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Daniel Solander (1733–1782)

by L. A. Gilbert

This article was published:

Daniel Solander (1733-1782), by Harriet Gunn

Daniel Solander (1733-1782), by Harriet Gunn

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10028416

Daniel Solander (1733-1782), naturalist, was born on 19 February 1733 at Piteä in Norrland, Sweden, the son of Rev. Carl Solander and Magdalena, née Bostadia. Although baptized Daniel, Solander later adopted his father's name with the suffix 'son' as an extra Christian name and he recorded his signature accordingly. It is likely that he received much of his education from his father before enrolling at the University of Uppsala in July 1750. Solander studied languages and the humanities and attended lectures delivered by his uncle, Daniel Solander, who was professor of law. The professor of botany was the celebrated Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) who was soon impressed by young Solander's ability and accordingly persuaded his father to let him study natural history. In 1756 Solander edited Linnaeus's Elementa Botanica.

Advised by Linnaeus to go to England, Solander arrived in London in June 1760 with letters of introduction to two leading naturalists, John Ellis and Peter Collinson. He did not return and so did not present his doctoral thesis, although long before the Endeavour voyage he was referred to as 'Dr Solander'. Towards the end of 1761 Linnaeus advised Solander that the chair of botany at the Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg, was offered to him, but on the advice of Collinson and other English friends he declined the post. He also declined to succeed Linnaeus at Uppsala. On Collinson's recommendation Solander was engaged to catalogue the natural history collections in the British Museum and on his appointment as assistant librarian in 1763 was able to promote effectively the Linnaean system of classification. In the following year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and by 1765 he was working on a descriptive catalogue of the vast private museum of the Duchess of Portland.

Solander's work and social activities led him to meet Joseph Banks who in 1768 invited him to join the scientific staff of the Endeavour. Engaged at £400 a year, Solander assisted Banks to make a large collection of natural history specimens, including many from the east coast of Australia. After his return to England in July 1771 Solander became Banks's secretary and librarian. He was presented to George III in August, and in November he received the honorary degree of doctor of civil law from the University of Oxford. To Linnaeus's dismay Banks and Solander seemed more eager to organize further expeditions than to complete the arrangement and classification of the collections already made. In 1772 they explored the Isle of Wight, the western highlands of Scotland, and Iceland, and returned with much material ranging from Icelandic plants to specimens of lava from Mount Hekla. Next year Solander joined Banks on an expedition to Wales, and he was also appointed keeper of natural history at the British Museum. He lived with Banks in London, amid the books, herbarium specimens and natural curiosities in his care. He died on 13 May 1782, after a stroke. He was buried in the Swedish Church, London, and in 1913 his remains were moved to the Swedish churchyard in Woking.

Daniel Solander was a rather short, plump man of some thirteen stone, jovial, fond of company and much in demand in London society; he had a ready welcome for any Swedish visitors to England. Deeply affected by the marriage in 1764 of Linnaeus's eldest daughter, Elisabeth Christina, he became a confirmed bachelor. He was a popular conversationalist and 'a philosophical gossip'; notoriously forgetful and careless about his appearance, except for a weakness for elaborate waistcoats, he was a most uncertain correspondent. Though accomplished in Swedish, Dutch, English and Latin, he published little, for his full programmes at Soho Square and the museum were intensified by social obligations. However, he left much manuscript material relating especially to the Endeavour voyage and the expedition to Iceland. Banks proposed to publish an ambitious botanical work for which many beautiful copper plates were prepared. Solander contributed the Latin descriptions of the plants depicted, and happily these ultimately appeared when the trustees of the British Museum authorized publication of the plates in Illustrations of Australian Plants Collected in 1770 During Captain Cook's Voyage Round the World in H.M.S. Endeavour, edited by James Britten (London, 1905). When Gustavus Brander (1720-1787) presented to the British Museum a collection of fossils in clays from Hordwell and Barton, the specimens were described by Solander in Fossilia Hantoniensis Collecta, et in Musaeo Britannico Deposita a Gustavo Brander (London, 1766), a finely illustrated work. Solander also published 'An Account of the Gardenia' in Philosophical Transactions, 52 (1761-62) and another on a parasitic worm in Nova Acta Societas Scientiarum Upsalensis, 1 (1773). Another work, published posthumously, was The Natural History of Many … Uncommon Zoophytes, Collected by John Ellis (London, 1786).

The naturalist has been commemorated by Point Solander, the south headland of Botany Bay; a monument at Kurnell, Botany Bay, erected by the Swedish community in 1914; the tropical American plant genus Solandra; a few Australian plant species; an island off the south of New Zealand; and the 'Solander case', a book-box for carrying notes and specimens. The Linnean Society, London, and Brigadier C. H. Vaughan have portraits.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Maiden, Sir Joseph Banks (Syd, 1909)
  • J. Britten and G. S. Boulger, A Biographical Index of Deceased British and Irish Botanists (Lond, 1931)
  • H. C. Cameron, Sir Joseph Banks (Lond, 1952)
  • J. C. Beaglehole (ed), The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771, vols 1-2 (Syd 1962)
  • R. E. Fries, ‘Daniel Solander’, Arsbok (Kungl. Svenska Vetenskapsakademien), 1940, pp 279-301 (Swedish language copy of the article is held in the ADB file).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Solander, Daniel (1733–1782)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Daniel Solander (1733-1782), by Harriet Gunn

Daniel Solander (1733-1782), by Harriet Gunn

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10028416

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Solanderson, Carl

19 February, 1733
Pitea, Norrland, Sweden


13 May, 1782 (aged 49)

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