Authorised form of nameHoustoun; William (c 1695 - 1733)
Other forms of surnameHouston
Datesc 1695 - 1733
Place of birthHouston, Scotland
Date of birthc 1695
Place of deathJamaica, West Indies
Date of death14 August 1733
Dates and placesBurial:
Kingston, Jamaica (14 August 1733)
Research fieldBotany
Began a degree in medicine at St Andrew's University (1719) which he never completed; carried out experiments on animal respiration; MD (1729, Leyden)
While in the Netherlands became interested in the use of newly discovered plants for medicinal purposes; employed as a ship's surgeon for the South Sea Company; travelled to Central America and to the West Indies, collected specimens many of which were unknown in Europe at the time. Visited Jamaica, Cuba, Venezuela and Vera Cruz; sent home seeds to Philip Miller, head gardener of Chelsea; Cinchoneaceae Houstonia was named after him. Returned to London in 1731, where he was introduced to Sir Hans Sloane by Miller. Commissioned by Sloane to undertake another journey to collect specimens, this time financed by the Trustees for the Province of Georgia in America, who wanted Houston to stock the garden they had planned for Savannah, Georgia. Travelled first to Madeira islands to gather grape plants, then to the Caribbean. Expedition never completed as he died from the heat of Jamaica in 1733, shortly after arriving there. Houstoun's specimens, manuscripts and drawings were eventually returned and can be found in the Natural History Museum.
Membership categoryFellow
Date of election18/01/1733
General contextThe South Sea Company (officially The Governor and Company of the merchants of Great Britain, trading to the South Seas and other parts of America, and for the encouragement of the Fishery) was a British joint-stock company founded in 1711, created as a public-private partnership to consolidate and reduce the cost of the national debt. To generate income, in 1713 the company was granted a monopoly (the Asiento) to supply enslaved Africans to the islands in the 'South Seas' and South America. Company stock rose greatly in value as it expanded its operations dealing in government debt, and peaked in 1720 before suddenly collapsing to little above its original flotation price. The notorious economic bubble thus created, which ruined thousands of investors, became known as the South Sea Bubble.
Bulloch's Roll; DNB
Altname from DNB
No portrait of him known to exist
Virtual International Authority File
Royal Society codeNA3050
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
EC/1732/09Houstoun, William: certificate of election to the Royal Society18 January 1733
CLP/10ii/20/3Plate, 'Dorstenia dentariœ radice, folio minus laciniato, placenta quandrangulari et undulata' by J [James] Mynde[1731]
CLP/10ii/20/1Manuscript, 'An account of the contrayerva' by William Houstoun[1731]
CLP/10ii/20Paper, 'An account of the contrayerva' by William Houstoun[1731]
CLP/10ii/20/2Plate, 'Dorstenia dentariœ radice, sphondylii folio, placenta ovali' by J [James] Mynde[1731]
CLP/12ii/71Paper, 'Experiments to concerning the effects of the perforation of the thorax upon respiration, made at Leyden in 1728 and 1729' by William Houstoun [1720s]
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