Hermann Burmeister

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Portrait taken from the so-called popular edition of the “History of Creation” in 1856
Hermann Burmeister

Carl Hermann Conrad Burmeister , also Carlos Germán Conrado (born January 15, 1807 in Stralsund ; † May 2, 1892 in Buenos Aires ) was a German natural scientist . He has worked as a geographer , geologist , botanist , ornithologist , marine biologist , entomologist , zoologist , paleontologist and meteorologist and has published nearly 300 scientific papers.

He founded the extensive collection of the Zoological Faculty of the University of Halle-Wittenberg . In Argentina he gained recognition and a similar reputation as Alexander von Humboldt , with whom he was friends. He was director of the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales Bernardino Rivadavia in Buenos Aires . Its official botanical author's abbreviation is “ Burmeist. "

childhood and education

Carl Hermann Conrad (later also known as Karl Hermann Konrad, mostly just Hermann Burmeister) was the first child of his parents Christian Hermann Burmeister (* February 1, 1766; † December 7, 1824) and Wilhelmine Christine Burmeister, née. Freund (born March 3, 1789) in Stralsund, then part of Swedish Pomerania, was born on their first wedding anniversary and was baptized on January 30, 1807 in St. Mary's Church. His father was employed as an official in the Swedish customs service. The family lived at Böttcherstraße 9.

Memorial plaque on the former Burmeister house, now in the museum house in Stralsund

His father had planned the profession of a merchant for his first-born. Hermann Burmeister attended school in his hometown on Strelasund and from September 29, 1813 went to the local Sundisches Gymnasium . His teacher in the quarters , Ferdinand Hasenbalg , played a special role in the design of the natural history cabinet of the grammar school (he contributed an extensive collection of beetles) and thus probably also in Hermann Burmeister's later career. His teachers, including the headmaster Johann Ernst Nizze , supported him in his quest Medicine to study and pursue his passion for collecting insects. Hermann Burmeister had an outstanding mentor in the Stralsund senator and entomologist David Heinrich Schneider , to whom he later attributed great influence in the foreword to his handbook of entomology: “When I was occupied with Linné's systematics in the first years of my entomological activity, I soon learned from the honor Senator DH Schneider, known for the publication of an entomological magazine, understand and appreciate the building of the great founder of entomology…. "

After his father died on December 7, 1824, Hermann Burmeister and his family lived in poor conditions. A short time before he graduated from grammar school, he and other classmates got into an open conflict with Karl Kirchner, who had just been appointed rector , in June 1825 . He said in later notes, "All his students become machines, so nothing but bookworms, not witty minds and people." He left high school and passed his Abitur as an external student in Greifswald . In January 1826 he was enrolled at Greifswald University and studied natural sciences and medicine. In the winter semester of 1825/26 he became a member of the old Greifswald fraternity . His main interest was entomology , so in 1827 he moved to the University of Halle-Wittenberg , where he was matriculated on May 12th. There he became a member of the Old Halleschen Burschenschaft Germania in 1827 . On November 4, 1829, Burmeister was awarded the title De Insectorum systemate naturali as Dr. med. and on December 19, 1827 with the topic General Description of the Structure of Fish for Dr. phil. PhD.

Life and work in Germany

After completing his studies, Burmeister went back to Stralsund for a short time, where he supported his mother. In May 1830 he was deployed for a year in the Kaiser Franz Garde Grenadier Regiment in Grünberg, Silesia, as a military surgeon and in Berlin. His wish to work as a military doctor in the Dutch East Indies was not fulfilled, and he gave up practicing practical medicine and from then on devoted himself entirely to the natural sciences. From 1831 he worked as a natural history teacher at the Joachimsthaler Gymnasium in Berlin . Here he also had a close relationship with Alexander von Humboldt . It was here that he began work on the Handbook of Entomology , the first volume of which appeared in 1832. In that year Burmeister became a senior teacher at the Köllnisches Realgymnasium; In 1834 he completed his habilitation and became a private lecturer.

During Burmeister's time in Berlin, a number of important phenomena appear, such as the Grundriss der Naturgeschichte (1833) and the Handbuch der Naturgeschichte (1837).

When his Halle teacher Christian Ludwig Nitzsch died in 1837 , Burmeister accepted the appointment as associate professor at the University of Halle-Wittenberg on November 16, 1837. He also took over the management of the museum set up at the university in Halle . In addition to his successful and popular teaching activities, he expanded the museum's collections and created halls for mammals , amphibians , birds , fish and conchylia . He brought his private insect collection to the museum's holdings.

