S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Reinwardt, Prof Caspar Georg Carl (botany)

Born: 3 June 1773, Lüttringhausen, Nordhein-Westfalen, Germany.
Died: 6 March 1854, Leiden, Netherlands.

Caspar G.C. Reinwardt, German-Dutch botanist, moved to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1787 as an apprentice apothecary. He studied botany and chemistry at the Athenaeum Illustre (later the University of Amsterdam) and was awarded an honorary doctorate in medicine and natural philosophy by the Harderwijksch Hoogeschool (Academy of Harderwijk) in 1800. That same year he became professor of botany at Harderwijk. In 1808, against his wishes, King Lodewijk appointed him as the director of a new botanic garden, natural history museum and zoological garden at Soestdijk and subsequently at Haarlem. In 1810 he was appointed professor of natural history at the Athenaeum Illustre in Amsterdam, where he also taught chemistry and pharmacy. He became an active member of the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (Dutch Society of Sciences).

In January 1815 Reinwardt was appointed advisor on agriculture, arts and sciences for the Dutch colonies and in October that year left the Netherlands to take up his post at Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). He was accompanied by William Kent, former curator of the academic garden at Harderwijk. Their journey was interrupted by a stay of six weeks at the Cape of Good Hope during January and February 1816. Reinwardt had been asked to collect Cape plants, particularly succulents, for the secretary of the Maatschappij der Wetenschappen, the physicist and plant cultivator Dr M. van Marum. He wrote three letters to van Marum from the Cape, describing his activities. During his stay he met the plant collectors Reverend C.H.F. Hesse*, P.H. Polemann* and C.H. Bergius*. He was fascinated by the Cape flora and collected many specimens, including some insects, birds, etc., both in the neighbourhood of Cape town and during a journey of about eight days to Hottentots Holland, Stellenbosch, Drakenstein and Paarl. Van Marum was particularly interested in acquiring aloes.

Reinwardt arranged for Reverend Hesse to send van Marum some seeds and a collection of aloes, stapelias, crassulas and other succulents, and these arrived in the Netherlands in October 1817. As there were no ships bound for the Netherlands during his stay at the Cape he took many plants with him, to be dispatched from Batavia. Unfortunately these specimens were lost on their way to Europe in 1818, when the ship was wrecked in Algoa Bay.

Arriving at Batavia in April 1816, Reinwardt founded and directed the famous botanic garden at Buitenzorg. He travelled to several islands in the Dutch East Indies, collected natural history specimens, and published several papers on his botanical and other observations. In 1819 he was appointed professor of chemistry, botany and natural history at Leiden, but only left Batavia in June 1822 and took office in May 1823. He held this post until his retirement in 1845. His Reis naar het oostelijk gedeelte van den Indischen Archipel in het jaar 1821 (Journey to the eastern part of the Indian archipelago in the year 1821), based on his papers, was published in Amsterdam by W.H. de Vries in 1858, after his death. De Vries also published Reinwardt's Plantae Indiae Batavae Orientalis... shortly after his death (Leiden, 1856). The South African aloe Haworthia reinwardtii was named after him by A.H. Haworth, while the Indonesian plant genus Reinwardtia also carries his name. Specimens collected by him are housed in the Rijksherbarium, Leiden.

List of sources:
Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 1, 1968.

Folliott, P. & Liversidge, R. Carl Heinrich Bergius, Cape apothecary and collector, 1816-1818. Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 1964, Vol. 18, pp. 134-142, 183-192.

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

Karstens, M.C. Letters from an early Cape botanist. Journal of the Botanical Society of South Africa, 1937, Vol. 23, pp. 18-22.

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

Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek. Leyden: Sijthoff, 1911-1937.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Compiled by: C. Plug