Biography of James MacFadyen
James Macfadyen MD (1799-1850) was born in Glasgow, where his father was a well-established music-seller. He himself studied medicine at the University of Glasgow around 1818-1821, but it was clear from an early stage that his main interest was less in medicine and more in natural history, particularly botany. He intended being a practising physician in his native city when Sir William Hooker, the then Professor of Botany in the University and future Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, recommended him to a colleague. The latter was looking for a competent botanist to take charge of a major specialised garden which the local government in Jamaica was planning to develop on that island.
Dr Macfadyen arrived there in August 1825 and established the garden. However the depressed state of the island's economy at that time meant that there were inadequate funds to support the project. He therefore abandoned the garden and established himself as a doctor in what proved to be a very lucrative practice. The University of Glasgow awarded him the degree of MD in 1837. After some years he invested his savings in buying land in Jamaica and he retired from medical practice. However the value of land plummeted and his investment lost considerable amounts. Since he had a wife and children to support, he turned again to his medical profession for a livelihood. He worked actively with all classes of people on the island at a time when cholera was endemic there. In the course of his professional work he himself contracted the disease, which proved to be fatal. His obituary published by the Linnean Society of London in 1851 stated: "His kind and benevolent disposition endeared him to a large circle of friends, and his hospitality to strangers, especially naturalists, visiting Jamaica, was almost proverbial".
Throughout his 25 years on Jamaica, he studied intensively the natural history of the island, in particular its botany and its geology. In 1837 he arranged to have printed in Glasgow at his own expense the first volume of his Flora of Jamaica. The book described in meticulous detail the then known species of the island's plants, with an emphasis on their commercial uses, agricultural value and medicinal properties. He was the first person to make a scientific description of the grapefruit, to which he gave its Latin name, Citrus paradisi Macfadyen. Publication of volume two was delayed by his busy work schedule, and its content was curtailed by his untimely death; nevertheless it described many new species of the island's plants. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1838 and a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1850.
Born 3 May 1799, Glasgow, Scotland.
Died 24 November 1850.
University Link: Honorary Graduate
GU Degree: MD, 1837;
Occupation categories: botanists; physicians
Record last updated: 15th Dec 2016