Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wallich, Nathaniel

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WALLICH, NATHANIEL (1786–1854), botanist, was by birth a Dane, and was born at Copenhagen on 28 Jan. 1786. Having graduated M.D. in his native city, where he studied under Vahl, he entered the Danish medical service when still very young, and in 1807 was surgeon to the Danish settlement at Serampore. When this place fell into the hands of the East India Company in 1813, Wallich, with other officers, was allowed to enter the English service. Though at first attached to the medical staff, on the resignation of Dr. Francis Hamilton in 1815 he was made superintendent of the Calcutta botanical garden. He at once distinguished himself by his great activity in collecting and describing new plants, causing them to be drawn, and distributing specimens to the chief English gardens and herbaria. In 1820 he began, in conjunction with William Carey (1761–1834) [q. v.], to publish William Roxburgh's ‘Flora Indica,’ to which he added much original matter; but his zeal as a collector of new plants was greater than his patience in working up existing materials, so that Carey was left to complete the work alone. Meanwhile Wallich was officially directed in this year to explore Nepal; and, besides sending many plants home to Banks, Smith, Lambert, Rudge, and Roscoe (Memoir and Correspondence of Sir James Edward Smith, ii. 246, 262), issued two fascicles of his ‘Tentamen Floræ Napalensis Illustratæ, consisting of Botanical Descriptions and Lithographic Figures of select Nipal Plants,’ printed at the recently established Asiatic Lithographic Press, Serampore, 1824 and 1826, folio. In 1825 he inspected the forests of Western Hindostan, and in 1826 and 1827 those of Ava and Lower Burma. Invalided home in 1828, he brought with him some eight thousand specimens of plants, duplicates of which were widely distributed to both public and private collections. ‘A Numerical List of Dried Specimens of Plants in the East India Company's Museum, collected under the Superintendence of Dr. Wallich’ (London, 1828, folio), contains in all 9,148 species. The best set of these was presented by the company to the Linnean Society. In 1830, 1831, and 1832 Wallich published his most important work, ‘Plantæ Asiaticæ Rariores; or Descriptions and Figures of a Select Number of unpublished East Indian Plants’ (London, 3 vols. folio). He then returned to India, where, among other official duties, he made an extensive exploration of Assam with reference to the discovery of the wild tea shrub. He finally returned to England in 1847; and, on his resignation of his post in 1850, he was succeeded by John Scott, gardener to the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth. As vice-president of the Linnean Society, of which he was fellow from 1818, Dr. Wallich frequently presided over its meetings. He died in Gower Street, London, 28 April 1854.

Wallich, who received the degree of M.D. from Marischal College and University of Aberdeen in 1819, was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1829; he was also a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. An oil portrait of him, by Lucas, is at the Linnean Society's apartments, and a lithograph was published by Maguire, in the Ipswich series. An obelisk was erected to his memory by the East India Company in the botanical garden at Calcutta; and, though his name was applied by several botanists to various genera of plants, the admitted genus Wallichia is a group of palms so named by William Roxburgh. In addition to the more important works already mentioned, Wallich is credited in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue’ (vi. 252) with twenty-one papers, mostly botanical, contributed between 1816 and 1854 to the ‘Asiatick Researches,’ ‘Edinburgh Philosophical Journal,’ ‘Transactions of the Linnean Society,’ of the ‘Calcutta Medical and Physical Society,’ and of the ‘Agricultural Society of India,’ the ‘Journal of Botany,’ and the journals of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Horticultural Society.

His son, George Charles Wallich [q. v.] (1815–1899), graduated M.D. from Edinburgh in 1836, became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1837, and entered the Indian medical service in 1838. He received medals for his services in the Sutlej and Punjáb campaigns of 1842 and 1847, and was field-surgeon during the Sonthal rebellion in 1855–6. In 1860 he was attached to the Bulldog on her survey of the Atlantic bottom for the purposes of the proposed cable, and for more than twenty years he continued to study marine biology, publishing in 1860 ‘Notes on the Presence of Animal Life at Vast Depths in the Ocean,’ and in 1862 ‘The North Atlantic Sea-bed,’ and receiving the gold medal of the Linnean Society for his researches. He died on 31 March 1899 (Lancet, 8 April 1899).

[Gardeners' Chronicle, 1854, p. 284; information furnished by the late Dr. G. C. Wallich.]

G. S. B.