The Drumbeating of I. Domeyko
Whether you may or may not know, over the centuries, there have been many Polonians who have left their Fatherland at crucial historical times and arrived at countries other than the U.S.A. Many of these emigrants not only carved out a constructive life in their newly adapted land, they made distinguishable strides in their endeavors. Ernest Malinowski and his railroad building in Peru and Casimir Gzowski and his bridge building in Canada are but a few of these over-achievers who have appeared in this column at one time or another.
This week we are featuring yet another of these stalwart soldiers. His name is Ignancy Domeyko and his drumbeating also took place in a South American land — Chile.
Ignancy Domeyko was a young man distinguished for his intelligence, dignity and strong character. He was a Polish revolutionary and member of a number of secret societies whose purpose was to promulgate love of the country oppressed by the neighboring powers of those times.
The November 1830 Insurrection in which Domeyko had participated, then not yet 30 years old, had been defeated. After emigrating, like many other patriots he settled in Paris, where in 1837 he graduated as a mining engineer.
It was then that he was approached with the proposal to set up in Chile, in the School of Chemistry and mineralogy. He left for Buenos Aires on February 2, 1838, crossed the pampa, the Andes, finally to board ship in Valparaiso, arriving in Chile in June of that same year.
Immediately, he began to set up a chemical laboratory in order to give theoretical and practical lessons. He started almost from scratch. In September, he managed to start a course in chemistry in extremely modest conditions, having available only a minimum of preparations and in an atmosphere not very conducive to this kind of study, with students who were not suited for the only career highly regarded at that time — that of a lawyer.
He possessed magnificent qualities as a teacher: thorough knowledge, love of teaching, a noble and engaging character. From his arrival, he examined the minerals in this region for he did not intend to limit himself to his work on the Mining School. Especially during vacation he pursued his hobby — love of nature — studying the geography of the Andes. He began with the neighboring provinces, gradually learning to know the geography of the entire country. At the same time he collected minerals and made notes of the results of his research. Reading these charming pages, sometimes as brilliant as the work of a professional writer, one gets a picture of his great fondness for contemplating the beauty of nature.
In 1845 he crossed Araucania examining the geological conditions of that region and the customs of its inhabitants. During the journey back, his attention was attracted by the volcanic peak of Mt. Antuco, which was still active. Through columns of smoke, fire and falling stones he reached the snow-covered peak of the volcano. This was a heroic act, worthy of attention in the life of this outstanding Polish scientist.
After his return to the capital he published the results of his research in the form of a book entitled, “Araucania and Its Inhabitants.” This book, full of magnificent descriptions of Araucania, was intended to arouse in Chilean youth the desire to know their country and to love its nature. Almost a hundred years later it became possible to put this idea into practice.
At the same time the School of Mineralogy was extremely successful. Late in 1840 the first group completed their studies. Three of the best students received government scholarships to go to Paris. The others replaced their professor in the study of minerals. Magnanimously, Domeyko withdrew in favor of his students, who were to receive the proper remuneration for their work. After the return from Europe of the three scholarship holders, Domeyko spontaneously gave up to them his position in the School of Mineralogy. It would be difficult to find greater nobility of mind.
Due to a shortage of textbooks for those studying at the school in La Serena, Domeyko undertook to edit such material and his writings on mineralogy and geology were of invaluable service. His fame spread beyond the boundaries of the country and became international. And expression of appreciation for the great service he rendered was the fact that he was granted Chilean citizenship by an Act of the Republic in October, 1848.
Domeyko was keenly interested in studying the hot springs in the Cordilleras, which he thoroughly analyzed. Commissioned by the government, he also examined the water resources near Santiago de Chile, to define whether it could be used as drinking water. He worked at the university there and was a member of the Physics and Mathematics Committee, becoming Rector after the Venezuelan scientist Andres Bello resigned in 1867. But always, despite his work at the University and in the Department of Chemistry of the State Institute, he found time for his favorite research.
From his very arrival in Chile he cherished the wish to visit his oppressed country before his death. This desire never left him. To make these dreams come true he gave up his post as Rector of the University and in May 1884, at the age of 82, he left Santiago, receiving an affectionate farewell from the people. In a special, luxurious coach reserved for the President of the Republic he went to Valparaiso. This man who had come to Chile 47 years before riding a donkey was now greeted everywhere most warmly and showered with honors. This was a modest expression of recognition of one nation for the work of one man.
At the end of 1888, weighed down by the burden of age, he returned to Chile to fulfill his last wish which was, after having visited the country of his parents, to die in his second homeland. On January 24, 1889, one and a half months after his return from Poland, at the age of 87, he died in Santiago having worked half a century for the schools and culture of Chile.
His portrait occupies a special place in the Rector’s office of the University of Chile, and the services he rendered live in the thoughts and memories of the Chilean people. The name of Domeyko has been immortalized by the towns, villages, streets, squares and schools named after him and the monuments erected to him.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .