S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Fritsch, Dr Gustav Theodor (physical anthropology, shell collection)

Born: 5 March 1838, Cottbus, Germany.
Died: 12 June 1927, Berlin, Germany.

Gustav T. Fritsch, German anatomist, anthropologist and traveller, studied in the natural sciences and medicine at the universities of Berlin, Breslau and Heidelberg from 1857, graduating as Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1867. Thereafter he worked as an assistant in the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Berlin to 1874, when he was promoted to professor of comparative anatomy in the institute. Later he served as head of the Histological Division of the university's Institute for Physiology. He became an honorary professor in 1900 and was a leading scientist of his time. Throughout his career he travelled widely to further his scientific studies in anthropology, ethnology, astronomy, and zoology. For example, in 1868 he joined an expedition to Aden where he observed a solar eclipse, and in 1874 was in Esfahan, Iran, to observe the transit of Venus on 8 December that year. During 1881 and 1882 he travelled in Egypt and the Middle East. In 1904-1905 he undertook a trip round the world to collect anthropological data for a study of human races.

For most of his career Fritsch focussed on the study of anthropology, particularly human races and race mixtures. With F. von Luschan* and R. Virchow he played a significant role in establishing the Berliner Gesellschaft fuer Anthropologie in 1900. The publications resulting from his research and travels included Aegyptische volkstypen der Jetztzeit (re-issued in 1904) and Das Haupthaar und seine Bildungstatten bei den rassen des Menschen (1912), with additional obeservations published in 1915. His works in anatomy included Die elektrischen fische in Licht der Descendenzlehre (1883), dealing with electric organs in fishes, and papers on the comparative anatomy of the amphibian brain. Around 1870 he and E. Hitzig studied the localisation of motor functions in the cerebral cortex through electric stimulation of specific areas. His interest in colour photography and colour vision led to a monograph, Beitraege zur Dreifarben-Photographie in 1903, and a paper on "Die Retinalelemente und die Dreifarben-theorie" in 1904. He made some contributions to microphotography as well.

Early in his career, from 1863 to 1866, Fritsch visited South Africa and travelled from Cape Town through the present Free State, Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal and Botswana. During this visit he collected shells in Table bay, False Bay and Algoa Bay and discovered Coralliophila fritschi. His shells went to the Berlin Museum and were described by von Martin in 1874. Fritsch described his travels in Drei Jahre in Suedafrika... (1868), which included a description of the Khoisan. His major anthropological work on the people of southern Africa, however, was Die Eingeborenen Sued-Afrika's ethnographisch und anatomisch beschrieben..., which appeared in 1872. It was a pioneering work that made a valuable contribution to the study of the indigenous populations of southern Africa, giving careful attention to their physical make-up and containing remarkable steel engravings of their facial features. In addition he published various papers on the people of southern Africa in the Zeitschrift fuer Ethnologie over the years. These dealt with, among others, the appearance of a Basuto youth (1873); changes in the relations between the native people of the region during historical times (1874); his translation of an article by Rev. C.G. Buttner* on some Bushmen paintings in Damaraland, Namibia (1878); the Zulu people of South Africa (1879); the Bushmen as an original race (1880); the end of the Anglo-Zulu War (1880); the history of the Zulus (1885); and the distribution of the Bushmen in Africa (1887). In an earlier paper in the Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft fuer Allgemeine Erdkunde zu Berlin (1868) he described the climate of South Africa as it affects the health and prosperity of the population, and the next year wrote on the increasing dryness of South Africa in the Zeitschrift der Oesterlische Gesellschaft fuer Meteorologie. Another book by him, Suedafrika bis zum Zambesi; das Land mit seinen pflanzlichen und tierischen Bewohnern, was published in 1885.

List of sources:
Barnard, K.H. Personal names in South African conchology. Cape Town: Conchological Society of Southern Africa, 1965.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Kilburn, R. & Rippey, E. Sea shells of southern Africa. Johannesburg: Macmillan, 1982.

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

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

Neue Deutsche Biographie. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1953-1997.

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

Tobias, P.V. History of physical anthropology in southern Africa. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 1985, Vol. 28, pp. 1-52.

Venter, R.J. Bibliography of regional meteorological literature. Vol. 1. Southern Africa, 1486-1948. Pretoria: Weather Bureau, 1949.

World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

Compiled by: C. Plug