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Robert Wight (6 July 1796 – 26 May 1872) was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who spent 30 years in Indiamarker. He studied botany in Edinburghmarker under John Hope. He was the director of the Botanic Garden in Madrasmarker. He made use of local artists to make illustrations of the plants around him. He learned the art of lithography and used it to publish the Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis (Illustrations of the plants of Eastern India) in six volumes in 1856.

Life and work

Robert was the son of a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh and was born at Milton, East Lothian, Scotland. He was the twelfth among fourteen siblings. He was educated at the Edinburgh High School and professionally at Edinburgh University , where he took a medical degree in 1816.

He worked as a ship's surgeon for two years and went to India in 1819. Here he became the first assistant surgeon and later full surgeon of the 33rd Regiment of Native Infantry in the East India Company's service. His interest in botany was clear and within three years he was transferred to Madras and made in charge of the Botanic Gardens and later appointed as naturalist to the East India Company. He made extensive collections from southern India from 1826 to 1828, and sent them to Sir William Hooker at Glasgow. In 1828 the government discontinued his position at the Botanic Gardens and reassigned him to regimental duties as garrison surgeon at Nagapattinammarker.

He took a three year sick leave in 1831 and took to Scotlandmarker, 100,000 specimens from India consisting of 3000-4000 species. The luggage weighed 2 tons. These specimens were studied and used by Dr. George Arnott Walker-Arnott, Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow. Wight also published the Spicilegium Nilghiriense in two volumes with 200 coloured plates. Between 1840 and 1850, he issued another two volume work named Illustrations of Indian Botany, the object of which was to give figures and fuller descriptions of some of the chief species described in a systematic book of the highest botanical merit, which he prepared along with Dr. Walker-Arnott, and which was published under the title Prodromus Florae Peninsulae Indicae. Wight was interested in making a large illustrated work on Indian plants based on Sowerby's English botany. Wight's illustrations were chiefly by native artists Rungia and Govindoo for his Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis in six volumes. Unlike other British workers of the time, he gave credit to his native artists and even named a genus of Orchid after Govindoo. This was the first attempt at a flora for India in which the natural system of classification was followed. This work was however not completed.

He also founded the Madras Agri-Horticultural Society.

Wight ended his career in 1853 and returned to England from his final post in Coimbatoremarker, where he was in charge of an experimental cotton farm.This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviation Wight when citing a botanical name.


  1. Noltie, H. J. (1999) Indian botanical drawings 1793-1868 from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Edinburgh.
  2. Noltie, H. J. (2005) Robert Wight and the Illustration of Indian Botany. The Hooker Lecture. THE LINNEAN SPECIAL ISSUE No 6. [1]
  3. Noltie, H. J. (2007) The Life and Work of Robert Wight. (Book 1), Botanical Drawings by Rungiah & Govindoo: the Wight Collection (Book 2) Journeys in Search of Robert Wight (Book 3) ISBN 978 1 906129 02 6

Other sources

  • Curtis' Botanical Magazine. 1931. Dedications and Portraits 1827-1927 . Compiled by Earnest Nelmes and Wm. Cuthbertson .London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
  • Gardener's Chronicle. 1872. The Late Dr. Robert Wight , F.R.S. vol . 50 , no. 22.
  • Gray , Asa. 1873. Scientific Papers. Amer. journ of science and Arts 5 ,ser .3.
  • King Sir George. 1899. The Early History of Indian botany. journ.of Bot. 37, no. 443.

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