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Society for the History of Natural History


Visions from the Blind Seer of Ambon – A celebration of Georg Everard Rumphius (1627-1702) and his Ambonese Herbal

Visions from the Blind Seer of Ambon – A celebration of Georg Everard Rumphius (1627-1702) and his Ambonese Herbal

May 12, 2011 10:00am - 07:00pmBurlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BF

A joint meeting between the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science and the Society of the History of Natural History. Supported by the Annals of Botany and Yale University Press.

Georg Everard Rumphius (1627‐1702) was probably the world’s most productive pre‐Linnaean naturalist. In the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) he spent most of his life on Ambon, one of the spice islands in the Moluccas (Indonesia), first as a soldier and a builder.

Later he was a successful VOC merchant, and as self‐taught and self‐appointed naturalist, he documented and interpreted the terrestrial and marine life around him as well as its uses by the local population. His Herbarium Amboinense or Ambonese Herbal, published in seven folio volumes long after his death, is a monument of early tropical plant biology and ethnobotany.

For over 250 years only available in Latin and Dutch, the Rumphius Herbal is now finally accessible to a wide readership. Thanks to the excellent translation and informative annotations by the late Professor Eric Montague (Monty) Beekman of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, this English language edition will be co‐published by Yale University Press and the (U.S) National Tropical Botanical Garden. This is a cause for celebrations in SE Asia, Europe and the USA. The Linnean Society of London, jointly with the Royal Netherland
Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Society of the History of Natural History, is organising a one‐day symposium in London on 12 May 2011, addressing the biohistorical, botanical, medicinal and anthropological significance of Rumphius’ masterpiece.


10.00am Registration and coffee
10.20am Opening and Welcome
10.30am The allure of plant diversity – Rumphius revealed by Beekman
Professor Lynn Margulis, Amherst, Mass., USA
11.10am Rumphius’ life and personality
Professor Pieter Baas, Leiden, The Netherlands
11.50am (Pre‐) Colonial Botany of the 17th century
Professor Hal Cook, Providence Rhode Island, USA
12.30pm Lunch
13.30pm Rumphius’ manuscripts in Leiden
Professor Harm Beukers, Leiden, The Netherlands
14.10pm The fate of Rumphius’ plant names in the Linnaean era
Dr Charlie Jarvis, Natural History Museum, London
14.50pm Plant Resources of Southeast Asia revisited today
Dr Jan Siemonsma, Wageningen, The Netherlands
15.30pm Tea
16.00pm Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Moluccas – is it possible?
Professor Paul Jepson, Oxford
16.40pm Presentation of the Ambonese Herbal
Ms Jean Black, Yale University Press
17.00pm Drinks Reception
19.00pm Close

For more information about the conference, details of accommodation and directions to the Linnean Society, please contact:

Events, The Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BF
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7434 4479 Fax: +44 (0)20 7287 9364 Email: events(at)