Patrick Browne (c. 1720 – 1790)


Associate Professor Marc Caball (School of History, University College Dublin)


Associate Professor Catherine Cox (Director, UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland & School of History, University College


Patrick Browne (c. 1720 – 1790), an Irish botanist and physician in the West Indies


UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland Seminar Series, 28 September 2017


Patrick Browne was a significant figure among scholars of botany and tropical medicine in the eighteenth century. Born in county Mayo around the year 1720, Browne’s publication in 1756 of The civil and natural history of Jamaica was important contemporaneously in terms of the development of botanical nomenclature and the discovery of plants previously unknown to European experts.  Although his original contribution to the science of botany was recognised by his better known peer, the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, Browne has been described recently as a ‘bit of an enigma and is scarcely celebrated in his native land’.

In fact, Browne was the first English-speaking botanist to deploy Linnaeus’ binary system of plant classification in a published study. Moreover, Browne discovered many plants which he could not accommodate within the Linnaean system of classification and described them in terms of new genera. It is proposed to review the career of Browne with particular reference to his writings on the botany of the West Indies. It is also argued that Browne is culturally significant not just because of his Caribbean research. On his return to Ireland in 1770, Browne began work on a study of plants in Galway and Mayo listing their names in Latin, English and Irish.

Browne’s experience provides a fascinating case study of a medical doctor raised within an Irish-speaking environment, educated on the continent and working as a physician and botanist in the West Indies. If Browne succeeded in incorporating knowledge of Gaelic botanical terminology within a contemporary global template of such expertise, his achievement is singular in the context of contemporary Gaelic scholarship which was largely characterised by an insular focus and manuscript dissemination. It is suggested that Browne’s incorporation of Irish terminology within a comparative context illustrates a broader epistemological weakness within Gaelic intellectual life in the eighteenth century.

Marc Cable

Marc Caball is an historian and senior lecturer in UCD School of History. He is the lead investigator on the Irish Research Council funded project Mapping readers and readership in Dublin, 1826-1926: a new cultural geography. His research centres on the cultural history of early modern Ireland in an Atlantic context. He has extensive experience of research policy and funding at national and European levels.  He was chairman of the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Domain Committee for Individuals, Cultures, Societies and Health from 2008 to 2014. He is a council member of the Irish Texts Society and a board member of the Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media (GradCAM). He is on the management committee of COST Action 15137 (European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities) He served as director of the UCD Humanities Institute during the period 2005-2011 and the UCD Graduate School of Arts and Celtic Studies between 2006 and 2011. He was the director of the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) between 2001 and 2005.  He was the first director of the cultural agency Ireland Literature Exchange. He was awarded a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford where he held a Sir John Rhys Studentship in Celtic Studies at Jesus College. He is a former scholar of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He holds an MBS in Management and Organisational Studies from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Irish Humanities Alliance.

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