Meredith Gairdner


Meredith Gairdner


Meredith Gairdner


In the fall of 1832, Meredith Gairdner, a young Scots doctor, journeyed south from his home in Edinburgh to Kew, home to the Royal Horticultural Society’s collection of plant specimens on the outskirts of London. He had studied under Sir William Jackson Hooker, who at that time had at Kew the largest collection of known plant life, and there Gairdner was introduced to the work of David Douglas, a fellow Scot. Douglas, for whom the Douglas Fir is named, had sailed to America and had sent back to England a collection of plant life exotic to Europe. Gairdner promised to send additional specimens from the new world, as he had signed on to sail to the Pacific Northwest as a ship’s doctor with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

He found on arrival at Fort Vancouver, in what is now the state of Washington, that his chances to explore the natural world of Northwest America were few, as his indenture kept him close to the settlement, dealing with the medical crises of the company’s men and Native Americans alike.
At Fort Vancouver, Gairdner met David Douglas himself, who encouraged him to travel to Hawaiʻi to study the unique flora in the islands. Gairdner was tied to the company by contract, but when it became clear that he was beginning to fail in his health because of his workload, he sailed to Hawaii. He took a reconnaissance mission around Oʻahu, writing and publishing a geological survey of that island, during a short visit to the islands in 1833, noting that “The Kings country seat, the Mission House & the Billiard Room are the most conspicuous buildings."
After two more years in the Northwest, Gairdner returned to Hawaiʻi in hope of a cure with the change of climate. Although unwell, he reported on his colleague Douglas’ death on Hawaiʻi Island in a letter to Hooker at Kew Gardens, which he sent with various boxes of specimens. From 1835 on he was looked after by mission families including both Artemas and Delia Bishop in Ka’awaloa and Asa and Lucy Thurston in Kailua-Kona. The Thurstons, who were impressed with the young man’s scientific knowledge and adventuresome spirit, gave their fifth child, Thomas, the middle name Gairdner in the year before Doctor Gairdner died in Honolulu, of tuberculosis, at the age of 28.

British Columbia Historical Quarterly, April, 1945 pp 89-112 also has the full inscription from his grave stone
Partners in Change, Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, 2018
Letter : Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Meredith Gairdner to Sir William Jackson Hooker, 19 November, 1835, Library and Archives; Directors correspondence


Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives.


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“Meredith Gairdner,” Hawaiian Mission Houses Digital Archive, accessed May 20, 2022,

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