Monday, April 27, 2009

The Amazonian Expedition

The following is a translated excerpt from explorer, botanist and artist Henri de Büren's first journal entry in 1853 from the port of Huanchaco near Trujillo. This entry documents the start of his journey across Northern Peru and Brazil.

Current View of Sunset at Huanchaco Beach in Trujillo

Trujillo, 1853

"Farewell to Lima! With it’s bulls, elegant women, wide avenues and unspoiled nature. We set sail aboard the schooner The Clorinde from the harbor of Callao and started our expedition. Thanks to the lengthy emigration process, the total expedition number has been cut from 130 to 90 persons which is delightful, except for the fact that the most attractive member of the expedition decided not to join us, who’s presence would have surely brought beauty to such an undertaking. Of the 90 persons, more than half are German, the rest are French, Irish, Americans, Italians, Scots, Peruvians, and Chinese. A veritable tower of babel, but a tower of babel that gets along rather well. After a rough sea voyage that took four days, we find ourselves at the end of our first day on land, without too much discontent, on the contrary it seems that the rough start has given people hope that things can only get better.

The first class is composed of Mr. Ijurra, the future governor of the new colony and the head of the expedition. He is accompanied by his wife, the Señora Carmen, an excellent woman, blessed with a kind and pleasant nature, invaluable traits for this kind of journey. Next in line comes Mr. de Schütz, a young German appointed by the government to be the governor’s first aide, and to lead the present group of German emigrants and those to follow. In third and forth place, a Spaniard and an Italian, about 45 and 55 years old respectively, both old seamen. While I don’t know these men well, it seems that the Spaniard is the more knowledgeable one. In fifth place I present Don Pedro, an old Spanish seaman from the merchant marine with an expertise in coastal navigation. He left the salt water of the Ocean for the fresh water of the Amazon, upon which he hopes and dreams of finding a wife. Don Pedro is no longer young, or handsome or wealthy and yet he wants a wife who is young, beautiful and rich. As women often have more ambition in the affairs of the heart, if Don Pedro does not make his desires a bit more realistic he may be dreaming alone on the riverbanks of the

To learn more about my film project please view an intro trailer here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


While in Mexico in 1853, Henri de Büren along with two travel companions scaled Popocatépetl, the 17,802 foot volcano near Puebla. The following translated excerpts describe some of his impressions.

“After a four hour hike we arrived at the summit, if you could call it that. The summit drops straight down into a immense crater that is roughly 750 feet deep.”

“The rock formations, the smoke, and the deep blue sky are all so beautiful, it makes one forget his fatigue. After the initial admiration we all took out our sketch books, we are artists after all, but how could our pencils accurately represent the grandeur before us.”

“After our artistic pursuit we took refuge in the Hotel of Popocatépetl which is about about 100 feet from the crater and similar to those found on the glaciers of the Aar. The hotel, or should I say hut, is about 50 feet square. This hut along with another in the crater itself is the shelter for the 12 or so men who are here for the extraction of sulfur. One of the men knew how to make coffee which we gladly shared along with some liqueur.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Francis Falconnet

While in Mexico, Henri stayed at the home of François de Palezieux-Falconnet in Tacubaya (now part of Mexico City), the agent for the Committee of Mexican Bond holders. He was in the midst of securing payment for the Mexican debt to the British bond holders. The following excerpts are from Michael Costeloe's article The Extraordinary Case of Mr. Falconnet and 2,500,000 Silver Dollars: London and Mexico, 1850-1853.

Tucubaya, Mexico. Illustration by Henri de Büren, 1853.

"Amid the euphoria following independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico, like many other newly emancipated nations in Spanish America, borrowed money in London by means of the sale of interest-bearing bonds. Within a few years, Mexico began to miss the interest payments. It was soon evident from political and economic circumstances in Mexico that no Mexican government of any political persuasion was going to have the resources, at least in the foreseeable future, to pay off its debts. Hence, starting in 1830 and thereafter every few years, there were so-called conversions of the debt whereby British creditors and the Mexican authorities agreed upon new terms of repayment. Usually these arrangements were beneficial to Mexico in that the creditors agreed to write off interest debts or to capitalize them. Old bonds were withdrawn and exchanged for new ones on more favorable terms for the debtor. Such conversions were agreed to in 1830, 1837, 1842, and 1846 but even so, no Mexican government was able to meet all of its obligations to its creditors. Hence, dividends continued to go unpaid and the debt accumulated.

