David Lyall
Surgeon, Royal Navy

(March 28, 1860)  Our surgeon a Dr. Lyell, R.N. of Aberdeen, is a most experienced man.  In addition to having been in every ordinary portion of the world, he has been on an Arctic expedition under Franklin, and on an Antarctic expedition under Sir E. Belcher, and tho' not a very talkative man, we get curious yarns from him at times.

--Lt. Samuel Anderson, R.E.


" In Victoria I used to get up about 9, read the newspapers, take a few solar observations with a Sextant till 12, have luncheon, and ride up to town about 2, lounge about the town paying visits and shopping till 3, then go for a ride till 4:39, get home about 5:30, have dinner at 6, cup of tea at 7:30, rubber of whist (for love) till 11, and then turn in and that was our ordinary employment.  We used to be overrun at various portions of the day by naval officers coming on shore for fun, and in the evening we used sometimes to have as many as a dozen at a time in our Mess-room, and we were all great friends with them."

-- 27 May 1860, Lt. Anderson RE


"Our force is greatly reduced at this place to what it was last winter. In the first place we have lost our surgeon who has invalided himself, and also our Geologist who has been recalled." 

- - Lt. Anderson, Fort Colville, 20 Nov. 1861


The following is from the obituary of David Lyall published by J. D. Hooker in J. Bot. 33: 209-211. 1895 -- with embellishments.

     David Lyall was born in Kinkairdineshire, June 1st, 1817, and after a long period of active service as a medical officer and naturalist in the Royal Navy, he retired in 1873, and died at Cheltenham, March 2nd, 1895, with the rank of Deputy Inspector- General of Hospitals and Fleets and a Good-Service Pension.

     Dr. Lyall received his medical education at Aberdeen where he had his M.D. degree, having previously been admitted a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh.  As was not unfrequently the case with young Aberdonian medical men, he sought to improve his medical knowledge, and threw himself early on his own resources, by undertaking a journey to Greenland as surgeon to a whaling ship; and this no doubt led to his being selected, immediately after entering the Royal Navy in 1839, for service under Sir James Ross in the expedition being fitted out for a scientific voyage to the Antarctic Regions.   

     He was appointed Assistant-Surgeon of H.M.S. 'Terror' (the consort of H.M.S. 'Erebus') under Commander Crozier, to which duties Sir James (the Captain) Ross added those of forming botanical collections.


November 1840 Cptn James Ross visited Port Ross for 20 days in HMS EREBUS and HMS TERROR. Botanists Dr. David Lyall & Joseph Hooker collected 80 flowering plants.  Released sheep, poultry, rabbits.  Planted variety of vegetables and garden fruits.


During the voyage which did not return to England till late in 1842, his conduct was officially reported to the Admiralty as "meriting the highest commendations."

The writer of this notice was a brother officer of Dr. Lyall's during that expedition (an intercourse that led to a life-long friendship) and has added his tribute to the value of his services in the following passages: 

He also, during the five winter months of 1842, when the ships remained in Berkeley Sound, made a "beautiful collection of interesting Algae", which formed "an important addition to Antarctic Botany" (op. cit., part 11, 215).  On this expedition was found, in Kerguelen Island, the remarkable plant named by the writer Lyallia [kerguelensis, Caryophyllaceae].

     "To him were due many of the botanical results of the Expedition" (Fl. Antarctica vol. 1, p. xii). 

     "He formed a most important herbarium amounting to no less than 1500 species." 

Shortly after the return of the Antarctic Expedition, Dr. Lyall was appointed to the Mediterranean, where he served in several commissions as Assistant Surgeon till 1847, when he was promoted, and at the recommendation of Sir William Hooker, was selected as Surgeon and Naturalist to accompany Capt. Stokes in H.M.S. 'Acheron' on the survey of the coast of New Zealand.  Here, devoting himself to the collection of the lower orders of plants especially, he amassed the most beautiful and extensive herbarium in these branches of botany which had ever been found in the islands, besides making considerable discoveries in phaenogamous plants, and collecting some of that had been previously gathered by Banks and Solander.  Among one of his many important discoveries in this survey were that of the monarch of all buttercups, the gigantic white-flowered Ranunculus Lyallii, the only known species with peltate leaves, the "water-lily" of the New Zealand shepherds.

See http://www.rnzih.org.nz/pages/ranunlyal.htm for more info.

The first scientific expeditions to Campbell Island were in 1840 – 42.  The main thrust of the expeditions was geological in nature; however, two scientists, Hooker and Lyall, compiled the first plant and animal inventories for the island.  Their names still show in the Hooker’s, or New Zealand, sea lion (Phocartus hookeri) and the tree daisy Olearia lyallii.  

Dr. Lyall's other published contribution to science was a paper on the habits of a remarkable New Zealand bird, the Kakapo, Strigops habroptilus**.  

"The Kakapo is esteemed a great delicacy by the natives; but its flesh has a strong and slightly stringent flavour."

