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August von Jilek (28 August 1819 – 8 November 1898), otherwise August Jilek or Jileck, was a Czech naval doctor, lecturer and administrator. He was born at Litomyšl in Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, where the Jilek surname can be traced back to the 15th century.[1] He studied medicine at Vienna and after qualifying as a doctor he joined the Austrian Imperial-Royal Navy on 23 October 1845.[2]


Nothing is known about Jilek’s early years in the Navy. He first came to prominence when he was chosen to fill the post of personal physician to the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (1832–1867). The occasion may have been Maximilian’s entry into the Navy and service aboard SMS Novara in 1851.

In October 1852, Jilek was appointed senior doctor at the newly designated Naval Academy (former Cadet College) at Pola]] in Istria, now part of Croatia, where he also lectured on oceanography. In March 1856 the Archduke Maximilian, by then Commander in Chief of the Navy, laid the foundation stones for a new Arsenal and a new Academy building, and in July 1857 Jilek completed the textbook on oceanography for Academy students for which he is best known today.[3][[File:Jilek title page small.gif|185px|thumb|right|Title page of Jilek's Textbook of Oceanography (1857).

Jilek was not an original scientist in this field. He was probably commissioned by the Archduke to prepare a survey of the newly emerging science and that is what, within his limitations, he achieved. Much of the book is given over to general geographical descriptions of the world’s oceans, for which Jilek may have drawn on versions of Kant’s unpublished lectures on geography that were produced in the early 19th century. Another source was certainly Eduard Bobrik’s multi-volume manual of seamanship, navigation and oceanography – the first book to use that word in its title. In 1848 the second, revised edition of Bobrik’s manual had included sections on oceanography, hydrography, ‘aerography’ and magnetism.[4] But time and again when Jilek addressed the major physical processes which govern the oceans, the true subject of oceanography, he was obliged to declare that no one yet understood them. However he made a reasonable job of explaining the methods and preliminary results that had recently been presented by Matthew Fontaine Maury in his Wind and Current Charts, and had then been enlarged upon in Maury’s masterpiece The Physical Geography of the Sea, first translated into German in 1856.[5]


Evidence for the diffusion of Maury’s ideas in the Austrian Navy after this point can be found in the narrative of the Novara’s circumnavigation (1857–1859),[6] and in a more lucid exposition of them which was published at Pola in 1867.[7] Notwithstanding the latter, Jilek’s textbook probably remained in use at the Academy for about twenty years.

Jilek’s unassuming guide was only the second German book, and perhaps the second in the world, to have the word ‘oceanography’ in its title. It is now extremely rare. None of the great national libraries of Europe or North America seems to have a copy, not even the Austrian National Library. Examples can be consulted at Barcelona, Chicago, Frankfurt and Kiel, and presumably several naval training colleges, maritime museums and institutes of oceanography also have copies. The one shown on this page formerly belonged to Lieutenant Ludwig von Czirer, a Hungarian who joined the Imperial-Royal Navy as a cadet in 1872.

On 4 October 1863 Jilek was transferred to administrative duties in the Ministry (later Department) of the Navy, where he became director of the medical branch (1871) and rose to the rank of Admiral (1 November 1888) before retiring in March 1894.

Contributions to Naval MedicineEdit

Jilek’s achievements in naval medicine included the publication of two studies of malaria, a disease which was endemic to Istria,[8] and in 1868 he wrote a report on gastroenteritis which may have been an internal Navy Department document. He oversaw the introduction of Listerian antisepsis and the professionalization of the service, that is, the replacement of the earlier ship’s surgeons, often little more than medical orderlies, with fully qualified doctors.

Jilek’s regular duties were partly or completely interrupted when he accompanied the Archduke on board SMS Novara for a botanical cruise to Brazil in 1860, then joined his household at the palace of Miramare outside Trieste, 130 km from Pola, and finally when he escorted his patron, now Emperor Maximilian I, to Mexico in 1864. Maximilian appointed two subsequent personal physicians during his brief reign in Mexico. Since Jilek had not left the service of Austria it is reasonable to assume that he returned directly from Vera Cruz with the Novara.

There is no evidence that Jilek married or had children, or that he did not. He died at Trieste on 8 November 1898.

As a result of Jilek’s trip to Brazil a species of passion flower, Passiflora jilekii Wawra, was named after him in 1863.[9] He was knighted (Iron Cross) in 1867, but whether before or after Maximilian’s execution on 19 June of that year is not known.


  1. For genealogical information, please see this Czech web-page.
  2. The main source of biographical information for this entry was a long footnote in: H. Flamm, ‘Aufklärung des Pappataci-Fiebers durch österreichische Militärärzte’, Wiener klinische Wochenschrift, 2008, 120(7–8), 198–208, which appears to be based on primary or good secondary sources and can be accessed by subscribers on this web page. Other sources not referenced below included the annual Austrian Navy List and some of the extensive literature about the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian.
  3. August Jilek, Lehrbuch der Oceanographie zum Gebrauche der k. k. Marine-Akademie, Vienna: Imperial-Royal Court and Government Printer, 1857, 298 pp.
  4. Eduard Bobrik, Handbuch der praktischen Seefahrtskunde, pt 1, Allgemeine Vorbereitungen zur Steuermanns- und Schifferkunde, oder mathematische und physische Geographie; physische und topische Ozeanographie; Aerographie; Lehre vom Magnetismus; Arithmetik; Elementar-Geometrie und ebene Trigonometrie, Leipzig: Verlagsbureau, 1848.
  5. Matthew F. Maury, trans. C. Boettger, Die physische Geographie des Meeres, Leipzig: Gustav Mayer, 1856, 268 pp.
  6. Karl Scherzer, Narrative of the circumnavigation of the globe by the Austrian frigate Novara, (Commodore B. von Wullerstorf-Urbair,) undertaken by order of the Imperial Government, in the years 1857,1858, & 1859, 3 vols, London: Saunders, Otley and Co., 1861-1863.
  7. A. Gareis and A. Becker, Zur Physiographie des Meeres, Trieste: H. F. Schimpff, 1867, 135 pp.
  8. August Jilek, Über die Ursachen der Malaria in Pola, Vienna, 1868; August Jilek, Über das Verhalten des Malariafiebers in Pola, Vienna, 1881.
  9. Armando C. Cervi, ‘Estudo do gênero Passiflora L., subgênero Passiflora’, Fontqueria, vol. 45, 1997, 1-93. The paper can be downloaded from this web page. For botanical information, please visit this page which mirrors the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

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