Hipólito Ruiz (1754-1816).
Grabado anónimo.
Museo dela Farmacia Hispana (UCM)

Expedition to the Viceroyalty of Peru (1777-1788)

Text by Dr Antonio González Bueno

The idea of organising this scientific expedition was among the plans of action sketched out by the French physiocrat A. Turgot, who was determined to find useful plants that could be acclimatised to France. The project was set out along the same lines as inspired Saint-Edmont's journey to India or abbbé Rozier's to Cosica. The formalities involved in obtaining the necessary permission from the Spanish crown to undertake the journey fell to the Clugny government. The person chosen by the French Court to travel on the expedition was Joseph Dombey, an expert botanist who had the backing of the Jardin du Roi in Paris.

J. Dombey arrived in Madrid in the autumn of 1776. In April 1777 the letters patent accrediting the botanists (H. Ruiz and J. Pavón) and draughtsmen (J. Brunete and I. Gálvez) were issued in Aranjuez.  J. Dombey would travel "accompanying Spanish colleagues of the same profession." The Spanish botanists, who were young and of limited experience, were chosen by C. Gómez Ortega, first professor at the Real Jardín Botánico. The explorers embarked from the port of Cádiz in October 1777, and after a three-month crossing they put in to port at El Callao.  The first specimens were collected, barely a month after arrival, in the area around of Lima. Later the expedition penetrated the Andes, travelling to Tarma and Xauxa, but kept its logistic base in Lima, returning periodically to sort the plants corrected and prepare shipments to the two European courts. The first specimens were sent in April 1779, followed by regalar despatches, although they did not always reach their destination.

During the first few months of 1780, the expedition members prepared a visit to Huánaco, the gateway to the Amazon, a territory to which the expedition was to pay special attention according to the "instructions that they should arrange the subjects destined for D.M. to pass to South America ..." received in Spain; they were expected to find cinchona trees. Huánaco had other surprises in store apart from cinchonas, such as coca and rubber, and the expedition witnessed first hand the Tupac-Amaru uprising in 1780. Following their modus operandi, they travelled to Lima to prepare a new season's botanising. The Spanish contingent went back to work in Tarma in July 1781, but J. Dombey remained in Lima occupied with studying the flow of the tides in the port of El Callao and would not travel back into Peru's interior.

In late 1781 the leaders of the Spanish expedition set out a new destination: Chile. They set sail for Talcahuano in December 1781, and reached port forty days later. The Spanish botanists collected specimens in the area of Concepción and Santiago de Chile. J. Dombey was summoned by the regent of the Audiencia de Chile to report on the feasibility of mining operations in the north of the country. In November 1783 the members of the expedition met up again in Santiago, from where they travelled to Valparaíso, and then embarked for El Callao.

In April 1784 J. Dombey set out in the direction of Cádiz, and on his arrival was subjected to a rigorous and lengthy border search, carried out by Juan de Cuéllar on the express request of C. Gómez Ortega. After J. Dombey's departure significant changes could be observed in the work of the expedition in Peru. A new botanist and draughtsman team were added (J. Tafalla and J. Pulgar) and the expedition based itself permanently in the interior. After 1784 the expedition's investigations centred on cinchona forests, they botanised less, but studied the way in which benefits could be obtained from their production and the different types of trees in much more depth.

The expedition devoted the period between May 1784 and October 1787 to this work. On 12 October 1787, H. Ruiz received the order to organise the return to Spain, although J. Tafalla and J. Pulgar were to remain in Peru. This same Royal Order (18/II/1787) provided for the creation of a chair in botany in Lima. On 31 March 1788 H. Ruiz, J. Pavón and I. Gálvez (J. Brunete died in Pasco in May 1787) embarked for Cádiz from El Callao.

On their return to Spain the expedition's members began to work on the materials they had collected. In 1792 they took up premises of their own, the Oficina Botánica, and this same year H. Ruiz published the first results of the expedition, a treatise on the quinine tree: "Quinología, ó tratado del árbol de la quina ó cascarilla" (Madrid: Viuda e hija de Marín). In 1798, six years after work began in Madrid, the first volume of a colossal publishing undertaken would see the light of day: la Flora Peruviana et Chilensis, Prodromus ... (Madrid: Gabriel de Sancha), with descriptions of the new genera discovered.

Despite the continuous despatches from J. Tafalla, J. Pulgar and new disciples trained in America, the Oficina Botánica in Madrid worked slowly on publishing their work, and in 1804 the project was put on ice, while the members of the team devoted themselves exclusively to studying quinine. In 1801 they had published a supplement "Suplemento á la Quinología" (Madrid: Viuda e hijo de Marín).

Little else on the Spanish expedition's work was published in Peru. The expedition's materials were distributed among European botanists interested in American flora or deposited, where they lay gathering dust, in the archives of Spanish institutions.


Real Jardín Botánico
Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC. Plaza de Murillo, 2. Madrid E-28014 (ESPAÑA). Tel. +34 91 4203017. FAX: +34 91 4200157
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