In 1842 Hermann Burmeister was appointed full professor. A year later, his work on the history of the origins of nature was published with the title History of Creation . In 1849 he was elected to the Prussian House of Representatives for the constituency of Liegnitz as a representative of the “extreme left”, as the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie reports . Dissatisfied with political developments, he withdrew from politics in 1850.

With the support of Alexander von Humboldt, who had to break off his own journey through Central and South America in 1804, Burmeister was able to undertake an extensive research trip through the provinces of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais in Brazil from 1850 to 1852 , of which he was able to undertake a major scientific yield returned to Halle on April 6, 1852. During his time in Halle he made further trips to Italy (1854, 1855) and South America. While he brought 800 birds, 200 bird eggs, 90 amphibians, 70 mammals and 8,000 insects with him from his first trip to South America, the figure on his second trip to South America was around 116,000 objects, including 100,000 insects.

On his return to Halle, Burmeister found that he was barely recognized. Since, according to a ministerial decree, medical students were free to attend the science lectures, his lectures remained almost empty. Burmeister had learned during his last trip that Argentina wanted to expand the Museo Público and that the French Auguste Bravard (1803–1861) had rejected the offer to take over the management of the museum. This position was therefore vacant, and Burmeister offered himself to the Argentine Minister of Education Domingo Faustino Sarmiento through the Prussian ambassador in Buenos Aires, Freiherr von Gülich . He immediately offered him the post. He demissed from the University of Halle on May 13, 1861. He handed “his” museum over to Ernst Ludwig Taschenberg and Christian Gottfried Giebel .

Burmeister left for Argentina in July 1861 and arrived in Buenos Aires on November 1, 1861.

Life and work in Argentina

Burmeister monument in Buenos Aires

When he arrived in Argentina, the civil war was still in full swing. The Province of Buenos Aires was separated from the Confederate Provinces. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who had been Prime Minister in the meantime, was no longer in office, and his successor did not recognize Burmeister's appointment. Only his successor Eduardo Costa signed the certificate of appointment on February 21, 1862. Burmeister was now general director of the Museo Público.

Burmeister turned the museum into an institute of national importance. In his book Journey through the La Plata States of 1861, he noted about his impressions of the museum in 1857 that it was "still quite insignificant" . “A skilful transformation could turn it into a first-rate institution in a few years.” In 1864 he published the first volume of the museum magazine Anales del Museo Público de Buenos Aires , which quickly achieved international renown. In the same year he initiated the establishment of the Paleontological Society .

In 1866, Burmeister founded a library for the museum and expanded it extensively over the next few years, as he saw it as the basis for scientific museum work. Sarmiento, who had become president of Argentina in 1868, continued to be very supportive of Burmeister. He commissioned him in 1869 with the formation of a natural science faculty at the University of Córdoba , the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba . As early as May 16, 1870, the new faculty, at its head Hermann Burmeister, was able to begin teaching as “extraordinary representative for management and inspection of the faculty of mathematical and physical sciences at the University of Cordoba”. Burmeister brought Hermann Siewert , Paul Günther Lorentz , Alfred Wilhelm Stelzner , Hendrik Weyenbergh , Carl Schultz-Sellack and Christian August Vogler to Córdoba. On Burmeister's initiative, an observatory - the first in Argentina - and a meteorological institute were founded. His autocratic style, however, led to his resigning some of the professors because of differences of opinion about teaching, some resigned of their own accord. Burmeister resigned on July 1, 1875 from the office of director of the academy.

His reputation in Argentina as a tireless scientist, researcher and friend of Argentina brought him the recognition that he had missed so much in his German homeland. For his 50th anniversary of the doctoral award, which he himself staged and described in detail, he received numerous honors and congratulations from many parts of the world in 1879. On October 1, 1884, the museum was nationalized, which was very convenient for Burmeister, as it really made the museum what he wanted from a museum: a museum for the entire nation.

He worked intensively on his mission, the museum in Buenos Aires, well into old age. On February 8, 1892, he fell from a ladder and cut a vein on his head. He did not recover from this accident and died on May 2, 1892 in Buenos Aires. His death was a great loss to science and Argentina. He was honored with a state funeral on May 4, 1892. Argentine President Carlos Pellegrini followed the coffin at the head of the funeral procession.

Many of the students he trained achieved international recognition for their work. Francisco Pascasio Moreno (1852-1919) founded the natural science museum in La Plata , Florentino Ameghino (1853-1911) was director of the museum in Buenos Aires from 1902.


Hermann Burmeister had four siblings after birth: Gustav Adolf Julius (born August 31, 1808), Carl Alexander (born March 20, 1811), Wilhelmine Elisabeth (born January 21, 1814) and Cäcilie Gustave (born April 17, 1822).

