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Biographies: M

This webpage reproduces part of
History of Chile

Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Biographies: Q‑S

 p500  Biographical Notes
(continued: N‑P)

Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñan (1607‑1680), born in Chillán, belonged to one of the most distinguished families of Chile. For more than forty years his father had fought the Indians on the frontier and the son, after some preliminary training under the Jesuits, also entered the army and became a captain. In 1629 he was captured by Indians in the battle of Cangrejeras. The seven months that followed gave him the experiences which, as an old man, he incorporated in Cautiverio Feliz (see Coester, op. cit., p14). Although he filled other important stations in the Spanish service, including the command of Valdivia, his reputation rests upon this work, "the most popular and widely read book of colonial times in Chile." The volume offers a valuable picture of the social and economic life of the Araucanians and affords the author a chance to condemn the encomienda system and the rapacity of the traders. It was published in 1863 as the third volume of "Colección de historiadores de Chile." — M, pp577‑586.

José Abelardo Núñez Murúa (1840‑1910) was born in Santiago, studied in the National Institute and the University of Chile, and gained the title of advocate in 1866. In that same year, after serving in the secretariat of the chamber of deputies, he entered upon his life work as teacher and administrator in the system of primary instruction. In 1869 he served as intendant of Ñuble. He was general secretary of the National Society of Agriculture and in 1875 directed the agricultural exposition in Santiago. In 1879 he was commissioned to study systems of education abroad and on his return contributed educational articles to the press and directed the Revista de instrucción primaria. As administrator, he introduced many reforms before his retirement in 1897 and after that date he prepared a famous text, El lector americano,  p501 which long served for classes in primary reading. The Normal School of Santiago bears his name. — FIV, 377.

Ambrosio O'Higgins (ca. 1720‑1801), or "Higgins," as he wrote it, father of the better-known Bernardo O'Higgins, was born in Ballinary (or Vallenar, as it appears later in his Spanish title), county of Sligo, Ireland. As a youth he was sent to Spain, where an uncle was a member of a religious order. This connection may have afforded young Higgins some education, but he early connected himself with a firm of Irish merchants in Cádiz. Under their protection he undertook a disastrous trading venture to Peru, and went from there to Chile in 1761. Here he spent some time in engineering work and in constructing huts along the Andean trail to Mendoza. A trip to Spain in 1766 enabled him to prove his talent to the colonial authorities, and with his return to Chile his promotion was rapid. Successful in his campaigns against the Araucanians, he became a brigadier in 1783 and in 1786 was made intendant at Concepción. Three years later he was commissioned field marshal and also appointed governor of Chile. He carried on the duties of the latter post with his accustomed skill and energy and as a result was advanced in 1796 to the post of viceroy at Lima — the most distinguished office in the Spanish colonies. He died in office on March 18, 1801, the first conspicuous Irishman in American politics! — M, pp592‑596; BVII, 5‑104.

Bernardo O'Higgins y Riquelme (1778‑1842) was permitted by fate to surpass his father (see above) in reputation, if not in solid worth. Born out of wedlock and unrecognized by his father during his childhood, he was later taken into his father's household and educated in Lima, Peru, and in Spain, and England, where he came in contact with Miranda and other leaders in the struggle for independence. He inherited part, at least, of his father's estate and, after that parent's death, returned to Chile and to the life of a farmer and local officeholder. He was already plotting an insurrection against Spain, when the events of 1810 brought him openly into the conflict. His subsequent career may be followed in the text. Exile was to him an inevitable but bitter experience. He was but half Chilean, hence he never commended himself to the Santiago aristocracy; on the other hand, after his banishment, he continually longed to return to his childhood home and the scenes of his stirring career. — FIV, 389‑393.

[image ALT: A photograph of an equestrian statue of a soldier; his horse is rearing over the body of a fallen soldier, and our hero is charging forward, leading with the point of his sword. It is a statue of Bernardo O'Higgins, the 19c Chilean revolutionary figure, in Santiago.]

