MENZIES, Archibald




Author Tags: 1700-1800, Physician Author

Archibald Menzies was one of the first British scientists to venture into the North Pacific. Having obtained permission from the Admiralty to accompany Captain George Vancouver's as an Assistant Surgeon, he is credited with taking the first Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) specimen to England, as well as introducing the Monkey Puzzle Tree to Europe. He also provided the scientific name for the arbutus tree (Arbutus menziesii) known in the United States as the madrona. It is the only broad-leafed evergreen tree native to Canada.

Menzies first collected West Coast specimens on the trading ship Prince of Wales commanded by Captain James Colnett in 1787 and 1788. For his return voyage with Vancouver, Menzies was able to have a twelve-by-eight foot glass frame constructed on Vancouver’s quarterdeck to house specimens—whether Vancouver wanted it there or not. Vancouver and Menzies were frequently at odds, partly because Menzies had been on the coast previously, at Nootka Sound. Menzies was also an appointee of Joseph Banks, the powerful President of the Royal Society who had sailed with Cook on his first voyage. Due to his somewhat lowly origins, Vancouver had to be wary of Banks’ power and therefore he was less than welcoming to Menzies—the eyes and ears of Banks during the voyage.

In the spirit of Captain Cook’s voyages, Archibald Menzies had been instructed to keep extensive notes about the natural history of each place, ascertaining whether plants cultivated in Europe were likely to thrive. He was also required to make ethnographic observations. Whereas Menzie’s mandate was scientific, Vancouver’s assigned tasks were geographic and diplomatic.

Archibald Menzies came from a family of botanists. He studied in Edinburgh and joined the Navy as an assistant surgeon in 1782. After the voyage of the Discovery with Vancouver, Menzies served with the Navy in the West Indies. He received the degree of M.D. at Aberdeen University in 1799. Upon resigning from the Navy in 1802, he practised medicine in Notting Hill, London.

Menzies was born on March 15, 1754 near Aberfeldy, Perthshire in Scotland. He died in London on February 15, 1842. His plant collection is partially displayed by London’s Linnean Society, of which he was a member for more than 50 years. Menzies Bay north of Campbell River is presumed to be named in his honour.

BOOKS:

C.F. Newcombe edited [Archibald] Menzies’ Journal of Vancouver’s Voyage, April to October, 1792. (Victoria, B.C. Archives: Government of British Columbia, 1923).

Wallace M. Olson edited The Alaska Travel Journals of Archibald Menzies, 1793-1794 (University of Alaska Press, 1993)

Also:

Gorsline, Jerry. Archibald Menzies and the Botanical Exploration of the Olympic Peninsula (Port Townsend: Jefferson County Historical Society, 1992).

Mr. Menzies' Garden Legacy: Plant Collecting on the Northwest Coast (Cavendish Books, 2000). By Clive L. Justice.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "Science" "1700-1800"