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
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.
- 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