Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff, Baron de Langsdorff (April 8, 1774 – June 9, 1852) was a German-Russian naturalist and explorer, as well as a Russian diplomat, better known by his Russian first name, Grigori (Gregory) Ivanovitch. He was a member and correspondent of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences and a respected physician, graduated in medicine and natural history at the University of Göttingen, Germany.
Langsdorff first participated as naturalist and physician in the great Russian scientific circumnavigation expedition commanded by Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern, from 1803 to 1805. He left the expedition in Kamchatka to explore the Aleutians, Kodiak and Sitka; and returned from San Francisco by ship to Siberia and thence to Saint Petersburg by land, arriving in 1808.
In 1813 Langsdorff was nominated consul general of Russia in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He acquired a farm (named "Mandioca", or manioc) in the north of Rio and collected plants, animals and minerals. He hosted and entertained foreign naturalists and scientists, such as Johann Baptist von Spix (1781-1826) and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868), and explored the flora, fauna and geography of the province of Minas Gerais with French naturalist Augustin Saint-Hilaire from 1813 to 1820. A recent study found that Langsdorff has 1,500 descendants in Brazil, among them the most famous is Luma de Oliveira, a Brazilian carnival queen.
The Langsdorff Expedition
In 1821 he proposed to the Tsar Alexander I and to the Academy of Sciences to lead an ambitious exploratory and scientific expedition from São Paulo to Pará, in the Amazon, via a fluvial route. In March 1822, he returned to Rio in the company of scientists Édouard Ménétries (1802-1861), Ludwig Riedel (1761-1861), Christian Hasse and Nester Gaverilovitch Rubtsov (1799-1874), who would take care of zoological, botanical, astronomical and cartographical observations during the expedition. With the aim of illustrating and documenting his findings, the Baron hired painters Hércules Florence, Johann Moritz Rugendas and Adrien Taunay. The inventor of the bicycle Karl von Drais was also a participant in the expedition.
After extensive preparations, the Langsdorff Expedition departed with 40 people and 7 boats from Porto Feliz, by the Tietê river on June 22, 1826 and reached Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso on January 30, 1827. The expedition was then divided into two groups: the first one, with Langsdorff and Florence, was able to reach Santarém on the Amazon River on July 1, 1828, with enormous difficulties and suffering. Most of the members of the expedition became ill with tropical fevers (most probably yellow fever), including the Baron de Langsdorff. As a consequence of the febrile attacks, he became insane at the Juruena River on May 1828. Adrien Taunay died by drowning in the Guaporé River and Rugendas abandoned the expedition before its fluvial phase. Therefore only Florence remained during the whole expedition. The expedition was joined again in Belém and returned by ship to Rio de Janeiro, arriving on March 13, 1829, almost three years and 6,000 km after its departure.
Huge scientific collections were deposited into Kunstkamera and later formed basis for South American collections of Russian museums. However, the rich scientific records of the expedition, comprising many descriptions and discoveries in zoology, botany, mineralogy, medicine, linguistics and ethnography, that were sent to Saint Petersburg by the expedition, were not published and were lost in the archives for a century. They were found again by Soviet researchers in funds of the USSR Academy of Sciences archive in 1930. Due to the travel's hardships, Langsdorff team was unable to collect many biological specimens or study them in detail, so most of their account is geographic and ethnographic, being particularly interesting on the many indigenous people of Brazil they met, many of which became extinct. Today, a large part of the material has been recovered and is in the Ethographic Museum, the Zoological Museum and in the repositories of the Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg.
- Diaries of Russian Complex Academic Expedition into Brazil in 1824-1826 Under Leadership of Academician G. I. Langsdorff (in Russian, Russian title: Дневник русской комплексной академической экспедиции в Бразилию в 1824-1826 гг. под началом академика Г. И. Лангсдорфа). Moscow: Nauka, 1995. Available online (scroll down the page)
- Langsdorff, G. H. von. Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World, during the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, and 1807. Illustrated by Engravings from Original Drawings. London: Printed for Henry Colburn and Sold by George Goldie, Edinburgh; and John Cumming, Dublin, 1813.
- Os Diários de Langsdorff. Translation into Portuguese. Vol.1 (Rio de Janeiro e Minas Gerais, 8 de maio de 1824 a 17 de fevereiro de 1825), Vol.2 (São Paulo, de 1825 a 22 de novembro de 1826), Vol.3 (Mato Grosso e Amazônia, 21 de novembro de 1826 a 20 de maio de 1828). Organized by Danuzio Gil Bernardino da Silva. ISBN 85-86515-02-7. 1997. 400p. (vol. 1); ISBN 85-86515-03-5. 1997. 333p. (vol.2); ISBN 85-86515-04-3. 1998. 298p. (vol. 3). il. Co-edition with the Associação Internacional de Estudos Langsdorff and the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro.
- Barman, Roderick J., "The Forgotten Journey: Georg Heinrich Langsdorff and the Russian Imperial Scientific Expedition to Brazil, 1821-1829," Terrae Incognitae, 3, 1971, 67-96
A film documentary, featuring Adriana Florence, a grand-grand-granddaughter of Hércules Florence living in Campinas, Brazil, has been made by the Discovery Channel and retraces part of the expedition's itinerary. It also visited St. Petersburg's Langsdorff museum collections. The director was Mauricio Dias.
- Indians in Brazil. In Portuguese.
- Tras las Huellas de la Expedición Langsdorff. Discovery Channel in Spanish.
- Great Russian Voyages