Berthold Carl Seemann (1825–1871)

Botanist, plant collector, including voyage of HMS Herald 1847–1851, central America, Fiji; writer berthold-seemann-portrait

b. Hannover, Germany, 28 Feb. 1825; d. Nicaragua, 10 Oct. 1871.

A native of Hannover, Seemann entered Kew as a gardener in 1844, working under the curator, John Smith. He came to Kew with the object of fitting himself for the role of a botanical collector.

On the recommendation of Sir William Hooker he was appointed naturalist to HMS Herald in 1846. The Herald, under Captain Henry Kellett, undertook a surveying expedition of the Pacific between 1845 and 1851. Seemann joined the ship in Panama in January 1847, and while awaiting her arrival explored the isthmus of Panama, finding many new plants.  He sent several cases of living plants to Kew before the vessel undertook its survey of the American west coast and arctic regions.  During August and September 1847 he made a large collection in Ecuador.  His dried plant specimens were delivered to Hooker when the Herald returned to England in 1851.

On the recommendation of Hooker, the Admiralty requested that Seemann publish the results of the voyage.  He produced, in 1853, The Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald during the years 1845-1851 and, between 1852 and 1857, The Botany of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald, in 10 parts.

He was awarded a doctorate by the University of Göttingen in 1853.

In 1853 he founded the German periodical Bonplandia, a quarto botanical journal, which he edited for 10 years, before establishing in its place the English Journal of Botany.

He went on to explore the Fiji Islands in 1860, returning in 1861 with a large collection of plants.  He published a catalogue of the flora of the islands (1862) and a Flora in 10 parts (1865–1873).

Seemann explored further in Central America and spent much time in Nicaragua, in connection with the Javali gold mines, where he succumbed to fever in 1871.

He developed a special interest in the genera Camellia and Thea and the families Ternstroemiaceae, Crescenticeae, Hederaceae and Bignoniaceae.  Several genera were named after him but the only one still accepted is Seemannaralia (Araliaceae).

The main set of most of his herbarium collections is at the Natural History Museum, London, but that from Fiji is at Kew.  There are duplicates in many other herbaria.

For a bibliography of all his botanical publications see F.A. Stafleu & R.S. Cowan (1985), Taxonomic Literature 2nd edn 5: 474–481, Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema, Utrecht/Antwerpen.

Sources

Hemsley, W. Botting (1904), In memoriam, Berthold Seemann, Journal of the Kew Guild 1 (3): 31–32.

Howgego, R. (2004), Encyclopedia of Exploration 1800 to 1850, pp 314–316, Hordern House, Potts Point.

Trimen, H. (1872), Obituary, The Journal of Botany 10: 1–7.