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Engelbert Kaempfer
Engelbert Kaempfer (September 16, 1651November 2, 1716) was a Germanmarker naturalist, traveller and physician.

Early life

He was born at Lemgomarker in the principality of Lippe, Westphalia, where his father was a pastor. He studied at Hamelnmarker, Lüneburgmarker, Hamburgmarker, Lübeckmarker and Danzig (Gdanskmarker), and after graduating Ph.D. at Krakówmarker, spent four years at Königsbergmarker in Prussia, studying medicine and natural science.



In 1681, he visited Uppsalamarker in Swedenmarker, where he was offered inducements to settle; but his desire for foreign travel led him to become secretary to the embassy which Charles XI sent through Russiamarker to Persia in 1683. He reached Persia by way of Moscowmarker, Kazanmarker and Astrakhanmarker, landing at Nizabad in Dagestanmarker after a voyage in the Caspian Seamarker; from Shemakha in Shirvan he made an expedition to the Baku peninsulamarker, being perhaps the first modern scientist to visit these fields of eternal fire. In 1684 he arrived in Isfahanmarker, then the Persian capital. When after a stay of more than a year the Swedish embassy prepared to return, Kaempfer joined the fleet of the Dutch East India Company in the Persian Gulfmarker as chief surgeon, and in spite of fever caught at Bander Abbasimarker he found opportunity to see something of Arabia and of many of the western coast-lands of Indiamarker.


In September 1689, he reached Bataviamarker; spent the following winter studying Javanesemarker natural history, and in May 1690 set out for Japanmarker as physician to the embassy, sent yearly to that country by the Dutch. En route to Japan, the ship in which he sailed touched at Siammarker, whose capital he visited; Here he recorded his meeting with the Siamese Minister and former ambassador to Francemarker Kosa Pan.. In September 1690 he arrived at the coast of Nagasaki, the only Japanese port then open to foreigners.

Kaempfer stayed two years in Japan, during which time he twice visited Edo and the Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi there. When he visited Buddhist monks in Nagasaki in February 1691, he was the first western scientist to describe the tree Ginkgo biloba - scientists at the time thought that all Ginkgo species were extinct. He brought some Ginkgo seeds back that were planted in the botanical garden in Utrechtmarker and can still be seen today. During his stay in Japan, his tact, diplomacy and medical skill overcame the cultural reserve of the Japanese, and enabled him to elicit much valuable information. In November 1692 he left Japan for Javamarker.

Return to Europe

After twelve years abroad, Kaemfper returned to Europe in 1695, landing at Amsterdammarker. He was awarded a medical degree at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Kaempfer settled down in his native city of Lemgo, where he became the physician of the Count of Lippemarker. In Germany he published the book Amoenitatum exoticarum (Lemgo 1712) which showed an illustration of a camellia and introduced 23 varieties. Notable for its description of the electric eel, acupuncture, and moxibustion. His systematic description of tea (as well as his other work on Japanese plants) was praised by Linnaeus, who adopted the Kaempfer-devised nomenclature .

In 1716, Kaempfer died at Lemgo.


At Kaempfer's death his mostly unpublished manuscripts were purchased by Sir Hans Sloane, and conveyed to England. Among them was a History of Japan, translated from the manuscript into English by J.G. Scheuchzer and published at London, in 2 vols., in 1727. The original German ("Heutiges Japan") had not been published, the extant German version being taken from the English. Besides Japanese history, this book contains a description of the political, social and physical state of the country in the 17th century. For upwards of a hundred years it remained the chief source of information for the general reader, and is still not wholly obsolete. A life of the author is prefixed to the History. Kaempfer's original manuscripts are currently kept in the British Museummarker. Many of them have been published since 2001:

