Carl Peter Thunberg

Carl Peter Thunberg, also known as Karl Peter Thunberg of (* November 11, 1743 in Jonkoping, † August 8, 1828 in Thunaberg in Uppsala ) was a Swedish naturalist. He is considered a pioneer of modern exploration of the South African and Japanese plants, but made ​​himself a name as an entomologist ( entomologist ). His author abbreviation in scientific nomenclature is " Thunb. ".


Carl Peter Thunberg was born in the southern Swedish town of Jönköping. He studied medicine and natural philosophy at Uppsala University, and became a pupil of Carolus Linnaeus. In 1767 he defended his thesis entitled De venis resorbentibus. In 1772, when he was already in South Africa, him his doctoral degree ( Dr. med ) was awarded. In 1784 he was appointed professor of medicine and natural philosophy at the University of Uppsala. He held this position until his death.

Linnaeus was very interested to check his new taxonomy widely as possible and encouraged his students to travel to any destination world. 1770 left Thunberg Sweden 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 consultation with Linnaeus gave him Burmann access to the Dutch East India Company ( Vereenigde Dutch East India Company, VOC) and asked him to collect plants for the botanical garden suffering in the overseas colonies. In December 1771 Thunberg ran as a ship's surgeon on a company - ship. In April of the following year he reached Cape Town, where we took up food and water for the journey, but Thunberg decided to stay longer in the Cape Colony.

South Africa

In South Africa, he held three long trips to explore the flora of the region.

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


Thunberg's application for a surgeon's office in the VOC office in Japan was adopted. In August 1775, he arrived in Nagasaki, where he took care to 1776 on the small artificial island of Dejima ( Dejima ) for the welfare of company employees. In South Africa he could move, however, was hampered by scarce financial resources. Now, he had a steady income, but the Europeans on Dejima could not leave their office. However, among the interpreters, there were some who had invested in close contact with the Europeans great natural and naturopathic collections and accumulated considerable knowledge. Thunberg drew particularly from the exchange with the eminent interpreter Yoshio Kōgyū (吉雄 耕牛) big win. In addition, he was allowed to accompany the doctor as head of the branch Arend Willem Feith in the spring of 1776 when traveling to Edo, where it transmitted the thanks of the company to the shogun in a mandatory Reverenzerweisung. Like the pioneers of the 17th century, George Champion, Andreas Cleyer and Engelbert Kaempfer, where he is in his explorations of particularly oriented, Thunberg took advantage of this " journey to the court " for the collection of plants and observations of land and people. Also, there were meetings with leading Japanese representatives of the Holland- customer ( Rangaku ), particularly with Katsuragawa Hoshu and Nakagawa Anzhen. Despite the strong control by the Japanese authorities, who sought to prevent the exploration of Japan by foreigners to forces succeeded Thunberg, maintain those contacts even after his return home for some time. Some letters from Katsuragawa and Nakagawa are preserved in Thunberg's alma mater, the University of Uppsala.

Return to Europe

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

Before he returned to Sweden, he moved to London and attended, among others, the British Museum (British Museum ), the 1753 on the estate of the collector and scholar Hans Sloane building had been established and should include records and herbaria Kaempfer was careful. On this occasion he met the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks know who had participated in the first voyage of James Cook, Johann Reinhold Forster as well as, the naturalist of Cook's second Pacific voyage.

Thunberg reached Sweden in March 1779, where he learned of the death of Linnaeus. He was first appointed to the botanical demonstrator and finally appointed in 1784 professor. His travel experiences and observations he made up in trips to Africa and Asia, especially in Japan, during the years 1772-1779 together. There were also a work on the plants at the Cape, a Flora Japonica and numerous dissertations of his students, which he had written.


Although there have been since the second half of the 17th century scientifically ambitious work about Japanese plants (see Andreas Cleyer, Engelbert Kaempfer ), but Thunberg was the first to Linnaeus' system apply an end. His publications led to a number of new taxa. The genus of tropical plants in the family Acanthaceae Thunbergia was named after him. Thunberg himself named 254 species, which includes both plants and animals, but also identifies significantly more plants. About 800 plant samples he carried from Japan, are now treasured in the University of Uppsala.


  • Caroli Petri Thunberg ... Flora Japonica sistens plantas insularum Japonicarum: Secundum systema -sexual emendatum redactas ad XX classes, ordines, genera et species. Leipzig:. Müller 1784 ( facsimile reproduction, New York: Oriole Editions, 1975)
  • Karl Peter Thunberg's ... journey through a part of Europe, Africa and Asia, mainly in Japan, in the between 1770 and 1779th from Swedish frey over. by Christian Heinrich Groskurd. Vol 1 Haude and Spener, Berlin 1792 ( digitized and full text archive in the German text ) / Vol 2 Haude and Spener, Berlin 1794 ( digitized and full text in German Text Archive )
  • Karl Peter Thunberg: Travel in Africa and Asia, especially in Japan, during the years 1772-1779. Excerpts translated by Kurt Sprengel. Berlin 1792.
  • Prodromus plantarum Capensium: quas in promontorio bonae memory Africes, annis 1772-1775 collegit Carol. Pet Thunberg. Upsalla: J. Edman 1794-1800.
  • Voyages De CP Thunberg au Japon par le Cap de Bonne Espérance - Les Îles de la probe & c. Traduits, rédigés Par ... L. Langles, ... Et revus, quant à la partie d' Histoire Naturelle, par JB Lamarck ... Paris: Benoît Dandré, Garnery, obre, An IV Tome 1 - 4
  • Icones plantarum japonicarum (1805 )