Francis Hamilton was born on 15 February 1762 as Francis Buchanan on the estate of Bardowie in the county of East Dunbartonshire in Central Scotland. The basis for Hamilton's monograph on the 'Gangetic Fishes' were descriptions and illustrations that he compiled during two long stays in India, each lasting several years.
By combining coloured originals and copies of Hamilton’s initial 225 fish illustrations from deposited in the British Library, Natural History Museum, Linnean Society and Zoological Society of London, this book brings together for the first time 223 coloured illustrations of his fish species. Publication of Hamilton’s Gangetic Fishes in Colour by the Ray Society comprises an introductory chapter by Dr Ralf Britz reviewing of the history of Hamilton’s monograph, a commentary of the different sources of illustrations and a celebration of the achievement of the “Father of Indian ichthyology”; the original text by Hamilton, 223 colour fish plates with captions and an index to these illustrations.
To coincide with this publication, the British Library has digitised Hamilton’s field note book, which can be viewed in two parts here and here.
"This gloriously illustrated work celebrates the work of a Scottish Enlightenment natural-philosopher savant who drew extensively upon indigenous Indian ichthyological knowledge and the skills of an outstanding Indian artist. [...] The facsimile text, beautifully reproduced on opaque and creamy paper, initially appears formulaic and dry-as-dust, but repays close study, even to those other than fish specialists, for the insights it gives into Hamilton’s interests and methodology. The final section of the book is the fish course of a sumptuous visual feast: the 228 images almost all reproduced from original watercolours. Probably all the work of Haludar, they represent a dizzying variety of forms – imaginable and not a few unimaginable in terms of size, shape and colour. Ralf Britz is to be congratulated on this fascinating and visually beautiful volume, showing how natural history research was conducted in a colonial context. It is of interest to naturalists, especially zoologists and keepers of tropical fish, but also to historians of science and art lovers."
– Henry Noltie, Archives of Natural History 47(1) 2020
"[...] These drawings were the foundation for Hamilton’s 1822 monographic work: An Account of the Fishes Found in the River Ganges and Its Branches (abbreviated Gangetic Fishes henceforth). [...] For all its pioneering value, however, Gangetic Fishes was deficient in that only 97 out of 225 of Haludar’s beautiful drawings were reproduced and only as black and white line drawings [...] These and other shortcomings have been elegantly and comprehensively addressed by Ralf Britz in Francis Hamilton’s Gangetic Fishes in Colour, a greatly augmented, meticulously annotated, and carefully revised second edition of Hamilton’s masterpiece. A major selling point of the new edition is the re-appearance of almost all of the color images that were intended to be published in Gangetic Fishes (221 of 225). But this is much more than a simple reproduction of the original with a few additional plates tacked on. [...] How did Britz manage to get hold of so many of Hamilton’s (or Haludar’s) color illustrations? Most of Hamilton’s original plates were retained in India on his departure in 1815, and they have not been made public in the post-colonial period. Fortunately, numerous copies of the originals were made during Hamilton’s lifetime, and these were tracked down by Britz in the archives of London’s Natural History Museum, the British Library, the Linnean Society of London, and the Zoological Society of London, all of whom permitted their reproduction in Francis Hamilton’s Gangetic Fishes in Colour. In the end, Britz brings together material from eight different sources to illustrate the 225 species Hamilton had originally intended to illustrate [...] In order to further increase the utility of the new edition, Britz has also incorporated new geographic information from Hamilton’s unpublished field notes and published botanical notes, facilitating the identification of type localities. This new information is summarized by Britz in multiple formats [...] In summary, Britz has brought new life into Gangetic Fishes, and Francis Hamilton’s Gangetic Fishes in Colour is arguably the most valuable contribution to South Asian ichthyology in the past century."
– Kevin W. Conway, Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology and Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, Texas A&M University, Copeia 108(2), 2020