Friday, 26 December 2008

Nathaniel Wallich

Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854)

Wallich was a Dane, born at Copenhagen as Nathan ben Wulff. After studies in Medicine and Botany he entered the service of the Danish East India Company (aged 21) and was stationed at Frederiksnagore (Serampore). He arrived in India in November 1807, but just a few months later (January 1808) the British occupied Danish India, and Wallich was taken fugitive. As prisoner of war, in 1809, he was assigned to work with William Roxburgh in the Calcutta Botanic Gardens. He joined the Bengal Medical Service (Honorable East India Company) in 1814. From 1815-1846 he was Superintendent of the Botanical gardens. Whilst superintendent he published Tentamen flora nepalensis illustratae (1824-26) and Plantae asiaticae Rariories (1830-32). Superintendent of the Oriental Museum of the Asiatic Society. Dr. Nathaniel Wallich took charge of the Museum on June 1, 1814.

Arum tortuosum. From Plantae Asiaticae Rariores; or, Descriptions and Figures of a Select Number of Unpublished East Indian Plants. Printed by Englemann, Graf, Coindet & Co. Published in London.

In 1812 as convalescence from Malaria, Wallich travelled to Mauritius. Many plants collected on this trip were sent to Calcutta. He visited Nepal in 1820-22 and then proceeded with an investigation of the Bay of Bengal, Penang and the Straits of Malacca. A year later he was exploring the kingdom of Oude and the provinces of Rohilcund and Kamoan. In 1826-27 Burma, Tenasserim and Martaban were visited. In 1835 he explored Asssam and the interior of the Cape Colony of South Africa.

During his years as Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden he distributed more than 190,000 live plants to more than 2000 gardens in India, Europe, North and South America, South Africa and Australia.

Among the new plants that he found were many new rhododendrons, Amherstia nobilis (named for his life-long friend Lady Amherst) and Hedychium gardnerianum (Khalili ginger). Wallich introduced many plants from colder zones in the north of India which proved to be of easier cultivation in European gardens.

Amherstia nobilis from Plantae Asiaticae Rariores

His obituary posted in the 1856 Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, of which he served as a vice president, gives a full account of his life and works.(See also Plant

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