (8) The “Prince of Wales”, and Menzies, did not return to England until July 1789.

On 19th January 1790, Archibald Menzies was elected as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and, later, became a father of the Society. (9)

Coat of Arms of the Linnean Society of London (10)

Two essays he wrote for the Linnean Society, in 1797 and 1798, were published in its “Transactions”, and can be read online. (11)

Menzies was soon off on his travels, again, on what was probably his greatest adventure. In 1790, he was appointed ship’s naturalist on “HMS Discovery”, under the command of George Vancouver (1757-1798).

Capt. George Vancouver (12)

This famous round-the-world voyage (1791-95) is well-documented. (13) Fate played a great part in Menzies’ most famous plant introduction – The Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria auricana).

A young Araucaria auricana in our local park

The “Discovery” had a damaged mainmast; this, together with an outbreak of scurvy onboard, caused Vancouver to set a course for Valparaiso, Chile, where the ship berthed on 26th March 1795. Only the Governor of Chile, Ambrosio O’Higgins, could sanction repairs. He entertained some of the British officers for several days and, during a dinner given by him, Menzies noticed some seeds in the dessert. He planted some on board the “Discovery”, which turned out to be this tree.

Menzies brought only a few specimens to England. In the 1840s, William Lobb, employed by James Veitch, of Veitch’s Nursery, Exeter, is credited with bringing the Monkey Puzzle tree into commercial production in Britain.

Another discovery made by Menzies at this time, but less documented, was the flowering vine, Tropaeolum speciosum (Flame Flower, or Chilean Flame Flower, or Scottish Flame Flower).

Tropaeolum speciosum, at Cluny House Gardens, Perthshire, close to Menzies’ Birthplace

Also documented is the, often, strained relationship between Vancouver and Menzies, culminating in the latter’s refusal to hand over his journals, etc., as was the custom. Menzies maintained that his records and specimens belonged only to Sir Joseph Banks, not the Royal Navy! This is wholly understandable, when Banks’ instructions to Menzies included the documentation of all the plantlife he encountered in every country visited, by both scientific name and the name given by the locals, with seed and specimens to be gathered. Where seed could not be obtained, specimens were to be uprooted and planted in glass frames on the quarter deck of the “Discovery”. This disagreement culminated in Vancouver recommending Menzies for a court-martial from the Navy, only withdrawn when Menzies apologised, after having got his work into the safe hands of Banks.

In 1799, Menzies received an Honorary MD Degree from the University of Aberdeen (King’s College).

King’s College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

In c.1802, Menzies formally retired from the Royal Navy (due to asthma), and married Janet Brown, sister of Adam Brown, who was aboard the “Chatham”, the ship wich accompanied the “Discovery” on its epic voyage.

Menzies set up a medical practice from a new home in Chapel Place, London (between Oxford Street and Cavendish Square). In 1826, he fully retired, and the couple moved to 2 Ladbroke Terrace, Notting Hill, London. Janet died in 1836, and Archibald Menzies died on 15th February, 1842. There were no children from their marriage.

Archibald Menzies F.L.S., was buried, beside his wife, in All Souls Cemetery (Kensal Green Cemetery), plot 706.

An Entrance Arch to All Souls/Kensal Green Cemetery

In his Will, Archibald Menzies left the sum of £100 to the Linnean Society of London, and his private herbarium to the RBGE. (14)


(1) MENZIES, ARCHIBALD (O.P.R. Births 398/00 0010 0104 WEEM)

(2) Source:- Wikimedia Commons

(3)) Many online bibliographies state that he had 4 brothers, and that he followed an older brother, William, to Hope’s Botanic gardens. I have been unable to find any record of a brother, William Menzies, by the same parentage. In the “Transactions of the Linnean Society of London”, I was most interested to see, in reading Menzies’ obituary notice, that William had been entered, but had been scored through, with the name Rob pencilled in the margin. He did have a younger brother, Robert, baptised 4th July 1758.

MENZIES, ROBERT (O.P.R. Births 398/00 0010 0112 WEEM) ; at

With many Thanks, to Jcr2011, from New Zealand, who has, via a comment, below, provided a very creditable link, to William Menzies, below.


(5) This book can be viewed, and read, online at:-


(7) Source:- Wikimedia Commons

(8) Colnett in the Prince of Wales, 1788.

(9) Aylmer Bourke Lambert was born in 1761, and died January 1842. Menzies died in February 1842. The fact is, however, recorded in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, in Menzies’ obituary notice.

(10) Source:- Wikimedia Commons

(11) Both can be read online, published under "Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, Vol 4.

