Falconer, Hugh

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Falconer, Hugh

(b. Forres, Scotland, 29 February 1808; d London, England, 31 January 1865)

Paleontology, botany.

After studying successively at the universities of Aberdenn (where he took the M.A.) and Edinburgh (where he obtained the M.D.) Falconer went to India in 1830 as surgeon with the East India Company. In 1832 he was appointed superintendent of the botanic garden at Saharanpur, at the foot of the Siwalik Hills, part of the sub-Himalayan range. He returned to England in 1842 was appointed in 1844 to superintend the arrangement of Indian fossils for the British Museum. In 1848 he went to Calcutta as superintendent of the botanic garden there and professor of botany at the Calcutta Medical College. He returned again to England in 1855, his health impaired.

Falconer’s official posts were thus botanical, and in the course of his duties he explored mountainous country and made immense collections of plants, including new species, the genus Falconeria (Scrophulariaceae)being named for him in 1839. He was largely responsible for starting the cultivation of Indian tea (while at Saharanpur) and for the introduction into India of the quinine-bearing Plant (while at Calcutta). But his scientific fame rests chiefly on his researches among the vertebrate fossils, particularly the mammals, which he and Captain (later Sir) Proby Cautley brought to light from among the lat3e Tertiary rocks of the Siwalik Hills. He investigated these with extraordinary energy and skill, hunting the living animals around him and preparing their skeletons for comparison with the fossils. This vertebrate fossil fauna was unexampled for extent and richness in any region then known. It included species of mastodon, elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and giraffe, as well as some reptiles (crocodiles and tortoises) and fishes. This great work accomplished by Falconer and Cautley was recognized in England in 1837 by the bestowal on them jointly of the Geological Society’s highest honor, the Wollaston Medal. Unfortunately, their discoveries were never fully described and illustrated.

During the last ten years of his life Falconer made researches into Pleistocene mammals and the evidences of prehistoric man, both in Britain and in various parts of Europe. At the time of his death he was foreign secretary of the Geological Society and a vice-president of the Royal Society.


I. Original Works. Falconer’s paleontological writings, published and in manuscript, were gathered together and edited, with a biographical sketch, by Charles Murchison in Palaeontological Memoirs and Notes of the Late Hugh Falconer, A.M., M.D., 2 vols. (London, 1868). of these works the chief was the unfinished Fauna antiqua Sivalensis, written with P.T. Cautley, which began publication in 1846 (London). His botanical papers are listed by Murchison, I, lv-lvi.

II.secondary Literature. In addition to Murchison, above, see also W.J. Hamilton, obituary notice in Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, 21 (1865), Xlv-Xlix; Charles Lyell, remarks in the course of the president’s anniversary address in Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, 2 (1837), 508–510; obituary notice in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 15 (1866–1867), 14–20; and H.B. Woodward, The History of the Geological Society of London (London, 1908), pp. 128–129.

John Challinor