Nicholas B. Miller: "Migrating Instructions. Wilhelm Hillebrand’s Mission to Asia for the Kingdom of Hawai‘i (1865–1866)"

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: Zoom 6-3025 (Rausingrummet) and zoom
  • Organiser: Department of History of Science and Ideas
  • Contact person: Maria Florutau
  • Seminarium

Instructing Colonial Natural History Seminar

Research presentation by Nicholas B. Miller, Flagler College. For the Zoom link, contact: instructingnaturalhistory@idehist.uu.se

Abstract: 

In early 1865, the German obstetrician-botanist Wilhelm Hillebrand (1821-1886) received a triple commission from King Kamehameha V to travel to China and India to recruit labour migrants, inquire about new treatments for leprosy, and transmit new flora and fauna species to the Hawaiian Islands. For Hillebrand, the mission represented a convenient conjecture between government and settler projects and his personal passion of botany. Prior to setting off for his journey, he received extensive instructions from R.C. Wyllie, a Scottish businessman turned Minister of Foreign Affairs, who envisioned the trip as a type of fact-finding expedition for Hawai‘i’s nascent plantation sector. Over the course of his 18-month long travels, Hillebrand would stray substantially from Wyllie’s intentions, dedicating the great bulk of his time and resources to botanical collection in present-day Indonesia, including a visit to the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (today, Bogor).

This paper will explore the interplay between Hillebrand’s official instructions and unofficial botanizing. As was the case with other natural historical travelers of the period, Hillebrand’s research was not funded for its own sake, but rather, for its potential contributions to state priorities and private initiatives. Hillebrand’s tripartite commission conjoined practical botany with medical concerns and, in initiating the migration of indentured laborers to Hawai‘i, also participated in the longer-term production of labor-based hierarchies of race and class in the islands. By probing the plantation imperatives and state politics that shaped Hillebrand’s information-gathering and collecting practices, this paper will afford insights into how individual actors adapted state instructions to pursue scientific travel in the mid nineteenth-century Pacific world.