Mines and Minerals in Nineteenth Century Travel Accounts

Growing numbers of travelers from Europe and the United States arrived in Latin America in the early decades of the nineteenth century as the region underwent transition from colonial rule to independence. For many visitors, the prospect of investing in mining ventures in the newly independent nations was a powerful draw. Ironically, while many eighteenth century European commentators identified the centrality of mining in Latin America's colonial economies as a sign of backwardness, early nineteenth century travel accounts abound with animated descriptions of mineral wealth.


38. Alexander von Humboldt, Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne (Paris, [1808-1812]).

Humboldt's extensive writings on mining in the Americas, Mexico in particular, became essential reading for prospective European and Anglo-American mining investors who traveled to Latin America in the early era of independence. This map shows the routes along which the mineral wealth of the Americas makes its way to other parts of the globe.


39. John Miers, Travels in Chile and La Plata (London, 1826).

Racialized notions of cultural and physical differences between Chilean and English miners contributed to Miers's argument that the English could never succeed in establishing profitable mining operations in Chile. Miers traveled to Chile in the hope of establishing plants for refining copper and manufacturing copper sheets.


40. Henry George Ward, Mexico (London, 1829).

An English diplomat, Henry Ward's account of Mexico focuses heavily on the state and potential of its mining industry. He lists one German, two U.S. American, and seven British mining companies that were active in Mexico in the 1820s, along with the mines that these companies owned.


41. Edmond Temple, Travels in Peru (London, 1830).

The mines of Potosí continued to fuel foreigners' dreams of wealth in the era of independence. Edmond Temple traveled to Bolivia as secretary of the Potosí Mining Association, an English company that operated briefly and unsuccessfully at Potosí. Despite his disparaging views of local mining practices, Temple candidly acknowledged the ignorance and unrealistic expectations of English capitalists who scrambled to invest in Andean mining.


42. John Mawe, Travels in the interior of Brazil (London, 1812).

John Mawe, an English mineralogist, traveled to Brazil in the service of the Prince Regent of Portugal, tasked with reporting on the state of mining and agriculture. His map shows gold washing sites to the north of Rio de Janeiro and demarcates an area known for diamonds. In Brazil and Spanish America alike late imperial administration showed interest in conducting mineralogical surveys within the context of mining reform.

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