Royle, John Forbes (DNB00)


ROYLE, JOHN FORBES (1799–1858), surgeon and naturalist, only son of Captain William Henry Royle, in the service of the East India Company, was born at Cawnpore in 1799. His father dying while John was a child, the latter was educated at the Edinburgh high school, and was destined for the army; but while waiting at the East India Company's military academy at Addiscombe for an appointment, he became a pupil of Dr. Anthony Todd Thomson [q. v.], under whom he acquired so strong a taste for natural history, and especially botany, that he declined a military appointment. Having obtained his diploma, he became assistant surgeon in the service of the company. In 1819 he went out to Calcutta, was placed on the medical staff of the Bengal army, and stationed first at Dumdum, but was subsequently sent to various parts of Bengal and the North-West Provinces. In 1823 he was chosen superintendent of the garden at Saharunpore, having at the same time medical charge of the station at that place. With characteristic energy he in a short time effected salutary reforms in the administration of the garden. Unable to absent himself from his duties, he employed collectors, and brought together a valuable collection of economic plants. He examined the drugs sold at the bazaars in India, and identified them with the medicines used by the Greeks. Royle also undertook single-handed a series of meteorological observations, and obtained excellent data for determining the meteorological conditions of the climate, and for fixing one of the standard stations. In 1831 he returned to England with his collections. The results of his researches he published in his ‘Illustrations of the Botany and other Branches of the Natural History of the Himalayan Mountains,’ 2 vols. 4to, London, 1839. Here he recommended the introduction of cinchona plants into India, and his suggestion was approved by the governor-general of India in 1852. Next year Royle drew up a valuable report on the subject, but it was not until 1860, two years after his death, that the scheme was carried out by Sir Clements Markham (Markham, Peruvian Bark, pp. 72, 80–3).

In 1837, on the retirement of Dr. John Ayrton Paris [q. v.], Royle was appointed professor of materia medica in King's College, London. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1837, and of the Linnean Society in 1833, and served on their councils. He was also elected a fellow, and acted as secretary, of the Geological and of the Royal Horticultural societies. He was one of the founders of the Philosophical Club in 1847.

A warm and active supporter of industrial exhibitions, he was one of the commissioners for the city of London in the 1851 exhibition, and was selected to superintend the oriental department of the Paris exhibition of 1855, when he was made an officer of the Legion of Honour.

In 1838 a special department of correspondence relating to vegetable productions had been founded at the East India House in London, and placed under Royle's charge. The formation and arrangement of the technical museum in connection with this undertaking he had just completed at his death, which took place on 2 Jan. 1858, at Heathfield Lodge, Acton. Royle married, about 1837, a daughter of Edward Solly.

As a botanist, Royle's careful and laborious habits and accuracy of observation gave authority to his writings. He was especially successful as a writer on technical subjects. In addition to the work already named, Royle was author of: 1. ‘An Essay on the Antiquity of Hindoo Medicine,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1837; German translation, Cassel, 1839. 2. ‘Essay on the Productive Resources of India,’ 8vo, London, 1840. 3. ‘Medical Education: a Lecture,’ &c., 16mo, London, 1845. 4. ‘A Manual of Materia Medica and Therapeutics,’ 16mo, London, 1847. 5. ‘On the Culture and Commerce of Cotton in India and elsewhere,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1851. 6. ‘The Arts and Manufactures of India’ (one of the ‘Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition,’ Ser. 1), 8vo, London, 1852. 7. ‘Lecture on Indian Fibres fit for Textile Fabrics,’ 8vo, London, 1854. 8. ‘The Fibrous Plants of India fitted for Cordage,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1855. 9. ‘Review of the Measures which have been adopted in India for the improved Culture of Cotton,’ 8vo, London, 1857. He also contributed many papers on similar subjects and on natural history to scientific publications between 1831 and 1851, and wrote articles for the ‘Penny Cyclopædia’ and Kitto's ‘Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature.’

[Proc. of Royal Soc. ix. 547; Proc. of Linn. Soc. 1858, p. xxxi; Imp. Dict. Univ. Biogr.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Royal Soc. Cat.; Dodwell and Myles's Army Lists; English Cyclopædia; Britten and Boulger's English Botanists.]

B. B. W.