Bernardo O'Higgins.

Courtesy Instituto de Cinematografía Educativa, Universidad de Chile.

Thayer's Note: In the print edition, this photo accompanies that of a statue of José Miguel Carrera, and the caption is bracketed by

The two leading figures of the War for Independence. . . . Rivals for control of the revolutionary movement.

Pedro de Oña (b. 1570), the son of a Spanish captain, was a native of Angol. At the age of twenty he was enrolled in the University of San Marcos in Lima. Presumably he completed the law course there, as he always uses the title Licenciado in his published works, and also the course in theology, for his works show a deep religious strain. He may  p502 have taken part in suppressing an uprising in Quito. If so, he was doubly prepared to undertake an indigenous epic. His Arauco domado appeared in Lima in 1596. In this he showed himself to be a pious and energetic narrator, the first native literary light of Chile. His last known poem appeared in 1643. — M, pp605‑610. See also Medina, Historia de la literatura colonial de Chile, Vol. I, chaps. vi‑ix; Coester, op. cit., pp10‑12.

Martín García Óñez de Loyola (1549‑1598), a renowned member of a noble Guipuzcoan family, came to Peru in 1568 and served as captain of his guard for Viceroy Francisco de Toledo. He won great family in 1572 by capturing Tupac Amaru, whose niece he subsequently married. He served as corregidor at various points in Peru and was recommended as governor for Paraguay, but before taking office there he received word of his appointment to Chile. He served in the latter colony from 1592 until his death in battle. — BIII, 187‑189.

Pedro Opazo Letelier (1876‑1957)​a received his early training in the liceo of Talca and prepared to study medicine but was forced instead into agriculture. A member of the liberal-democratic party, he became deputy from Talca in 1921 and three years later, senator. In 1920 he held the war office for a brief period and in 1930 was president of the senate. Throughout his active career he has kept closely in touch with banking and railroad interests. — FIV, 402.

Domingo Órtiz de Rozas (1683‑1756) belonged to an Asturian family of considerable prestige. He took part in the War of Spanish Succession and later served in Italy and Africa, winning the rank of mariscal de campo. He was appointed governor of Buenos Aires in 1742. He gave considerable attention to uprooting smuggling and to fortifying the port of Montevideo, and to conducting suits against certain employees of the government, including his own predecessor. Promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, he was entrusted in 1745 with the governor­ship of Chile where he founded many towns, and for which he received his title.​b He died on shipboard in the vicinity of Cape Horn. — M, p624; EXL, 735; BVI, 164.

Mariano Osorio (1722‑1818) was born in Seville. Connected with a leading family of the region, he was permitted to enter the artillery school at Segovia and after completing his course received regular promotion in the artillery. In 1808 as captain he took part in the two sieges of Zaragoza. He was sent to Lima as commandant general of artillery in 1812, where his skill in military affairs and his gracious personality gained for him the favor of the viceroy, who sent him to replace Gaínza. He died at Panama while on his way to Spain after his defeat at Maipú. — FIV, 422; BIX, 516.

 p503  José Tomás Ovalle Bezanilla (1788‑1831) was born in Santiago. After completing his legal studies he entered upon a public career. In 1828 he was presiding officer of the junta gubernativa in Santiago (BXV, 474), which attempted to deal with the disorder created by the struggle for supremacy between Freire and Prieto and in February, 1830, was elected vice-president of the republic by the congress of plenipotentiaries called to give legal status to existing conditions. When Ruiz Tagle gave up the presidency thus conferred, Ovalle, for a few months, exercised the powers of chief executive until his death. He it was who called his friend Portales to the ministry. — B, Vol. XV, chaps. xxxi, xxxii; Sotomayor Valdés, Historia de Chile, I, 75; FIV, 440.

