S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Liesching, Dr Friedrich Ludwig (medical sciences)

Born: 8 August 1757, Weinsberg, Wuerttemberg, Germany.
Died: 9 June 1841, Cape Town, South Africa.

F. Ludwig Liesching was the only son of Dr Christoph Friedrich Liesching and his wife, Christina R. Schroll. As one of the brightest pupils of the Latin school in Bietigheim he came to the attention of the Duke of Wuerttemberg who was recruiting cadets for his newly established military academy, the HohenKarlsschule. This institution was developing into a university, with a medical faculty which opened in 1775. Liesching entered it in January 1773 and graduated as Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1782 with a thesis titled Dissertatio medica generalia quaedam de exanthematibus acutis pro varia febrium suarum ratione exhibens. However, by entering him into the academy his parents had committed him to life-long service to the Duke. He worked as Land und Stadtphysicus at Gaildorf until 1785, when he married Luise Seubert. They eventually had four sons and four daughters, including Carl Ludwig Wilhelm (Louis) Liesching* and Carl Friedrich (Charles) Liesching*. He then practised at Muensingen for some time. In 1787 the Duke raised Das Wuerttembergische Kapregiment to serve the Dutch East India Company as mercenaries, and appointed Liesching surgeon-major of its 1st Battalion. With his wife and first child he accompanied the regiment to the Cape of Good Hope, arriving about the end of 1787.

Little is known about what he did at the Cape for the next few years. When the regiment was ordered to the East in 1791 he remained behind and became medical officer at the newly-established recruiting depot in Cape Town, a post he retained during the first British occupation of the Cape (1795-1803) until 1802. That year he was granted burgher status and had become one of the most reputable medical men in Cape Town. He played a role in the first vaccination campaign against smallpox in 1803, and served on the Vaccine Commission both during the rule of the Batavian Republic (1803-1806) and when it was newly appointed in January 1807 after the second British occupation of the Cape.

In partnership with J.J. von Ziegler he opened "Dr Liesching and Company, Apothecaries and Retail Shop" in 1800, next to his home in Loop Street. In 1804 he was granted a piece of land above Botany Bay (later Bantry Bay), Sea Point, and with von Ziegler established a garden for the cultivation of medicinal herbs. He eventually sold the ground to one of his sons in 1828. As a collector of natural history specimens his main interest was in shells, of which he sent a collection to the Duke of Wuerttemburg as a token of his esteem. The first Supreme Medical Committee, established in 1807, listed him as one of only four first-class physicians at the Cape. He was, however, asked to stop practising as a pharmacist as it did not befit his professional standing and conflicted with the interest of other apothecaries. None the less his pharmacy survived and his youngest son, Carl Friedrich Liesching* served an apprenticeship there during 1814-1818 to become South Africa's first locally trained pharmacist. In spite of his business interests the elder Liesching experienced financial problems for most of his career.

Liesching did his best to improve the quality and qualifications of medical personnel at the Cape and throughout his career campaigned against the appointment of poorly qualified persons to responsible positions in the care of the sick. In 1805 he advocated the establishment of a school for midwives, recommending Dr Johann H.F.C.L. Wehr* to do the training, but nothing came of the proposal.

"L. Liesching, MD" - either Ludwig or his son Carl L.W. (Louis)* - was a founding member and served on the mamagement committee of the South African Literary Society (1824-1832). When the society amalgamated with the South African Institution to form the South African Literary and Scientific Institution in 1832 he continued to serve on its committee for several more years. "L. Liesching" or "Dr Liesching" also served on the committee of the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society in 1832-1833.

At the age of seventy he was elected the first president of the South African Medical Society (founded in 1827), the first of its kind in South Africa. With his son Louis as vice-president he played a leading role in the society until shortly before his death. When the Supreme Medical Committee was disbanded in 1831 he convinced the governor that all its functions should be entrusted to the society. It performed these duties from October that year to 1834. However, the resulting administrative work and arbitration interfered with the discussion of medical and clinical problems and the Supreme Medical Committee was resuscitated in October 1834. After the death of both the elder and the younger Liesching (the latter in 1843) the society gradually languished. The medical dynasty that Ludwig Liesching created survived to the late twentieth century.

List of sources:
Blumberg, C. The South African Medical Society, c. 1827-1846. South African Medical Journal, 1985, Vol. 68, pp. 267-269.

Burrows, E.H. A history of medicine in South Africa up to the end of the nineteenth century. Cape Town: Balkema, 1958.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Hoge, J. Personalia of the Germans at the Cape, 1652-1806. Archive Year Book for South African History, 1946, pp. 1-495.

Kaapsche Stads Courant en Africaansche Berigter (Cape Town Gazette), 15 Augustus 1807, p. 1, Gouvernements Advertentie (list of medics allowed to practice at the Cape).

Laidler, P.W. & Gelfand, M. South Africa, its medical history 1652-1898. Cape Town: Struik, 1971.

McMagh, P. The three Lieschings: Their times and contribution to Cape medicine, 1800-1843. Cape Town: Society for the History of Pharmacy in South Africa, 1992.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Ludwig Liesching / F.L. Liesching.

Papers of the South African Literary Society, 1824. Reprinted, Cape Town: Africana Connoisseurs Press.

South African almanac and directory... (title varies), 1830-1842.

South African Commercial Advertiser, 7 April 1832, p. 2: Rules and regulations of the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society; 18 July 1832, p. 1 and 20 July 1833, p. 2: South African Literary and Scientific Institution; 16 January 1833, p. 2: The Agricultural Society.

Compiled by: C. Plug