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  Johann Baptist Emanuel Pohl
1782 - 1834
 
 

Johan Emanuel Pohl was born in Kanitz, Bohemia on February 22, 1782, and spent most of his early years living with his uncle who was a town official in Politz. Pohl’s uncle was also an amateur botanist, and encouraged Pohl and his schoolfriends to study plants during their excursions in the countryside. After completing his studies at the public school in Politz, Pohl attended the Gymnasium in Prague and then enrolled in the University as a student in the Philosophy course. From this, he entered the medical curriculum and graduated as Doctor of Medicine in 1808. During his years of university study in Prague, Pohl continued his interest in botany, making numerous field excursions in his region. He began to publish the results of his field work in various journals, created a herbarium, and was elected to the Regensburg Botanical Society.

Following his graduation from medical school, Pohl held a brief teaching position at the University and then served in a military hospital in the town of Nachod. After this service, he took part in the establishment, in Prague, of a new charity hospital for the sick and convalescent and continued his studies in botany. From 1811 to 1817, Pohl taught botany at the garden established by Count Joseph M. von Canal (1745-1826). The Canalschen Garten was at that time a center for botanical research and learning, and had attracted a number of Central European botanists.

By 1817, Pohl was well-established as one of Bohemia’s foremost botanists, and it is not surprising that he was invited to join an Austrian scientific commission which was organized in 1817 to “explore the Brazilian Kingdom”. This expedition was associated with a royal marriage—that of Don Pedro, the eldest son of João VI, King of Portugal and Brazil, and the Archduchess Leopoldine, a daughter of Francis I, Emperor of Austria. At the time of the wedding in Vienna, the bridegroom was already in Brazil awaiting the bridal party whose numbers were increased by the addition of several men of science. The idea for a scientific commission to Brazil originated with the Chancellor of the Austrian Empire, Prince von Metternich-Winneburg, who hoped to obtain a comprehensive survey of the Brazilian Kingdom—its flora and fauna, resources, culture, population, manufactures, etc. Along with Pohl, the contingent of botanists included Johann Christian Mikan (1769-1844), Karl Friedrich Philip von Martius (1794-1868), and Giuseppe Raddi (1770-1829).

In the summer of 1817, Pohl and Raddi sailed on a warship from the port of Livorno, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro on November 7. Raddi would return to Europe in the following year, but for Pohl, this was the beginning of nearly four years of travel in South America. His excursions took him to the provinces of Minas Gerais, Goias, and Bahia as well as the province of Rio de Janeiro itself, and he traveled on at least thirty of Brazil’s numerous rivers. His collections of plants numbered in the thousands representing some 4000 different species. In addition to botany, Pohl worked in the fields of mineralogy and zoology. He investigated gold and diamond mines, explored caves and native villages and crossed mountain ranges, traveling either by canoe or overland on primitive roads which were often washed out by rainstorms, As a result of his labors, Pohl developed serious health problems before returning to Vienna in late 1821. From that date until his death in 1834, he remained prominent in the Austrian scientific community and held the positions of curator at the Vienna Natural History Museum and the Vienna Brazilian Museum.

Even before his journey to Brazil, Johann Pohl had written a number of articles, which appeared in the Regensburger botanische Zeitung, and in other journals. In 1809, the first part of his Tentamen florae bohemicae was printed, and 1812 saw the publication of the small work, Des Freiherrn von Hochberg botanischer Garten zu Hlubosch. Both of these books were published in Prague, but his major works from Brazil were produced in Vienna. The first volume of Reise im Innern von Brasilien came out in 1832 and the second, after Pohl’s death, in 1837, Plantarum Brasiliae icons et descriptions was published in two volumes—1826-1828 and 1828-1833. One of the editions included uncolored plates, but the other, produced on special order, contains two hundred hand-colored lithographs from the drawings of Wilhelm Sandler.

Bibliography.

Antoine Lasègue, Musée Botanique de M. Benjamin Delessert. 1845.
Vincenz Maiwald, Geschichte der Botanik in Böhmen. 1904.
Nelson Papavero, Essays on the history of Neotropical Dipterology. 1971.
Wilhelm Weitenweber, “Biographische Skizzen böhmischer Naturforscher”. Lotos. v. 3:25-28. 1853.

Robert F. Erickson

 
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