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Browne, Patricklocked

(c. 1720–1790)
  • E. Charles Nelson

Browne, Patrick (c. 1720–1790), physician and botanist, was probably born at Woodstock, near Claremorris, co. Mayo, Ireland, the fourth son of Edward Browne, a local gentleman. He received a good education locally, and in 1737 was sent to live with a relative in Antigua. The Caribbean climate did not suit him so he returned to Europe and studied medicine in Paris. He graduated MD on 1 December 1742 at the University of Rheims, and then moved to Leiden where he matriculated (21 February 1743) but did not graduate. After working as a physician in St Thomas's Hospital, London, he returned to the West Indies about 1746, eventually settling in Jamaica where he practised as a physician. In his spare time, he studied the island's natural history, collecting indigenous plants and animals.

Back in London, Browne published a map of Jamaica (1755), and The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica (1756), illustrated with engravings of plants and animals based on drawings that Browne commissioned from Georg Ehret. His reputation as a botanist stems from the latter work because in it he became the first English-speaking author to use Linnaeus's system of classifying plants in print. He coined Latin names for over a hundred genera, some of which are still accepted. The second edition of the work (London, 1789), was augmented with indexes of Linnaean binomials, but the illustrations were crudely re-engraved and reversed because the original copper printing-plates were destroyed in the great fire in Cornhill, London, on 7 November 1765.

Browne's only other publication was a list of Linnaean binomials for Irish native birds and fishes (including marine mammals), though a number of his manuscripts survive in the Linnean Society, London, notably Fa[s]ciculus plantarum Hiberniae, two versions of a catalogue of Caribbean plants, an account of the vulcanology of Montserrat, and fragmentary medical notes, as well as his letters (1756–71) to Linnaeus. Ehret's original botanical drawings for the book on Jamaica also survive (London, Natural History Museum).

By 1757 Browne had returned again to the Caribbean and settled in St Croix. About 1758 he married a native of Antigua, but she was 'debauched' by Christian Juhl; embittered, Browne left her and moved to Montserrat about 1765. He retired to Ireland in 1770, but visited Antigua at least once again before his death. He died at Rushbrook, not far from his birthplace, on 29 August 1790, and was buried nearby, in his family's grave at All Saints' Church, Crossboyne. Nikolaus von Jacquin named Brownea, a genus of trees from tropical America belonging to the bean family, in his honour.

Sources

  • R. O., ‘The life of Patrick Browne, Esq. M.D. (author of History of Jamaica)’, Anthologia Hibernica, 1 (Jan 1793), 2–5
  • E. C. Nelson, ‘Patrick Browne and the flowers of Mayo: a biographical essay’, The flowers of Mayo: Dr Patrick Browne's Fasciculus plantarum Hiberniae, 1788, ed. E. C. Nelson (1995), 1–27 [incl. extensive footnotes and bibliography]
  • E. C. Nelson, ‘Patrick Browne's The civil and natural history of Jamaica (1756, 1789)’, Archives of Natural History, 24 (1997), 327–36

Archives

  • L. Cong.
  • Linn. Soc., Linnaeus's herbarium, specimens
  • Linn. Soc., Linnaeus's MSS and other MSS
  • NHM, botany library