Ludwig von Höhnel

Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel (6 August 1857, Preßburg – 23 March 1942, Vienna)[1] was an Austrian naval officer and explorer.[2] He was trained at the naval academy in Fiume, then part of the Austrian empire. His brother was the naturalist Franz Xaver Rudolf von Höhnel (1852–1920).

Ludwig von Höhnel
Lt. Ludwig von Hohnel.jpg
Ludwig von Höhnel in 1892, from a photograph taken by William A. Chanler.
Born(1857-08-06)6 August 1857
Died23 March 1942(1942-03-23) (aged 84)
Years of service1877–1909
RankRear Admiral
AwardsCarl Ritter Medal in silver (1892)
Spouse(s)Valeska von Ostéren (1870–1947)

Journey with Teleki 1887–1888Edit

Route of Ludwig von Höhnel's travels with Teleki in East Africa.

Höhnel was the second-in-command of Count Sámuel Teleki von Szek's expedition to Northern Kenya in 1887–1888. He and Teleki were the first Europeans to see Lake Turkana, which they named Lake Rudolf after the expedition's patron Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, and also Lake Stefanie, named after Prince Rudolf's wife Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. Höhnel acted as the expedition's cartographer, scientist, and diarist. Teleki and Höhnel made numerous observations on the climate, flora, and fauna of the territories visited and collected more than 400 ethnographical objects, most of them from Maasai and Kikuyu tribes. Their observations provided important contribution to ethnographical knowledge. The scientific results of the journey were published by Höhnel in several articles and in a book written in German and translated into Hungarian and English, titled The Discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie (1892).[3] In 1892 Höhnel was awarded the Carl Ritter Medal (silver) "for a first successful pioneering trip and for [his] meritorious geographic performance."[4] The East African chameleon, known as Höhnel's Chameleon (Trioceros hoehnelii) was named after Ludwig von Höhnel.[5]

Map of East Africa exploration journey made by Chanler and Höhnel, 1892–1894, published in Through Jungle and Desert (1896).

Journey with Chanler 1892–1894Edit

Between 1892 and 1894, Höhnel explored the territory in the vicinity of Mount Kilimanjaro with American magnate William Astor Chanler.[6] They proceeded inland from the coast, mapping the north-eastern part of the Mount Kenya massif,[7] the Guasso Nyiro River, the Lorian Swamp, the Tana River, Lake Rudolph and then Lake Stefanie. They were the first westerners to come into contact with the Tigania, the Igembe Meru and the Rendille people in this region (Carl Peters had passed to the south in 1889). On 30 January 1893, they were attacked by some 200 warriors of the Wamsara (a subgroup of the Meru), who retreated after killing three porters.[8] The expedition was eventually stranded in what is now the Meru North District of Kenya because of the death of all of its 165 pack animals (probably due to trypanosomiasis) and the desertion of many of the 200 porters.[9] On 24 August 1893, Höhnel was gored by a rhinoceros in the groin and lower abdomen[10] and was forced to leave Chanler and return to Zanzibar and then Vienna, arriving in February 1894.[11] Out of about five hundred photos taken during the journey, 155 photographs taken by Höhnel have survived.[12]

During this expedition, Höhnel and Chanler explored over 2,500 square miles (6,500 km2) of previously unmapped territory, fixed the exact position of Mount Kenya, discovered the Nyambeni hills, Chanler's Falls, and the Lorian Swamp, and mapped the course of the Ewaso Ng'iro River. Five specimens donated to the Smithsonian were previously unknown species, including two species of butterflies, two species of reptiles, and Chanler's Mountain Reedbuck.[8]: 100 

Later lifeEdit

After recovering from his injuries, Höhnel became an officer on board the corvette SMS Donau, and traveled in 1897 to the Mediterranean and along the coast of West Africa south to Cameroon, then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and to New York and Newport, Rhode Island. During the trip, the ship's captain suffered a heart attack and Höhnel was made provisional commandant until June 1898. Also on this voyage he met the future US president Theodore Roosevelt, who was then in his words the 'much feared' police commissioner of New York. After this, Höhnel was assigned as officer of the deck to the central battery ship SMS Tegetthoff, whose executive officer was Commander Anton Haus, the future commander of the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

In 1899 Höhnel became Emperor Franz Joseph's aide-de-camp and later (1905–09) led an official Austro-Hungarian delegation to Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. He also commanded the Austro-Hungarian torpedo cruiser SMS Panther in a voyage to Australia and Polynesia in the summer of 1905. Höhnel was instrumental in introducing the chamois into New Zealand, negotiating the acquisition in 1905 of six does and two bucks from Neuberg in Austria. They finally arrived in New Zealand on board the SMS Turakino in 1907. He was the commanding officer of the armored cruiser SMS Sankt Georg and the commander of the navy yard in Pula.

Höhnel's map of his travels with Chanler in East Africa, 1892–93.