Abraham Oyanedel Urrutia (1874‑ ),​c a native of Copiapó, became attorney in 1897. He served in the army of congress in 1891 and then passed to the local courts as prosecutor, and later judge. He was minister (judge) of the supreme court of Chile in 1927 and its president in 1932 — a position that automatically made him the vice-president ad interim from October to December of that year. — Hoy, October 7, 1932, p5.

Antonio Pareja (1758‑1813), a native of the province of Córdoba, Spain, was a sailor rather than a soldier. He had gained steady promotion in the Spanish navy, which he entered in 1771, and was especially noted for his conduct in the battle of Trafalgar, during which he fought obstinately, although wounded in action and suffering heavy losses among his crew. He withdrew his vessel, the Argonauta, from the fight, but it was so badly shattered that it sank the next day. Pareja bore an excellent reputation among his contemporaries for his bravery, enthusiasm, and humane qualities, but his appointment by Abascal to command an army was a mistake. — BIX, 9.

José Manuel Pareja Septien (1813‑1865) entered the Spanish marine at Cádiz in 1827. In a long career, which included many extensive voyages, campaigns against the Carlists, and service in Cuba, he received many marks of distinction and proofs of royal favor. Sent as commander of the Spanish squadron that intervened in Peru in 1864, he conducted early negotiations with that republic so successfully that in April, 1865, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. He failed, however, to settle affairs with Chile and, while maintaining a blockade of Chilean ports, committed suicide as described in the text. — EXLII, 24.

Juan Bautista Pastene (1507‑ca. 1580) was a native of Genoa. He may be the Juan Bautista who served under Alvarado in Guatemala. If so, like many of his contemporaries, he linked his career with both Americas. In 1534 he reached Venezuela with the fleet sent out by the  p504 German Welsers. His course there commended him to Francisco Pizarro and he served that leader and the royal cause in the conquest of Peru and the civil wars that followed. He was sent south by Vaca de Castro, viceroy of Peru, who during the wars between Charles V and Francis I feared French intrusion in the Pacific. The vessel commanded by Pastene had once formed part of the fleet that bore Pedro de Alvarado from Central America to modern Ecuador. Valdivia did not fear French intruders, but made use of the vessel and of its commander to explore territory that he hoped to add to his government and continued to use Pastene as his chief navigator, as did his successor. — M, pp646‑656; BI, 262‑267, 420.

José Joaquín Pérez Moscayano (1800‑1889) was born in Santiago, attended the Royal Caroline College, and completed his studies at the University of San Felipe (see p110). After preliminary service as secretary of the Chilean legation in the United States, he acted as chargé in Paris, helped float a loan in London, and filled the post of minister to Argentina. In 1845 he became minister of the treasury and four years later, minister of the interior and of foreign relations. He was senator and counselor of state under Montt. He was a clever politician who knew how to hold the allegiance of his subordinates and the confidence of the people at large. After retiring from the presidency, he still served for some years as senator and counselor. — EXLIII, 653; FIV, 495‑497.

Carlos Pezoa Véliz (1879‑1908), like González, achieved posthumous success. After a youth of sharp privation marked by little formal study, he took up quarters in Viña del Mar as a subordinate municipal laborer. He was driven from this miserable existence by the earthquake of 1906 and returned to Santiago where he published some of his compositions in the current reviews and followed the Bohemian life which brought him to his early and solitary end in the hospital of San Vicente. — FIV, 503.

Rudolfo Amando Philippi (1808‑1904) was born at Charlottenburg, Prussia, and died in Santiago. After studies in medicine and the natural sciences he was made professor in 1835 and in 1849, director of the industrial school of Cassel. Coming to Chile in 1851, he occupied the chair of botany and zoology in the university and directed the museum of natural history. During this period he established the study of the natural sciences in the superior schools of Chile and began an important series of scientific expeditions. He founded the botanical garden of Santiago and identified and named thousands of native plants. His scientific work was the most important undertaken in South America. His Elementos de historia natural long served as a textbook in  p505 Chile. — EXLIV, 383; FIV, 505, 506; M. L. Amunátegui, Ensayos biográficos, IV, 155‑191.

