Ludwig von Höhnel

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Von Höhnel in 1892. From a photo taken by William A. Chanler.

Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel (6 August 1857, Preßburg – 23 March 1942, Vienna) was an Austrian naval officer and explorer. He was trained at the naval academy in Rijeka. His brother was Austrian naturalist Franz Xaver Rudolf von Höhnel (1852–1920).

Journey with Teleki 1887-1888[edit]

Route of von Höhnel's journey with Teleki in East Africa.

Von Höhnel was the second-in-command of Count Sámuel Teleki von Szek's expedition to Northern Kenya in 1887-1888. He and Count Teleki were the first Europeans to see Lake Turkana, which they named Lake Rudolf after the expedition's patron Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and Lake Stefanie (named after Prince Rudolf's wife, Princess Stéphanie of Belgium). Von Höhnel acted as the expeditions's cartographer, scientist and diarist. Teleki and von Höhnel made numerous observations on the climate, flora and fauna of the territories visited and collected more than 400 ethnographical objects, most of them from Maasai and Kikuyu tribes. Their observations provided important contribution to ethnographical knowledge. The scientific results of the journey were published by Höhnel in several articles and in a book written in German and translated into Hungarian and English, entitled The Discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie (1892).[1] The East African chameleon known as Von Höhnel's Chameleon (Trioceros hoehnelii) was named after Ludwig von Höhnel.[2]

Map of East Africa exploration journey made by Chanler and von Höhnel, 1892-1894. From Through Jungle and Desert (1896).

Journey with Chanler 1892-1894[edit]

Between 1892 and 1894 von Höhnel explored the territory in the vicinity of Mount Kilimanjaro with American magnate William Astor Chanler.[3] They proceeded inland from the coast, mapping the north-eastern part of the Mount Kenya massif,[4] the Guasso Nyiro River, the Lorian Swamp, the Tana River, Lake Rudolph and then Lake Stefanie. They were the first westerners in this region to come into contact with the Tigania, the Igembe Meru and the Rendille people. The expedition was eventually stranded in what is now the Meru North District of Kenya because of the death of all of its 165 pack animals (probably due to trypanosomiasis) and the desertion of many of the 200 porters.[5] On 24 August 1893 von Höhnel was gored by a rhinoceros[6] and was forced to leave Chanler and return to Zanzibar and then Vienna, arriving in February 1894.[7]

Later life[edit]

After recovering from his injuries, von Höhnel became an officer on board the corvette SMS Donau, and traveled to the Mediterranean and along the coast of West Africa south to Cameroon, then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and to New York and Newport, Rhode Island. During the trip, von Höhnel met the future US president Theodore Roosevelt, who was then in his words the 'much feared' police commissioner of New York. He was then assigned as officer of the deck to the central battery ship SMS Tegetthoff, whose executive officer was Commander Anton Haus, the future commander of the Austro-Hungarian navy.

In 1899 von Höhnel became Emperor Franz Joseph's aide-de-camp and later (1905–09) led an official Austro-Hungarian delegation to Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. He also commanded the Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Panther in a voyage to Australia and Polynesia. Von Höhnel was instrumental in introducing the chamois into New Zealand, negotiating in 1905 six does and two bucks from Neuberg in Austria. They finally arrived in New Zealand on board the SMS Turakino in 1907. He was the commanding officer of the armored cruiser SMS Sankt Georg and the commander of the navy yard in Pula.

Von Höhnel's map of his and Chanler's journey in East Africa, 1892-93.

In February 1907 he submitted a formal request to the navy for permission to marry Valeska von Ostéren (1870-1947) (permission was required as per Austrian naval regulations). However, permission was denied because it was discovered that Valeska's brother had published an anti-Jesuit novel[8] in 1906 which had offended the powerful Archduke Franz Ferdinand.[9] Von Höhnel was eventually forced to choose between his marriage and his naval career. He married Valeska in August 1909 and subsequently resigned in the rank of captain. In 1912 he was promoted to rear admiral, probably in recognition of his duties as the aide-de-camp to the emperor.

Post-Naval career[edit]

Von Höhnel wrote an autobiography centered on the turbulent years preceding the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, providing insight into African exploration, the Austro-Hungarian Navy and prominent personalities of the Habsburg court, including Admiral Hermann von Spaun, Admiral Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck, and Rudolf Montecuccoli. The complete manuscript was in the possession of the family of William Astor Chanler for many decades and was finally published in 2000.[10][11]

Von Höhnel later wrote a 56-page account of his service as aide-de-camp to Emperor Francis Joseph, which was never published.[12]

He died in Vienna in March 1942.



Regarding personal names: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as Sir (denoting a Knight), not a first or middle name. There is no equivalent female form.

  1. ^ Balàzs Borsos, "Whose merit is it anyway? The Evaluation of Count Teleki and Ritter von Höhnel's roles in the Teleki expedition to East Africa in 1887-1888." In Archiv für Völkerkunde. 54, 2004, ISSN 0066-6513 S. 27-47.
  2. ^ Steindachner, F. 1891. Bericht über die von Herrn Linienschiffsleutenant Ritter von Höhnel während der Graf Samuel Telekis ostafrikanischer Expedition gesammelten Reptilien. Sitzungsb. Akad. Wiss., Wien 100 (1): 307-313.
  3. ^ Mitchell Charles Harrison, Prominent and progressive Americans: an encyclopædia of contemporaneous biography, Volume 2, New York Tribune, 1904, pp. 41-44.
  4. ^ Kotrba, Franz, "William Astor Chanler (1867-1934) und Ludwig von Höhnel (1857-1942) und Afrika." Diplomarbeit, Universität Wien. Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Fakultät BetreuerIn: Sauer, Walter. 2008.
  5. ^ "IS CHANLER LOST? Alarming News of the Plucky Young Explorer," Trenton Evening News, 10 December 1893, p. 3.
  6. ^ Chanler, William Astor, Through Jungle and Desert, Macmillian & Co., London, 1896.
  7. ^ "CHANLER ON HIS WAY TO THE COAST: The Young Explorer Expected at Mombasa by Saturday," New York Daily Tribune, 6 February 1896, p. 9.
  8. ^ Friedrich Werner von Ostéren, Christus nicht Jesus: ein Jesuitenroman, Egon Fleischel and Co., Berlin, 1906.
  9. ^ Ildiko Simanyi, "Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel (1857-1942): Leben und Wirken." Master's thesis, University of Vienna, 1988.
  10. ^ Milan Vego, "Over Land and Sea: Memoir of an Austrian Rear Admiral's Life in Europe and Africa, 1857-1909," The International History Review, 2001.
  11. ^ Ronald E. Coons and Pascal James Imperato, eds. Over Land and Sea: Memoir of an Austrian rear Admiral's Life in Europe and Africa, 1857-1909. Holmes and Meier, New York, 2000.
  12. ^ The Beatrice and William Astor Chanler papers, 1897-ca. 1945.