Carl Peter Thunberg

Carl Peter Thunberg
Item# NAGASAKIDEJIMA002

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Carl Peter Thunberg, also known as Carl Pehr Thunberg or Carl Per Thunberg (11 November 1743 – 8 August 1828), was a Swedish naturalist and an apostle of Carl Linnaeus. He has been called "the father of South African botany" and the "Japanese Linnaeus".

In August 1775, he arrived at the Dutch factory of the V.O.C. (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) at Dejima, a small artificial island (120 m by 75 m) in the Bay of Nagasaki, connected to the city by a single small bridge. He was appointed head surgeon (1775–1776) of this trading-post. But, like the Dutch, he was hardly allowed to leave the island. Nevertheless, he was one of the few to be allowed to conduct some botanical research ashore.

In order to obtain more specimens, he traded his knowledge of European medicine with Japanese interpreters for new specimens. In mid-1776, at last, he was allowed to accompany the director of the Dutch settlement to the shogun in Edo (the old name of Tokyo). During this slow travel, he was able to collect many Japanese plants. His scientific activities resulted in the first detailed description of the flora and fauna of Japan: "Flora Japonica". Many of the plants which he gave the epithet "japonica" were actually Chinese plants which had been introduced into Japan, and many plants which he described as living in the wild were actually garden plants.

He also wrote about his adventures on his trip to Japan and about his stay in the book "Voyages de C.P. Thunberg au Japon par le Cap de Bonne-Espérance, les Isles de la Sonde, etc." ("Voyages of C.P. Thunberg to Japan, along the Cape of Good Hope, the Islands of Sunda etc."). He sketched a sombre view of his stay at Dejima. In this book he also sketches several aspects of daily life in Japan (such as obligatory walking on the left side of the road).

Thunberg left Japan in November 1776. After a short stay in Java, he arrived at Colombo Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in July 1777. He made several travels, such as the one to the Dutch settlement at Galle, and collected a great number of plants.

In February 1778, Thunberg left Ceylon for Amsterdam, passing by at the Cape and staying there for two weeks. He finally arrived at Amsterdam in October 1778. In 1776, Thunberg had been elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He returned to Sweden in 1779.