Burmeister was married twice: on April 7, 1836, in Berlin, he married Maria Elisabeth Sommer, daughter of the Hamburg merchant and entomologist Michael Christian Sommer , from whose collection he first described numerous exhibits, in particular grasshoppers and beetles. On January 21, 1837, his wife gave birth to their son Christian Hermann. His second son with his wife Maria Elisabeth, Heinrich Adolph, was born on June 4, 1839 in Halle. The marriage was divorced in June 1861, shortly before Burmeister's departure for Argentina, due to "intolerance of characters".

Burmeister married in Tucumán in 1865 Petrona Louise Tejeda, whom he knew from his second trip to South America. Burmeister had four children with his second wife: Carlos (* April 1, 1867), Amalia Petrona Louise (* 1868; † October 11, 1891 in Stralsund ), Federico (* 1875) and Gustav (date of birth unknown; † 1892). His sons Carlos and Federico helped their father in the museum and took part in his travels.

Research trips

Hermann Burmeister undertook two hugely successful research trips that took him from Halle to South America. From these he brought numerous objects with him that enrich the still important collection of the University of Halle. He had always dreamed of visiting distant countries and doing research there. For this purpose, after completing his studies, he had applied to work as a military doctor in the Dutch colonies, but had been turned down.

On his travels, his talent for describing what was seen and his great talent for drawing came to his aid a great deal. He made numerous detailed descriptions and sketches that complement his collected objects.

1850–1852: Journey through Brazil

It was Alexander von Humboldt who obtained him a leave of absence from teaching at the University of Halle in 1850 for research purposes. Humboldt was deeply impressed by Burmeister's story of creation , which was published before his own work Kosmos from 1843. First, Burmeister planned a journey in the footsteps of Thaddäus Haenke ; however, due to the political developments in Argentina under Juan Manuel de Rosas , he had to give up this plan. Von Humboldt wrote him a letter of recommendation for his trip on August 29, 1850, and Burmeister began preparing for the trip that he now wanted to begin in Brazil. He was granted 2,000 thalers for the trip .

On September 12, 1850, he set out from Halle on the journey on which his son Christian Hermann accompanied him.

In Bremen the expedition set sail with the brig Gazelle on September 20, 1850 and reached Rio de Janeiro on November 24, 1850 . After staying there for a month, he continued the journey on December 21, 1850. She took him by ship to São Paulo and from there on with mules , accompanied by his son, a guide from Neufchatel and a local boy, via St. Antonio de Macacu , Collegio , St. Anna and Cochoeiras to Nova Friburgo . Burmeister stayed here for four months, during which he mainly collected insects, which he sent directly from here to his home.

On April 9, 1851, he traveled further into the savannas and met at the Rio Parahyba Coroados and Puris , which he described and recorded. The expedition followed the course of the Rio Pomba to Villa de Pomba , where it arrived on April 30, 1851. The journey continued to Mariana . Burmeister arrived there on May 6, 1851, from there it went on along the Rio das Velhas via Congonhas , where he studied the gold mining operated there by the English , via Sabara to Lagoa Santa . From May 13, 1851, he lived there for three weeks with the Danish paleontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund . Burmeister visited here u. a. the limestone caves discovered by Lund with fossil skeletons. On the way back, Burmeister injured his right leg in an accident with his horse; the thigh was broken. So he stayed with Lund and after another three weeks returned with crutches. This soon proved to be too burdensome, so that he stayed in Congonhas from August 3 to November 18, 1851, until he could ride himself again. The injury suffered, however, handicapped him for life, and he limped and had to use a stick.

The arduous way back due to the injury and the difficult weather and road conditions led Burmeister, his son and a companion via Ouro Branco and Queluz to Petrópolis . From here Burmeister could travel in a carriage to Porto de Estrella and from there by ship to Rio de Janeiro, where he arrived on December 12, 1851. Here he stayed for a month with Robert Christian Avé-Lallemant . On January 15, 1852, he set sail for Europe on the sailing ship Helena . This voyage was very unfortunate and culminated in a collision with a brig. The ship remained seaworthy. Burmeister disembarked at Falmouth on March 30, 1852 . He arrived in Halle on April 6, 1852.

The visible result of the trip was 800 birds, 200 bird eggs, 90 amphibians, 70 mammals and 8,000 insects, which Burmeister incorporated into the museum's holdings. In addition, he published his travel reports Report on a trip to Brazil (1853), Scenic Images of Brazil (1853), Trip to Brazil (1853), Systematic overview of the animals of Brazil (3 volumes, 1854 to 1856) and explanations on the fauna of Brazil (1856) .

