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Clas Fredrik Hornstedt, the 'last Linnaean' in the East Indies, 1783–4

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In the early 1780s members of the circle of amateur naturalists in Batavia sometimes referred to as the ‘East-Indies Enlightenment’ sought to appoint a curator for the collections of the newly founded Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen. It was not far-fetched to turn to Sweden, as the society looked for a naturalist trained in Linnaean method and nomenclature. The man eventually sent out to Java was Clas Fredrik Hornstedt, a student of Carl Peter Thunberg, himself one of the most prominent students of Linnaeus. Hornstedt would spend little over a year in Java. Returning to Sweden in 1786 he brought with him vast collections, not only of animals, plants and minerals, but also materia medica, ethnographica and manuscripts, as well as extensive journals and annotations.

This paper uses Hornstedt’s collecting endeavour in the East-Indies to make observations on the status of science in Sweden in the generation after the death of Linnaeus. It is argued that the Linnaean ambition to record and list everything with boundless scientific detail here was extended to geography, history, literature, thus contributing to the empirical knowledge of eighteenth-century Java and its inhabitants. But Hornstedt has also been seen as the last travelling Linnaean, and the fate of his collections shows that this particular form of knowledge gathering and collecting was increasingly becoming unfashionable in Sweden.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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