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Aimé Bonpland

Bonpland, Aimé, 1773—1858

Aimé Jacques Alexandre Goujaud-Bonpland, better known as Aimé Bonpland, was born at La Rochelle, France, the youngest of three children by Jacques-Simon Goujaud, surgeon, and Marguerite-Olive de La Coste. Like his father, Aimé studied medicine and may have served in the navy concurrently as a ship’s surgeon.

By 1795, he relocated to Paris where he expanded his studies to include the natural sciences, especially botany, under leading scientists at the Jardin des Plantes. Bonpland’s expertise in these fields recommended him in 1798 to Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, who was preparing for a long-planned voyage to Central America. Bonpland agreed to share in the scientific research and the two set off in December of that year, first touring Spain before sailing from Corunna for Venezuela, where they arrived on 16 July 1799. Over the next five years, Bonpland and Humboldt toured Mexico, Cuba, the Orinoco basin of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru, and briefly visited the United States. While Humboldt’s subsequent publications based on the tour eventually overshadowed Bonpland’s contribution, Humboldt himself insisted on Bonpland’s crucial role in the research and included his name as co-author on the title pages of his Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions (Fr. ed., 1808-27; Eng. trans. Helen Maria Williams, 1814-29).

Bonpland returned to France in 1804 and was granted a state pension by Napoleon in 1805, in recognition of his scientific achievements. Despite the diversion of his affairs to administrative matters associated with the empress Joséphine, largely outside Paris, Bonpland continued his partnership with Humboldt as they prepared their botanical work for publication. This was a monumental task whose complexity both underestimated, and which remained incomplete when Bonpland returned to Buenos Ayres early in 1817, partly to continue his botanical investigations.

The last 41 years of his life was spent in South America where ‘he lived from a wide range of occupations, including medical doctor, pharmacist, farmer, rancher, government scientific explorer, and political conspirator’ (Bell 15). This included a period of confinement in Paraguay between 1821 and 1829 on charges of commercial espionage, and his further involvement in South America politics in the 1840s. Bonpland died in Argentina where he spent his final years cultivating orange groves near Santa Ana.

Sources:

Bell, Stephen. A Life in Shadow: Aimé Bonpland in Southern South America, 1817-1858. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.

Hossard, Nicolas. Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858), médecin, naturaliste, explorateur en Amérique du Sud: À l’ombre des arbes. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001.

Texts

Title Published
Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions 1814 (Contributor)

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