-- Dr Lyall, British naturalist, 1852.*

*from http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz/then/decline.html
To learn more about the Kakapo, please see: http://www.kakapo.net/en/index.html as well as http://www.nzbirds.com/Kakapo.html
The Stephens Island Wren

From fossils that have been found around New Zealand, scientists know that the Stephens Island Wren could once be found on the North and South Islands, as well as Stephens Island.  However the only European to ever see the Stephens Island wren alive was David Lyall, the lighthouse keeper on Stephens Island in 1894.  Stephens Island is the northern-most island in the Marlborough Sounds.

The wren was a very tiny bird, about the size of a silvereye – a native species often seen in New Zealand gardens,  Traversia lyalli.  The wren was flightless and David Lyall described the bird as running about like a mouse.

How did the Stephens Island wren become extinct?  It was eaten by the lighthouse keeper’s cat!

David Lyall reported that his cat had brought him 17 birds, which were all the same species (they were later named the Stephens Island wren).  Because the cat was good at hunting and the wren could not fly, the wren became extinct soon after it was discovered.  In fact, the Stephens Island wren was discovered and then became extinct within the space of a year – the only bird known to have this happen.

courtesy of: http://www.kcc.org.nz/birds/extinct.asp

     In 1852, Dr. Lyall was appointed Surgeon and Naturalist to the 'Assistance', one of the squadron sent out to the Arctic Regions under the commander of Sir E. Belcher, in search of Sir John Franklin.  When in this service he received an acting order as lieutenant in command of one of the sledges employed in the search, and further, as senior medical officer of the expedi tion, he was appointed Superintending Surgeon of the 'North Star', when the crews of the 'Assistance' and 'Pioneer' retreated to that ship.  During this Arctic Expedition Dr. Lyall made good collections at every point visited, from Disko to Polar Islands.  A list of these is published in the Journal of the Linnean Society.  It contains about ninety phaenogams and vascular cryptogams and a large number of musci, etc.  Exclusive of Greenland, this is by far the largest herbarium ever formed in the American Polar Islands, and exceeds the sum of those of all previous expeditions in the same regions; but, as was to have been expected, no novelties rewarded his labours. 

To learn more about the Franklin Expedition please see:  http://pwnhc.learnnet.nt.ca/exhibits/nv/beechey.htm

     On his return he was appointed to the 'Pembroke', Capt. Seymour, under whom he served throughout the Baltic Campaign of 1855 [Crimean War], and was present at the bombardment of Sveaborg [Suomenlinna, then in Russian hands].  After a short period of home service in the 'Royal William' at Devonport, Dr. Lyall was commissioned as Surgeon and Naturalist to H.M.'s surveying ship 'Plumper' and afterwards to the 'Hecate', under Captain (now Admiral Sir George) Richards, employed in the delimitation of the sea boundary between Great Britain and the United States in the Pacific Ocean. 

Sitting, left to right: Sub-Lieutenant E.P. Bedwell, 2nd Lieutenant R.C. Mayne, Mrs. G.H. Richards, 1st Lieutenant William Moriarity; standing, Dr. David Lyell, Paymaster W.H.J. Brown, Captain G.H. Richards, 2nd Master Daniel Pender; of HMS Plumper.

Photograph courtesy of BC Archives, Call Number B-03617
(click on small picture to see larger picture)

     From this his services (in 1858) were transferred to the Land Boundary Commission, under Col. Sir John Hawkins, R.E., which he accompanied in its survey of the boundary line between British Columbia and the United States possessions, from the Gulf of Georgia to the summit of the Rocky Mountains.  From this exploration Dr. Lyall brought home a magnificent herbarium, one of such importance that, at the earnest representation of Sir William Hooker, he was borne on the books of H.M.S. 'Fisguard' at Woolwich as Staff Surgeon, a vicarious appointment that allowed of his residing at Kew for the purpose of arranging, reporting on, and distributing his collections.  The results are published in a valuable contribution to the Linnean Society* which contains an account of the regions traversed, from the sea to 8,000 feet alt. of the Rocky Mountains, where the various zones of vegetation in British Columbia are for the first time indicated and scientifically portrayed.

     Immediately after the conclusion of his labours at Kew, Dr. Lyall was appointed Surgeon to Pembroke Dockyard, at that time a permanency, and when the regulations affecting this branch of the service (the dockyard) were changed in 1868, he accepted home appointment to H.M.S. 'Trincomalee' and 'Daedalus' consecutively till 1873, when he retired. 

     Latterly he resided at Cheltenham, where shortly before his death he met with an accident, the breaking of an arm, from which he never wholly recovered.  He married in 1866 to Miss F.A. Rowe, daughter of Dr. Rowe of Haverfordwest, by whom he had three children who survived him. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in November, 1862. 

* Account of the botanical collections made by David Lyall, R.N., M.D., F.L.S. Journal of the Linnean Society vii (1863): 124-147. 

** Proc. Zoological Society xx (1852): 31-33. (BEN # 129 11-March-1996)

The gastropod name Turbonilla lyalli (Dall & Bartsch, 1907) was named by David Lyall.

--from Biographical Etymology of Marine Organism Names