Daniel Hanbury


The name Daniel Hanbury rarely receives a mention in connection with pharmacy history.  His pensive portrait hangs in the RPS Library, but we knew little about him until we started researching his fascinating personal book collection, donated to the Library in 1892.  

Here, we want to celebrate the achievements of a man who, by all accounts, was ‘modest’ and ‘unassuming’, and who never desired to be centre stage as he quietly pursued his study of materia medica for the benefit of pharmacy.  

Portrait of Daniel Hanbury in the RPS Library


Daniel Hanbury was born on 11 September 1825, the eldest child (six survived) of Daniel Bell Hanbury and Rachel Christy.  Daniel’s father and uncle (Cornelius Hanbury) were amongst the founder members of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1841.  They were nephews by marriage of William Allen, the Society’s first president and, like Allen and Jacob Bell, they were Quakers.

The Hanbury brothers and William Allen had further ties as business partners, along with John Thomas Barry, in the long-established pharmaceutical firm Allen, Hanburys and Barry - later Allen and Hanburys.

Early Life

After leaving Clapham Grammar School in 1841, Daniel was apprenticed in the family business.  He began part-time study at the Society’s newly opened School of Pharmacy in 1842, attending lectures in chemistry, botany, pharmacy and materia medica, his particular interest being materia medica under Professor Jonathan Pereira.

He was amongst the first students to work in the practical chemistry laboratory which opened in 1844 under the direction of Professor of Pharmacy, Theophilus Redwood, who was also the Pharmaceutical Society’s first Librarian. 

Further Pharmaceutical Society Connections 

Daniel’s connections to the Pharmaceutical Society went much further than that of student at its School. At the age of twenty-five he started working for the Scientific Committee ‘for the promotion of pharmacological knowledge’, probably in the capacity of researcher, and he wrote for the Pharmaceutical Journal, with notable papers on Chinese materia medica.  These articles were later brought together in the publication Science Papers, chiefly Pharmacological and Botanical.

In December 1856, Daniel was registered as a Pharmaceutical Chemist and an elected member of the Pharmaceutical Society.  (That same year, he was made a partner in the family business).  Four years later he was appointed one of the Society’s examiners in botany and materia medica, a position he held for twelve years.

Always an advocate for the profession, in his opening address as President of the British Pharmaceutical Conference in 1868 , Daniel commented: 

‘We must not relax our efforts in promoting that spirit of study and research which so highly contribute to advance the dignity of the profession of pharmacy.’ 

Daniel Hanbury, Pharmacognosist

It was in ‘study and research’ that Daniel’s interests lay, and he was best known as a pharmacognosist, researching crude drugs derived from plants. Travelling abroad to advance his research, Daniel even accompanied Dr. Joseph Hooker, Assistant Director of Kew Gardens, (later Director), to Syria and Palestine in 1860.

He was an avid letter writer, and the RPS archives contain some of his correspondence, including this letter, forwarding samples of Cinchona alkaloids to Dr de Vrij.

Letter from Daniel Hanbury to Dr. de Vrij

(RPS Archives)

The archives also contain certificates showing his membership of pharmaceutical societies and associations around the world.

Certificates of membership:

The National Pharmaceutical Society of Argentina

The American Pharmaceutical Association

The Austrian Pharmacists' Association

At home, Daniel was elected a Fellow of several societies, including the Linnaen (1855); The Chemical (1858); The Royal Microscopical (1867) and The Royal Society (1867).  

He thought himself undeserving of Royal Society Fellowship, a rather harsh self-assessment for someone who devoted his entire life to his passion: the study of materia medica.  

The Pharmacographia and Friedrich Flückiger: 

Daniel’s studies culminated in his book: Pharmacographia : a history of the principal drugs of vegetable origin, met with in Great Britain and British India. The drugs included in the book are those ‘commonly kept in store by pharmacists’, or those ‘known in the drug and spice market of London’, and the work ‘contains a comparatively small number which belong to the Pharmacopoeia of India'. Entries include a drug’s botanical origin, when it was first used in medicine, its microscopic structure and chemical composition, with sections also on production, commerce and adulteration.

In the literature, there are various accounts of how he came to know Friedrich Flückiger, the book’s co-author. One is that Daniel’s articles on liquid storax, written for the Pharmaceutical Journal, led to Flückiger making contact; another that it was actually Daniel who reached out to Flückiger after reading one of his books on pharmacognosy. However, in his ‘obituary notice of Daniel Hanbury’ (translated into English) Flückiger states that Daniel’s ‘views on frankincense’ led to their acquaintanceship. 

Friedrich Flückiger was a Professor of Pharmacy and Pharmacognosy at Bern (later at Strasbourg) University. The two began collaborating in 1867, and they became great friends. After Daniel retired from the family business in 1870, he could concentrate on their book, with Friedrich giving an insight into how they conducted their research:   

‘The collections and libraries of London, Kew and Paris, the warehouses of the London docks, what the auctions of the drug brokers in the city offered for inspection, all these were repeatedly consulted or ransacked by the two friends together and compared by the aid of their mutual experiences and impressions.'

 The Pharmacographia was reviewed in the BMJ in 1874, the year it was published, with high praise:

'It abounds in research of every kind, and is a labour of love of two eminent, conscientious and able men. It will be a classical work in its department of study.'

Hanbury Memorial Medal

Sadly, following a short illness, and soon after publication of the Pharmacographia, Daniel died of typhoid fever on 24 March 1875. Brother and sister, Thomas and Anna, were by his side. He was 49 years old. He is buried in Wandsworth in the Society of Friends’ burial ground.

Shortly after his death, Daniel’s friends and colleagues resolved to honour a life dedicated to science by awarding a medal in his memory for 'high excellence in the prosecution or promotion of original research in the Natural History and Chemistry of Drugs'.

From the outset, the Society decided to award it to ‘investigators in any part of the world'.  As Professor Dragendorff of Dorpat said:

'[O]ur Science is confined to no single nationality, and [...] consequently he who labours for the advancement of pharmaceutical science acquires an international importance.'

In the early years, the Hanbury Medal was presented more frequently to international scientists and researchers, predominantly those from other European countries. Daniel Hanbury's collaborator on the Pharmacographia, Professor Flückiger, was its first recipient in 1881, the latest being Professor Alexander (Sandy) Taylor Florence in 2019.

The Hanbury Medal 

(RPS Museum)

Find out more about all our RPS Honours and Awards

Ultimately, Daniel Hanbury’s interest had always been science over business. As he himself said:

‘All Science is interesting for us, since almost every scientific discovery may sooner or later, directly or indirectly, yield some result profitable to pharmacy.’

What is Daniel Hanbury's connection to a beautiful botanical garden overlooking the Mediterranean?