S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Pechuel-Loesche, Eduard (geography, geology, plant collection)

Born: 26 July 1840, Zöschen, near Leipzig, Germany.
Died: 29 May 1913, Munich, Germany.

Eduard Pechuel-Loesche (or Pechuel-Lösche) entered the German merchant navy after completing his schooling and travelled widely for several years. He then studied geography and natural history at the University of Leipzig, graduating as Doctor of Philosophy (Dr Phil) in 1872. During 1873-1876 he took part in the Loango expedition, sent out by the German association for research in equatorial Africa and led by Dr Paul Güssfeldt, to study the coastal region of West Africa between the approximate latitudes of 4ºS and 6ºS (now mainly part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The expedition and its work were described under the general title Die Loango Expedition, comprising three volumes written by P. Güssfeldt (1879), J. Falkenstein (1879) and Pechuel-Loesche (1882). Many years later he published a further volume, "Volkskunde von Loango" (1907).

Following a further period of study at Leipzig he again visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1882 to report on the Belgian Congo venture. His official report, "Kongoland" (1887) dealt mainly with trade and industries, while in two other publications (1885, 1886) he discussed H.M. Stanley's* reports on the Congo, which Pechuel-Loesche regarded as biased.

In 1884 he was sent to Hereroland, in present Namibia, to obtain mining concessions for the Rhineland industrialist L. von Lilienthal. Accompanied by his wife, Elsbeth Von Leubnitz, he called at the Cape and from there travelled to Walfish Bay by sea. They travelled inland from Walfish Bay via Usakos and Karibib to Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River and from there to Okanhandja. At Okahandja Pechuel-Loesche was unsuccessful in negotiating a concession with Chief Kamaherero. They returned to Walfish Bay via Otjimbingwe after a stay of ten weeks in the territory. During this period they made a collection of plants which was presented to the Botanischer Museum at Berlin-Dalheim, and was described by C.E.O. Kuntze* in the institution's Jahrbuch in 1886.

Pechuel-Loesche published two extensive accounts of his visit in the form of serialized articles in different journals. The first, "Zur Kenntnis des Hererolandes" (Towards knowledge about Hereroland) appeared in Das Ausland (1886) in four parts; the second, "Zur bewirtschaftung Südwestafrikas" (On the economic utilisation of South West Africa) was published in the Deutsche Kolonialzeitung (1888) in six parts. These papers contained the most scholarly of all the descriptions of the territory published during the eighteen-eighties. He conveniently divided South West Africa into three latitudinal-ethnographic regions: Namaland (south of about 23ºS), Hereroland (20ºS to 23ºS), and Ovamboland (north of 20ºS). Of these he regarded Hereroland as the most valuable region for possible German colonisation. In addition he distinguished clearly between two north-south climatic-ecological regions, namely the coastal desert and an inland region where enough rain fell to maintain vegetation and where livestock could be kept. His interest in geology led to two papers on laterites - ferruginous clay deposits formed mainly under tropical conditions by the weathering of igneous rocks. Both papers, "Westafrikanische Laterite" (1884) and "Südafrikanische Laterite" (1885), appeared in the journal Das Ausland. The Deutsche Kolonialzeitung also published a brief abstract of a lecture by him on "Die Walfischbai und das Hereroland" (1886).

After his return to Germany in 1885 he qualified as a lecturer in geography at Jena (1886) and in 1895 was appointed professor of geography at Erlangen University. He was regarded as perhaps the most widely travelled professional geographer of his time. However, he published little of importance after about 1893, partly because of a worsening heart ailment. During his travels he made about 400 water-colour paintings. Some 70 of his landscapes of Hereroland are kept in the Institut für Geographie, University of Hamburg. The plant genus Pechuel-Loeschea and species Adenia pechueliiu and Aerua pechuelii were named after him, while the species Pechuel-Loeschea leubnitziae was named after his wife.

List of sources:
Bullock, A.A. Bibliography of South African botany (up to 1951). Pretoria: Department of Agricultural Technical Services, 1978.

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

Hall, A.L. Bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

Hillebrecht, W. Unpublished notes for a Dictionary of Namibian biography. Windhoek: National Archives of Namibia, June 2004.

Hugo, P.J., Schalk, K.E.L. & Barnes, S.J. Bibliography of South West African/Namibian earth science. Windhoek: Geological Survey, 1983.

Kienetz, A. Nineteenth-century South West Africa as a German settlement colony (pp. 417-431). PhD thesis in social geography, University of Minnesota, 1976. Facsimile by University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977.

Logan, R.F. Bibliography of South West Africa, geography and related fields. Windhoek: South West Africa Scientific Society, 1969.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Compiled by: C. Plug