Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.
28 January 1786 – 28 April 1854
Nathaniel Wallich was born in Copenhagen in 1786 as Nathan Wulff Wallich. His father Købmand Wulff Lazarus Wallich (1756–1843) was a Jewish merchant who settled in Copenhagen and came from the Holsatian town Altona near Hamburg late in the 18th century. His mother was Hanne née Jacobson (1757–1839). Wallich obtained the diploma of the Royal Academy of Surgeons at Copenhagen and at the end of the year was appointed as Surgeon in the Danish settlement at Serampore, then known as Frederiksnagore in Bengal.
Wallich sailed for India in April 1807 via the African cape and arrived at Serampore the following November. He was an honorary doctor at the University of Copenhagen and member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. However, the Danish alliance with Napoleonic France resulted in many Danish colonies being seized by the British, including the outpost at Frederiksnagore. When the British East India Company took over Frederiksnagore, Wallich was imprisoned, but released on parole in 1809 on the merit of his scholarship.
From August 1814, Wallich became an Assistant Surgeon in the East India Company’s service and resigned as Superintendent of the Indian Museum in December 1814. Wallich received an M.D. from Aberdeen in 1819. Wallich was later appointed assistant to William Roxburgh, the East India Company’s botanist in Calcutta. By 1813 he had become interested in the flora of India, and undertook expeditions to Nepal, West Hindustan, and lower Burma. During 1837 and 1838, Nathaniel Wallich served as Professor of Botany at Calcutta Medical College.
Wallich proposed the forming of a museum in a letter dated 2 February 1814 to the Council of the Asiatic Society. Wallich offered his services to the Society and some items from his own collections for the Museum. The Society heartily supported the proposal and resolved to set up a museum and to appoint Wallich to be the Honorary Curator and then Superintendent of the Oriental Museum of the Asiatic Society. Dr. Nathaniel Wallich took charge of the Museum on 1 June 1814. The Museum thus inaugurated, grew rapidly under the guidance of its founder Wallich and private collectors. Most of these private contributors were Europeans except for one Indian, Babu Ramkamal Sen, initially a collector and later the first Indian Secretary to the Asiatic Society. Wallich was not only the enthusiastic founder and the first Curator the Indian Museum, he was one of the largest donors to the Museum at its inception. Out of one hundred seventy four items donated to the Museum till 1816, Wallich donated forty-two botanical specimens.
Wallich was also temporarily appointed Superintendent of East India Company’s Botanical Garden at Calcutta and later permanently joined the Garden in 1817 and served there till 1846 when he retired from the service. Ill health forced Wallich to spend the years 1811-1813 in the more temperate climate of Mauritius, whence he continued his studies. In 1822, at the behest of his friend Sir Stamford Raffles he travelled to Singapore to design the botanical garden, but returned to Calcutta the following year.
Wallich prepared a catalogue of more than 20,000 specimens, known informally as the “Wallich Catalogue”. The specimens in the catalogue were either collected by Wallich himself or from other collectors around the same period, including Roxburgh, Gomez, Griffith and Wight. The collector of each specimen is clearly cited in the catalogue itself. Today, Wallich’s personal collection is housed at the Kew Herbarium as the Wallich Collection. In addition to the specimens there, Wallich also distributed duplicates of his specimens to herbaria, including some to Sir Joseph Banks, which are in the Kew general collection. He published two important books, Tentamen Florae Nepalensis Illustratae (vols I-II, 1824–26) and Plantae Asiaticae Rariores (vols I-III, 1830–32), and went on numerous expeditions. One of Wallich’s greatest contributions to the field of plant exploration was the assistance he regularly offered to the many plant hunters who stopped in Calcutta on their way to the Himalayas.
The three volumes of Plantae Asiaticae rariores made use of artists employed by the Calcutta Botanic Garden: 146 drawings by Gorachand, 109 by Vishnupersaud and one work by Rungiah (the artist employed by Robert Wight); the rest of the plates were by John Clark and three by William Griffith. 250 copies of the work were printed, of which 40 were purchased by the East India Company.
Wallich had suffered deteriorating health for many years, at one time contracting cholera, and he was finally obliged to resign his post in 1846 and retire to London, where he became Vice-President of the Linnean Society, of which he had been a fellow since 1818. Wallich remained in London until his death seven years later aged 68; he was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
Part of Wallich’s herbarium collections held at Kew, and known as the ‘Wallich Herbarium’, is the largest separate herbarium. Another part of the collection is the Central National Herbarium of the Botanical Survey of India in Calcutta, making in all about 20,500 specimens. Wallich is also credited with the authorship of 35 papers, mostly botanical.
Wallich married Juliane Marie Hals (b.1797), later known as Mary Ann, on 30 May 1812, but she died only two months later. In 1815, Wallich married Sophia Collings (1797–1876), who bore him seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Their eldest son George Charles became a distinguished oceanographer.