“A New Arrangement of the Genus Polytrichum, with some Emendations” (read 7th February and 7th March, 1797)

“Some Corrections of the General Description of Polytrichum rubellum, p.79, with an Account of another New Species of the Same Genus.” (read 6th March, 1798).

(12) Source:- Wikimedia Commons

For an account of the voyage.

(14) Menzies’ Will can be read at:-

For a note re Menzies’ Australian herbarium, see:-

For a description of Menzies’ lichens collection, see:-

In 1966, Douglas Mackay Henderson (1927-2007), 12th Regius Keeper of the RBGE, oversaw the transfer of recently-discovered specimens collected by Menzies from the Free Church College, Edinburgh, to add to the Menzies collection in the Herbarium at RBGE.


“Monkey Puzzle Man: Archibald Menzies, Plant Hunter”, James McCarthy, Whittles Publishing, in association with RBGE, 2008

More blog posts by david

Previous post: "Local Heroes" - Introduction

Next post: "Local Heroes" 1.2 Plants Associated with Menzies



thats a lot of work david, and very interesting, i shall never take plants for granted again
that monkey puzzle tree story of seeds in the pudding is quite fascinating ~ who would have thought that was possible??
could you put this all in a book?

3 Jan, 2011


How interesting ,more so since thanks to you David I have the Tropaeolum speciosum . :o))

3 Jan, 2011


Glad you have found it interesting, Sticki! A book? There are already many. I think that I prefer blogs, which can be altered and added to at any time. :-))

I hope that it grows well for you this year, Amy. Hopefully, you will be able to transplant it into the garden soil, this year? :-))

3 Jan, 2011


This is fantastic work David. I can add that the first Botanic Garden in Edinburgh was on the site of what is now Waverley Station at the east end of Princes Street. There is a plaque there giving more details. This is exciting stuff and just what we need to start 2011. You have got all of our little grey cells working again.

3 Jan, 2011


there is also a garden in arisaig which belongs to a botanical research group but im not sure which one, it may be edinburgh. it had beautiful plants in it.

3 Jan, 2011


I think I will David I put it in the greenhouse before the bad weather ,it already had some new shoots appearing ... :o)

3 Jan, 2011


Many thanks, Scotsgran! I seem to remember that plaque, so will have my camera next time I'm there. I also did not find the plaque to Menzies at Castle Menzies when I last visited. Now, however, I know where to look. It is between two Monkey Puzzle trees - of course!!! :-)))

A garden in Arisaig, Sticki? Cannot think of one to match. Nearest which comes to mind is Inverewe (National trust for Scotland), a bit farther north. Could this be it?

Sounding good for your Trop. spec., Amy! :-)))

3 Jan, 2011


its just off the main A830 just before you turn off to go into arisaig ~ from the south. it was free, mostly ferns, azaleas, rhodendrons and beautiful named trees. but i cant find its name anywhere ~ sorry. cant even find it on google or the maps.

3 Jan, 2011


Larachmore Gardens, or Arisaig House gardens????????? Still searching here, too. :-))

3 Jan, 2011


not arisaig house but could be larachmore ~ not sure, i checked my photos and ive checked the whole pack of info we had when we went there but found nothing. i think we only found out about it from a little local walks leaflet, they didnt make a big thing of the gardens but we were told by a visitor that they were used for research and were constantly trying to keep up with all the labelling and tree management etc. there was an old house in the grounds but it was burnt down years ago.
i can put a few photos of the plants on but it wont help with where it was. you could hear the steam train on its route to mallaig from the gardens.

3 Jan, 2011


yes david its larachmore ~ just looked it up and found this:

maintained by volunteers, in association with Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens. ...

i thought there was a connection with edinburgh but i cant remember everything!! its usually the useful bit i forget!!!!

3 Jan, 2011


Well, that's another little mystery solved, Sticki!! Have never actually visted there, so it is now on my list of places to visit this year. Many Thanks!! :-)))

3 Jan, 2011


:o)) bit odd that it doesnt seem to be advertised tho ~ i hope its still open

3 Jan, 2011


With no obvious official website, it is very difficult to find ! Will search for telephone no., etc., here, and should be fairly easy to find out. :-))

3 Jan, 2011


could try tourist information for arisaig. im sure it was on a walking leaflet that we picked up ~ either in our holiday home or maybe at tourist information???
you can walk from arisaig easily.

3 Jan, 2011


Will try! Have always hated - utter waste of space, money and resources, and full of crap, false,info!! Hope that it gets axed, very soon, and save us some money! Perthshire is, for me, a shining example of how it should be done! Will let you know!!!

3 Jan, 2011


i didnt like that web site either ~ gave up on it, such a shame when it could be so amazing ~ a few web cams of all those beautiful sights??
just didnt want you to make a long journey needlessly
~ i will see what i can find out

3 Jan, 2011


Very interesting blog David, obviously the first of many. You have obviously taken a lot of time trouble to do your research, well done.

