Theobroma; mazorca de cacao.
Acuarela sobre preparación a grafito (24 X 16 cm).
R.J.B. Archivo Div. II, lám. 45.


Pehr Löfling in the Orinoco: a disciple of Carl Linnaeus in the Orinoco (1754-1756)

Text by Dr Antonio González Bueno

On 13 January 1750 the plenipotentiaries of Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Madrid, thereby putting an end –at least on paper– to the continual dispute between the two countries over the dominions of their respective crowns in the territories of South America. By choosing a mountain range as the demarcation line, the imaginary line traced by the Treaty of Tordesillas would become a readily distinguishable natural feature. Under the agreement, the lands that were in the watershed of the Orinoco belonged to Spain, and those whose waters flowed into the Amazon, belonged to Portugal. To delimit the demarcation line in situ, on the north side the Spanish crown sent a commission under the command of José de Iturriaga, which included Eugenio Alvarado, Antonio de Urrutia and José Solano. With them travelled a group of cartographers, astronomers, chaplains, surgeons, soldiers and a group of naturalists led by Pehr Löfling, a disciple of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. They were also accompanied by two assistant doctors, Benito Paltor and Salvador Condal, and two draughtsmen, Bruno Salvador Carmona and Juan de Dios Castel.

The expedition set out from the port of Cádiz on 15 February 1754. After a crossing of fifty-five days, they reached Cumaná, where they started their field work. The first few months were spent botanising in the vicinity of Cumaná, and studying its wealth of fauna, particularly on the coast, of which P. Löfling has left us some descriptions. In early June the naturalists extended their range towards Ipure, Macarapán and Cumanacoitia. At the end of June, P. Löfling, accompanied by B. Paltor and J. Castel, embarked for Barcelona. However, the naturalists' health had suffered from the rigors of the climate, slowing the pace of work in Barcelona. Nevertheless, they prepared some descriptions and drawings in the first few days of August, and they were able to travel part of the Píritu Missions, the banks of the river Unare, Tocuyo -where P. Löfling described a specimen of what he believed to be cinnamon-, Puruey and Clarines; from Píritu –which they had reached by 15 August- the naturalists returned to Barcelona, and from there travelled by boat to Cumaná, which they reached at the end of the month.

P. Löfling was virtually inactive during the last three months of 1754; his failing health barely permitted him to continue his work. During this time he remained in Cumaná, the capital of New Andalusia.

Having finally overcome the bureaucratic hurdles he had been occupied with since his arrival, in late 1754 J. Iturriaga began his descent of the Orinoco to reach the river Negro, where he was to meet up with the Portuguese commission working on the same task. The commission split into two parties: J. Solano headed for the island of Trinidad and from there to the source of the Orinoco, accompanied by B. Paltor and J. Castel. E. Alvarado set out for the same destination by land, passing through Barcelona and the Píritu missions. His group included P. Löfling, S. Condal and B. Carmona. They all met at Guayana.

On 17 January 1755 P. Löfling and his companions met again in Barcelona. Löfling's health had been seriously affected by a colic suffered on Christmas day, which had left him unable to rise from his bed for over a week.  The following day they set out for San Bernardino. The naturist worked in the town and its surroundings for a couple of months (El Pilar, the Aragua River). On 5 April, under the command of J. Iturriaga, the expedition set out towards Guayana, passing through the Píritu Missions, and fording the Güere River to reach San Pablo. they continued their journey through San Lorenzo and Margarita. On 15 April they headed for Aragua, and from there, Nuevo Hato. On 23 April they set out by canoe from Muitaco to the source of the Pao River. They reached Santo Tomé de Guayana on 29 April.

In early May 1755 P. Löfling, accompanied by B. Paltor and B.S. Carmona, began a study of the Guayana Missions. In the harsh climatic conditions they travelled through Suay, Caroní, Murucuri, Aguacagua, Altagracia, El Hato and Copanuy. In early September, while at Guayana, P. Löfling went down with fever. Despite this, he travelled to Caroní, where his condition worsened. He recovered in mid-October, but a further relapse kept him in bed. He died of the fever in San Antonio de Caroní, where he was buried. On his death the team of naturalists disbanded. Some left and others took up other tasks on the expedition.

P. Löfling's botanical descriptions during his stay in America were written up in the "Flora Cumanensis", for which some draft materials are known to exist. Using the descriptions, to which Carl Linnaeus had access, his disciple worked both in Spain and America to compile the Iter Hispanicum (Stockholm: Lars Salvi, 1758), attributed to P. Löfling, post mortem. His zoological studies caused little impact, being able to trace –not without difficulty– in the work of his master, the best of his output in this field was produced in the study of fish. One of the manuscripts produced by the expedition, "Ichtyologia orinocensis", describes around fifty species of fish, along with a number of reptiles and birds. The handwriting appears to attribute it to Juan de Dios Castel, but there is little doubt that it includes a large share of the work by P. Löfling.

The Comisión de Límites or boundary commission led by J. Iturriaga concluded its work in 1760, with almost no contact with the Portuguese commission charged with the same task. The Treaty of El Pardo, signed on 12 February 1761 completely overturned the decisions signed in the Treaty of Madrid. The division of the territory was postponed, although the Spanish presence was consolidated by the signing of agreements with the natives of the Upper Orinoco.

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