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David Lyall


1817 - 1895

Explorer and naturalist. Born in Auchenblae (Aberdeenshire), Lyall studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen and was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. He began his career as a ship's surgeon on a whaling ship bound for Greenland. On joining the Royal Navy in 1839, he was appointed assistant surgeon on HMS Terror, part of Sir James Ross's scientific expedition to the Antarctic. Lyall was responsible for collecting botanical specimens and, by their return in 1842, he had amassed examples of 1500 species including a collection of algae. Thereafter he served in the Mediterranean until 1847 when, on the recommendation of Sir William Hooker, he was appointed surgeon and naturalist on a survey of the coast of New Zealand on HMS Acheron. Among his many discoveries was the world's largest buttercup, the Mount Cook Lily (Ranunculus lyallii). He also published a scientific paper on the habits of the remarkable New Zealand parrot, the Kakapo.

Lyall served on an expedition to the Arctic (1852) and in the Baltic during the Crimean War (1855), before joining the surveying ships Plumper, then Hecate, to map the sea boundary between British and the US interests in the Pacific. In 1858, he was transferred to the Land Boundary Commission surveying the border between British Columbia and USA, and again was able to collect a large number of plants. He returned to Britain and took up an appointment at Kew Gardens, during which time he wrote the first account of the vegetation zones of the West Coast of North America. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1862.

He retired from the Navy in 1873 and died at Cheltenham (England). His name is remembered in several plant species which he introduced to Britain for the first time, including Parahebe lyallii, Anemone lyallii, the little mountain anemone, and trees such as the mountain ribbonwood Hoheria lyallii and subalpine larch Larix lyallii.


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