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Did you know that...Prince Waldemar of Prussia travelled to India in 1844?

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Prince Waldemar of Prussia (1817-1849) was a remarkable personality in many respects. Though he went through the customary military training and received highest accolades for his bravery and military service, his actions were driven by an insatiable desire to explore the natural phenomena, to venture into the unknown world, and to understand the cultures of the Other.

From young age he was in touch with the senior and world-famous scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who fondly characterised him as follows: “A deep admiration for the beauty of nature, an inner longing for achieving something Great and to explore distant lands, might have prompted the young Prince to travel to East-India.” It was the admiration for his adventurous life and field-research in the Americas, which further encouraged the young Prince to embark on a trip to India. Equipped with an inquiring mind, latest technological devices to study the geography, geology and the flora, Prince Waldemar started his expedition in September 1844, accompanied by the Captain Eduard Graf von Oriola, Lieutenant Graf Albrecht Wilhelm von der Groeben, botanist and medical doctor Dr Werner Hoffmeister, and Sergeant Carl Werner, who already was familiar with India because of an earlier trip and was highly recommended by Alexander von Humboldt.

The group reached Calcutta in January 1845 via Athens, Egypt, and Ceylon. Other destinations of their field studies included Patna, Kathmandu, Benaras, Delhi, Naini Tal, as well as the regions of the Himalayas up to Tibet. But it was not only scientific explorations that they encountered, but also they happened to be drawn into the midst of the Anglo-Sikh Wars of 1845-46 at Ferozeshah, Mudki, Sobraon, where unfortunately Dr Werner Hoffmeister, only 26 years of age, was killed in the battle. Leaving from Bombay on 20 October 1845, Prince Waldemar returned to Berlin, where he reached on 13 June 1846, only to hear about his mother's death just a few weeks before.

Waldemar's painting of 'Afghan soldiers'
Waldemar's painting of 'Afghan soldiers'© Courtesy: Chandigarh Museum

While in India, Prince Waldemar wrote a very comprehensive diary, many notes and essays elaborating his observations and ideas, and numerous letters to his parents, which bear witness to his distinguished and inquisitive character. Prince Waldemar was most happy to explore the locale on his own. Being of royal descent, he was given special security personnel to guard him by the British high command, which he considered usually rather annoying. When once he tried to sneak out of his room to stroll through the 'native' bazaar in Calcutta on his own, his “Butler” caught him and suggested that he made horses and carriage ready for him. The Prince requested to be left alone, but his guardian insisted on doing his assigned duties. Waldemar angrily shouted at him, which had the desired effect, followed by his guardian's contemptuous and scornful glances. Prince Waldemar writes further: “I was more than happy to get rid of this useless attendant, and enjoyed going out anonymously. It is such a pleasure for me to stroll around in unknown towns and to observe the hustle and bustle in the local streets and markets. And if this appeals to me in Europe, how much more in this country, where I encounter hundreds of new exciting images at every step .”

The outcome of this trip were not only innumerable notes, essays and observations on the cultural, historical, social and political scenery of India, which are extremely valuable because they consist of first-hand scientific data; a valuable collection of Indian arms and armoury, which was passed on to the Prussian museum in Berlin, and a comprehensive herbarium of plants collected and meticulously pressed and annotated by Dr Hoffmeister. The herbarium included 456 species, of which 108 were new, and 270 genera of plants. Two famous botanists, Dr. Fr. Klotzsch and Dr. August Garcke, were engaged to work on the material collected in India. They compiled a pioneering magnum opus entitled “Die Botanischen Ergebnisse der Reise seiner königlichen Hoheit des Prinzen Waldemar von Preussen in den Jahren 1845 und 1846”. This truly wonderful work came out in Berlin in 1862, sixteen years after Waldemar returned from India. In commemoration of both travelers, who died young on or because of the hardships of this journey, some plants which were hitherto unknown in botanical circles, were named after them, for example Waldemaria Argentea, Delphinium Hoffmeisteri, Diospyros Waldermarii, Juncus Hoffmeisteri.

Waldemar was a keen and talented artist, and while in India, he made hundreds and hundreds of fine sketches and watercolours, depicting landscapes, village life, monuments or the adventures of the Anglo-Sikh battles. These were skilfully turned into lithographs by the most well known lithographers of the time in Berlin, Ferdinand Bellermann and Hermann Kretzschmer, who both because of previous journeys to Southern America and the Orient were familiar with the visual vocabulary of distant and peculiar regions, as Alexander von Humboldt remarks about these lithographic works: “these were endowed with life and artistic value”. Here you see a few examples of these wonderful lithographs, based on the paintings of Prince Waldemar of Prussia, which belong to the collection of the Museum in Chandigarh and are displayed there.

Author: Dr. Jutta Jain-Neubauer

© German Embassy New Delhi

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