Henri Van Heurck (Antwerp 1839-1909)

A bust of Henri Van Heurck

Van Heurck was manager of the family business (a paint and varnish factory) and professor in chemistry at the Industrial High School in Antwerp. As a self-made botanist, he firstly studied, together with other naturalists, the flora surrounding Antwerp. He carried out pioneering work in microscopy, and later became famous for his research on diatoms. He was active in the foundation of several natural history societies (such as Antwerpsch Kruidkundig Genootschap, Société phytologique d’Anvers and the Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique). His scientific merits were recognized by the University of Rostock, Germany (Doctor hon. c. 1869).

He convinced the municipality of Antwerp to establish a Botanic Garden and became its director. He spent a fortune enlarging his collections and acquired the herbaria of Sieber and von Reichenbach in 1867. With his own herbarium, this was the largest herbarium in Belgium at that time. After Van Heurck’s death his collections and herbarium were purchased by the municipality of Antwerp. The herbarium was the core of the former herbarium AWH, now on permanent loan to the herbarium of the National Botanical Garden of Belgium (BR).

Among his publications are the following books: Antwerpsche analytische Flora (1861), Flore médicale belge (1864), Le Microscope (1865, 1869, 1878), Synopsis des diatomées de Belgique (1880), Treatise on the Diatomaceae (1896; English translation published three years before the original version in French).

Biography: E. Frison, Henri Ferdinand Van Heurck. 1838-1909. Sa vie, son oeuvre. Rijksmuseum Geschiedenis Natuurwetenschappen Leyde, Communication 111 : 106 pp.

Elmar Robbrecht, Dec 2007.

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