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Biographical entry Finsch, Otto (1839 - 1917)

8 August 1839
Warmbrunn, Germany
31 January 1917
Braunschweig, Germany
Ornithologist and Ethnologist


Otto Finsch joined the Museum of Natural History in Leiden, Holland to pursue his love of ornithology. His interests broadened to ethnology when in 1864 he joined Bremen's Museum of Natural History and Ethnography. He remained at that museum for over 10 years becoming its director in 1876. Finsch's first exploration to the Pacific was in 1879 and was funded by the Humboldt Foundation. His second trip was in 1884 and was not for scientific exploration, but for finding land suitable for habitation. This trip was organised by the South Sea Plotters – a group of influential Germans wanting to set up German colonies in the Pacific – of which Finsch was a member. Finsch returned to Germany and ethnological studies in the late 1880s. He was a division head at the Museum of Natural History in Leiden, then at the Municipal Museum in Braunschweig, Germany. Otto Finsch built up a large collection of material from the Pacific especially primitive money and was appointed professor by the duke of Braunschweig.



1861 - 1863
Career position - Assistant at the Museum of Natural History in Leiden, Holland
1864 - 1875
Career position - Curator of the Museum of Natural History and Ethnography in Bremen, Germany
Education - Honorary Doctorate received from the University of Bonn in Germany
1876 -
Career position - Director of the Museum of Natural History and Ethnography in Bremen
1879 - 1882
Career position - Expedition to the Pacific
1884 - 1885
Career position - Expedition to Australia and the Pacific including Duke of York Islands, East Cape, Humbolt Bay on the Samoa
1897 - 1904
Career position - Division Head at the Museum of Natural History in Leiden, Holland

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Sack, P. G., 'Finsch, Otto (1839-1917), ornithologist, ethnologist and pioneer of German colonialism', in Douglas Pike (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 4, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1972, pp. 170-171. Also available at Details

Journal Articles

  • Howes, Hilary, 'Between wealth and poverty: Otto Finsch on Mabuyag, 1881', Memoirs of the Queensland Museum: Culture, vol. 8, no. 1, 2015, pp. 221-51. Details
  • Howes, Hilary S., '"It is not so": Otto Finsch, Expectations and Encounters in the Pacific, 1865-85', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 22, 2011, pp. 32-52. Details
  • Singelmann,, 'Prof. Dr. Finschs Anteil an der Erwebung des deutschen Suedseeschutzgebites', Deutsche Kolonialzeitung, October, 1909. Details

Online Resources

McCarthy, G.J.