Campbell River, British Columbia
Museum at Campbell River

We welcome Thelma Silkens as one of our columnists, she will be writing about Campbell River's past and present,
as she works for the local museum and will be entertaining us with stories of days gone by and current offerings by the museum.

The Plant Man

Douglas fir, arbutus, larkspur --- these familiar coastal plants and others share the same species name: Menziesii. Like Menzies Bay and Menzies Mountain just north of Campbell River, they are named for Archibald Menzies, botanist-surgeon aboard Captain Vancouver's ship the Discovery, which explored local waters in 1792.

The following biographical sketch of Archibald Men-zies is condensed from J. Forsyth's Biographical Note in Menzies' Journal of Vancouver's Voyage, April to October 1792, published by the Archives of Brit-ish Columbia in 1923. A copy of the publication is in the Museum's reference library.

Archibald Menzies was born in 1754 at Styx, an old branch house of the Menzies of Culdares near Perthshire in Scotland. Nearly all of the Menzies in the vicinity of Castle Menzies were either gardeners or botanists; an old record shows that seven of this name were employed at the same time at the Castle gardens. It was here that Archibald Menzies received his first lessons in botany, and where he later added new varieties of trees discovered during his travels.

Menzies studied both botany and medicine in Edin-burgh, and later became assistant to a surgeon in Carnarvon. He entered the Royal Navy and served on the Halifax Station in Nova Scotia.

"He has been several years on the Halifax Station in His Majesty's service as a surgeon, where he has paid unremitting attention to his favourite study of botany, and through the indulgence of the Commander-in-Chief had good opportunities afforded him," stated a 1786 letter of introduction to Sir Joseph Banks of Kew Gardens.

Menzies was delighted to be appointed surgeon to an expedition around Cape Horn to the North Pacific with the ship Prince of Wales, a voyage which took nearly three years. He sent back plants and brought home a ship's company in good health.

Menzies had attained some fame as a botanist, and was appointed by the British Government in 1790 as naturalist to accompany Captain Vancouver in the Discovery on a voyage around the world. When the surgeon aboard the Discovery became ill and was sent home, Menzies was appointed in his place. Captain Vancouver commended his services, stating in the preface to his journal of the voyage that not one man died of ill health under his care.

Menzies' formal instructions for the voyage were detailed and extensive. He was to investigate the whole of the natural history of the countries visited, enumerate all trees, shrubs, plants, grasses, ferns and mosses by their scientific names as well as the lan-guage of the natives, and in view of the prospect of sending out settlers from England, ascertain whether plants cultivated in Europe were likely to thrive. He was to dry specimens and collect seeds, and any curi-ous or valuable plants that could not be propagated from seeds were to be dug up and planted in the glass frame provided for the purpose aboard Discovery.

Menzies was charged with keeping a regular journal of all occurrences, together with a complete collec-tion of specimens of animals, vegetables and minerals, as well as clothes, arms, implements and manufactures of the native peoples. Menzies' work on the voyage was considered by the government as one of the most important objectives of the expedition

Captain Vancouver and Menzies were usually on good terms, although some conflicts arose. The wel-fare of the plants in the glazed frame on the quarter deck once induced such a heated dispute that Van-couver threatened to have Menzies court-martialled.

After the voyage of the Discovery, Menzies served with the Navy in the West Indies. He received the degree of M.D. at Aberdeen University in 1799, and upon retiring from the Navy followed his profession of doctor and surgeon at Notting Hill, London. Men-zies died in 1842 at the age of 88.

Genial of disposition and painstakingly thorough in his work, Archibald Menzies was held in high regard throughout his long life.

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