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Nathaniel Wallich (28 January 1786 - 28 April 1854) was a surgeon and botanist.
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Born in Copenhagen, in 1806 and was born 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. 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 also studied botany with Martin Vahl. He sailed for India in April 1807 via the African cape and arrived at Serampore the following November.
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. 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. He became a member of the Asiatic Society. 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 a solitary Indian, Babu Ramkamal Sen, initially a Collector and later the first Indian Secretary to the Asiatic Society. 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, published two important books, Tentamen Floræ Nepalensis Illustratæ (vols I-II, 1824-26) and Plantæ Asiaticæ Rariories (vols I-III, 1830-32), and went on numerous expeditions. One of Wallich's greatest contributions to 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.
In 1835 Wallich, William Griffith and John McClelland (geologist) were sent to evaluate the prospects of growing tea in Assam. During this mission of the Tea Committee, relations between Wallich and Griffith took a turn. Wallich accused Griffith of hiding some ofthe plants that he had collected. Griffith complained that "I repeat what I have often said, that it is utterly impossible to pull well with such a man, and that he is a compound of weakness, prejudice and vanity." Wallich was disliked intensely adn this found its way into McClelland's writings in the Calcutta Journal of Natural History and Griffith reworked Wallich's setup at the Botanic Garden.
Wallich left Calcutta in April 1842 for the Cape and subsequently left for Europe. During his absence William Griffith was nominated to manage the Garden and during the time taken for him to reach Calcutta from Malacca, Joachim Otto Voigt (1795-1843) took temporary charge.
Wallich was responsible for packing many of the specimens that came through the gardens on the way to England, and over the years he developed some innovative methods, including packing seeds in brown sugar. The sugar preserved and protected the seeds very well and, Wallich had one of the best records for keeping plant material alive for shipping prior to the development of the Wardian case.
Wallich also took an interest in Indian art and history. He was the first director of the Oriental Museum of the Asiatic Society which is today the Indian Museum. He employed Indian artists and expected them to sign the art work, although this was not done.
During 1837 and 1838, Nathaniel Wallich served as Professor of Botany in Calcutta Medical College. He was an honourary doctor at the University of Copenhagen and member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.
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.
Species named for Wallich include:
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