S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Ekeberg, Capt Carl Gustav (hydrography, plant collection)

Born: 10 June 1716, Stockholm, Sweden.
Died: 4 April 1784, Uppsala, Sweden.

Carl Gustav Ekeberg, ship's captain and naturalist, studied medicine and pharmacy for some time at Uppsala University. In 1836 he became an assistant to a chemist in Abo (now Turku), Finland, and studied natural history, mathematics and medicine at Abo University in his spare time. While serving as ship's doctor on merchant ships during two journeys to the Mediterranean he learned navigation and showed such ability that he was employed by the Swedish East India Company. During his subsequent career he made ten journeys to the East and became such an able seaman that he was made ship's captain in 1750.

While on his travels Ekeberg made meteorological and magnetic observations, prepared excellent maps, including a chart of False Bay, and wrote a detailed description of the sea route around the Cape. On his visits to the Cape he collected plants, mainly around False Bay, and took them to the Swedish botanists Bergius, Linnaeus, and Retzius. He also acted as a courier between Governor Ryk Tulbagh and Linnaeus, transporting bulbs, seeds, and insects that Tulbagh had acquired to Sweden in 1763. During the same year he brought the first living tea plants to Sweden from China. An account of his travels to the east during 1770 and 1771 was published in Stockholm in 1773. It deals partly with the Cape of Good Hope, describing the geography, topography, fauna and flora of the Cape Peninsula and the environs of Cape Town. He was a man of wide scientific interests and played an important role in establishing Swedish botanical connections with the Cape, among others by obtaining permission for A. Sparrman* to conduct his researches there.

Ekeberg was elected a fellow of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1761, and in 1777 was made a Knight of the Order of Vasa. A number of his papers and observations on natural phenomena were published by the Academy, including reports on Chinese agriculture (1757) and the Chinese rural economy (1771). He eventually retired to his estate Altomta, near Uppsala, where he spent his final years. Sparrman published a memoir and appreciation of him in 1790, and named the genus of trees Ekebergia in his honour.

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

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

Rourke, J. Carl Gustav Ekeberg (1716-1784) and the rise of Swedish botanical influence at the Cape. Veld & Flora, December 1980, Vol. 66(4), pp. 110-112.

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

Windquist, A.H. Scandinavians and South Africa: Their impact on the cultural, social and economic development of pre-1902 South Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1978.

Compiled by: C. Plug