Carl Peter Thunberg

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Carl Peter Thunberg, portrait of Krafft the Younger (1777–1863) from 1808, oil on canvas, Uppsala University Art Collections
Title page of the Prodromus Plantarum Capensium (1794)
Dissertation by Thunberg's student Clas Fredrik Hornstedt (1782) on plants that Thunberg had collected in the Cape Colony and Japan
Treatise translated by Thunberg's student Johann Arnold Stützer
Memorial stone for Engelbert Kaempfer and Carl Peter Thunberg (from Ph.Fr. von Siebold: Nippon . 1897)

Carl Peter Thunberg , also known as Karl Peter von Thunberg (born November 11, 1743 in Jönköping , † August 8, 1828 in Tunaberg near Uppsala ), was a Swedish physician , botanist and naturalist . He is considered a pioneer of modern research into the South African and Japanese flora, but also made a name for himself as a malacologist (mollusc researcher) and entomologist ( entomologist ). Its author's abbreviation in the scientific nomenclature is “ Thunb. "


Carl Peter Thunberg was born in the southern Swedish city of Jönköping. From 1761 he studied medicine and natural philosophy at Uppsala University, among others with Carl von Linné . In 1767 he defended a dissertation De venis resorbentibus under Linnaeus and in 1770 a second De Ishiade under the anatomist Jonas Sidrèn. His studies were made possible by a Gudmund Kåhres grant. In 1770 he received another 3,300 Daler (Thaler) to continue his studies in France.

Linnaeus was very interested in extensively reviewing his new taxonomy and encouraged his students to travel all over the world. In 1770 Thunberg received a further 3300 Daler (Thaler) to continue his studies in Paris . The following year he moved to Amsterdam and Leiden , where he met the doctor and botanist Johannes Burman . After consulting Linnaeus, Burmann gave him access to the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) and asked him to collect plants from the overseas colonies for the botanical garden in Leiden. In December 1771 Thunberg ran out as a ship surgeon on a company ship. In April of the following year he reached Cape Town , where provisions and water were taken for the onward journey, but Thunberg decided to stay longer in the Cape Colony.

South Africa

In South Africa he made three longer trips from Cape Town to explore the flora of the region. The stay in South Africa also served to improve his Dutch for the trip to Japan, where Europeans from countries other than the Netherlands were not allowed.

  1. Voyage from September 7, 1772 to January 4, 1773 via Saldanha Bay and Swellendam to the Gamtoos River and back
  2. Voyage from September 11, 1773 to January 28, 1774 via Citrusdal and Swellendam to the vicinity of the Sundays River and back
  3. Voyage from September 29, 1774 to December 29, 1774 over the Doring River and Calvinia to Worcester and back


In March 1775 Thunberg moved on to Batavia , the main base of the Dutch East Indies on the island of Java . During his two-month stay he visited a. a. Samarang and Buitenzorg .


Thunberg's application for a surgeon position in the VOC branch in Japan was accepted. In August 1775 he arrived in Nagasaki , where he looked after the company employees on the small artificial island of Deshima (Dejima) until 1776 . He was able to move freely in South Africa, but was hampered by limited financial resources. Now he had a steady income, but the Europeans on Deshima could not leave their settlement. However, there were some among the interpreters who, in close contact with the Europeans, had put together large collections of natural and medicinal history and had accumulated considerable knowledge.

Thunberg especially drew great profits from the exchange with the eminent interpreter Yoshio Kōgyū alias Kōsaku ( 吉雄 耕牛; 幸 作 ). In addition, as a doctor, he was allowed to accompany the director of the Arend Willem Feith branch on the trip to Edo in the spring of 1776 , where he conveyed the company's thanks to the shogun in an obligatory reference to the company. Like the pioneers of the 17th century George Meister , Andreas Cleyer and Engelbert Kaempfer , whom he used as a guide for his explorations, Thunberg used this “farm trip” to botanize and observe the country and its people. There were also meetings with leading Japanese representatives of the “Holland customers” ( Rangaku ), especially with Katsuragawa Hoshū and Nakagawa Jun'an . Despite the controls by the Japanese authorities, who did their best to prevent an exploration of the country, Thunberg managed to maintain these contacts for some time after his return home. Several letters from Katsuragawa and Nakagawa are guarded in Thunberg's alma mater, Uppsala University.

