S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

De Beze, Father Claude (plant collection)

Born: 8 May 1657, Nevers, France.
Died: 6 January 1695, Bengal (now part of India and Bangladesh).

Claude de Beze (also de Baize), a French Jesuit priest, entered the order in 1678 and became a teacher of grammar, rhetoric and the humanities at Orleans, France. In 1687 he was selected to join a mission consisting of 14 Jesuit scholars, two diplomats and over 600 soldiers sent by King Louis XIV of France to the King of Siam, at the latter's request. The request had been conveyed to France by Father Guy Tachard*, who returned to Siam with the mission. The priests had been fitted out by the Academie des Sciences to enable them to make scientific observations. Their fleet of six ships stayed at the Cape from 11 to 27 June to enable more than 300 seriously ill men to recuperate.

De Beze described some of his activities during this period in a letter to a friend in France. The letter was quoted by Tachard in his book on his second voyage to the East; translations appear in Raven-Hart (1971) and Strangman (1936). He went for walks in search of rare plants and to make botanical notes, finding that the land was decked with flowers even though it was winter. With Father Le Blanc he climbed Table Mountain to observe its flora and to investigate a report that sea shells could be found on its top, indicating that it had once been covered by the sea. On top of the mountain he saw "quantities of odiferous plants growing between the rocks. I am having drawings made of them to send to France; a few are being sent in advance to our Academicians" (Raven-Hart, 1971, Vol. 2, p. 326). He also planned to have a sketch map drawn of the surrounding countryside as seen from the mountain. With Tachard he visited governor Simon van der Stel*, who showed them some of the plants found on his travels and gave permission that drawings be made of the more uncommon ones, with notes on their properties and habitats. Tachard received these drawings, which were made by H. Claudius*, on his way back to France and included some in his book.

De Beze made a study of the natural history of Siam. He was later captured by the Dutch, but continued to make astronomical observations while a prisoner. His scientific notes were included in Observations de physique et de mathematiques, envoyees des Indes a l'academie des sciences par les peres jesuites (Paris, 1692), while his descriptions of some trees and other plants of the Malay Peninsula, "Description de quelques arbres et de quelques plantes de Malaque", was published in the Memoires de l'Academie des Sciences de Paris. He was also the author of a biography of Constance Phaulkon, a minister under Phra Narai, King of Siam at the time of his visit. This work was eventually published in Tokyo in 1947.

List of sources:

Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jesus. Paris: Picard, 1890-1900 (Vol. 1-9) and 1960 (Vol. 12).

Michaud, J.Fr. Biographie Universelle, ancienne et moderne. Graz: Akademische Druck und Verlaganstalt, 1966-1970.

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

Raven-Hart, R. Cape Good Hope, 1652-1702: The first fifty years of Dutch colonisation as seen by callers (Vol. 2, pp. 324-326; 328-329). Cape Town: Balkema, 1971.

Strangman, E. Early French callers at the Cape (chapter on Tachard). Cape Town: Juta, 1936.

Compiled by: C. Plug