Lyall, Doctor David
b. 1817
d. 1895
Doctor David Lyall (1817-1895) served as the surgeon and naturalist aboard HMS Plumper during its early surveys of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast in 1858.1 Governor Douglas cites Doctor Lyall by name in a letter to Lytton, as an authority on suitable colony sites, a mark of the reputation Lyall had established during his prestigious exploration career.2
Lyall was later attached to the land-based commission responsible for determining and marking the border between British and American possessions.3 The commission worked from the coast to the summit of the Rocky Mountains; Lyall collected botanical samples along the trek. His collection of plants across multiple elevations and ecosystems formed the basis of the first scientific study of British Columbian flora, which he published through the Linnaean Society.4 Lyall's collection was considered so important that he was listed as staff surgeon of HMS Fisgard while living near Kew. This honorary appointment allowed him to receive pay from the navy while arranging, reporting on, and distributing his collection.5
After receiving his M.D. from Aberdeen, Lyall surgeoned on a Greenland whaling vessel. As a result of this background of ice-pack sailing, the British admiralty attached him to the 1839-43 Antarctic expedition under Captain James Ross when he applied to the navy.6 Ross's voyage became the first to reach continental Antarctica; thus Lyall and fellow naturalist Joseph Dalton Hooker became the first scientists to study its flora.7 For his work as assistant-surgeon, and for collecting over 1,500 species of plants, Lyall was reported to the Admiralty as meriting the highest commendations.8
Following a stint in the Mediterranean, Lyall continued his botanical work on a vessel surveying the New Zealand coast. In 1852, Lyall was appointed surgeon and naturalist to HMS Assistance during its voyage into the Arctic in search of John Franklin. During this voyage, Lyall received an acting lieutenantship, and was appointed superintending surgeon of HMS North Star when the other ships of the expedition were abandoned. Lyall then served as surgeon aboard vessels active in the Crimean war before boarding HMS Plumper in 1858.9
Lyall was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1862, and married F. A. Rowe in 1866, with whom he had three children. He finished his career at Pembroke Dockyard, and on various home appointments, retiring in 1873.10
Plants named for Doctor Lyall include Lyallia, a genus of Antarctic herb, Ranunculus lyallii, a white New Zealand flower, and Anemone lyallii, a flowering plant native to Vancouver Island and British Columbia.11
  • 1. E. C. Mayne, Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island: an account of their forests, rivers, coasts, gold fields, and resources for colonization. (London: J. Murray, 1862), ch. 1.
  • 2. Douglas to Lytton, 26 October 1858, 2724, CO 60/1, 245; The Royal Engineers Living History Group, David Lyall: Surgeon, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers & Associates.
  • 3. Mayne, Four Years.
  • 4. The Royal Engineers Living History Group, David Lyall.
  • 5. J. D. Hooker, David Lyall, Journal of Botany 33 (1895): 209-211.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. David Lyall: Surgeon, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers & Associates.
  • 8. Hooker, David Lyall, 209-211.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. David Lyall: Surgeon, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers & Associates; D. Ingram, Lyall's Anemone, Island Nature.
Mentions of this person in the documents