Tag Archives: Portugal

Welwitsch: collector

Arthur Morelet (1809–1892) started his malacological career with a privately funded collecting trip to Portugal (Morelet, 1845). He visited the natural history museum in Lisbon, which he described as “je ne sais trop dans quels termes en parler; un Français aurait mauvaise grâce à critiquer la pauvreté de cet établissement (…) est plutôt un musée de parade qu’une collection scientifique”. So he clearly was not impressed at all with the state of affairs in natural history. Nevertheless he also met with “M. Frédéric Wolwich, directeur du jardin botanique de Lisbonne, [who] a mis généreusement à ma disposition les matériaux qu’il avait recueillis dans les environs de cette capitale”. He named a freshwater mussel after him, Unio wolwichi.
In 1867 he published a large paper on molluscs from Angola collected by “Dr Friederich Welwitsch” and dedicated several new species to him.

These seemingly unrelated persons appeared to be one and the same when I looked up biographical data of the latter. Friedrich Martin Josef Welwitsch (1806–1872) was born in Austria and studied medicine and botany in Vienna. He worked a few years as physician but abandoned in 1839 the medical profession altogether. With the financial aid of a Württemberg botanical association Welwitsch travelled to Portugal where he became the director of the botanical gardens. His claim to fame came when with the further support of the Portuguese agent of the Württemberg botanical society he did research on the Canary Islands, on Madeira, and, in the interest of the Portuguese government, from 1853 in Angola, then a Portuguese colony. After eight strenuous years of exploring and collecting, Welwitsch returned to Portugal in 1861. Because of better working conditions, he went to London in 1863. There, he worked at first at the Natural History Museum and later at the Kew Gardens, categorising and cataloguing its enormous collection.


Apparently Morelet and Welwitsch kept in contact after they met in Lisbon, and Welwitsch trusted to him the malacological collection he made during his stay in Angola. This is still an important paper about the Angolan non-marine fauna.

Morelet A. 1845. Description des mollusques terrestres et fluviatiles du Portugal. Paris: Baillière, i–vii + 1–415.
Morelet A. 1867. Voyage du Dr Friederich Welwitsch exécuté par ordre du Gouvernement Portugais dans les royaumes d’Angola et de Benguella (Afrique équinoxiale). Mollusques terrestres et fluviatiles. Paris/London/New York: Baillière et fils, 1–102.

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Welwitsch.