by Piter Kehoma Boll
Today we celebrate the birthday of one of Linnaeus’ apostles and fellow countrymen.
Anders Sparrman was born on 27 February 1748 in Tensta, Sweden, and was the son of a clergyman. When he was only nine years old, he was enrolled at Uppsala University and began medical studies. At the age of 14, he became a pupil of Linnaeus, one of the outstanding ones.
In 1765, aged 17, Sparrman went to China as a ship’s doctor. In this voyage, he had a tough time treating the crew members, many of which died of the yet little known malaria, and many also suffered from Guinea-worm disease. Nevertheless, he also collected many plants and animals in this troublesome experience, which he described two years later after returning to Sweden.
In January 1772, aged 23, he moved to the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, to work as a tutor. His time there was short, though, because in October of that same year James Cook arrived in his second voyage and Sparmann joined the crew as assistant naturalist to Johann and Georg Forster, who were the ship’s naturalists.
Sparrman returned to the Cape of Good Hope in July 1775 and, by practicing medicine, was able to finance a journey to the interior of the country. He was guided by Daniel Ferdinand Immelman, who had previously guided the botanist Carl Peter Thunberg. During this journey, he met groups of Khoi and Xhosa people and was very interested in their culture, describing many of their practices in his work about his travels in the Cape and around the world.
In 1776, Sparrman returned to Sweden and found out he had been awarded an honorary doctorate. Except for an unsuccessful expedition to West Africa in 1787, Sparrman spent most of his life in Sweden after that, which, giving his adventurous spirit, was likely torture to him. He became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1777 and was appointed keeper of the Academy’s natural history collections in 1780.
In 1781, Sparrman was appointed Professor of natural history and pharmacology and, in 1790, assessor of the Collegium Medicum. Despite publishing several scientific works, Sparrman’s most famous work continued to be his account about his adventures around the world and in South Africa.
Sparrman died on 8 August 1820 in Stockholm, aged 72.
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Eagleton T (2010) Anders Sparrman—masterful tale of a scientific vagabond. The Lancet 376(9749): 1291–1292. doi:
Wikipedia. Anders Sparrman. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Sparrman >. Access on 26 February 2019.