Friedrich Hermann Otto Finsch Friedrich Hermann Otto Finsch (1839-1917) By Philippe Bourgoin Self-taught ornithologist, ethnologist, writer, collector, curator and then museum director and pioneer of German colonial expansion, Otto Finsch was born in the spa town of Bad Warmbrunn, then part of the Prussian province of Silesia (now Cieplice Śląskie-Zdrój in southwest Poland). Finsch began to sketch the local flora and fauna and the landscapes around him at an early age, showing precocious signs of his talent as a draftsman and of what would become his passion for natural history, and particularly ornithology and ethnology. Caring little for his father's glass business, the teenager traveled to Budapest in Hungary in 1858 and to Rustschuk in Bulgaria to pursue his scientific interests. In 1861, he became an assistant to naturalist Hermann Schlegel (1804-1884), then director of the Imperial Museum of Natural History (now Naturalis Biodiversity Center) in Leiden, the Netherlands. In 1864, at the instigation of another prominent German ornithologist, Gustav Hartlaub (1814-1900), he returned to Germany to become curator of the ethnological and natural history collections of the Bremen Museum Society (now the Übersee-Museum), of which he became director in 1876. During this period he undertook several expeditions, visiting North America in 1872, Lapland in 1873 and Western Siberia in 1876. It was also during this period that he wrote one of his most notable publications (Neu-Guinea und seine Bewohner (New Guinea and Its Inhabitants), C. Ed. Müller, Bremen, 1865), an encyclopedic compilation of geographical, geological, zoological, botanical and ethnological information. In 1878, having obtained a grant from the Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, he resigned from his position as director in Bremen to go on his first major voyage to the South Seas (1879-1882), in the course of which he visited the Hawaiian Islands, the Caroline Islands (Marshall and Gilbert), New Britain and New Guinea, then Australia, the Torres Strait, New Zealand and the Malay Archipelago, assembling numerous collections as he traveled. Finsch carried out his second expedition to the South Seas (1884-1885) on behalf of banker Adolph von Hansemann (1826-1903), who had, in May 1884 in Hamburg, along with a group of businessmen investors, founded the Neuguinea-Consortium, which later became the Deutsche Neuguinea-Compagnie. Departing from Sydney together with Captain Eduard Dallmann (1830-1896) aboard the steamer Samoa, the two explorers headed for the Bismarck Archipelago and New Guinea with the goal of establishing German colonies. Finsch ultimately played a decisive role in the establishment of the German protectorate that existed from 1884 to 1914 and was comprised of the northeastern portion of New Guinea, then called Kaiser Wilhelms-Land, and the Bismarck Archipelago. The Kaiser selected the port towns of Finschhafen (which still bears the explorer's name), in the province of Morobe, and Friedrich-Wilhelmshafen (now Madang) as the main locations for the company's administration. Captain Dallman and Finsch became the first to navigate the Sepik River – albeit only a short stretch of it – and Finsch named it the Kaiserin-Augusta-Fluss, in honor of the German empress consort Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Disappointed by the lack of recognition from the company for what he had to done to bring German colonial ambitions to fruition, he decided to leave New Guinea in 1886. In that same year, the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin (now the Ethnologisches Museum) exhibited the important collections that Finsch had made both for himself and for the company (Catalog II der ethnologischen Sammlung der Neu Guinea Compagnie ausgestellt im Königl. Museum für Völkerkunde, W. Moeser Hofbuchdruckerei, Berlin, 1886), and he married Elisabeth Hoffman (1860-1925), the daughter of painter Moritz Wilhelm Hoffman (1823-1896). She actively supported him in the development and illustration of his publications (Samoafahrten. Reisen in Kaiser Wilhelms-Land und Englisch-Neu-Guinea in den Jahren 1884 und 1885 an Bord des Deutschen Dampfers Samoa, Ferdinand Hirt & Sohn, Leipzig, 1888; Ethnologische Erfahrungen und Belegstücke aus der Südsee. Beschriebender Katalog, Einer Sammlung im K. K. Naturhistorischen Hofmuseum in Wien, Alfred Hölder, Vienna, 1888-1893; Systematische Uebersicht der Ergebnisse seiner Reisen und schriftstellerischen Tätigkeit (1859-1899), R. Friedländer & Sohn, Berlin, 1899; Südseearbeiten, L. Friederichsen, Hamburg, 1914). From 1897 to 1903, Finsch again worked in the field of natural history, this time at the Rijksmuseum in Leiden. In 1904 he succeeded naturalist Richard Andrée (1835-1912) at the Municipal Museum in Braunschweig, where he was responsible for the reorganization of the ethnological collections and later became director from 1914 until his death in 1917. In the course of this period, he exhibited his numerous personal collections in traveling exhibitions and subsequently gave them to various museums: the American Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum in Chicago, USA; the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography Luigi Pigorini in Rome; the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in St. Petersburg; the Weltmuseum in Vienna, Austria; and the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin (1338 objects). His travel notebooks, countless manuscripts, object lists, catalogs, photographs, drawings, notes and vocabulary booklets (preserved in the Weltmuseum in Vienna and, in particular, in the American Museum of Natural History in New York - 2500 catalog cards, 200 watercolors, a 1600 page manuscript and 1000 objects) all attest to the importance he attached to the detailed preservation and reproduction of his observations. Finsch was also an outstanding draftsman and the numerous sketches and colored pencil drawings he produced illustrate not only his work and publications but the magnificent craftsmanship of the peoples of the Pacific at the end of the 19th century as well.