The terms of the 1846 settlement provided for a new issue of bonds worth 51,208,250 pesos at 5 percent interest. Mexico saved 4,805,625 pesos by this contract. The twice yearly interest payments – due in January and July – were immediately missed but for good reason. War against the United States was declared in 1846. Hostilities were brought to an end in February 1848 with the signing of a peace treaty in the Mexican town of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under the terms of the treaty, ratified on 30 May 1848, Mexico was forced to concede about half of its territory to the United States. In consideration of this concession, the United States promised to pay Mexico the sum of $15 million. Of this indemnity, $3 million in gold or silver Mexican coinage, was to be given to the Mexican government in Mexico City as soon as the treaty was ratified. (This coinage would be used to pay their debts)

British bondholders viewed the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the loss of so much of Mexico's territory reduced both the value of the security of their debt and the possibility of land grants instead of cash payments. Also, it seemed certain to reduce Mexico's revenues that were assigned to payment of interest on the debt. On the other hand, the news that the United States was to pay an indemnity of $15 million to Mexico caused considerable excitement in London and elsewhere.

The 2,500,000 pesos, in silver coin, was kept at the premises of Jecker, Torre & Co. at Monterrilla Street, 31 where it remained until 18 June when, in the presence of Forstall and Falconnet, it was checked and boxed for shipment. By now, everybody in the city knew where it was and there had been rumors of attempted theft and even of a military coup designed to seize it. Worried at the rumors, Forstall asked for protection. The U.S. minister, Robert P Letcher, approached the Mexican government, which promised to provide a military guard if there were any signs of trouble. Forstall had also agreed to accompany the wagons carrying the money to Veracruz and he was given a U.S. flag to show that the convoy was under U.S. protection. All went smoothly and the 2,500,000 pesos was taken out of Mexico City, under guard, on 18 June. A couple of days later, it reached Veracruz where it was stored until the arrival of the branch packet, Medway where it would sail to England."

Interesting Historical Tidbit:
François de Palezieux-Falconnet would later become in the late 1850s Constantinople Manager of the Ottoman Bank.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Illustration done by Clement R. Markham of Panama City in 1853, the same year Henri traveled to Panama. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

The following exerpts are from Henri's letter home to his parents while waiting in Panama for his steamer to Lima.

Panama City, 18 May, 1853

“We left Acapulco on the 9th aboard the Cortez and arrived in Panama on the 15th. We were about 350 aboard, the largest contingent from California. Most were unkempt and unwashed, one would have never know that most of their pockets were full of gold.”

“The city of Panama has a huge influx of foreigners that arrive or depart on steamers roughly every two weeks. To give you an idea, Panama is a city of roughly 3000 people. When we arrived 900 travelers had already arrived from Atlantic steamers, we had 350 people aboard, six hours after our arrival, the steamer California arrived from San Francisco which disembarked another 500. The following morning another 600 came from Chagres, making a total of roughly 2300 travelers who were in Panama for three days until the steamers left again. Most of the travelers were in second or third class aboard steamers that were dirty and not well ventilated. If you were coming from the Atlantic side you were dropped off at Charges, and while some of the trip across the isthmus to Panama City was by train, most was on foot. People would carry their own belongings (or hire mules at exorbitant rates), in the oppressive humid and hot air, through marshland with often nothing but a distilled spirits to keep them going.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Select translation from a letter home to his parents.

Havana, 14 December, 1852

"What a magnificent first view of Havana with its beautiful scenery, picturesque architecture and beautiful bay, a true work of art."

