William Hillebrand

Wilhelm or William Hillebrand (November 13, 1821 – July 13, 1886) was a German physician. He traveled the world, including over 20 years in the Hawaiian islands. In 1850, Hillebrand lived at what is now Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu. He also became known as a botanist.

William Hillebrand
William Hillebrand
BornNovember 13, 1821 (1821-11-13)
DiedJuly 13, 1886 (1886-07-14) (aged 64)
Scientific career
FieldsBotany, Medicine

Life and career

Hillebrand was born on November 13, 1821 in Nieheim, Province of Westphalia, Prussia. His father was Judge Franz Josef Hillebrand, and mother Louise Pauline Konig.[1] He studied medicine at Heidelberg and Berlin, and practiced at Paderborn. He sought a warmer climate to recover from a lung problem, (perhaps tuberculosis), first traveling to Australia in 1849, and then the Philippines.[2]

Hillebrand then went to San Francisco and finally arrived in the Hawaii December 22, 1850. He stayed for a little over 20 years and made significant contributions that endure to this day. He was able to speak the Hawaiian language as well as German, English, Latin, and French.[1]

He went into practice with Dr. Wesley Newcomb, and married his stepdaughter Anna Post on November 16, 1852.[3] In 1853, Hillebrand purchased 13 acres (53,000 m2) of land from Queen Kalama, just a short distance from where he worked. He had a keen interest in plants, and over the years, planted a number of exotic and native trees in his garden.

Six years after his arrival, he and nine other Honolulu physicians petitioned to charter an organization called the Hawaiian Medical Society. Two months later, the petition was granted. Today, it is the Hawaii Medical Association. After the death of Thomas Charles Byde Rooke in 1858, he was appointed physician to the royal family of King Kamehameha IV. Hillebrand also served as chief (and only) physician at The Queen's Hospital (now The Queen's Medical Center),[4] from 1860 to 1871. The hospital was named after Queen Emma, Dr. Rooke's adoptive daughter who was Kamehameha IV's wife.

In 1865 he was appointed to the King's Privy Council, the Board of Health, and Bureau of Immigration.[5] In April 1865 Hillebrand traveled to Asia and the East Indies on behalf of the Hawaiian government. He had three main goals: to find sources of labor for the sugarcane plantations, to learn about the latest treatments for leprosy, and to collect and import plants and animals that would be useful to the Islands. Hillebrand wrote an article on leprosy that was published in 1883.[6] Another European immigrant to Hawaii, Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884–1962) would continue Hillebrand's work of identifying Hawaiian species.[7]

Hillebrand moved back to Germany in 1871. In 1877 he arranged for the first immigrants from Portugal to come to Hawaii as plantation workers.[1] For nearly a decade he considered returning to Hawaii. In 1880, he determined that would never happen, so sold his home to shipping entrepreneur Captain Thomas Foster and his wife Mary, who lived on an adjacent lot.[8] Years later, Mary Foster bequeathed the land to the city, which opened it to the public as Foster Botanical Garden in 1930.[9]

He died July 13, 1886 in Heidelberg. He is the father of William Francis Hillebrand (1853–1925), an American chemist.

Awards and honors

  • Two plants, Veronica hillebrandii and Phebalium hillebrandii are named in his honor.[2]


  • William Hillebrand (1888). Flora of the Hawaiian Islands: a description of their phanerogams and vascular cryptogams. Williams & Norgate.


  1. Greer, Richard A. (1969). "Founding of the Queen's Hospital". Hawaiian Journal of History. Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society. 3: 110–145. hdl:10524/288. PMID 11632066.
  2. Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl (November 13, 2007). "Hilleband, William (1821 - 1886)". Biography. Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, Australian National Herbarium. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  3. "Oahu marriage record 1832-1900". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  4. "The Queen's Medical Center". web site. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  5. "Hillebrand, Dr. William office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  6. Winnie Singeo (May 6, 2005). "Hawaii's Gardens: German doctor's botanical legacy still thrives". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  7. Alvin K. Chock (April 15, 1963). "J. F. Rock, 1884-1962". 17 (2). Journal American Rhododendron Society. Retrieved 2010-01-09. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi (July 13, 2008). "Foster Botanical Garden oasis amid bustling downtown Oahu". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  9. "Foster Botanical Garden". City and County of Honolulu. September 25, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  10. IPNI.  Hillebr.

Further reading

  • Ursula H. Meier (October 30, 2005). Hawaii's Pioneer Botanist: Dr. William Hillebrand, His Life & Letters. Bishop Museum Press. ISBN 1-58178-047-8.
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