On the night between the 16th and 17th of August, 1906, an earthquake measuring as much as 8.6 on the Richter scale and the subsequent fire consumed much of Valparaíso and too many of its population. Among the buildings destroyed was the Museo de Historia Natural de Valparaíso, which contained a library, an archive and twenty years worth of collections from Chile and abroad. The destruction of the museum closed an era in its history, and marks the ending point for the story which here concerns us. Because of the earthquake and fire, valuable records on the museum's work were destroyed. This article is an overview of the museum, from the scant information that remains. It briefly outlines the history of the Museo de Historia Natural de Valparaíso in its first stage, as a museum devoted to pedagogy, dissemination of scientific information and research.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Valparaíso, Chile's second city, was a bustling port and the seaside power which vied for national pre-eminence with Santiago. Because a natural history museum brought prestige and a cosmopolitan air to its urban home, local men of science and education in this principal port set out to create their own. In 1878, Eduardo de la Barra founded the museum using space at the Liceo de Valparaíso where he was a teacher and administrator. Biographical information on De la Barra is scarce, but the fact that he was a teacher of young men cannot be coincidental to the pedological role that the museum came to play. Unlike the Museo Nacional in Santiago, the Valparaíso museum included public education to create a new generation of natural history lovers among its priorities. Research was also a high priority, as De la Barra hoped to create an institution which would foster investigation on Chile's natural environment, following in the well-respected footsteps of Claudio Gay, Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin and Rodolfo A. Philippi. The museum's first year involved bringing together materials for display. Valparaíso's elite took on the project as a patriotic one, which would benefit a modern, progressive nation. Donations from Augustín Edwards Ossandón, Federico Vaula and Francisco Echaurren all helped De la Barra start the collection. .
Edwyn C. Reed, an English naturalist, was appointed curator of the small museum and worked extensively with De la Barra in that first year of gathering. Sadly, poor health forced Reed to resign after one year.
While curator, Puga Borne acted as professor of natural history and physical geography at the liceo which continued to house the museum. Although a doctor by training, Puga Borne was also a politician who went on to become Minister of Public Instruction three times. His medical training made him an important figure in the emerging field of public health and hygiene.
The museum remained privately operated and housed in the liceo until 1897, when it came under the authority of the Ministry of Public Instruction, which already oversaw the nation's leading museums. At that time, Carlos Porter Mosso became its curator.
A native of Valparaíso, Porter had worked for the navy's cartographic service in that city and his naval links proved to be helpful in increasing the museum's collection. Porter moved the museum out of the preparatory school it had shared for twenty years and into a two-storey building with large galleries and plenty of space for the collections.
The new building included a separate library,an office for the curator and exhibition spaces which displayed the museum's collection of ethnographic materials, minerals, Chilean fauna, exotic fish, reptiles, birds, exotic molluscs and exotic mammals.
Moving out of the liceo did not diminish the pedological goals of the museum. The work Porter left behind gives witness to his efforts to train Valparaíso's youth to appreciate and undertake scientific research. For instance, local newspapers published and pamphlets publicisedPorter's instructions to budding naturalists, so that they would become accomplished collectors and perhaps donate items captured to the museum. His own pamphlet, 'Instrucciones para la recolecion de objetos de Historia Natural', was in its second edition by 1903. While his secondary audience were students of natural history, he wrote this pamphlet thinking of officials in the military whose travels took them to areas of natural history interest.(Porter 1903: 312) While some of the expeditions included a naturalist, who would need little instruction from Porter, ships which sailed without a professional could still bring back specimens of note. Porter was not alone in his desire to standardise collecting techniques. Federico Puga Borne had published Instrucciones para colectar objetos de Historia Natural which the Valparaíso museum distributed to those who were in a situation to 'develop the museum'.(Porter 1900: 31) It is unclear if Puga Borne had written this pamphlet while still curator.
The RCHN founded by Porter (probably in 1897) also disseminated information on good collecting practices. Porter hoped that 'young students' would find something to interest them in collecting, and so to aid his readers in their collecting trips, he had brought together various pieces on capturing and preserving particular animals to be re-published in the RCHN.(Porter 1900: 31) An article on the capture of butterflies noted that there were many reasons to catch butterflies, as a pastime or even for profit, but the writer hoped that his readers would look upon it as a learning opportunity. The article included practical advice on the best way to collect good butterfly samples - raise the insects from eggs.
Federico Delfín's article on collecting fish waxed long on its virtues:
Fishing is, among pastimes, the one which we should exercise more. It is the one that allows the most benefit for the body and for our intellectual facilities, so that it is of positive and safe utility with little expense. It benefits the first, strengthening [the body] with the various exercises that one is obliged to do and with [the] air [that is] breathed full of oxygen and impregnated with those marine emanations so healthy to all the organs of respiration that they gain new vigor. Naturally beaches constantly bathed by the tides are addressed. ...There is no occupation or entertainment, to our belief, that requires more lively imagination, more activity in all the senses at the same time, united by a tranquility of spirit... it is for this that there are moments during which the emotion almost drowns [one]. In this struggle one learns to have control over one's self. During particular fishing sessions, [one has] to capture with one glance a multiple and varied action. It is true that in this school can be formed great characters. Of course there is also sedentary fishing.(Obviously sedentary fishermen were an inferior variety.) Delfín, a doctor in the navy, saw fishing as a way men (?) could conquer and control the emotions which threatened to overwhelm them when confronted with nature's glories. Delfín's description of fishing suggests an attractive afternoon's occupation. His medical training probably accounts for his concern with the health benefits of fishing. Very few articles I have found link the emotional aspects of nature with the scientific ones as done here.
Delfín continued, remarking that it might surprise readers to know that all types of fish were needed in Chile's museums. Although most fish were already 'known' to the scientific world, many of the most common fish were not yet displayed. Even fish easily found in the local markets for the dinner dinnertabletable were not found in galleries. In circumstances where museums already possessed a sample of a particular fish, duplicates were always useful, both for exchanging with other museums and for replacing displays that had become moth-eaten. (Delfín 1900: 148)
The article sought to train readers to look at their day to day experiences from a new perspective, based on the requirements of Chilean natural history. Delfín writes as if people are born natural scientists, and only need training. He also has a sense that scientific knowledge lagged behind popular knowledge, partially because the public had to be trained to think of the museum, not just the market and the kitchen, as the recipient of fish. Because the museum's resources were limited, contributions from a collecting public were important means to increase the collection. Donations from the public were supplemented through links to institutions and individuals of science far from Valparaíso.
Porter had a gift for establishing relationships with institutions and individual scientists all over the world. He reported in 1901 that he had increased institutional relationships from 258 to 298. The country with which the museum had the most links was France (85), next came Chile (59). From these relationships came exchange of publications and donations which were the principal sources for the museum's library. Porter exchanged publications with institutions and museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Budapest, the Philadelphia Academy of Natural History and the Mexican National Medical Institute. The library brought publications from all over the world into the hands of amateur and professional naturalists alike. The list of journals available through the museum included publications from Latin America, the US, various European nations, Japan, Australia and the Cape Colony. Topics covered were as broad as was the geographic representation. For instance, from Chile came the Revista jeneral de Medicina e Hijiene Práctica and El Pensamiento Latino; from Ecuador came Guayaquil Artístico; from the United States came the Annual Report of the Geological Survey of Arkansas; from Britain came the Journal of the Linnean Society and The Museums Journal and from Russia came Le Physiologiste Russe. In 1903 Porter submitted a catalogue to the Ministerio de Instrucción Pública, listing all of the library's books and how they were acquired. At that point, the library had 20 books sent from the ministry, 35 which had existed in the library before the re-organization (in 1897), 70 which the museum had bought, 408 which had been given in exchange and 510 which had been donated to the library. Obviously, exchange and donations were the library's mainstay.
It is likely that the same was true for the collections, hence the importance of teaching proper collecting techniques to the lay community.
Unlike the Museo Nacional's curator Rodolfo A. Philippi, who published in German at least as often as he published in Spanish, Porter was concerned with developing the domestic scientific community not just promoting himself abroad. One of his projects was to foster knowledge of Chilean natural history within Chile, for instance encouraging the government to fund translations of Philippi's German works on Chile. Porter was painfully aware of the limited resources of most institutions and individual naturalists, as well as the high financial price involved in keeping up-to-date on the latest literature. As such, under his editorial charge, the Revista Chilena de Historia Natural re-published articles or sections of books which treated Chile. As he explained, regarding publications of excerpts from the Voyages of the Challenger,
The magisterial work in which the fertile results for science of the exploring ship the "Challenger" are recorded is of such a high price that its acquisition is difficult for private individuals and even for libraries whose budget is limited. We believe we offer a true service to our naturalists, taking the part which refers to Chile dispersed among the various volumes of the splendid work.
Porter went on to note that the compilation process would be time-consuming because the museum staff could only dedicate Sunday mornings to the work of gathering the material from a copy borrowed from the Navy.(Porter 1900: 39-40) Porter also made the Revista Chilena a bibliographic resource for naturalists by listing all publications related to natural history in Chile each year, thus limiting the daunting task of fruitless searches through journal after journal. His activities indicate that Porter hoped to facilitate the work of other scientists and his museum and journal were to be resources for scientists at all levels.
Although the museum's publication, the Revista Chilena de Historia Natural, sought a Chile-wide range of articles, Valparaíso's natural history museum was supposed to concentrate on the local environment. According to the rules governing the museum in 1900, it was divided into two sections: ethnography and natural history. In each of these categories, products coming from the province of Valparaíso were to have the highest display priority. National items were to be displayed as a second priority, and foreign ones had the lowest priority, with those coming from 'Hispanic' America displayed before items from the rest of the world. The hierarchy of the museum then glorified province before nation and Hispanic neighbours before Europeans. The curator was responsible for the museum's overall administration, and headed the sub-sections of zoology, botany and ethnography. As the curator was to be an active researcher, the regulations allowed him to undertake the scientific trips that were deemed necessary. Photographs of the museum suggest that the display included as many 'foreign' as 'domestic' samples.
The museum opened these displays to the public, maintaining records of yearly attendance and categorising visitors by day visited and activity. The museum was open to the public year-round on Sundays between 2:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon. School groups could visit the museum Monday, Wednesday or Saturday afternoons. The greatest number of visitors attended on Sunday afternoons. For instance, in May 1900, 720 people visited the museum during the month. Numbers were inconsistent, being as high as 1035 in June and just 16 in March. Each month a handful of foreigners visited the museum (between 10 and 35), while a smaller number of people visited the library (between 3 and 23). School groups visited the museum as well, and those numbers varied between a dozen to several dozen a year. There are no indications of the museum's policy regarding admission fees which would certainly have influenced attendance.
Porter dedicated his life to the museum and its near complete destruction in the earthquake and fire of 1906 devastated him. With the remains of the collection, the museum was moved to Santiago, where it was housed in a local preparatoria. Porter immediately began using his contacts around the world, over two thousand by this point, to re-build the museum's collections. He wrote to museums, universities, natural history societies, libraries, periodicals and specialists in various fields with the 'sad news' of the fire and his firm conviction that he would start anew. In Chile, he turned to other museum curators, library heads, commanders of naval ships, lighthouse tenders and his friends for donations of materials and books. The timely response to his entreaties pleased him, and within 6 months he had already three display cases of material at the Liceo Miguel Luis Amunátegui in Santiago. Porter wrote that,
the destruction of the Museum, which we will never lament enough, does not mean its death. It is certain that many objects of extreme value will never be recuperated, but the many relationships that the establishment had created since 1897, the sympathy of the people of Valparaíso, the dedicated will [towards rebuilding] of progressive and patriotic men, my ten years of experience in the administration of this Institute and my strong will to begin the work again, supported by already existent personnel who are enthusiastic and hard-working, all remain behind. (Porter 1907: 44)In 1912, the museum finally returned to Valparaíso. Because of the devastating earthquake and fire, the Valparaíso museum has few surviving records of its first period but photographs provide evidence of the extensive collection dating from its earliest years.