VII International and Interdisciplinary Conference in Homage to
Alexander von Humboldt, Claudio Gay and Ignacio Domekyo


History: Ignacio Domeyko


During his long and eventful stay in Chile Ignacy Domeyko’s many activities brought about many   changes and advances in the newly established Republic, which had profound effects on the country’s people and institutions.

Contributions to science:
During his long working life, Domeyko sent over 500 reports on subjects such as new mineral discoveries, explorations, mining methods, analyses of mineral waters, volcanoes, palaeontology, etc. to scientific bodies and institutions in France, Germany, England, Poland and the United States.  Many of the samples and correspondence were distributed with the assistance of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., with which he also maintained correspondence.

Domeyko is recognized in Chile as the father of the mining industry.  As well as creating the first courses in various subjects required for the profession of mineralogist during his first years in La Serena, he was the first to introduce the profession of assayer, which consists of analysing minerals to establish their  pure mineral content.  He created the professions of geographical engineer, civil engineer specializing in bridges and roads, and mining engineer.  He introduced the profession of specialist in the measurement and planning of mines, and assisted in the establishment of laws regarding mining methods and mine ownership.
He wrote textbooks in Spanish for the study of Assaying, Mineralogy, Physics and Geology that were used throughout Latin America until well into the twentieth century. 

He analysed and described the minerals of the Andes and Chile.  Many of his discoveries have never been repeated, and his name can still be found today in modern-day geology books with the first and only description ever made of many unusual Andean minerals.  His mineral collection, housed today in the Domeyko Mineral Museum in the city of La Serena, is considered to be of incalculable value.
He discovered sources of clean drinking water for use in the cities of Santiago and Valparaiso, and suggested methods to bring them into the city in a hygienic manner.  He also analysed and reported on many springs and sources of mineral water throughout Chile.

He established meteorological reporting stations throughout the country, thanks to which records of weather throughout Chile can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century.  He also recorded the frequency, length and, wherever possible, the strength of the numerous earthquakes that rocked the country.
He was instrumental in the introduction of the metric system of weights, measures and currency in Chile, the first Latin American country to establish them.
He was instrumental in the establishment of the first astronomical observatory in Santiago.

Contributions to education:
He created the first courses for the study of mineralogy, assaying, physics and geology in Chile, and wrote textbooks in those disciplines.  His books were published in numerous editions and used throughout Latin America well into the 20th century.
Soon after his arrival in Chile, in 1842 he wrote an article suggesting ways to improve the Chilean educational system, as a result of which many of his ideas were introduced by the then Minister for Education and future President, Manuel Montt.  The changes produced a lasting improvement in the educational standards of the time.

Implementing a law passed several years before by the Chilean Congress creating a University for Chile, in 1852 he set up the first teaching university in the country after independence, based on European models. He carried out many reforms and improvements over the years, and directed the University for 32 years, first with the title of University Delegate and later as Rector (Chancellor or President).  The University of Chile is still the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the country, and continues to be run today on methods and rules he established.

He created the first Library at the university, and initiated the interchange of educational material with other libraries and universities throughout the world.

He set up the Faculty of Fine Arts, which included studies in painting, sculpture and architecture.
His discoveries in palaeontology demonstrated the existence of previously unknown Jurassic levels and proved the gradual rising of the American continent.  Charles Darwin had reached the same conclusions some years earlier during his voyage on the “Beagle”, but his discoveries were not published until several years after Domeyko’s.

He explored Chile from north to south, describing the country in many reports both for the Chilean government and for European scientific bodies. It is estimated that his travels, on horseback, covered over 7,000 kilometers.

He discovered many important mineral deposits, some still in production to this day.  Because of his efforts in establishing mining studies and his mineral discoveries, Domeyko is considered the father of the Chilean mining industry, which accounts for approximately 80% of Chile’s export wealth. 

