S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Carmichael, Captain Dugald (geology, botany)

Born: 1772, Lismore Island, Argyleshire, United Kingdom.
Died: September 1827, Appin district, Argyleshire, United Kingdom.
Active in: SA Islands.

Dugald Carmichael, Scottish botanist and officer in the 72nd Highlanders, studied the Classics at Glasgow University in 1787, doing well in Greek and Latin, but then went to the University of Edinburgh where he obtained his diploma as a surgeon. In 1796 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the Argyleshire Fencibles and stationed in Ireland for nine years. He then joined the 72nd Regiment and, with the rank of lieutenant, took part in the capture of the Cape of Good Hope by the British in Janurary 1806.

Arriving at Paarl, Carmichael ascended Paarl Mountain to botanise. In his diary he criticised the description of the flora and fauna of the Cape in Robert Percival's Account of the Cape of Good Hope (1804), being unable to find many of the species listed by Percival. He also described Cape Town and its people, and the natural history of the surrounding area. In 1807 he joined a detachment sent to Algoa Bay, where he studied the plants and fishes of the region, as well as the Bantu speaking inhabitants.

In October 1807 Carmichael left the Cape with his regiment on an expedition to occupy Mauritius. His account of this venture, including a description of the flora and fauna of the island, was published in 1811. Meanwhile he had been posted to the island in 1810. After a spell in India, where he continued his natural history studies, he returned to the Cape in July 1814 for a further stay of just more than two years. He was promoted to captain in 1816.

Carmichael was one of three persons who described the contact between the Cape granite and the overlying metamorphosed shale around this time, the others being Clarke Abel* and Captain Basil Hall*. His description of the contact at Sea Point agrees well with those of the other two observers, but he was at a loss to explain the juxtaposition of the rocks. His observations were contained in a letter read at a meeting of the Geological Society of London in January 1818 and printed in its Transactions (Vol. 5, pp. 614-616) for 1819-1821.

In November 1816 he left on an expedition in HMS Falmouth to take possession of Tristan da Cunha and make a botanical survey there. His excellent paper on the natural features and products of the island - the first such description - was published as "Some account of the Island of Tristan da Cunha and of its natural productions" in the Transactions of the Linnaean Society (Vol. 12, pp. 483-513) in 1818. Returning to the Cape in April 1817, he learned that he had been placed on half pay. After a stay of ten days he left the Cape and settled in Argyleshire, Scotland, where he died ten years later. Some notes by him on the animals of the Cape were published after his death in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal in 1832. The British botanist W.J. Hooker described him as a "zealous and indefatigable naturalist". Long extracts from his diary were published posthumously in Hooker's Botanical Miscellany in 1831 under the title "Botany of portions of South Africa". He is commemorated in the name of the New Zealand genus Carmichaelia. Plant specimens collected by him are in the herbaria of the British Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens.

Carmichael should not be confused with another Dugald Carmichael, who served as an ensign at the Cape in 1811-1812, and as a lieutenant in the 60th Foot in 1813-1819.

List of sources:

Dugald Carmichael. The University of Glasgow Story. http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH25200&type=P

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Hall, A.L. Bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

Philip, P. British residents at the Cape, 1795-1819. Cape Town: David Philip, 1981.

Rogers, A.W. The pioneers in South African geology and their work. Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1937, Annexure to Vol. 39, pp. 1-139.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Compiled by: C. Plug

Last updated: 2020-04-25 11:35:57