Whose Wednesday: Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt

by Piter Kehoma Boll

This week we stick once more with the 18th century, starting in Europe but moving to the other side of the world.

Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt was born on 5 June 1773 in Lüttringhausen, which is currently part of Germany. He was the son of Johann George Reinwardt and Katharina Goldenberg. Soon after he was born, his family moved to Remscheid. His father was his first teacher, but he died when Reinwardt was still young. His older brother, Johann Christoph Matthias Reinwardt, moved to Amsterdam after their father died and started to work at a pharmacy. In 1787, Caspar moved to Amsterdam as well and started as an apprentice in the same pharmacy. There, he met several scientists, including the botanist Gerardus Vrolik.

A young Caspar Reinwardt. Portrait by M. J. van Brée and R. Vinkeles. Date unknown.

Settled in Amsterdam, Reinwardt studied chemistry and botany at the Athenaeum Illustre, a school sometimes referred to as the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam, but that did not allow someone to achieve a degree. Nevertheless, Reinwardt developed skills in chemistry, medicine and botany and was, thus, offered the position of professor of natural history at the University of Harderwijk in 1800. Due to his abilities as a professor, the academic senate gave him an honorary doctorate in 1801.

In 1806, Amsterdam became part of the Kingdom of Holland, a puppet kingdom set up by the emperor Napoleón Bonaparte to his younger brother Louis Bonaparte, who was made king. Appealing to Louis in 1808, Reinwardt was offered the work as director of the botanical and zoological gardens that were to be built. That same year, he became a member of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands.

In 1810, Reinwardt became a professor in Amsterdam. Only three years later, in 1813, the Netherlands regained their independence from France and were interested in re-establish contact with their colonies. Reinwardt was asked to take over the Royal Comission for the Colonies as head of agriculture, arts and science. As a result, he traveled to the Dutch East Indies (current Indonesia) in 1816 and conducted several botanical investigations throughout the islands. In 1817, he founded the Buitenzorg (now Bogor) Botanical Gardens in Java and became their first director. During the following years, he gathered many plant specimens and sent them to Europe, but most of them were lost in shipwrecks.

An older Caspar Reinwardt. Author and year unknown.

With the death of the botanist Sebald Justinus Brugmans in 1819, the position of professor of natural history at the University of Leiden was empty and Reinwardt was appointed to take it. However, he was allowed to remain in the Dutch East Indies until 1821. Returning in 1822, he started as professor of natural history in 1823. At the University of Leiden, he devoted the rest of his life to chemistry, botany and mineralogy.

Reinwardt retired in 1845 and died on 6 March 1854, aged 80.

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Wikipedia. Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caspar_Georg_Carl_Reinwardt >. Access on 4 June 2019.

Wikipedia (in German). Kaspar Georg Karl Reinwardt. Available at < https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaspar_Georg_Karl_Reinwardt >. Access on 4 June 2019.

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