Detail map of Maluku, Indonesia,Amsterdam-Centrum, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands

A: Maluku, Indonesia, B: Amsterdam-Centrum, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands

Rumphius's "Herbarium Ambonense" is Posthumously Published

1741 to 1750
Portrait of Rumphius, who was blind.
Portrait of Rumphius, who was blind.

Het Amboinsche Kruid-boek or Herbarium Amboinense, a catalogue of the plants of Ambon in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, by Georg Eberhard Rumphius, a German-born soldier and botanist employed by the Dutch East India Company, was edited by Dutch botanist and physician Johannes Burman, and posthumously published in Amsterdam in a 6-volume bilingual Dutch and Latin from 1741 to 1750. The work, which provided the basis for all future study of the flora of the Moluccas, described 2000 species. It presented descriptions of the plants and their habitats, and their economic and medicinal uses, and also recorded native plant names in Malay, Latin, Dutch, and Ambonese—and often in Macassarese and Chinese as well.

That this large work was ever published was truly remarkable, considering the hardships that its author faced during its composition, and the complications that occurred after its completion. Even after going blind in 1670 due to glaucoma, Rumphius persisted in the composition of his manuscript with the help of his wife, Suzanna. However, on February 17, 1674 his wife and a daughter were killed by a wall collapse during a major earthquake and tsunami. His son Paul August made many of the plant illustrations and also the only known portrait of Rumphius. Other assistants included Philips van Eyck, a draughtsman, Daniel Crul, Pieter de Ruyter, a soldier trained by Van Eyck, Johan Philip Sipman, Christiaen Gieraerts, and J. Hoogeboom. 

On January 11, 1687, as the project finally neared completion, a great fire in the town destroyed Rumphius's library, numerous manuscripts, original illustrations for his Herbarium Amboinense, volumes of the Hortus Malabaricus, and works by Jacobus Bontius. Persevering, Rumphius and his helpers first completed the manuscript and illustrations in 1690, but the ship carrying the manuscript to the Netherlands was attacked by the French and sank, forcing them to start over from a copy that had fortunately been retained. The Herbarium Amboinense finally arrived in the Netherlands in 1696. However by then "the East India Company decided that it contained so much sensitive information that it would be better not to publish it." Rumphius died in 1702, so he never had the satisfaction of knowing that his work was published. When the East India Company lifted theembargo was in 1704, no publisher could be found for work the work. Finally, 39 years after Rumphius's death, the work finally appeared in print through the efforts of Johannes Burman who translated it into Latin, and oversaw its publication in a bilingual Dutch and Latin edition. 

In 2011 Yale University Press issued an annotated English translation of the complete work in six volumes by E. M. Beekman, as The Ambonese Herbal, complete with all 811 original illustrations. 

In May 2015 a digital facsimile of the complete set of six volumes was available from at this link.

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