Nathaniel Wallich

Nathaniel Wallich bigraphy, stories - Surgeon, botanist

Nathaniel Wallich : biography

28 January 1786 – 28 April 1854

Nathaniel Wallich FRS (28 January 1786 – 28 April 1854) was a surgeon and botanist of Danish origin who worked in India, initially in the Danish settlement near Calcutta and later for the East India Company. He was involved in the early development of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, describing many new plant species and developing a large herbarium collection which was distributed to collections in Europe. Several of the plants that he collected were named after him.


Early Life and Education

Nathaniel Wallich was born in Copenhagen in 1786 as Nathan ben Wulff. His father Wulff ben Wallich (or Wolff Wallich) was a merchant who settled in Copenhagen and came from the Holsatian town Altona near Hamburg late in the 18th century. He later adopted the name Nathan Wallich, and as an adult Nathaniel.Judith M Taylor and Jules Janick. Lorenzo Da Ponte and Nathaniel Wallich: Jews in the Enlightenment, Wallich obtained the diploma of the Royal Academy of Surgeons at Copenhagen and at the end of the year was appointed as Surgeon in the Danish settlement at Serampore, then known as Frederiksnagore in Bengal. He sailed for India in April 1807 via the African cape and arrived at Serampore the following November. He was an honorary doctor at the University of Copenhagen and member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.

Prisoner of War

The Danish alliance with Napoleonic France resulted in many Danish colonies being seized by the British, including the outpost at Frederiksnagore. The British East India Company took over Frederiksnagore and Wallich was imprisoned. He was released on parole in 1809 on the merit of his scholarship.

Service in East India Company

From August 1814, Wallich became an Assistant Surgeon in the East India Company’s service and resigned as Superintendent of the Indian Museum in December 1814. Wallich was later appointed assistant to William Roxburgh, the East India Company’s botanist in Calcutta. By 1813 he took great interest in the flora and natural vegetation of India, and undertook expeditions to Nepal, West Hindustan, and lower Burma. During 1837 and 1838, Nathaniel Wallich served as Professor of Botany in Calcutta Medical College.

First Curator of Indian Museum

Wallich proposed the forming of a museum in a letter dated 2 February 1814 to the Council of the Asiatic Society. Wallich offered his services to the Society and some items from his own collections for the Museum. The Society heartily supported the proposal and resolved to set up a museum and to appoint Wallich to be the Honorary Curator and then Superintendent of the Oriental Museum of the Asiatic Society. Dr. Nathaniel Wallich took charge of the Museum on 1 June 1814. The Museum thus inaugurated, grew rapidly under the guidance of its founder Wallich and private collectors. Most of these private contributors were Europeans except for one Indian, Babu Ramkamal Sen, initially a collector and later the first Indian Secretary to the Asiatic Society. Wallich was not only the enthusiastic founder and the first Curator the Indian Museum, he was one of the largest donors to the Museum at its inception. Out of one hundred seventy four items donated to the Museum till 1816, Wallich donated forty-two botanical specimens.,Biography of Nathaniel Wallich

Royal Botanical Garden

Wallich was also temporarily appointed Superintendent of East India Company’s Botanical Garden at Calcutta and later permanently joined the Garden in 1817 and served there till 1846 when he retired from the service. Ill health forced Wallich to spend the years 1811-1813 in the more temperate climate of Mauritius, whence he continued his studies. In 1822, at the behest of his friend Sir Stamford Raffles he travelled to Singapore to design the botanical garden, but returned to Calcutta the following year for reasons unknown.

Nathaniel Wallich prepared a catalogue of more than 20,000 specimens which is known informally as the "Wallich Catalog".The specimens in the catalogue were either collected by Wallich himself or from other collectors around the same period, including collections by Roxburgh, Gomez, Griffith and Wight. The collector of each specimen is clearly cited in the catalogue itself. Today, Wallich’s personal collection is housed at the Kew Herbarium as a separate collection, known as the Wallich Collection. In addition to the specimens in the Wallich Collection, Wallich also distributed duplicates of his specimens to herbaria, of note are the duplicates he sent to Sir Joseph Banks, which are in the Kew general collection, outside of the Wallich Collection.Numerical list of dried specimens of plants in the Museum of the Honourable East India Company / which have been supplied by Dr. Wallich, superintendent of the botanic garden at Calcutta. London, 1828-1849. (see External links below). He also published two important books, Tentamen Floræ Nepalensis Illustratæ (vols I-II, 1824–26) and Plantæ Asiaticæ Rariores (vols I-III, 1830–32), and went on numerous expeditions. One of Wallich’s greatest contributions to the field of plant exploration was the assistance he regularly offered to the many plant hunters who stopped in Calcutta on their way to the Himalaya.

The three volumes of Plantae Asiaticae rariores made use of artists employed by the Calcutta Botanic Garden: 146 drawings by Gorachand, 109 by Vishnupersaud and one work by Rungiah (the artist employed by Robert Wight). The rest of the plates were by John Clark and three by William Griffith. Two hundred and fifty copies of the work were made of which 40 were purchased by the East India Company.Desmond, Ray 1994. The European Discovery of the Indian Flora. Oxford University Press.


He retired to London in 1847, and remained there until his death seven years later; he was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. Wallich had a son, George Charles Wallich (1815–1899), and a daughter, Hannah Sarah. Part of his herbarium collections are held at Kew, and known as the ‘Wallich Herbarium’, is the largest separate herbarium. Another part of the collection is the Central National Herbarium of the Botanical Survey of India in Calcutta and there in all about 20,500 specimens.

Species named for Nathaniel Wallich

Schefflera wallichiana

  • Catreus wallichii (Cheer Pheasant or Wallich’s Pheasant)
  • Clerodendrum wallichii
  • Convolvulus wallichianus
  • Debregeasia wallichiana
  • Diospyros wallichii
  • Dombeya wallichii
  • Dryopteris wallichiana
  • Geranium wallichianum
  • Hoya wallichii
  • Ligusticum wallichii (Szechuan lovage)
  • Meconopsis wallichii
  • Memecylon wallichii
  • Nageia wallichiana
  • Pinus wallichiana (Blue Pine or Bhutan Pine)
  • Pteris wallichiana
  • Rotala wallichii
  • Rubus wallichii
  • Schima wallichii
  • Schefflera wallichiana
  • Taxus wallichiana (Himalayan Yew)
  • Ulmus wallichiana (Himalayan Elm or Kashmir Elm)
  • Valeriana wallichii