"Today we went to see the beautiful gardens of the Count of Fernandina, one of the richest landowners on the island. The gardens were in the English style with footpaths in between groupings of flowers and trees. But what flowers and what trees! Such an amazing variety of colors and force of vegetation. I would almost find it unbelievable if I were not seeing it myself."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Following in his footsteps

Novatan to make great-great-grandfather’s trip

By Tim Omarzu

Marinscope Newspapers

When Jean-Francois de Buren was a kid growing up in Marin, he’d often thumb through his great-great-grandfather’s journal.

Penned in French, the old bound book details the two-year-long journey that Henri de Buren, a Swiss naturalist, made from 1852-1854 in the Americas.

The trip took de Buren, then in his late 20s, across Mexico on horseback, over the Andes mountains and down the Amazon River. He visited the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Brazil.

Jean-François de Buren wants to retrace his great-great-grandfather’s footsteps and make a documentary film about the experience.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

HIghland, Illinois & The Bandelier Family

In 1852, while travelling through the U.S., Henri de Buren stopped at the Swiss settlement of Highland, Illinois, not far from St. Louis. There he visited the Bandelier farm, settled by a family known to Henri and his family from Bern. He speaks with great admiration for how lovely the farm and town are. This is the same farm that Adolph Bandelier, the noted anthropologist grew up on. Henri surely met the young Adolph, and it is impossible to know, but his example may have helped inspire Adolph Bandelier to explore the Americas for himself when he became an adult.

Highland, Illinois in 1860

A biography of Adolph Bandelier (Text courtesy of Minnesota State University, Mankato)

Adolph Bandelier was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1840, into a well-educated family, which later moved to Highland, Illinois, USA. Like his father, Bandelier studied law, but his interests were elsewhere. His admiration for Alexander Von Humboldt and his work in natural history, led Bandelier to dedicate his life to archaeology. Up until his death in 1914, the contributions Bandelier made had a large impact on the growing field of anthropology.

Bandelier's main focus was the American and Pueblo Indians of southwest America and northern Mexico. He was one of the first to use the methodology of participant observation. Bandelier learned about the Indians, not only by living with them and studying their culture, but also by studying their artifacts and the ruins on their land. He followed their ancestors' migration from northern Mexico, down the Rio Grande Valley, to central Mexico. Even though Bandelier was criticized for being untrained and forming premature conclusions, he proved that working and training in the field was just as effective as going to school. Bandelier collected and evaluated the data in a unique way due to his personal involvement.

This interest in archaeology and American Indians led to the correspondence between Bandelier and Lewis Henry Morgan, who is often considered to be one of the "Fathers of Anthropology". Their similar interests led to a lifetime friendship. Bandelier was very good at finding common ground with just about everyone, making him a very respected person by his colleagues.

Bandelier wanted to educate people about the Americans Indians. He had learned first hand that the myths about the Indians were false. He wanted to teach everyone how they actually lived. Edgar L. Hewett, who had written a book with Bandelier, stated, "It is the special duty of ethnologists to counteract the false picture of Pueblo life that has been produced in the name of scientific research."

Bandelier's knowledge, observation and research are amongst his greatest contributions to archaeology. Named after him, the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico spreads across 50 square miles. Many archaeological sites can be found there (i.e., Shohakka Pueblo in Capulin Canyon, Tsankawi and San Miguel). This was the place that was most dear to Bandelier and is now preserved for everyone to experience.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Arnold Guyot, Louis Agassiz & Asa Gray

Upon arriving in Boston, Henri and his travel companion Francois de Graffenried, had dinner with Arnold Guyot, and the following morning had tea with Louis Agassiz. Henri spent the next 10 days with Agassiz, accompanying him to his laboratory at Harvard as well as meeting his contemporary, Asa Gray.

Much like his father Albert de Büren, Baron de Vaumarcus, Henri was a trained Naturalist and had studied at Thaer’s School for Agriculture in Möglin, near Berlin. Both Albert and Henri knew Arnold Guyot and Louis Agassiz before they left for America; it seems likely that the two may have even come to the castle of Vaumarcus, near Neuchâtel where Henri’s father was Baron. As a trained naturalist himself, it must have been very exciting for Henri to travel to Boston and meet these two figures from his childhood as well as meet Asa Gray, someone he also held in high esteem. Darwin's theories were surely at the heart of many scientific discussions that Henri participated in with Louis Agassiz and Asa Gray during his time in Boston. Louis Agassiz, Henri's Swiss compatriot was fervently opposed to Darwin's theories, while Asa Gray was one of Darwin's greatest allies in the United States.

