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  Hugh Algernon Weddell
1819 - 1877

Hugh Algernon Weddell, physician and botanist, was born on June 22, 1819 at Painswick near Gloucester into a family of ancient Saxon lineage. However, for personal reasons, Weddell’s father decided, in 1824, to leave England and settle in France. The family lived at first in Boulogne-sur-Mer and then moved to Paris, where Hugh attended the College of Henri Quatre. He received his baccalaureate degree in 1835 and a doctorate of medicine in 1841. As a student, Weddell had developed a strong interest in botany, and had become acquainted with some of the leading French botanists of the time. For example, he had accompanied Adrien de Jussieu (1797-1853) on numerous botanizing expeditions and he became a collaborator with Ernest Cosson (1819-1889) and Jacques Germain de Saint-Pierre (1815-1882) in the preparation of Flore des environs de Paris (1845). Weddell is not shown as one of the authors of this work because two years before its publication, he was selected to join the scientific expedition to South America of the naturalist, Comte F.de Castelnau (1810-1880).

Castelnau’s expedition was engaged primarily in the scientific exploration of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia, and Weddell’s main occupation was plant collecting. From Brazil alone, he sent more than 3000 specimens back to Paris; unfortunately, due to the difficulties of travel in undeveloped regions, many other parts of his collections were lost.

In May of 1845, Weddell left the expedition which was then in Paraguay, and proceeded on a solitary journey which would take him into Peru and Bolivia. Before leaving Paris, he had been particularly instructed by the Natural History Museum to undertake a thorough investigation of the Cinchona plant, or "fever bark" tree in its native habitat. Cinchona, the source of quinine, was of great commercial importance and Europeans had been investigating it for nearly two hundred years with the goal of cultivating it in regions far removed from the Andes mountains. Weddell explored a number of regions where the trees grew and identified no fewer than fifteen distinct species of the genus Cinchona (Rubiaceae). The seeds which he took back to Paris were germinated in the Jardin des Plantes, and the plants were used to establish Cinchona forests in Java and elsewhere in the East Indies.

In late 1847, Weddell ended his explorations at Arequipa in Peru and began his long journey home. Earlier in the year, he had married Juana Bolognesi, a resident of Arequipa, and he could have stayed on in Peru as a doctor of medicine and professor of natural history. However, his principal interest was in publishing the results of his work in France, and he and his bride left for Lima in November and then took the long sea route around Cape Horn, arriving in France in March of 1848. In his five years of work in the New World, Weddell had traveled thousands of miles and had actually crossed the Andean Cordillera nine times, hiking through the perpetual snow of extreme altitudes.

In Paris, Weddell was given the post of assistant naturalist at the Museum, an office which he held until 1853. He devoted himself to botanical research and writing, and also made another trip to South America. This was in 1851, and included travels in Peru and Bolivia. The history of his earlier trip was published in Additions à la flore de l’Amérique du Sud (1850) and the second in Voyage dans la Nord de la Bolivie (1853). The Cinchona plant to which he had devoted so much of his efforts in South America was described in an 1849 monograph-Histoire naturelle des Quinquinas. In addition, Weddell published numerous articles in scientific journals; among the most important were Chloris andina, which describes some of the alpine flora of the Andes mountains (1855-57), Observations sur une espèce nouvelle du genre Wolffia (1849), and Monographie de la famille des Urticacées (1856-57). In his later years, Weddell became interested in Lichens, and began publishing in that field in the 1870’s.

Weddell had left Paris in order to take care of his old father in the country, but he remained a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences until his death from a heart attack on July 22, 1877. His death was described as a great loss to both England and France for he had numerous colleagues and friends in both nations.


  • Eugène P.N. Fournier, Comptes Rendus Cong. Internat. Bot. Hort. Paris (1878). pp. 227-252.
  • Jacques D. Leandri, "Un Naturaliste du Muséum a la Recherche des Quinquinas: Hugh Algernon Weddell (1819-1877)". Adansonia. v. 6:165-173. 1966.
  • Geneva Sayre, "Crytogamae Exsiccatae. An Annotated Bibliography of Exsiccatae of Algae, Lichenes, Hepaticae, and Musci". Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. v. 19, no. 3:411-412. 1975.
  • Ignatz Urban, Flora Brasiliensis. V. 1, pt. 1:136-139. 1840-1906.

Robert F. Erickson 

Digitized Works:
Chloris andinaauthor
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