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Georgius Everhardus Rumphius

1627 - 1702

Georgius Everhardus Rumphius was born in Hesse, central Germany in 1627, during the
Thirty Years War. With a desire to know foreign lands, Rumphius signed on with the
military branch of the Dutch East Indies Company in 1652 and moved to Indonesia. He
eventually traded his military assignment for a civilian one and settled on the island of
Ambon, a small but important trading centre in eastern Indonesia. Fascinated by the
strange natural environment on the island, Rumphius devoted the rest of his life to the
systematic cataloguing of its plant, animal and mineral life. He has been described
variously as the "Indian Pliny", the founder of Indonesian botanical exploration and one
of the great tropical naturalists of the seventeenth century.
In 1670, at the age of 42, Rumphius lost his vision to glaucoma. Four years later, he lost
his wife and daughter in an earthquake, and in 1687, his home and manuscripts were
destroyed by fire. Despite these tragedies, Rumphius continued his work, dictating his
texts to his son Paulus Augustus and relying on various artists, including his son and
Maria Sybilla Merian, to produce the fine drawings which accompany his descriptive
texts. Here stored from memory the manuscript for his book Herbarium Amboinense
(Ambonese Herbal), one of the first systematic records of the flora of Indonesia .
The development of printing and illustrative techniques allowed plant explorers to
communicate their knowledge to broad audiences. The shell engravings in the National
Maritime Collection are from Rumphius' other major work, De Amboinesche
Rariteitkamer (The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet), which described hard and soft
shellfish, rocks, minerals and fossils. Published posthumously in Dutch in 1705, this was
the first modern work on tropical marinelife (especially shells), with descriptions and
classifications accompanied by a series of detailed etchings. Even today this work
remains an important source of information on the plant and animal kingdoms of Ambon.