Nicolás de Piérola (1839‑1913) was born in Camaná, Peru, the son of a naturalist. He studied and practiced law in Lima and also held a professor­ship at the Colegio Seminar de Lima. When thirty years of age, he was offered the ministry of the treasury but had to decline it and leave the country. In the war with Chile he commanded a battalion under President Prado, but with the defeat of the president again had to flee from the country. By a coup d'état in 1879 he assumed the title of chief of the republic but was unable to defend Lima against the Chilean invaders and retreated into the interior and later took refuge in the United States. A successful revolt in 1895 elevated him a second time to the chief magistracy and enabled him to bring about numerous reforms in administration. — EXLIV, 784.

The Pincheira brothers, Pablo (17?‑1832) and José Antonio (17?‑ ), acquired their undesirable notoriety during the first third of the nineteenth century. Supposedly aiding the Spaniards, they had for their main purpose the raiding and indiscriminate plundering the people of southern Chile and the neighboring Argentine territory. General Bulnes defeated their forces in January, 1832, when Pablo met his death. His brother then surrendered, released his captives, including about a thousand women and children, and continued to live in the province of Concepción for more than a half-century. — EXLIV, 992; also BXVI, 97‑112, especially n. 15; and Sotomayor Valdés, Historia de Chile, I, 162‑168.

Francisco Antonio Pinto Díaz (1785‑1858) was descended from one of the most illustrious families of Santiago. He became a lawyer in 1806. Four years later he joined the revolutionary forces and was sent as minister to Buenos Aires in order to cement friendly relations between the revolutionary governments and to provide Chile with news from Brazil and Europe. In 1813 he was sent to England for the same purpose. He returned to Chile in 1817, fought against the Spanish armies of Alto Peru, and later joined San Martín. During 1822 and 1823, he served as second chief and made the disgraceful campaign of Southern Peru, but in 1824, with new forces, he carried through a new campaign with success. The same year he was appointed minister of the interior and of foreign relations for Chile. Retiring from these offices he served for a time as intendant at Coquimbo. In the beginning of 1827 he was elected vice-president of Chile, and, when General Freire resigned the supreme command, became his successor. Being unable to control the revolutionary movements, he retired to private life. In 1841 he became leader of the liberals. He was both a distinguish soldier and a notable  p506 littérateur, speaking English and French fluently and writing in a very correct and elegant style. He was a member of the faculty of law in the university. — EXLIV, 1091. The details of his tempestuous administration are given in B, Vol. XV, chaps. xxv‑xxx. See also FIV, 518.

Aníbal Pinto Garmendia (1825‑1884), son of Francisco Antonio Pinto (see p170), was born in Santiago and studied at the National Institute, and under Andrés Bello. He defended in the press the views of Bello and also those of Francisco Bilbao (see p286). His first diplomatic service was at Rome — a service which opened to him opportunities to study the political and social institutions of Europe. On his return to Chile he became a member of the university faculty of philosophy and letters and renewed his contributions to the local press. In 1862 he was appointed intendant of the province of Concepción, where he contributed greatly to its progress, served in the chamber of deputies, was elected senator in 1870, and in 1871 entered the cabinet of President Errázuriz. This proved the steppingstone to the presidency. Moderate in opinion and conciliatory in disposition, it was his misfortune to encounter two grave problems — the financial crisis and the war against Peru and Bolivia. He survived the presidency only three years. — EXLIV, 1090; FIV, 521‑522.