3 Jan, 2011


Fabulous blog very interesting David :o)

4 Jan, 2011


A very interesting blog David, and a lot of research has gone into it. It must have been very enjoyable for you to do this, and thanks for sharing it.

4 Jan, 2011


Charles Menzies was an executor and main beneficiary of Menzies' will. There is a credible Charles born to William at Madderty in 1807 yet you discount the existence of a brother William. How do you believe Charles was related to Archibald please?

And, interestingly, older brother John was baptised in 1749 over three years after the parents' wedding. Does this not allow time for a missing further child?

5 Jan, 2011


Many Thanks, Andrew, Neellan and Hywel!! :-))

And......Many Thanks, also to you, Jcr!!! I think that you may, very well, have found that "missing link" for me. I never discounted William's existence (and did not state this. Nor, I hope, would my comment at Note 3, above, have inferred that I did) but, without proof, felt that I could not include him, until such time as I did have. Many articles on Archibald Menzies, of course, state that he did follow "older" brother, William, to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Some even say that Archibald was the SECOND son of James and Ann Menzies. The only son whose baptism was recorded prior to that of Archibald was John, in 1749 (as you say), the next, after Archibald, being Robert, in 1758.

I knew that James and Ann married in 1745, as this is recorded, and, through extensive genealogy searches when researching my own "Family Tree", know full well that, before compulsory registration came into force in 1855, records were not complete/exact. William's baptism (and, so, birth) was, unfortunately, one of a great many not recorded in a local parish register. The period between the marriage, John's birth, then Archibald's, of course, left a lengthy period, within which a number of children could have been born to them (and several could have died, in infancy).

I believe that the Charles Menzies, born 1807 in the Parish of Madderty (his baptism record has taken me less than 5 minutes to find), was, of course, Archibald's nephew, main benficiary of, and an Executor of, Archibald Menzies' Will.

I think that this is more than just "credible", especially with "Greenhall" being mentioned, in both his baptismal record, and in Archibald Menzies' Will!

The "scoring through" of the name William, and the marginal pencilling in of "Rob", remains a mystery, however, as this could have been done, at any time, by anyone!

I shall amend my blog, and note (3)!!! Many, Many Thanks!!!! :-))

Here is the text of Charles Menzies' birth and baptism, from:- (O.P.R. Births 378/00 0010 0214 MADDERTY) - January 1807

"Mr Wm Menzies and Mrs Jean Dinwoodie in Greenhall had a son born 15th baptised this day named Charles."

5 Jan, 2011


A really great blog, David! I really enjoyed reading it & I'm looking forward to reading more of them! :-)) Well done on all the research you must have put in to make up this blog! :-))

8 Jan, 2011


Thanks, Balcony. I'm hoping to learn more from them, too, like the info given by (the mysterious) Jcr, above.

10 Jan, 2011


PS. I think that I have, by chance, made a great discovery re Jcr2011. Jcr, if you are John Robson, of Hamilton, NZ, I can only say a huge "Thank You" for all the hard work which you, Cliff Thornton, Ian and Ruth Boreham, and others, have done to make available, online, all the fascinating information and historical documents relating to Capts. James Cook and George Vancouver, families, crew members, etc.

It has been fascinating to read the Last Will and Testament of Archibald Menzies, and Francis Masson (subject of my second planthunters blog) online. You are heroes (even if not, for me, local). :-))))))

Link to John Robson's homepage (note the jcr in the address). :-))

12 Jan, 2011


You really have opened up a whole new interest for me. I am not capable of doing research on this level but I find it so interesting. Thank you to you David and your interesting correspondants.

13 Jan, 2011


Hi David, Enjoyed reading your blog, very interesting.
I was told at the shop where I purchased an oak Georgian corner cupboard together with an oak cased, brass dialed long case clock, that the original owner was once an officer on the Bounty, as they had been bought by the dealer and removed by him from the same house in Wales where they had always been.
Many years later, after researching the name I found on the old delivery label attached to the clock, it appears that they actually belonged to Mr.Archibald Menzies! Interestingly the clock dial is engraved with floral vines and has the makers name of M.Thomas Canarvon engraved on the boss at the top of the dial, so this would serve to confirm ownership. The date carved on the inside of the door being 1774 would indicate that he had ordered the clock whilst living there when he was 22 years of age, 6 years before becoming an assistant surgeon in Canarvon, as indicated in your blog in the year 1780.
The clock still keeps good time, and I often think that he must have glanced at the very same dial every day, before rushing off to work or on his way to carry out his studies more than 230 years ago!

8 May, 2015

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