Francisco José De Caldas: Biography, Contributions, Works

Francisco José de Caldas (1768-1816) was a Colombian scientist, geographer, botanist, astronomer, naturalist, journalist, and military engineer. This versatile man also stood out for participating in the independence process of New Granada.

As a scientist, Caldas was outstanding. His knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and physics gave him the nickname “The Wise.” One of the greatest contributions that this illustrious character made to science was the invention of the hypsometer, a device designed to measure the altitude of places.

Portrait of Francisco José de Caldas. Source: Rodríguez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The intellectual had a prominent participation in the Royal Botanical Expedition of 1805, led by José Celestino Mutis. Their investigations served to establish the use of the found materials. Caldas was the first director of the Astronomical Observatory of Bogotá and published several articles of scientific and geographical content.

Article index

  • one

    Biography

    • 1.1

      Birth and family

    • 1.2

      Studies

    • 1.3

      First investigations

    • 1.4

      Caldas and botany

    • 1.5

      Ecuador Weather

    • 1.6

      Caldas in the Royal Botanical Expedition

    • 1.7

      The Weekly of the New Kingdom of Granada

    • 1.8

      Political and military life

    • 1.9

      Antioquia weather

    • 1.10

      Last years and death

  • two

    Contributions to science and others

    • 2.1

      Geography

    • 2.2

      Botany

    • 23

      Literature

  • 3

    Plays

    • 3.1

      Brief description of some of his works

  • 4

    References

Biography

Birth and family

Francisco José de Caldas y Tenorio was born on October 4, 1768 in the town of Popayán in the department of Cauca, Colombia. He came from a family of Spanish descent, educated and from a good socioeconomic position. His parents were José de Caldas and Vicenta Tenorio.

Studies

Caldas attended his first years of study at institutions in the city where he was born, among them the Colegio Seminario de Popayán. In his childhood years, his taste and ability to understand science was awakened. To please his parents, when he was twenty he went to Bogotá to study law at the Universidad del Rosario.

The young Francisco José de Caldas returned to Popayán after completing his university studies. There he dedicated himself to work in the family companies and devoted himself to studying mathematics, physics, astronomy and botany on his own.

It was at this time that Caldas read the works of the researchers Charles de La Condamine and the Jesuit priest Joseph Gumilla.

First investigations

Caldas’s first investigations took place in Popayán, in regions near this town and in Ecuador. In his travels as a merchant through these areas, he took the opportunity to study the geography, astronomy, altitude, latitude and archeology of the towns he visited to expand his scientific knowledge and correct established data.

At that time, the scientist did not have the necessary instruments to carry out all his research, but that did not stop him. His intelligence and ingenuity allowed him to create his own work tools, such as: a gnomon, to measure time with the help of the sun; and the hypsometer, to measure the altitude of the places.

Caldas and botany

Francisco José de Caldas was dedicated to trade between 1793 and 1801 and at the same time made his scientific developments. However, he stopped his astronomical work for not having sufficient resources for research. The foregoing led him to focus on botany.

Later, Ignacio de Pombo (his business partner) put him in contact with José Celestino Mutis, in charge of the Royal Botanical Expedition. From the conversations with Mutis his curiosity about the cinchona plant originated and he began to inquire about its benefits.

Caldas’s studies on this matter complemented José Celestino’s research.

Ecuador Weather

Caldas undertook a trip to Quito (Ecuador) in 1801 to expand his botanical research. At that time he met the German expeditionary Alexander Von Humboldt, who was amazed at his scientific talent.

At first, Humboldt considered taking him on his trip to America, but Humboldt later backed off and chose the son of the Marquis of Selvalegre. The young scientist stayed in Quito and made several observations of the environment, which led him to publish the text “The true height of the Cerro de Guadalupe” in 1801.

Caldas’ intense investigations resulted in the works Journey from Quito to the shores of the Pacific Ocean by Malbucho and Journey to the heart of Barnuevo. This happened three years after his hard work.

Caldas in the Royal Botanical Expedition

Portrait of José Celestino Mutis, who inspired a large part of Caldas’ botanical work. Source: Oil painting by R. Cristobal, canvas 122 x 92.6 cm [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Francisco José de Caldas joined the Royal Botanical Expedition led by José Celestino Mutis in 1805 and was appointed director of the Astronomical Observatory that same year by decision also of Mutis. He toured the regions of Guáitara, Chota, Pasto, Quilichao, Cali, Popayán, Guanacas and Neiva.

Caldas’s work in this expedition resulted in two descriptive volumes about the people of those areas, their customs and problems. He also collected information on plants and their healing powers, agriculture, mineral resources, diseases and literary knowledge.

The Weekly of the New Kingdom of Granada

The death of Mutis in 1808 changed the dynamics of the Royal Expedition and the observatory was a meeting point to discuss the independence of New Granada. This motivated Caldas to create the Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada in 1808, which circulated for two years.

In that printed medium, articles related to politics, culture and science were published. There Caldas published several articles, the best known were “State of the geography of the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe de Bogotá, in relation to the economy and trade” and “On the influence of the climate on organized beings.”

Political and military life

Caldas was related to the process of freedom of New Granada. After the independence cry of 1810, he proposed to organize a government council to accept King Fernando VII. In that same year he married María Manuela Barona.

Portrait of Antonio Nariño, president of Nueva Granada, whom Caldas opposed. Source: José María Espinosa Prieto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Francisco José de Caldas served as captain of the Corps of Engineers in 1811, after being appointed by the president of Nueva Granada Antonio Nariño. A year later he received the rank of lieutenant colonel and ignored Nariño’s authority, placing his signature on an official record.

