Sunday, January 27, 2008


Dr Patrick Russell (6 February 1726, Edinburgh - 2 July 1805) was a Scottish surgeon and naturalist who worked in India. He studied the snakes of India and is considered the 'Father of Indian Ophiology'. The Russell's viper, Daboia russelii, is named after him.

Russell travelled to Vishakapatnam, India in 1781 at the age of 54 to look after his brother who worked with the East India Company. He took a great interest in the plants of the region leading to his appointment in 1785 as the company's 'Botanist and Naturalist' in the Government of Madras. This post, according to Ray Desmond (1992, European Discovery of Indian Flora) was:

The Company's expectations of their Naturalist were excessively optimistic. He was presumed to be a linguist, demographer, antiquarian, meteorologist, mineralogist and zoologist (in addition to being a botanist).

He was a keen observer and skilled in clinical practice and he applied his medical skills in Aleppo, Syria, during an outbreak of the plague. He wrote about the plant and animal life of Aleppo as well as the Madras Province of India. As a physician as well as Naturalist to the East India Company in the Carnatic he was concerned with the problem of snakebite. His aim was to find a way for people to identify poisonous snakes.

Russell spent six years in the Madras presidency. He sent a large collection of snakes in 1791 to the British Museum. He wrote a two volume work An Account of Indian Serpents Collected on the Coast of Coromandel which included drawings done by him. Part of the work was published posthumously. He also made a large collection of plants.

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