Johann Reinhold Forster

Johann Reinhold Forster

Johann Reinhold Forster (October 22, 1729 – December 9, 1798) was a German naturalist of partial Scottish descent who made contributions to the early ornithology of Europe and North America. He is best known as the naturalist on James Cook's second Pacific voyage, when he was accompanied by his son Georg Forster.


Forster's family originated in the Lords Forrester in Scotland from where his great-grandfather had emigrated after losing most of his property during the rule of Oliver Cromwell along with many other Scots. Forster himself was born in the city of Dirschau (Tczew) in the Polish province of Royal Prussia. He studied theology at the University of Halle, afterwards serving as a Lutheran pastor in Nassenhuben (Mokry Dwór), where his son Georg was born. In 1766 he traveled to England with Georg (the eldest of eight children, seven of which survived childhood). He spent three years teaching at the Dissenter's Academy in Warrington, succeeding Joseph Priestley. Forster then moved to London, where he became known as a natural historian. When Joseph Banks withdrew at the last moment as naturalist on Cook's second voyage, Forster and his son were appointed to fill the vacant position. In July 1772 they set sail on the "Resolution", returning to England in July 1775. During a stop in Cape Town, Forster engaged Anders Sparrman to act as his assistant.

Both the Forsters kept detailed diaries of everything they saw on the voyage, and made extensive collections of both natural history specimens and artifacts. On his return Forster published "Observations Made during a Voyage round the World" (1778). However the income from the book was insufficient to clear his debts, and the bulk of Georg's drawings from the voyage had to be sold to Joseph Banks. During the next few years Forster undertook a variety of writing work, including a German translation of Thomas Pennant's "Arctic Zoology".

In November 1779 Forster was appointed Professor of Natural History and Mineralogy at the University of Halle, where he remained until his death. His "Descriptiones animalium", completed within a month of returning to England with Cook, was eventually edited by Hinrich Lichtenstein and published in 1844.

Forster's Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1772–73) on zoology, ornithology, and ichthyology established him as one of the earliest authorities on North American zoology.

External links

* [ Scans of "Specimen Historiae Naturalis Volgensis"] at the Göttinger Digitalisierungszentrum
* [ Biography] at the Australian Dictionary of Biography

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