After his return, Burmeister fell ill. He was disappointed with the political conditions in his fatherland; he was also still troubled by the leg injury he had suffered in Brazil. The toxic fumes in the exhibition rooms made his health deteriorate. He made trips to Italy in the summer months of 1854 and 1855, which served both his recreation and his research. However, the longing for South America weighed heavily. He therefore tried again to obtain approval for another research trip to South America in order to continue the work he had begun.

1856–1860: Journey through the La Plata states

Again it was Alexander von Humboldt who promoted Burmeister. At his work, the Prussian Ministry of Culture supported a new trip. For this, Burmeister applied for payment of 3,000 thalers; However, he was initially only allowed 2,500 thalers and the use of the museum funds. In 1857, Burmeister made another application for the approval of funds from South America; he was granted 3,000 thalers on November 14, 1857 and a further 1,000 thalers on March 21, 1859.

On October 9, 1856, Burmeister embarked in Southampton . The paddle steamer Tamar ran into Rio de Janeiro on November 2, 1856, where he stayed until December 1, 1856.


After his sons Christian Hermann and Heinrich Adolph and his taxidermist Christian Anton Göring arrived in Rio de Janeiro on another ship, they went together to Montevideo . On the trip from Rio de Janeiro to Montevideo, there were apparently more serious disagreements, about which, however, no records are available. His taxidermist, however, left him in Montevideo, as he had felt "treated in a dishonorable manner"; his son Christian Hermann also left the excursion shortly afterwards. Burmeister now hired two French taxidermists who accompanied him to Mendoza .

On December 14, 1856, he wrote from Montevideo to the curator of the university: “Those who want can do a lot, those who don't want nothing at all! [...] Life is beautiful - it's not just beautiful, it's everything to me, and that's why I want to exploit it so that the call that I have been there remains behind me [...]. "

The destination of his first excursion from Montevideo was Mercedes . On the Rio Negro and its tributaries, the Coquimbo, Palmitos and Sarandí, he researched the finds of primeval animals.


On January 31, 1857, he reached Buenos Aires ; the city impressed him very much, nevertheless he continued his journey on February 6, 1857 with a ship to Rosario , from where on February 26, 1857 he continued the journey overland with one of four provided by the Argentine government Horse-drawn two-wheeled carts continued. Via Saladillo , Esquina de Bustos , Río Cuarto and San Luis the expedition reached Mendoza after 13 days . Here his German taxidermist Goering came back to him. Together they continued the journey; Burmeister, however, never mentioned Göring's name in his reports and only wrote about his "constant companion brought from Europe".

From Mendoza he explored Argentina until April 19, 1858. He also described the city of Mendoza and its surroundings very precisely.

In a letter sent home on November 16, 1857, he also describes the great courtesy of the government in Argentina and indicated that he could accept the idea of ​​staying there. The additional funds requested by him were also approved in November 1857, so that he could continue his journey. On April 19, 1858, he returned to Rosario in a carriage and arrived there on May 4, 1858. From here he traveled the Río Paraná by ship , past the Fort Sancti Spiritus to Paraná , where he stayed from May 12 to November 1, 1858 and again enjoyed the full support of the Argentine authorities. From here he sent a large part of the collection he had acquired to Germany together with his taxidermist Göring. He bought a piece of land on the banks of the Río Paraná and worked as a farmer . He handed the management over to his son Heinrich Adolph. But since the job was not his job, his father sent him to Buenos Aires in the spring of 1859. Heinrich Adolph Burmeister was a successful businessman there. Agriculture was a failure for Hermann Burmeister too; There were unexpected problems with the German servants and the cattle, so that Burmeister sold the farm on June 5, 1859, and on June 12 of the same year set out on the trip to San Miguel de Tucumán .

He began the journey in a carriage via Santa Fe and Rosario on to Cordoba. He stayed here from June 20, 1859 to July 15, 1859 and looked for megatheriums and mastodons in the Sierra de Córdoba , but found nothing of them, but parts of giant armadillos. His journey took him via Santiago del Estero to Tucumán, where he arrived on July 25, 1859. Here he described not only the natural conditions but also the leather goods production and the local wine from Cafayata . In Tucumán he met Petrona Louise Tejeda, whom he later married in 1865. First, however, after a six-month stay in Tucumán, he set out on January 27, 1860, over the Cordilleras on the journey to Chile. He traveled to Copacabana via San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca . While resting on the way, he found specimens of the Cacicus americanus , which he added to his collection. During this part of the journey he fell ill with colic and diarrhea and had to interrupt the trip. Still weakened, he started the ride over the Cordilleras on March 6, 1859. On March 15th the expedition crossed the ridge. Burmeister was the first European to reach Chile in this way. Via Jorquera and Las Juntas he reached Copiapó , from where he continued the journey by rail and reached the Caldera on April 1, 1859 . The ship continued via Lima to Panama , where Burmeister gave a lecture on a possible canal. From here he took the ship to Southampton , where he disembarked on May 12, 1860 and began the journey to Halle.