In February 1907, he submitted a formal request to the navy for permission to marry Valeska von Ostéren (1870–1947) (permission was required as per Austrian naval regulations). However, permission was denied, because it was discovered that Valeska's brother had published an anti-Jesuit novel[13] in 1906 which had offended the powerful Archduke Franz Ferdinand.[14] Höhnel was eventually forced to choose between his marriage and his naval career. He married Valeska in August 1909 and subsequently resigned in the rank of captain. In 1912 he was promoted to rear admiral, probably in recognition of his duties as aide-de-camp to the emperor.[8]: 101 

Post-naval careerEdit

Höhnel wrote an autobiography centered on the turbulent years preceding the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, providing insights into African exploration, the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and prominent personalities of the Habsburg court, including Admiral Hermann von Spaun, Admiral Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck, and Rudolf Montecuccoli. The complete manuscript remained in the possession of the family of William Astor Chanler for many decades and was finally published in 2000.[15][16]

Höhnel later wrote a 56-page account of his service as aide-de-camp to the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, which was never published.[17]

He died in Vienna in March 1942, and is buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery.[8]: 102 


Höhnel is commemorated in the scientific name of a species of chameleon, Trioceros hoehnelii.[18] In 1958 the Ludwig von Höhnel Lane in Vienna was named after him.[19]



Regarding personal names: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as Sir (denoting a Knight), not a first or middle name. There is no equivalent female form.


  1. ^ "Ludwig von Höhnel (1857-1942)". Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  2. ^ Vego, Milan (2001). "Review of Over Land and Sea: Memoir of an Austrian Rear Admiral's Life in Europe and Africa, 1857-1909". The International History Review. 23 (2): 422–424. ISSN 0707-5332. JSTOR 40108706.
  3. ^ Balàzs Borsos, "Whose merit is it anyway? The Evaluation of Count Teleki and Ritter von Höhnel's roles in the Teleki expedition to East Africa in 1887–1888." In Archiv für Völkerkunde. 54, 2004, ISSN 0066-6513 S. 27–47.
  4. ^ Sitzung vom 14. Januar 1893. In: Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin. Band 20, 1893, S. 50. ("Meeting of 14 January 1893". In: Negotiations of the Society of Geography in Berlin, Issue 20, 1893, p. 50.)
  5. ^ Steindachner, F. 1891. Bericht über die von Herrn Linienschiffsleutenant Ritter von Höhnel während der Graf Samuel Telekis ostafrikanischer Expedition gesammelten Reptilien. Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences, Vienna, 100 (1): 307–313
  6. ^ "Mitchell Charles Harrison, Prominent and progressive Americans: an encyclopædia of contemporaneous biography, Volume 2, New York Tribune, 1904, pp. 41–44". Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  7. ^ Kotrba, Franz, "William Astor Chanler (1867–1934) und Ludwig von Höhnel (1857–1942) und Afrika." Thesis, University of Vienna. Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Fakultät Betreuer. In: Sauer, Walter. 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d Imperato, P. J. (1998). Quest for the Jade Sea: Colonial competition around an East African lake. Boulder, Co., Westview Press
  9. ^ "IS CHANLER LOST? Alarming News of the Plucky Young Explorer," Trenton Evening News, 10 December 1893, p. 3.
  10. ^ Chanler, W.A. (1896). Through Jungle and Desert: Travels in Eastern Africa. MacMillan and Company. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  11. ^ "CHANLER ON HIS WAY TO THE COAST: The Young Explorer Expected at Mombasa by Saturday," New York Daily Tribune, 6 February 1896, p. 9.
  12. ^ The "Rokeby Papers" include photos from the Chanler-Höhnel Expedition and are in a private collection in Red Hook, NY. See Kotrba, 2008.
  13. ^ Friedrich Werner von Ostéren, Christus nicht Jesus: ein Jesuitenroman, Egon Fleischel and Co., Berlin, 1906
  14. ^ Ildiko Simanyi, "Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel (1857–1942): Leben und Wirken." Master's thesis, University of Vienna, 1988.
  15. ^ Ludwig von Höhnel, John Winthrop Aldrich, Over Land and Sea: Memoir of an Austrian Rear Admiral's Life in Europe and Africa, 1857–1909, Holmes & Meier, 2000
  16. ^ Ronald E. Coons and Pascal James Imperato, eds. Over Land and Sea: Memoir of an Austrian Rear Admiral's Life in Europe and Africa, 1857–1909. Holmes and Meier, New York, 2000.
  17. ^ "ArchiveGrid : Beatrice and William Astor Chanler papers, 1897-ca. 1945". Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  18. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Hoehnel", p. 124).
  19. ^ Herbert Tschulk, Wiener Bezirkskulturführer Favoriten. Jugend & Volk: Vienna, 1985.


  • Sieche, Erwin F. (1990). "Austria-Hungary's Last Visit to the USA". Warship International. XXVII (2): 142–164. ISSN 0043-0374.