S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Froembling*, Dr George Herman Walter (pharmacology, plant collection)

Born: 2 November 1859, London, England.
Died: 7 June 1941, Cape Town, South Africa.
Dr George Herman Walter Froembling*

Walter Froembling (Frombling), as he chose to be known, was a pharmaceutical chemist and plant collector. After his father died in London in 1870, when Walter was eleven years old, he was sent to Berlin to live with family members. During the mid-1880s he spent three years in Chile, collecting plants in that country and in Venezuela, and sending his specimens to Muenchen. Years later he published a paper on this visit, "Ueber botanische excursionen waehrend eines dreijahrigen aufenthaltes in Chile", in the Sitzungsberichte der botanische verrein in Muenchen (1895). After his travels he studied in Germany and passed the Staatsexamen in pharmacy in 1889. Subsequently he obtained the degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in botany at the Royal Bavarian Ludwig Maxmillian University, Muenchen, in 1896. That same year he published a paper on "Anatomisch-systematische Untersuchung von Blatt und Axe des Crotoneen und Euphyllanteen" in the Botanisches Centralblatt (1896, Vol. 65, in 8 parts). Meanwhile he had worked as an assistant at the Botanical Laboratory in Muenchen from 1893.

In 1897 Froembling came to the Cape Colony, where he was registered as a chemist and druggist on 27 November that year. He set up a pharmaceutical business in Cape Town, advertising himself as W. Froembling, Pharmaceutical Chemist and Botanist. It seems that he was still employed by the Botanical Laboratory in Muenchen at this time, until October 1898, and he may have been sent to the Cape to collect material. However that may be, he collected plants around the city, mainly in the northern parts of the Cape Peninsula, and mainly between October 1897 and August 1898. Some 500 of his specimens, accurately labelled and documented and perfectly mounted, were acquired by the Compton Herbarium in Cape Town. The species Agathosma froemblingii was named in his honour by R.A. Dummer*. He also experimented with drugs in association with Prof. P.D. Hahn* and Dr Arnold Penther*, and published papers on traditional medicines used by the indigenous population of South Africa. His interests in natural history extended beyond botany, for in 1909 he donated a small collection of insects from Namibia to the South African Museum.

In 1932 Froembling published a short article on "Counter-prescribing" (of medicines by pharmacists) in the South African Medical Journal (Vol. 6(24), pp. 793-796), raising points of interest to both doctors and pharmacists. His article and the invited contributions to the topic of other professionals, published at the same time, considered the advantages and disadvantages of counter prescription and related topics such as medical advertisements, the prescription of medicine by medical practitioners, and the sale of patent medicines.

Froembling was a loving and compassionate man who spoke English, Afrikaans, German and French, and had a working knowledge of Spanish, Russian and Arabic. However, he published few papers. He was a member of the Botanical Society of South Africa from its inception in 1913 to his death. In 1909 he served as president of the Pharmaceutical Society of the Cape Colony and at other times as its secretary. During a career that spanned many decades he dedicated himself to teaching young pharmacists, at a time when no formal education in pharmacy was available in South Africa, and campaigned for higher educational standards. His lectures, delivered free, dealt with medicinal plants, chemistry, physics, and the British Pharmacopoeia. As early as June 1905 he read a paper on "The chemist's assistant and his training on the European continent" before members of the Pharmaceutical Society of the Cape Colony. His services to the profession were recognised by the institution of an annual Froembling Memorial Lecture.

List of sources:
Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1909.

Codd, L.E. & Gunn, M. Additional biographical notes on plant collectors in southern Africa. Bothalia, 1985, Vol. 5, pp. 631-654.

Ferguson, G. From the minutes of the Pharmaceutical Society of the Cape Colony, November 1897 to August 1906. South African Pharmaceutical Journal, October 1982, pp. 472-473; November 1982, pp. 524-525.

General Directory of South Africa, 1903, 1908-1911, 1916.

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by W. Froembling.

Moore, A.F. Dr G.H.W. Froembling - the life of a collector. Veld & Flora, December 1983, pp. 158-160.

Moore, A.F. Walter Froembling, PhD: Further gleanings. Cape Town: Society for the History of Pharmacy in South Africa, 1991.

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

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

Ryan, M. A history of organised pharmacy in South Africa, 1885-1950. Cape Town: Society for the History of Pharmacy in South Africa, 1986.

Compiled by: C. Plug