Georg Eberhard Rumphius

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Georg Eberhard Rumphius (1627–1702)

Georg Eberhard Rumphius (originally: Rumpf; baptized c. November 1, 1627 – June 15, 1702) was a German-born botanist employed by the Dutch East India Company in what is now eastern Indonesia, and is best known for his work Herbarium Amboinense. In addition to his major contributions to plant systematics, he is also remembered for his skills as an ethnographer, and his frequent defense of Ambonese peoples against colonialism.

Early life[edit]

Memorial plaque in Wölfersheim

Rumphius was the oldest son of August Rumpf, a builder and engineer in Hanau, and Anna Elisabeth Keller, sister of Johann Eberhard Keller, governor of the Dutch-speaking Kleve (Cleves), at that time a district of the Electortel (Kurfürstentum) of Brandenburg. He was baptized Georg Eberhard Rumpf in Wölfersheim, where he grew up. He went to the Gymnasium in Hanau. Though born and raised in Germany he spoke and wrote in Dutch from an early age, probably as learned from his mother. He was recruited, ostensibly to serve the Republic of Venice, but was put on a ship (The Black Raven) in 1646 bound for Brazil where the Dutch and Portuguese were fighting over territory. Either through shipwreck or capture he landed in Portugal, where he remained for nearly three years. Around 1649 he returned to Hanau where he helped his father's business.

Merchant of Ambon[edit]

Rumphius's Ambon house in the 1910s.

A week after his mother's funeral (December 20, 1651) he left Hanau for the last time. Perhaps through contacts of his mother's family, he enlisted with the Dutch East Indies Company (as Jeuriaen Everhard Rumpf) and left as a midshipman, December 26, 1652, aboard the ship Muyden for the Dutch East Indies. He arrived in Batavia in July 1653, and proceeded to the Ambon archipelago in 1654. By 1657 his official title was "engineer and ensign", at which point he requested a transfer to the civilian branch of the company and became "junior merchant" on Hitu island, north of Ambon. He then started to undertake a study of the flora and fauna of these Spice Islands. Eventually, Joan Maetsuycker, the governor-general in Batavia, gave him dispensation from his ordinary duties to complete this study. He would become known as Plinius Indicus (the Pliny of the Indies).

Herbarium Amboinense[edit]

Rumphius is best known for his authorship of Het Amboinsche kruidboek or Herbarium Amboinense, a catalogue of the plants of the island of Amboina (in modern-day Indonesia), published posthumously in 1741. The work covers 1,200 species, 930 with definite species names, and another 140 identified to genus level.[1] He provided illustrations and descriptions for nomenclature types for 350 plants, and his material contributed to the later development of the binomial scientific classification by Linnaeus.[2] His book provided the basis for all future study of the flora of the Moluccas and his work is still referred to today.[2] Despite the distance he was in communication with scientists in Europe, was a member of a scientific society in Vienna, and even sent a collection of Moluccan sea shells to the Medicis in Tuscany.

Wreath at the Rumphius memorial on Ambon.

After going blind in 1670 due to glaucoma, Rumphius continued work on his six-volume manuscript with the help of others. His wife and child were lost to an earthquake and tsunami on February 17, 1674. In 1687, with the project nearing completion, the illustrations were lost in a fire. Persevering, Rumphius and his helpers first completed the book in 1690, but the ship carrying the manuscript to the Netherlands was attacked by the French and sank, forcing them to start over from a copy that had fortunately been retained. The Herbarium Amboinense finally arrived in the Netherlands in 1696. However, "the East India Company decided that it contained so much sensitive information that it would be better not to publish it."[3] Rumphius died in 1702, so never saw his work in print; the embargo was lifted in 1704, but then no publisher could be found for it. It finally appeared in 1741, thirty-nine years after Rumphius's death. Much of the natural history in Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën ("Old and New East-India") by François Valentijn was by Rumphius and they were close friends.


  • Herbarium Amboinense. 1747. 
  • Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (Amboina Curiosity Cabinet, 1705)
  • Amboinsche Historie (Amboina History)
  • Amboinsche Lant-beschrijvinge (a social geography)
  • Amboinsch Dierboek (Amboina animal book, lost)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merrill, Elmer D. (1 Nov 1917). An Interpretation of Rumphius's Herbarium Amboinense (Digitised, online, via Publication No. 9. Manila, Philippines: Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Bureau of Science. pp. 1–595. Retrieved 13 Nov 2013.  (cited in Monk,, K.A.; Fretes, Y.; Reksodiharjo-Lilley, G. (1996). The Ecology of Nusa Tenggara and Maluku. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions Ltd. p. 4. ISBN 962-593-076-0. )
  2. ^ a b Monk,, K.A.; Fretes, Y.; Reksodiharjo-Lilley, G. (1996). The Ecology of Nusa Tenggara and Maluku. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions Ltd. p. 4. ISBN 962-593-076-0. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Author Query for 'Rumph.'". International Plant Names Index. 


  • Wehner, U., W. Zierau, & J. Arditti The merchant of Ambon: Plinius Indicus, in Orchid Biology: Reviews and Perspectives, pp 8–35. Tiiu Kull, Joseph Arditti, editors, Springer Verlag 2002
  • Georg Eberhard Rumpf and E.M. Beekman (1999). The Ambonese curiosity cabinet - Georgius Everhardus Rumphius, Yale University Press (New Haven, Connecticut): cxii + 567 p. (ISBN 0300075340) English translation preceded by an account of his life and work and with annotations.

External links[edit]