Engelbert Kaempfer, Werke. Kritische Ausgabe in Einzelbänden. Herausgegeben von Detlef Haberland, Wolfgang Michel, Elisabeth Gössmann.
  • Vol 1/1 Engelbert Kaempfer: Heutiges Japan. Herausgegeben von Wolfgang Michel und Barend J. Terwiel. 2001.[xiv, 779 pp., 93 ills. Transliteration of EKs manuscript British Library London, Ms Sl 3060, reproduction of drawings, index]
  • Vol 1/2 Engelbert Kaempfer: Heutiges Japan. Herausgegeben von Wolfgang Michel und Barend J. Terwiel. 2001 [vii, 828 pp., 56 ills.] [Extensive commentary by Michel on Kaempfer's manuscript and drawings, Japanese and Western coworkers, Kaempfer's research context, his Japanese collection etc. including a bibliography] ISBN 3-89129-931-1
  • Vol 2 Briefe 1683-1715.- München: Iudicium Verl., 2001. ISBN 3-89129-932-X
  • Vol 3 Zeichnungen japanischer Pflanzen. – München: Iudicum Verl., 2003. ISBN 3-89129-933-8
  • Vol 4 Engelbert Kaempfer in Siam. – München: Iudicum Verl., 2003. – ISBN 3-89129-934-6
  • Vol 5 Notitiae Malabaricae. – München: Iudicum Verl., 2003. ISBN 3-89129-935-4
  • Vol 6 Russlandtagebuch 1683. – München: Iudicum Verl., 2003. ISBN 3-89129-936-2

Kaempfers Works

  • Exercitatio politica de Majestatis divisione in realem et personalem, quam […] in celeberr. Gedanensium Athenaei Auditorio Maximo Valedictionis loco publice ventilendam proponit Engelbertus Kämpffer Lemgovia-Westphalus Anno MDCLXXIII d. 8. Junii h. mat. Dantisci [=Danzig], Impr. David Fridericus Rhetius.
  • Disputatio Medica Inauguralis Exhibens Decadem Observationum Exoticarum, quam […] pro gradu doctoratus […] publico examini subjicit Engelbert Kempfer, L. L. Westph. ad diem 22. Aprilis […] Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden], apud Abrahanum Elzevier, Academiae Typographum. MDCXCIV.
  • Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum fasciculi v, quibus continentur variae relationes, observationes & descriptiones rerum Persicarum & ulterioris Asiae, multâ attentione, in peregrinationibus per universum Orientum, collecta, ab auctore Engelberto Kaempfero. Lemgoviae, Typis & impensis H.W. Meyeri, 1712.
  • The History of Japan, giving an Account of the ancient and present State and Government of that Empire; of Its Temples, Palaces, Castles and other Buildings; of its Metals, Minerals, Trees, Plants, Animals, Bi*rds and Fishes; of The Chronology and Succession of the Emperors, Ecclesiastical and Secular; of The Original Descent, Religions, Customs, and Manufactures of the Natives, and of their Trade and Commerce with the Dutch and Chinese. Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam. Written in High-Dutch by Engelbertus Kaempfer, M. D. Physician to the Dutch Embassy to the Emperor's Court; and translated from his Original Manuscript, never before printed, by J. G. Scheuchzer, F. R. S. and a member of the College of Physicians, London. With the Life of the Author, and an Introduction. Illustrated with many copperplates. Vol. I/II. London: Printed for the Translator, MDCCXXVII.
  • Kaempfer, Engelberts Weyl. D. M. und Hochgräfl. Lippischen Leibmedikus Geschichte und Beschreibung von Japan. Aus den Originalhandschriften des Verfassers herausgegeben von Christian Wilhelm Dohm [..]. Erster Band. Mit Kupfern und Charten. Lemgo, im Verlage der Meyerschen Buchhandlung, 1777; Zweyter und lezter Band. Mit Kupfern und Charten. Lemgo, im Verlage der Meyerschen Buchhandlung, 1779.
  • Engelbert Kaempfer: 1651 - 1716. Seltsames Asien (Amoenitates Exoticae). In Auswahl übersetzt von Karl Meier-Lemgo, Detmold 1933
  • "Engelbert Kaempfer: Am Hofe des persischen Großkönigs (1684-1685)" Ed. Walther Hinz, Stuttgart 1984.

Literature on E. Kaempfer

  • Kapitza, Peter: Engelbert Kaempfer und die europäische Aufklärung. Dem Andenken des Lemgoer Reisenden aus Anlaß seines 350. Geburtstags am 16. September 2001. – München: Iudicum Verlag, ISBN 3-89129-991-5
  • Haberland, Detlef (Hrsg.), Engelbert Kaempfer - Werk und Wirkung. Franz Steiner: Stuttgart 1993.
  • Haberland, Detlef (Hrsg.): Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716): ein Gelehrtenleben zwischen Tradition und Innovation. – Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005. – ISBN 3-447-05128-0


  1. Suarez, Thomas (1999) Early Mapping of Southeast Asia Tuttle Publishing ISBN 9625934707 p.30


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