Amando Pissis (1812‑1889) was born in Brioude, France, and died in Santiago. He studied in the School of Mines at Paris and early became coeditor of the Annales of the French geological society. After a mission to study the mineral resources of Brazil, in 1849 he was given charge of the geographical work being conducted by the Chilean government. He also served as a member of the faculty of physical sciences and mathematics in the University of Chile. His principal work was Geografía física de la república de Chile (Paris, 1871), but he produced other technical works on the Andes and the desert of Atacama. — EXLV, 62; FIV, 526.

Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1475‑1541) was born in Trujillo, the illegitimate son of an officer who had served under the Great Captain. During a neglected and unlettered childhood, he is reputed to have been a swineherd. After military experience in Europe, he went to Santo Domingo in 1509, went with Alonso de Ojeda to Tierra Firma, accompanied Balboa to the Pacific, took part with Pedrarias in planting a colony at Panama, and was residing there when he and his associates entered upon the Peruvian project. From this first expedition, begun in 1524, he was forced to return for help. On his second expedition, he and his men were forced to undergo extreme hardships on the island of Gallo, yet he touched at Túmbez and Paita and surveyed some two hundred leagues along the coast of Peru before returning to Panama and passing to  p507 Spain in 1528 where he met with a favorable reception from Charles V and obtained a personal grant to conquer the region which he had explored. On his return he brought with him his four half-brothers, of whom only one was legitimate. The lurid story of his conquest of Peru, marked by treachery and the double-crossing of his associates, and by his own assassination, belongs to the history of Peru which, as the text indicates, also serves, through Almagro and Valdivia, as an introduction to the history of Chile. EXLV, 173‑181; Mendiburu, op. cit., VI, 388‑506. See also Stella R. Clemence, Calendar of Spanish Manuscripts concerning Peru, 1531‑1651 (Washington, 1932), and Documents from Early Peru: The Pizarros and the Almagros, 1531‑1578 (Washington, 1936).

Nicanor Plaza (1844‑1918) was one of the first students in the university course of fine arts (see p356). His early display of artistic talent led the government to send him to Europe for further study. He taught sculpture long and successfully in the School of Fine Arts in Santiago. His "Caupolicán" attracted attention in Paris. His most beautiful work, "La quimera" (Chimera) is one of the masterpieces of the Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago. Plaza died in Florence, Italy. — FIV, 528.

[image ALT: A realistic statue, apparently of bronze, of a noble-looking South American Indian wearing a loincloth, a necklace and a small headdress possibly of fehs feathers or fur. His feet are spread more than shoulder width apart, and he holds something like a long oar in both hands, by which he appears to be propelling himself. On the ground or surface beneath him, a small but massive club and what may be a type of pan-pipe. It is a statue of the Araucano chieftain Caupolicán.]

Caupolicán, chief Indian leader at the time of the Conquest.

Courtesy Instituto de Cinematografía Educativa, Universidad de Chile.

Thayer's Note: Though not so captioned, and not accompanying the article on Plaza in the print edition, it is the statue by Plaza: see for example the page at EducarChile.