Other achievements:
He was instrumental in bringing the first German colonisers to the south of the country.
He was instrumental in the opening and development of Chile’s coal mines.
He suggested many reforms to Chile’s legal Mining Code which were eventually adopted.
He acted as arbitrator in mining disputes, as a result of which he became known as “Domeyko the Incorruptible”.

He explored the region of southern Chile known as Araucania and studied the Araucano Indians (known today as Mapuches) as a special envoy of the President.  His book “Araucanía y su Habitantes “¨(Araucania and Its Inhabitants) proposed ways to pacify them rather than subduing them by force, and suggested the establishment of “reductions,” territory assigned to them in perpetuity similar to later Indian Reservations in the U.S.   He is still regarded by the natives today as their protector, and his book is considered a valuable ethnographic study.  He is also considered as an early defender of human rights of the native populations of Chile.  The book on Araucania  was translated into the Lithuanian language soon after its publication in Chile, the first of many translations and publications throughout the world.

Literary achievements:
Domeyko recorded his impressions of Chilean life, customs, and events of the early nineteenth century in entertaining and humorous articles, which he sent regularly to his friend, the famous Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz.  They were eventually found among the poet’s papers after his death, and published in Poland. Today, they are greatly loved and appreciated in Chile.  He was also a fine artist. Several watercolours showing scenes from Araucano life and of southern Chilean volcanoes were discovered recently by his descendants.  He also produced many drawings and sketches of Chile, and late in his life of the region where he was born, which is now part of Belarus.

 Further Comments
Domeyko was a fascinating and entertaining observer of his time.  His diaries and letters form a half century  record of the life of the Polish/Lithuanian intellectual elite in the early nineteenth century, and of the experiences of the Polish émigrés in France.  In his diaries he records and criticizes what he observes during his sea voyage from England to Chile, giving descriptions of his experiences in Brazil and its slavery, Argentina when Buenos Aires was still a small town, of  the vast Argentine “pampas” when they  were threatened by hostile Indians, and his dangerous crossing of the Andes in early winter, etc.
His descriptions of life in Chile during the early years of the new Republic are vivid and entertaining, as are his stories of the Araucano Indians and their life.  In his letters, written to a cousin in France over a period of 50 years, he describes historical developments in Latin America and Chile, of which he was witness and participant.

Finally, in his old age Domeyko describes life in Poland/Lithuania under Russian occupation, and other places of Europe as they were in the late nineteenth century, and gives a fascinating glimpse of Palestine under Turkish rule, so different from the events taking place in the region today.

More than a hundred years after his death, on the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2002, he was honoured throughout Europe, particularly by UNESCO, where an important exhibition was held at its Paris headquarters.  UNESCO declared the year 2002 as “International Year of Ignacy Domeyko.” 
Also in that year, international conferences were held in his honour in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and, most importantly, many places throughout Chile. 

In recognition of Ignacy Domeyko’s deep Catholic faith and his exemplary life, in late 2002 the Catholic Church of Chile presented to the Vatican the cause for his beatification, as a potential Saint.
In 1995 he was honoured by being the first Polish exile whose life and work were exhibited at a new exhibition centre within the Lazienki palace in Warsaw, dedicated to the work of Poles who performed outstanding work in foreign lands.

His portrait in bronze is displayed beside that of Marie Curie on the front of Dom Polonia, the building beside the Royal Palace in Warsaw dedicated to those exiles who made outstanding contributions to their adoptive countries.  A commemorative plaque is located in Vilnius at the entrance of the convent where he and other students, members of the Philomat Movement including the greatest poet of the Polish language, Adam Mickiewicz, were imprisoned by Russian invaders in the early nineteenth century. 

On a wall inside the University of Vilnius where its most outstanding students are honoured, a plaque bears his name as the best student of his generation.  It is one of the last, as the University was closed by the Russians a short time after his graduation.

A bust of Domeyko is placed at the entrance of the School of Mines in Paris, honouring him as one of its most prestigious  students.  He is particularly honoured in Chile, where busts and portraits of Domeyko are placed in the University of Chile, the University of La Serena and many institutions and schools that bear his name.