Robert Hermann Schomburgk

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Robert Hermann Schomburgk
Robert Schomburgk (IZ 44-1865 S 228 E G).jpg
Born5 June 1804 Edit this on Wikidata
Freyburg Edit this on Wikidata
Died11 March 1865 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 60)
Schöneberg Edit this on Wikidata
OccupationDiplomat, world traveler, illustrator, merchant, writer Edit this on Wikidata

Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk (5 June 1804 – 11 March 1865) was a German-born explorer for Great Britain who carried out geographical, ethnological and botanical studies in South America and the West Indies, and also fulfilled diplomatic missions for Great Britain in the Dominican Republic and Thailand.

Life and career[edit]

Schomburgk was born at Freyburg, Prussian Saxony, the son of a Protestant minister. In 1820, while staying with his uncle, he learned botany from a professor.

Commercial career[edit]

He entered commercial life and, in 1828, went to the United States, where he worked for a time as a clerk in Boston and Philadelphia.[1] In 1828, he was requested to supervise a transport of Saxon sheep to the American state of Virginia, where he lived for a time. The same year, he became a partner in a tobacco manufactory at Richmond. The factory was burned, and Schomburgk was ruined.[1] He suffered further setbacks on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, where he lost all his belongings in a fire. Consequently, he ceased his business activities.

Schomburgk's 1840 map of his route through Guayana

Geographic and exploration career[edit]

In 1830, he left for Anegada, one of the Virgin Isles, notorious for its shipwrecks. Although he did not possess the special knowledge that is required for such a work,[1] he surveyed the island at his own expense and sent to the Royal Geographical Society (London) a report which created such an impression that, in 1835, he was entrusted by that body with conducting an expedition of exploration of British Guiana.

He fulfilled his mission (1835–1839) with great success, incidentally discovering the giant Victoria Regia water lily in 1837 and many new species of orchids, one genus of which, Schomburgkia, was named for him.[1] He also laid to rest the persistent myth of Raleigh's Lake Parime by proposing that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah had been misidentified as a lake.[2] In 1841, he returned to Guiana, this time as a British Government official to survey the colony and fix its eastern and western boundaries. The result was the provisional boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela, known as the "Schomburgk Line", and the boundary with the Dutch colony of Surinam.[3] He also made further geographical and ethnological observations and was joined there by his brother, Moritz Richard.[1][4] He repeatedly urged fixing the boundary with Brazil, motivated by his encounters with Brazilian enslavement of local Indian tribes, most of which no longer exist. Schomburgk's survey later played a role in the arbitration of the southern boundary between British Guiana and Brazil, with arbitration by the King of Italy in 1904.

On the brothers' return to London in June 1844, Schomburgk presented a report of his journey to the Geographical Society, for which he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1845,[1] and continued in other official capacities. In 1846, he was stationed in Barbados, where he gathered information to compile a geographical and statistical description of the island, later to be published as the History of Barbados published in 1848 by Cass as a library series of West Indian studies.

Diplomatic career[edit]

In 1848, he was appointed British consul to the Dominican Republic. In 1850, he signed an advantageous commercial treaty for Great Britain and also secured a truce from Soulouque in behalf of the Dominican government. During the following years, he contributed valuable papers upon the physical geography of the island to the journal of the Royal Geographical Society.[1] For example, he would be the first recorded person in history to climb Hispaniola's (and the entire Caribbean's) highest mountain, Pico Duarte, in 1851, naming it "Monte Tina" and almost measuring its height correctly at 3,140 metres (10,300 ft).[5] In 1857, he was promoted to the position of British Consul-General of Siam, where Britain exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction through consular courts over British subjects. In a letter to his cousin William, Schomburgk notes, "In order to get an insight into the English summary police court proceedings, I was, before I left London, obliged to attend police courts there for some time, also to acquaint myself with these proceedings by the study of books.[6] Based in Bangkok, he also continued his geographical surveys. The letter gives a short account of his visit to the semi-independent kingdom of Chiang Mai in 1859–60,[7] thence by elephant across the mountain range to Moulmein on the Bay of Bengal, returning to Bangkok after a trip of 135 days and approximately 1000 English miles.[6]


He retired from the public service in 1864, hampered by health problems, and died in Schöneberg on 11 March 1865.


Schomburgk was a member of various European, American, and Asiatic learned societies, and was a knight of the Legion of Honour and of the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle.

Schomburgk's deer (Rucervus schomburgki) was named after him.

The South American fish Mylesinus schomburgkii (Valenciennes, 1850), Polycentrus schomburgkii (Müller & Troschel, 1849) and Myloplus schomburgkii (Jardine, 1841) are named after him.[8]

Many special of Neotropical plants are named for him:

His botanical collection is at Kew and his ethnographical collection from Guyana at the British Museum.[6][9]


  • Voyage in Guiana and upon the Shores of the Orinoco during the Years 1835–'39 (London, 1840; translated into German by his brother Otto, under the title Reisen in Guiana und am Orinoco in den Jahren 1835–'39, Leipsig, 1841, with a preface by Alexander von Humboldt)
  • Researches in Guiana, 1837–'39 (1840)
  • Description of British Guiana, Geographical and Statistical (London, 1840)
  • Views in the Interior of Guiana (1840)
  • Baubacenia Alexandrine et Alexandra imperatris (Brunswick, 1845), monograph on plants discovered in British Guiana
  • Rapatea Frederici Augusti et Saxo-Frederici regalis (1845), monograph on plants discovered in British Guiana
  • History of Barbadoes (London, 1847)
  • The Discovery of the Empire of Guiana by Sir Walter Raleigh (1848)
  • Peter Rivière (ed.), The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk 1835–1844, 2 vols (Aldershot: Ashgate for the Hakluyt Society, 2006).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Schomburgk, Robert Herman" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  2. ^ Robert Hermann Schomburgk, A Description of British Guiana, Geographical and Statistical, Surpkin, 1840; p. 6.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Schomburgk, Robert (1843). "Sources of the Takutu in British Guiana, in the year 1842". Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. 13: 18–75. doi:10.2307/1798133. JSTOR 1798133.
  5. ^ Baker, Christopher P. (2009). Explorer's Guide Dominican Republic: A Great Destination. Explorer's Great Destinations. Countryman Press. p. 327. ISBN 978-1-58157-907-9.
  6. ^ a b c Guehler, Ulrich (1949). "A Letter Written by Sir Robert H. Schomburgk H.B.M.'s Consul in Bangkok in 1860" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Society. JSS Vol. 37.2f (digital). Retrieved 30 November 2013. Translation of a letter written in German by Sir Robert H. Schomburgk ... sheds a light on living conditions in Siam at the time, especially so on the life at the British Consulate.
  7. ^ 'Schomburgk's Account of Xiengmai' in 1859–1860; 'Schomburgk's Account of 'The Lao' in 1859–1860'. Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David, Ancient Chiang Mai Volume 1. Chiang Mai ,Cognoscenti Books, 2012.
  8. ^ Christopher Scharpf & Kenneth J. Lazara (22 September 2018). "Order CHARACIFORMES: Families TARUMANIIDAE, ERYTHRINIDAE, PARODONTIDAE, CYNODONTIDAE, SERRASALMIDAE, HEMIODONTIDAE, ANOSTOMIDAE and CHILODONTIDAE". The ETYFish Project Fish Name Etymology Database. Christopher Scharpf and Kenneth J. Lazara. Retrieved 6 November 2021.
  9. ^ British Museum Collection
  10. ^ International Plant Names Index.  R.H.Schomb.


  • Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David, Ancient Chiang Mai Volume 1 (two chapters on Schomburgk in Thailand). Chiang Mai, Cognoscenti Books, 2012.
  • Peter Rivière (ed.), The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk 1835–1844, 2 vols (Aldershot: Ashgate for the Hakluyt Society, 2006).
  • Otto A. Schomburgk (ed.), Robert Hermann Schomburgk’s Travels in Guiana and on the Orinoco During the Years 1835–1839 (Georgetown: The Argosy Company, 1931).
  • Robert Schomburgk, A Description of British Guiana, Geographical and Statistical (London, 1840).
  • Walter E. Roth (ed. and trans.), Richard Schomburgk’s Travels in British Guiana 1840–1844, 2 vols (Georgetown: Daily Chronicle Office, 1922, 1923).
  • Gibney, Eleanor.About Robert H. Schomburgk…The Artist Responsible for our Cover Image, St. John Historical Society. Retrieved 26 February 2013.

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