Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Schomburgk, Robert Herman
SCHOMBURGK, Robert Herman, German explorer, b. in Freiburg on the Unstruth, Prussia, 4 June, 1804; d. in Schöneberg, near Berlin, 11 March, 1865. He entered commercial life, and in 1826 came to the United States, where, after working as a clerk in Boston and Philadelphia, he became a partner in 1828 in a tobacco-manufactory at Richmond, Va. The factory was burned, and Schomburgk was ruined. After unusccessful ventures in the West Indies and Central America, he went to the island of Anegada, one of the Virgin group, where he undertook to make a survey of the coast. Although he did not possess the special knowledge that is required for such a work, he performed it well, and his reports procured him in 1834, from the Geographical society of London and some botanists, means to explore the interior of British Guiana, which was then entirely unknown. After a thorough exploration during 1833-'9 he went to London in the summer of 1839 with valuable collections of animals and plants, mostly new species, among them the magnificent water-lilies known now as the Victoria regia and the Elisabetha regia, and many new species of orchids, one of which has since been named for him the Schomburgkia orchida. Schomburgk sailed again from London for Georgetown in December, 1840, as president of a commission to determine the boundary-line between British Guiana and Brazil, and to make further geographical and ethnological observations. He was joined there by his brother, Moritz Richard. On their return to London in June, 1844, Schomburgk presented a report of his journey to the Geographical society, for which the queen
knighted him in 1845. After a few months' rest, he was given an appointment in the colonial department, and sent to make researches upon the idioms of the aborigines of South America. In 1848 he read before the British association a paper in which he proposed an alphabetical system for the Indian dialects. That same year he was appointed consul-general and chargé d'affaires in the Dominican republic, signed in 1850 an advantageous commercial treaty for Great Britain, and also secured a truce from Soulouque in behalf of the Dominican government. During the following years he contributed to the journal of the Geographical society valuable papers upon the physical geography of the island. He was promoted in 1857 consul-general at Bangkok, Siam, and resided there till 1864, when declining health compelled him to resign. Schomburgk was a member of various European, American, and Asiatic learned societies, and was a knight of the Legion of honor, and of the Prussian order of the Red Eagle. His works include “Voyage in Guiana and upon the Shores of the Orinoco during the Years 1835-'39” (London, 1840; translated into German by his brother Otto, under the title “Reisen in Guiana und am Orinoco in den Jahren 1835-'39,” Leipsic, 1841, with a preface by Alexander von Humboldt); “Researches in Guiana, 1837-'39” (1840); “Description of British Guiana, Geographical and Statistical” (1840); “Views in the Interior of Guiana” (1840); “Baubacenia Alexandrine et Alexandra imperatris” (Brunswick, 1845); “Rapatea Frederici Augusti et Saxo-Frederici regalis” (1845), being monographs of plants discovered by the author in British Guiana; “History of Barbadoes” (London, 1847); and “The Discovery of the Empire of Guiana by Sir Walter Raleigh” (1848). — Schomburgk's brother, Moritz Richard, published an account of the expedition in 1840-'4, under the title “Reisen in Britisch Guiana in den Jahren 1840-'44” (3 vols., Leipsic, 1847-'8).