I have included a couple of excerpts below:

"We could not have been more graciously received by Mr. Guyot and his family. We had a delightful dinner at his residence followed by a nice walk around Boston. The next afternoon we had tea with Mr. Agassiz who then took us on a tour of his laboratory. In the midst of a very intriguing conversation about the role of science and their place in it, Mr. Agassiz told me that he had an extensive collection of native forest samples, and as he knew they were of great of interest to me, offered to let me look at them at my leisure. I could not resist his most gracious offer because his collection would be a perfect guide to acquaint myself with the local flora before I begin my trip in earnest through the Americas.

I visited Mr. Gray the other day, who received me with great warmth. He is, as you are well aware, a botanical genius, and at the same time a great man in all aspects. While we walked together in the botanical garden he collected over 50 different samples for my collection, climbing the trees himself to get me the best ones."

Historical Background
Arnold Henri Guyot (1807-1884)

Intending to enter the Church, Guyot, who was born at Boudevilliers in Switzerland, studied at the universities of Neuchâtel, Strasbourg, and Berlin, where his interests in science began to absorb him. After teaching in Paris (1835–40) he was appointed professor of history and physical geography at Neuchâtel in 1839 where he remained until 1848, when he emigrated to America. He taught first at the Lowell Technological Institute in Boston before he was appointed, in 1854, to the chair of geology and physical geography at Princeton University.

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)

(Excerpt from University of California Museum of Palentology) In 1846, Agassiz came to the United States; in 1848 he accepted a professorship at Harvard. He immediately set about organizing and acquiring funding for a great museum of natural history. In 1859 his dream came true with the founding of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, which opened its doors in 1860. Agassiz labored for support of science in his adopted homeland; he and his colleagues urged the creation of a National Academy of Sciences, and Agassiz became a founding member in 1863. Agassiz was also appointed a regent of the Smithsonian Institution in 1863. He campaigned constantly for funds and resources for American science, and for his research projects in particular – and the funding grew and grew (although it never seemed quite enough for all that Agassiz wanted to do – and although Agassiz himself never quite finished most of his grand projects).

His philosophy of nature, aiming to understand the Divine Plan, is the last great expression of the old school of natural theology, started by men like John Ray almost two hundred years before. Natural theology had once inspired countless scientists, including Darwin and his forerunners, but by the time of publication of the Origin of Species it had largely run out of steam, unable to offer any real explanation for natural phenomena except "God made it that way." Within Agassiz's lifetime, and much to his grief, most of his students – including his son Alexander, a well-known naturalist in his own right – became evolutionists, though not necessarily Darwinians.

Yet Agassiz still made lasting contributions to evolutionary biology and systematics. His construction of a classification that did not depend on any process of evolution has been followed up in the work of the "pattern cladist" school of systematists,who try to reconstruct organismal relationships without relying on assumptions of what processes generated them. His finding of parallels between ontogeny, paleontology, and morphology was rapidly adopted by biologists like Haeckel and used to support evolution. Today, these parallels are known not to be exact correspondences, but the links between development and evolution remain an area of active research. Perhaps Agassiz's greatest lasting insight was the realization that paleontology, embryology, ecology, and biogeography had to contribute to any classification that purported to show the true relationships of organisms – even if those relationships, to Agassiz, existed only in the mind of God.

Asa Gray (1810-1888)

In 1842 Asa Gray joined the faculty at Harvard University, where he would teach until 1873. His donation of his thousands of books and plant specimens established Harvard's botany department. Gray was largely responsible for the unification of the taxonomic knowledge of the North American flora; his most widely used book, commonly called Gray's Manual (1848), remains a standard work. He was the chief early American supporter of the theories of Charles Darwin.
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