Carl Friedrich Drege was apprenticed to an apothecary in Altona, near Hamburg, at the age of fifteen and was a qualified chemist by 1810. He practiced as an apothecary's assistant to 1817, when changes in the law governing the profession forced him to change his occupation. In 1820 he was appointed as assistant apothecary at the firm of Pallas and Polemann* in Cape Town, arriving in September 1821. He immediately started collecting natural history specimens for commercial purposes in his spare time, and in March 1822 sent a case of bulbs, seeds, insects, birds, and skins to Holland. These travelled on the same ship as the collections made by J.L.L. Mund* and L. Maire*. Drege became friends with the botanical collector C.F. Ecklon*, who was also an assistant apothecary at Pallas and Polemann at that time. In 1824 he collected bulbs with F.W. Sieber* during the latter's visit to the Cape, and sent more zoological specimens with Sieber to Europe to be sold. On Carl's recommendation his younger brothers, botanist J.F. Drege* and W. Eduard Drege, a watchmaker, came to the Cape in March 1826. In October that year Carl left Pallas and Poleman and in January 1827 opened his own chemist shop. However, wishing to travel into the interior with his brother J.F., he moved his shop to Paarl. There he practiced until early in 1929, when he closed his shop. He and his brother then became full time professional collectors, though he also sold medicines wherever they went.
Their first journey, starting in May 1829, took them to the Karoo and as far north as the vicinity of present Middelburg, before turning towards the coast. At Enon, a Moravian mission station, Carl bought an insect collection of 1170 specimens from a man named Halter* who worked there as carpenter, waggonmaker and gardener. Moving on to Uitenhage they met J. Brehm* and collected insects with Ecklon. They returned to Paarl in February 1830, but in June left on their second journey, to Namaqualand. Carl was keen to collect almost anything, including ethnological material and even human remains. On their first trip he had dug up a recently deceased bushman woman, preserving the skin and bones, and on this trip acquired the head of an executed murderer. Many specimens were furthermore obtained in exchange for medicines. They reached the Orange River, near its junction with the Fish River, in September, travelled down to its mouth, and returned to Paarl with a large collection in January 1831. After replenishing Carl's stock of medicines they set off again in July on a journey that would eventually take them to Port Natal (now Durban). At Mossel Bay Carl collected various antelopes and birds, but in October he was summoned to Swellendam to appear in court on a charge of hunting the protected bontebok. He was acquitted, but while in Swellendam used the opportunity to visit Ecklon and Zeyher*, who were in the district. Proceeding on their journey, they met the naturalist Carl Villet* who was staying near Plettenberg Bay at the time. Learning that Dr. Andrew Smith* was on his way to Port Natal, the brothers met him in Port Elizabeth in December 1831 and it was agreed that they would join his party. They followed more or less the route of the present main road to the vicinity of Umtata, then went down to the coast south of present Port St Johns, and reached Port Natal in March 1832. The brothers remained there while Smith travelled on to Dingane's kraal. Leaving Port Natal in April 1832, they returned to Port Elizabeth in July. Further travels in the Eastern Cape followed during July to October. They then travelled north to the Orange River near Aliwal North, returned via Colesberg and Graaff-Reinet, visited Enon again, and reached Paarl in May 1833.
In July 1833 Carl left the Cape and returned to Hamburg, followed by J.F. early in 1834, and travelled all over Europe to dispose of his collections. In October 1835 Carl again left Europe for the Cape. During 1836 he travelled in Namaqualand, and went on to Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth. Most of 1837 was again spent in Namaqualand, with a return to Paarl in October. During April to September 1839 he was in Namaqualand again, and in February 1840 left the Cape to return to Germany. Settling in Eppendorf, he sold his specimens to numerous institutions all over Europe. In September 1844 he came to the Cape for the third time. His diary ends with an account of his life in Cape Town up to February 1845. In that year he applied for citizenship of the Cape Colony. He was married to Sophie Christine Auguste Drege. His son, Isaac L. Drege*, was born in Paarl in 1853. Carl returned to Hamburg shortly before his death.