■ (Biog.) Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, 1796-1866
Siebold was a German physician who tired of ordinary practice and got a job as surgeon major in the Dutch East Indies army. He ended up in Nagasaki (pretending to be Dutch, incidentally) as one of the western explorers of Japan. He married a local woman, who gave birth to a daughter, Ine, who has been the subject of at least one Japanese tv drama. Generally Siebold's name is much better known in Japan than in the West, but it can be found (as Sieboldii) in many plant variety names, commemorating his botanical collecting efforts.
The 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had this to say about Siebold:
SIEBOLD, PHILIPP FRANZ VON (1796-1866), scientific explorer of Japan, elder brother of the physiologist [Carl Theodor Ernst von Siebold, 1804-1885], was born at Wurzburg, Germany, on the 17th of February 1796. He studied medicine and natural science at Wurzburg, and obtained his doctor's diploma in 1820. In 1822 he entered the service of the king of the Netherlands as medical officer to the East Indian Army. On his arrival at Batavia [Jakarta] he was attached to a new mission to Japan, sent by the Dutch with a view to improve their trading relations with that country. Siebold was well equipped with scientific apparatus, and he remained in Japan for six years, with headquarters at the Dutch settlement on the little island of Deshima. His medical qualifications enabled him to find favour with the Japanese, and he gathered a vast amount of information concerning a country then very little known, especially concerning its natural history and ethnography. He had comparatively free access to the interior, and his reputation spreading far and wide brought him visitors from all parts of the country. His valuable stores of information were enriched by trained natives whom he sent to collect for him in the interior. In 1824 he published Di historiae naturalis in Japonia statu and in 1832 his splendid Fauna Japonica. His knowledge of the language enabled him also in 1826 to issue from Batavia his Epitome linguae Japonicae. In Deshima he also laid the foundation of his Catalogus librorum Japonicorum and Isagoge in bibliothecam Japonicam, published after his return to Europe, as was his Bibliotheca Japonica, which, with the co-operation of J. Hoffman, appeared at Leiden in 1833. During the visit which he was permitted to make to Yedo (Tokio), Siebold made the best of the rare opportunity; his zeal, indeed, outran his discretion, since, for obtaining a native map of the country, he was thrown into prison and compelled to quit Japan on the 1st of January 1830. On his return to Holland he was raised to the rank of major, and in 1842 to that of colonel. After his arrival in Europe he began to give to the world the fruits of his researches and observations in Japan. His Nippon; Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan und dessen Neben- und Schultz-Landern was issued in five quarto volumes of text, with six folio volumes of atlas and engravings. He also issued many fragmentary papers on various aspects of Japan. In 1854 he published at Leiden Urkundliche Darstellung der Bestrebungen Niederlands und Russlands zur Eroffnung Japans. In 1859 Siebold undertook a second journey to Japan, and was invited by the emperor to his court. In 1861 he obtained permission from the Dutch government to enter the Japanese service as negotiator between Japan and the powers of Europe, and in the same year his eldest son [Alexander Georg Gustav von Siebold, 1846-1911] was made interpreter to the English embassy at Yedo. Siebold was, however, soon obliged by various intrigues to retire from his post, and ultimately from Japan. Returning by Java to Europe in 1862, he set up his ethnographical collections, which were ultimately secured by the government of Bavaria and removed to Munich. He continued to publish papers on various Japanese subjects, and received honours from many of the learned societies of Europe. He died at Munich on the 18th of October 1866.
Nagasaki Ajisai Net
Steven Spongberg: "A Reunion of Trees", includes Siebold's story (review)
This entry was created by Brian Chandler, with additional contributions by Tom Gally.