S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Meister, Mr Georg (plant collection)

Born: 15 October 1653, Bruecken, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany.
Died: 15 May 1713, Dresden, Germany.

Georg Meister, a German gardener, entered the service of Ernest A. van Eberstein, a high official of the Duke of Saxony, as a gardener in 1675. Two years later he went to Amsterdam and entered the employ of the Dutch East India Company as a midshipman. He left Holland on the flagship Ternaten in May 1677. In his capacity as the ship's gardener he was exempted from military duty and put in charge of the small tub-garden for growing vegetables to prevent scurvy. The ship arrived in Table Bay on 14 September and remained for about three weeks before proceeding to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Meister took up military duties, was involved in military skirmishes on Java, and suffered many hardships. Back in Batavia he befriended Andries Cleyer*, a physician in charge of medicines for the Dutch East India Company on the island. Cleyer employed him privately to manage his extensive gardens. Meister retained this post for almost ten years, during which he also undertook plant collecting expeditions. In 1682-1683 he sailed with Cleyer along the shores of Java, the Malay Peninsula and China, to reach Nagasaki in Japan. During this trip, which lasted two years, he collected a great variety of plants. He and Cleyer visited Japan again in 1685-1686.

In 1687 Meister decided to return to Europe, taking a collection of seeds with him in his private capacity. He travelled on the Waalstroom, which reached the Cape of Good Hope on 20 March 1688, staying until 30 April. He visited the Company gardens and delivered a large collection of Asian plants to Governor Simon van der Stel* for cultivation at the Cape, including tea, camphor, guava, banana and pineapple. The Governor placed in his care 17 cases of plants destined for the Medical Garden at Amsterdam, the Prince of Orange, and Caspar Fagal, Pensionary of Holland. Meister also collected bulbs on Lion Hill, bought more bulbs, and acquired drawings of plants, all of which he took to Holland.

After his return to Europe in August 1888 he visited various towns on the continent, particularly their botanic gardens, and in December 1689 settled in Dresden as gardener to the Duke of Saxony. His herbarium of 300 sheets was handed to Jacob Breyne of Danzig, who used it in the compilation of his list of plants in Dutch gardens published in 1689. Meanwhile Meister wrote an account of his travels, Der Orientalisch-Indianische Kunst- und Lust-Gaertner..., which was published in Dresden in 1692. It included an interesting description of the Cape, particularly the Dutch East India Company's garden and the appearance and customs of the Hottentots, though the latter was based mainly on earlier works. His book is valuable mainly for its description of Japan and the East, and for its lists, descriptions and illustrations of Asian plants and fruits.

List of sources:
Bielschowsky, L. A German gardener at the Cape, 1677. Quaterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 1950/1, Vol. 5, pp. 118-121.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Heniger, J. Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) and Hortus Malabaricus. A contribution to the history of Dutch colonial botany. Amsterdam: Balkema, 1986.

Kuitert, W. Georg Meister: A seventeenth century gardener and his reports on oriental garden art. Japan Review, 1991, Vol. 2, pp.125-143. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/IJ0206.pdf on 2018-10-4.

Moritz, E. Die Deutschen am Kap unter den Hollaendischen Herrschaft, 1652-1806 (p. 61). Weimar: H. Boehlaus, 1938.

Raven-Hart, R. Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1702; the first fifty years of Dutch colonisation as seen by callers (2 vols). Cape Town: Balkema, 1971.

Rookmaaker, L.C. The zoological exploration of southern Africa, 1650-1790. Rotterdam: Balkema, 1989.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug