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Ignacy Domeyko

He was born on 31 July 1802, in Niedźwiadka [presently: Miad'vyedka] in the Navahradok region to the landowning family. In 1812-1816, he attended the Piarists' school in Szczuczyn Litewski (today Stutin in Belarus), next he studied at the faculty of mathematics and physics at the Vilnius University, where in 1822, he obtained a master's degree based on the dissertation on mathematics. In the student's years he was active in the underground organisations of Philomats [enthusiasts of science] and Philarets [enthusiasts of moral virtue], where he maintained especially friendly relations with Adam Mickiewicz. When these organisations were exposed, in 1824, by judgement of the Novosiltsev Commission [Russian administrative organ] he was sentenced to internment in the countryside (till 1829), from where he tried to support his friends exiled deep into Russia.

A member of the November uprising in Lithuania in 1831. Later he was interned in Prussia, from where he emigrated a year later. In Dresden, he met Mickiewicz and they went together to Paris (1832). He undertook studies there, among others, at the Sorbonne University and in College de France. In 1834-1837, he studied at Ecole des Mines, obtaining a diploma of mining engineer. Then he began work in Alsatia. Encouraged by the rector of university to go to Chile, he left for La Serena college in the Coquimbo province for a six-year contract. In the first half of 1838, he went by ship (via England) to Argentina, further travelling horseback across the country, already in the winter conditions, through the Andes to La Serene. He stayed there till 1846, twice - once after the fire in 1845 - organising a university almost from scratch. He educated there local specialists in mining and metallurgy, and especially outstanding students were sent to study in Paris. At the same time he worked in the advisory colleges of educational authorities, pointing out the necessity to reform the Chilean educational system, which was later organised using Vilnius School district as a model.

He spent holidays performing geological terrain study, most usually accompanied by students from the La Serena college. Then he examined pollymetalic mines, among others, in the region of Huasco, Copiapó and Arqueros as well as the neighbouring areas to the top of the Andes. In some of them he served as a mining expert. He devoted his time free from educational work and research trips to writing handbooks, among others, on the sampling Tratado de ensayage (La Serena 1844, later re-issued till the beginning of the 20,h century) and mineralogy Elementos de minearalojia (La Serena, 1844, later re-issued; in 1879 re-issued under the title Minearalojia). Then he also published a lot in the specialist Paris press, where his first geologist map of Chile was printed in the scale 1:250 000. One of the mineral substances which he discovered in 1845, was called domeykite (Cu3As).

In 1845, he visited the region inhabited by Araucanians [Mapuche], Indians who retained the rudimentary form of sovereignty. He carried out there general geological research, but he was mainy interested in the habits of indigenous inhabitants. He included his observations in the book Araucania y sus habitantes [Araucania and its inhabitants] published in 1845 (in other countries also published in the translated versions; in 1860, the Polish translation was published in Vilnius under the title Araukania i jej mieszkańcy). He put also forward a memorial to the authorities on the peaceful joining of this province to Chile, which finally took place years later.

In 1845, the fire of college in La Serena stopped Domeyko in Chile. In 1846, after the reconstruction of the university he moved to Santiago de Chile, where at the local university he took the chair of chemistry and mineralogy. He worked at the university till 1883, from 1867 being the elected rector (four terms in office). At the same time since 1852 he was a plenipotentiary of the government in charge of the reform of university as a main educational centre in Chile. His task was to adjust the education of youth to the needs of the country's civilisational development.

For the whole time of his work in Santiago he carried out intensive geological research, which covered the entire territory of the republic. A lot of attention was paid especially to the recognition of metal ores, describing a lot of unknown mineral compounds. He was interested, among others, in vulcanology and earthquakes. He established a modern meteorological network. As a mining arbiter he settled disputes among the owners of mines. He indicated the sources of potable water for the expanding capital city of Chile. The list of Domeyko's publications include a few hundreds of books printed, first of all, in France and Chile, but also in Poland (A glance at the Chile Cordilliera and the layers of metal contained in them, Cracow 1878). He put the memories "A four-month trip from Paris to Chile in 1838" in the press, among others, in the Cracow "Time" in 1857.

He continued the exchange of letters with the family in the Navahradok region and with the friends who emigrated. He also financially supported the family of Adam Mickiewicz and the Polish emigration organisations in France. Publications and geological specimens (huge lumps of meteorites from Atacama) were sent by him to the Paris School of Mining and the local Museum of Natural History, and also to the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and Warsaw University. He was a member of the Cracow Learned Society (from 1851) and the Cracow Academy of Arts and Sciences (from 1873) as well as specialist societies from Chile and other countries. In 1883-1888, Domeyko was in Europe, staying mainly at his daughter's in Zyburtowszczyzna. There was created the outline of his Outcast's diary, published in full in 1962-1963. Domeyko, being then a man of advanced years, visited the countries of the Middle East, including especially Palestine.

In 1888, he went with his sons to Chile. On his way he got ill and died on 23 January 1889 in Santiago. His funeral was a great Chilean national demonstration. He was farewelled as the apostole of science and education, a man, who changed the face of the South American republic.

The honorary citizenship of Chile (1848), and later the marriage with Enriqueta Sotomoayor y Guzman (1850) permanently connected Domeyko with Chile. The memory of Domeyko's achievements is a permanent element of the culture of this country, and also in Poland as well as in Belarus and Lithuania. His name is born by numerous schools, streets and squares, and his busts decorate universities, where he worked. The biography of Domeyko represents the subject of interest for historians and all those who followed in his footsteps wandering in the Andes, including also the great mountain range in northern Chile - the Domeyko cordilliera.

Zbigniew Wójcik
Museum of the Earth, Polish Academy of Sciences PAN