Diego José Víctor Portales Plazazuelos (1793‑1837) was born in Santiago. His father intended him for the law, and for a time he studied at the Colegio de San Carlos, but he chose instead to become a merchant and by 1824 had built up one of the most important commercial firms of Chile. He entered politics through the monopoly described in the text, which was designed to meet the service of the debt of five million pesos contracted in England in 1821. Portales soon became known as one of the most powerful politicians in Chile. He knew men profoundly, had good common sense, was energetic, and a capital organizer. He devoted himself to the conservative and aristocratic elements, emphasizing commerce rather than politics and just before the decisive battle of Lircay became the virtual dictator of the country, under both Ovalle and Prieto. He corrected public abuses with an iron hand and paid salaries promptly, but was inflexible when any employee committed the slightest fault. He reorganized the civil guard, established the military academy in Santiago, and gave wide publicity to governmental acts, especially those of the treasury. When he thought the government could carry on, he retired to private life, refusing to become president, but continued to influence public affairs through the minister of the interior, Joaquín Tocornal. In December, 1832, he was appointed governor of Valparaiso and during the few months he exercised that office he made many reforms. Because of his withdrawal from power, his influence  p508 began to decline and he was soon charged with enjoying the fruits of government without sharing its responsibility. Finally, he was appointed minister of war by Prieto and in large part the government once more revolved around him. But political disturbances came, one after the other, and he was finally assassinated. His career suggests comparisons with Alexander Hamilton. In 1860 a monument was erected to him. — EXLVI, 598‑600. A judicious sketch "Portales," was published by a competent critic, Jorge Blest Gana, in Revista chilena, VI (November, 1918), 187‑202; VII (December, 1918), 24‑46. For a brief word on El hambriento (p237), see ibid., p33, n. 3. Vicuña Mackenna and the Brazilian diplomat, Joaquín Nabuco, have also written extended sketches of Portales. See also FIV, 535‑538; Galdames, Evolución constitucional, I, 832‑853; and Francisco A. Encina, Portales; introducción a la historia de la época de Diego Portales (1830‑1891) (2 vols. Santiago, 1934).

Mariano Ignacio Prado (1826‑1901) was born in Huanuco, Peru. He supported Ramón Castilla in his second campaign for the presidency and gained thereby a colonel's commission. When the Spanish admiral Pinzón made his insulting attack on the Chincha Islands in 1864, Prado seized the occasion to elevate himself to the presidency and hastened to bring Peru into an alliance with Chile and the other west coast republics against Spain. His later attempt to put the public finances in order led to his downfall. During the War of the Pacific he went to Europe to buy arms, but otherwise remained inactive. He died in Paris. — EXLVI, 1208.

Arturo Prat Chacón (1848‑1879), born near Quirihue, department of Itata, was of Catalonian descent. After a few years in a private school at Santiago, he entered the recently founded Naval School at Valparaiso and shortly thereafter began service at sea that was associated at frequent stages with the Esmeralda. He took part in the war with Spain in 1865 and became captain in 1873. Throughout his career he pursued studies in astronomy, mathematics, and other sciences associated with naval operations, obtained a degree in law, and on at least one occasion showed himself to be no mean diplomat. His martyrdom at Iquique made him the naval hero of the war. — EXLVI, 1275; FIV, 546‑549.

Joaquín Prieto Vial (1786‑1854) was a native of Concepción. In 1805 he became a volunteer in the militia and a few months later took part in an expedition sent to explore the southern Andes (BVII, 262, n. 10). He performed various services in the patriot ranks between 1811 and 1814, participated in the battles of Chacabuco and Maipú, defeated the outlaw Benavides in 1824 (see p208), and between 1823 and 1828  p509 served in various congresses. As an intimate friend and supporter, he contributed much to the success of Portales, who in turn supported him as president. After his two terms in the presidency, Prieto continued in the public service as counselor of state, senator, intendant, and captain general of Valparaiso. Naturally cold and cautious, although polite and diplomatic in manner, Prieto aroused little popular enthusiasm. — EXLVII, 382; Sotomayor Valdés, Historia de Chile, I, 134‑141; FIV, 566‑568.

Arturo Puga Osorio (1879‑ ) was born in Santiago and became a second lieutenant of the Chilean army in 1898 but held no political office until 1927 when he became subsecretary of war. He had supported the revolutions of 1924 and served in the attempted Tacna-Arica plebiscite. In 1928 he became intendant of Tarapacá and from 1929 to 1931 was Chilean minister to Colombia. He is known as a careful and painstaking student of military affairs. — FIV, 577; Hoy, June 10, 1932, p7.

Thayer's Notes:

a The year of his death is filled in here from the photoillustrated biographical sketch in Genealogía de Familias Chilenas.

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b Conde de Poblaciones (see p99).

[decorative delimiter]

c His mother's name is filled in here from the biographical sketch on the Biografía de Chile website.

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Page updated: 26 Dec 14