Burmeister's yield this time consisted of 852 mammals, 4,600 birds, 796 reptiles , 260 amphibians, 400 echinoderms , 2,500 molluscs , 55 crabs , plus some fish .

During his stay, he published the results of his studies in scientific newspapers. He later summarized these in his trip through the La Plata states (1861).

Honors and commemorations

Burmeister bust in Stralsund

Orders and awards


  • Stralsund: Burmeister memorial not far from the house where he was born (this was demolished in May 1989 because it was in disrepair) in the museum house with a bust of Karla Freidel , 1958
  • Buenos Aires: Monument in white marble in the Parque Centenario, created by Richard Aigner , inaugurated on October 7, 1900 in the Park of February 3
  • Buenos Aires: Rosewood bust in the Museo Argentino de Ciencas Naturales "Bernardino Rivadavia", created by Richard Lügners , 1879
  • Buenos Aires: Memorial with sarcophagus in the Museo Argentino de Ciencas Naturales "Bernardino Rivadavia"

Other honors

Memberships in academies and societies

Hermann Burmeister was a globally recognized scientist. Until his death in 1892 he was a member of a total of 41 national and international academies or societies:


Burmeister's work is extremely extensive. He wrote natural science textbooks, travelogues, marine biological, climatological and general zoological works, works on mammals, entomology, ornithology, herpetology, paleontologist and various other works. His works have appeared in many languages ​​around the world. His successor as museum director in Buenos Aires, Carlos Berg (1843–1902) lists over 280 works in a biography published in 1895. Therefore only a small, non-representative selection below:


  • Carlos Berg: Carlos Germán Conrado Burmeister. Resena biografica. Anal Museo Nacional, Buenos Aires. Volume 4, 1895.
  • M. Biraben: German Burmeister. Su vida - su obra. Editiones Culturales Argentinas, Buenos Aires 1968.
  • Andreas W. Daum : Science popularization in the 19th century. Civil culture, scientific education and the German public, 1848–1914 . 2nd, supplementary edition, Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, ISBN 978-3-486-56551-5
  • Deutsches Meeresmuseum (Ed.): Sea and Museum. Volume 9, Stralsund 1993.
  • Helge Dvorak: Biographical Lexicon of the German Burschenschaft. Volume I: Politicians. Volume 7: Supplement A – K. Winter, Heidelberg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8253-6050-4 , pp. 185-187.
  • Lothar fights : Burmeister, Hermann (1807-1892) . In: Dirk Alvermann , Nils Jörn (Hrsg.): Biographisches Lexikon für Pommern . Volume 2 (= publications of the Historical Commission for Pomerania. Series V, Volume 48.2). Böhlau Verlag, Cologne Weimar Vienna 2015, ISBN 978-3-412-22541-4 , pp. 47–50.
  • Peter Pooth : Hermann Burmeister. In: Pomeranian Life Pictures . Volume 4 (= publications of the Historical Commission for Pomerania. Series V, Volume 15). Böhlau, Cologne and Graz 1966. pp. 361–371.
  • Friedrich RatzelBurmeister, Hermann . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 47, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1903, pp. 394-396.
  • Karla Schneider: Hermann Burmeister (1807-1892). Hallesch scholar of world renown . In: Entomological News and Reports . Volume 50, 2006, Issue 4, pp. 248-253 pdf .

Web links

Commons : Hermann Burmeister  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Hermann Burmeister  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Meer and Museum Volume 9. 1993, pp. 8-11
  2. a b c Meer and Museum Volume 9. 1993, pp. 12-17.
  3. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Science popularization in the 19th century. Civil culture, scientific education and the German public, 1848–1914 . Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, p. 479 .
  4. a b c d e f Meer und Museum Volume 9. 1993, pp. 18–32
  5. ^ Herbert Weidner: Summer, Michael Christian . in: Schleswig-Holstein Biographical Lexicon . Volume 2. Karl Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster 1971, pp. 223-224.
  6. Taschenberg, 1894
  7. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names . Extended Edition. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin, Free University Berlin Berlin 2018. [1]
  8. ^ Directory of the members of the Thuringian-Saxon Geography Association on March 31, 1885 ( Memento from December 1, 2017 in the Internet Archive )
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 2, 2007 .