About Nathaniel Wallich
Discover Wallich’s fascinating life story & why he is considered such a major figure in the history and development of Indian botany.
Explore Wallich's collections
Nathaniel Wallich was born Nathanael Wulff Wallich on 28 January 1785 in Copenhagen. He undertook a medical degree and graduated MD in his native city in 1806 but also studied botany at the university. Wallich was appointed surgeon to the Danish factory at Serampore, near Calcutta, in 1807. However, the settlement was annexed by the East India Company as a result of the Danish alliance with Napoleonic France in 1808 and Wallich became a prisoner of war. William Roxburgh, the Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta, requested that Wallich be allowed to enter the company’s service and in March 1809, he began employment as Roxburgh’s assistant. Wallich became Superintendent of the garden in 1815, leaving in 1816 and then returning in 1817. Wallich served in this post until 1846 when he finally left India, with intervals when he went to London to distribute the massive East India herbarium (1829-32) and during a trip to the Cape of Good Hope for his deteriorating health in 1842.
In 1820, in conjunction with William Carey, Wallich began the task of publishing Roxburgh’s extensive Flora Indica, to which he added many of his own findings. The second volume did not appear until 1824, largely due to an eighteen month expedition Wallich made to Nepal, and subsequent illness and recuperation. While in Nepal, Wallich sent a great many plants home to leading botanical figures such as Sir Joseph Banks, and went on to issue two fascicles of his Tentamen florae Napalensis illustratae, consisting of botanical descriptions and lithographic figures of select Nipal plants (1824 and 1826), printed at the recently established Asiatic Lithographic Press in Serampore. Wallich inspected the forests of western Hindustan in 1825, and in 1826 and 1827 he studied those of Ava and Lower Burma respectively. Between 1828 and 1832, Wallich published his most vital work, Plantae Asiaticae rariores, or, Descriptions and figures of a select number of unpublished East Indian plants, which spans three volumes.
After his time in England, Wallich returned to India in 1832 and became instrumental in the hugely important discovery of tea plants growing in the Assam region. The deterioration of his health finally forced Wallich to resign from Calcutta in 1846 and in the same year he settled in London. He became vice-president of the Linnean Society, of which he had been a fellow since 1818, and frequently presided over its meetings. Wallich died at his home in London, on 28 April 1854 and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery.
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Dudeja, Vijay (ed.), In Full Bloom (a history of the Agri-Horticultural Society of India), Calcutta: The Agri-Horticultural Society of India, 1996
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Taknet, D. K., The Heritage of Indian Tea, Jaipur: Indian Institute of Marwari Entrepreneurship, 2003