Antioquia weather

Caldas’s opposition to Nariño led him to fight against him in 1813, but his side was defeated. So Francisco José went to Antioquia for fear of being attacked. In that city he exercised the management of factories and weapons engineering.

After that, Caldas was in charge of the construction of buildings on the Cauca River and also established a rifle and gunpowder company between 1813 and 1814.

At the same time, Caldas created the first Academy of Engineers in Medellín and in 1815, President Camilo Torres y Tenorio (his cousin) assigned him various tasks, including the design of the Atlas of New Granada.

Last years and death

The last years of Caldas’s life were dedicated to science and botany. He ventured into politics and the military, after several jobs in these areas he served in the northern army and was surprised by the invasion of the Spanish who resisted the loss of the conquered territories.

Some time later he was arrested and presented to Viceroy Juan Sámano. They took him to Bogotá and started a lawsuit against him. Francisco José de Caldas was convicted on October 28, 1816 and the next day he was shot in Santa Fe with other personalities such as José Miguel Montalvo, Miguel Buch and Francisco Antonio Ulloa.

Contributions to science and others

The contributions of Francisco José de Caldas to science were important, despite the limitations of the time in which he carried them out. The intellectual focused on raising the need to know the ethnography and geography of America in order to find the ways of freedom.

Some of his scientific work was related to altitude and how this influenced the temperature at which distilled water boiled. He concluded that the higher the altitude, the lower the boiling point. For this research he invented the instrument called hypsometer.

Geography

Although Caldas was named as the first Colombian scientist, his greatest contributions were in the geographical area. He advocated the creation of a geographical charter, in order to limit territories and thus facilitate trade and land sovereignty.

The scientist revealed the benefits of the ecosystems of New Granada to promote their development. On the other hand, he defended the geographical position of America, its citizens and landscapes. Francisco José also developed several maps in which he emphasized the diversity of the land for livestock and agricultural production.

Botany

Caldas’ work in botany was closely related to the Royal Expedition of José Celestino Mutis. The tours he made through Nueva Granada allowed him to determine the variety of seeds and plants typical of the region, their usefulness, commercial value and medicinal properties. This influenced the commerce of the time.

Literature

The literary contribution of Francisco José de Caldas was linked to the importance of acquiring knowledge in order to value freedom and national identity. Although he defended American traditions, he considered it relevant to join the advanced thinking of the intellectuals of the European continent.

Caldas was able to communicate his scientific and political thought through literature with the founding of the New Kingdom of Granada Weekly . That laid the foundation for freedom of expression and ideas for a nation that was on the verge of freedom. He also published his most important scientific texts.

Plays

– “The true height of the Cerro de Guadalupe” (1801). Article published in the newspaper Correo Curioso y Mercantil.

– Trip from Quito to the shores of the Pacific Ocean by Malbucho (1804).

– Journey to the heart of Barnuevo (1804).

– Weekly of the New Kingdom of Granada (1808). Founder

– “State of the geography of the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe de Bogotá, in relation to the economy and trade.” Article published in Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada (1808).

– “On the influence of the climate on organized beings”. Published in the newspaper Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada (1808-1810).

– Political Diary of Santa Fe (1810). He was a director of this printed medium.

– Almanac of the United Provinces of the New Kingdom of Granada (1812).

Brief description of some of his works

“State of the geography of the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe de Bogotá, in relation to the economy and trade”

It was one of the most important studies carried out by Francisco José de Caldas, which was published in the Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada in 1808, in issues one to seven. The main theme was the geographical delimitation of the New Kingdom of Granada.

Caldas was commissioned to describe the mountain system, the rivers, the coastal area, the climate, the flora and fauna, as well as the properties of the soil. The scientist also explained the advantage of the geographical location of the New Granada territory in relation to the expansion of trade.

Fragment

“El Cauca is born at noon from the volcano of the Coconucos by 2º of boreal latitude; meanders over the frozen plains of Paleará, plunges amid steep rocks, and majestically rises to irrigate the picturesque countryside near Popayán: then it returns its course to the North, waters the spacious valley of Cali, passes through Arma, Antioquia and joins Magdalena in Tacaloa… ”.

“On the influence of the climate on organized beings”

This writing from Caldas was published in 1808 in the Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada in publications numbered from twenty to thirty. The content of the work was related to the influence of the climate on the development of man and other living beings.

The scientist made a definition of the climate and the structure of the human body. For him the climate and food did not determine in its entirety the behavior of man, but he considered that the human body was subject to the laws of matter. For Caldas, mind, body and spirit were connected.

Fragment

“By climate I understand not only the degree of heat and cold in each region, but also the electrical charge, the amount of oxygen, the atmospheric pressure, the abundance of rivers and lakes, the arrangement of mountains, jungles and pastures …

“… The force of all these powerful agents of nature on living beings combined in any way and in different proportions, is what I call the influence of the weather…

“The materials that man takes from the animal and vegetable kingdom, together with burning or delicious drinks, the ease or slowness of assimilating them through digestion … is what I call the influx of food.”

References

  1. Francisco José de Caldas. (2019). Spain: Wikipedia. Recovered from: es.wikipedia.org.
  2. Tamaro, E. (2019). Francisco José de Caldas . (N / a): Biographies and Recovered from: biografiasyvidas.com.
  3. Francisco José de Caldas. (2018). Colombia: Banrepcultural. Recovered from: encyclopedia.banrepcultural.org.
  4. Francisco José de Caldas. (S. f.). Colombia: Colombian Association of Engineering Faculties. Recovered from: acofi.edu.co.
  5. Tovar, D. (2018). Francisco José de Caldas and science in Colombia . Colombia: The Weather. Recovered from: eltiempo.com.

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