Return to Europe

Thunberg's service on Deshima ended in November 1776. After a short stay in Java, he reached Colombo on the island of Ceylon in July 1777 . Here, too, he went on botanical excursions and visited among other things the Dutch settlement of Galle . He left Ceylon in February 1778 and, after a two-week stay in Cape Town, reached Amsterdam in October 1778.

Before he returned to Sweden, he moved to London and attended, among others, the British Museum ( British Museum ), which in 1753 on the estate of collector and scholar Hans Sloane was founded building and among others the records and herbaria guarded Kaempfer. On this occasion he met the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks , who had taken part in James Cook's first voyage , and Johann Reinhold Forster , the naturalist of Cook's second Pacific voyage.

Thunberg reached Sweden in March 1779, where he learned of Linnaeus' death. He was first appointed botanical demonstrator at Uppsala University and finally, in 1784, professor of medicine and natural philosophy. He held this position until his death. He was rector of the university four times (1785, 1786, 1795 and 1804) .


Thunberg published his travel experiences and observations in 1788 under the title Resa Uti Europa, Africa, Asia, Förrättad Åren 1770-1779 (Travels in Africa and Asia during the years 1772–1779). There was also a work on the plants on the Cape, a Flora Japonica and numerous dissertations by his students that came from his pen.

Although there had been scientifically ambitious studies on Japanese plants since the second half of the 17th century (see Andreas Cleyer , Engelbert Kaempfer ), Thunberg was the first to apply Linné's system. His publications led to a variety of new taxa . He himself named 254 species , which includes both plants and animals, albeit significantly more plants. Over 800 plant samples that he exported from Japan are now stored at Uppsala University.


In 1776 he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences , in 1778 a member of the Leopoldina . In 1804 he was elected a foreign member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences . In total, he belonged to 66 academies or learned societies.

The genus of tropical plants Thunbergia Retz. from the family of the Acanthaceae was named after him. The plant genera Thunbergianthus Engl. From the Scrophulariaceae family and Thunbergiella H. Wolff from the umbelliferae family (Apiaceae) are also named after him.

In Japan, Thunberg ranks with Engelbert Kaempfer and Philipp Franz von Siebold among the "Three Dejima Scholars" ( Dejima no san gakusha 出 島 の 三 学者 ). In honor of his two eminent predecessors, Siebold erected a memorial stone that is still preserved today on the area of ​​the trading office.


  • Mr. Carl Peter Thunberg of the Arzeneiwissenschaft Doctor and Professor zu Upsala ... Treatise on the types of coins which were struck in ancient and modern times in the Empire of Japan and which were viable. Stendal 1784
  • Caroli Petri Thunberg ... Flora Japonica sistens plantas insularum Japonicarum: Secundum systema sexuale emendatum redactas ad XX classes, ordines, genera et species. Leipzig: Müller 1784. (Facsimile print, New York: Oriole Editions, 1975)
  • Karl Peter Thunbergs ... Journey through part of Europe, Africa and Asia, mainly in Japan, in the years 1770 to 1779. From the Swedish frey trans. by Christian Heinrich Groskurd . Vol. 1. Haude and Spener, Berlin 1792 ( digitized and full text in the German text archive ) / Vol. 2. Haude and Spener, Berlin 1794 ( digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  • Karl Peter Thunberg: Travels in Africa and Asia, especially in Japan, during the years 1772–1779. Excerpts translated by Kurt Sprengel. Berlin 1792.
  • Travels in Europe, Africa and Asia. Uppsala 1788-1893.
  • Prodromus plantarum Capensium: quas in promontorio Bonæ Spei Africes, annis 1772–1775 collegit Carol. Pet. Thunberg. Upsala: J. Edman 1794-1800.
  • Voyages De CP Thunberg, Au Japon, Par le Cap de Bonne-Espérance, Les îles de la Sonde & c. Traduits, rédigés ... Par L. Langles, ... Et revus, quant à la partie d'Histoire Naturelle, par JB Lamarck ... Paris: Benoît Dandré, Garnery, Obré, An IV [1796]. Tome 1-4.
  • Icones plantarum Japonicarum / quas in insulis Japonicis annis 1775 et 1776 collegit et descripsit Carolus Petrus Thunberg . Uppsala, Edman 1794-1805.
  • Donationis Thunbergianae 1785 continuatio I. Museum naturalium Academiae Upsaliensis , pars III, 33–42 pp. (1787).
  • Dissertatio Entomologica Novas Insectorum species sistens, cujus partem quintam . Publico examini subjicit Johannes Olai Noraeus, Uplandus. Upsaliae, pp. 85-106, pl. 5. (1789).
  • DD Dissertatio entomologica sistens Insecta Suecica . Exam. Jonas Kullberg. Upsaliae, pp. 99-104 (1794).
  • Characteres generum insectorum, variis cum adnotationibus , editor Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer , Göttingen 1792
  • Flora Capensis, Sistens Plantas Promontorii Bonae Spei Africes, Secundum Systema Sexuale Emendatum Redactas Ad Classes, Ordines, Genera Et Species . Uppsala 1807-1823.


  • Karl Peter Thunberg: Journey through part of Europe, Africa and Asia, mainly in Japan, in the years 1770–1779 . Berlin, Haude and Spener, 1794. (Reprint, edited and introduced by Eberhard Friese. Manutius Verlag, Heidelberg 1990, ISBN 3-925678-15-8 )
  • Carl Jung: Kaross and Kimono - “Hottentots” and Japanese as reflected in the travel report by Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828) . 1st edition. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-515-08120-8
  • Wolfgang Michel, Torii Yumiko, Kawashima Mabito: Kyûshû no rangaku - ekkyô to kôryû ( ヴ ォ ル フ ガ ン グ ・ ミ ヒ ェ ル ・ ・ 鳥 井 ・ ・ 嶌 嶌 人 人 共 編 『九州 蘭 蘭 と とー ー 越境 蘭 ー ). Shibunkaku Shuppan, Kyôto 2009. ISBN 978-4-7842-1410-5
  • Timon Screech: Japan Extolled and Decried: Carl Peter Thunberg and Japan . Routledge Curzon, London, ISBN 978-0-7007-1719-4
  • Marie-Christine Skuncke: Carl Peter Thunberg, Botanist and Physician , Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, 2014
  • Barbara I. Tshisuaka: Thunberg, Carl Peter. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 1397.

Web links

Commons : Carl Peter Thunberg  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Dissertationem physiologicam de venis resorbentibus ... Præside ... Carolo von Linné ... offert Carolus Petr. Thunberg. Uppsala, Edmann 1767. As usual at the time, the main author was Linnaeus, which is why the text is one of his writings.
  2. ^ Mia C. Karsten: Journal of South African Botany 5, 1939 . Pages 1-27 and 87-191
  3. ^ LC Rookmaaker: The Zoological Exploration of Southern Africa 1650-1790. CRC Press, Boca Raton 1989, ISBN 9061918677 , pp. 157-159. Excerpts from
  4. ^ Peter Rietbergen: Becoming famous in the eighteenth century Carl-Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) between Sweden, the Netherlands and Japan
  5. ^ Member entry by Carl Peter Thunberg at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on October 16, 2015.
  6. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 240.
  7. a b Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymic plant names - extended edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .