Pavón Y Jiménez, José Antonio

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(b. Cósate jada, C´ceres, Spain, 22 April 1754; d. Madrid, Spain, 1840)


The son of Gabriel Pavón and Josefa Jiménez villanueva. Pavón lived from the age of elevn in Madrid with his namesake uncle, “second pharmatist” of charles III. This situation no doubt turned his interest toward pharmacy and, hence, to the study of plants. The central event in his life, serving as junior partner to Hipólito Ruiz on the royal botanical expedition to the viceroyalty of Peru (1777-1788), came about through his pharamaceutical training. Pavón worked in the royal pharmacies of Buen Retiro and San IIdefonso from 1773 to 1777, but, unlike Ruiz, apparently never obtained a license to practise. He had studied botany during this time, under Casimiro Gómez Ortega; but he acquired most of his knowledge of plants in Peru and Chile. He married soon after returning from South America (probably 1789) and had at least one son, José Antnio (b. ca. 1803), whom he sought to place in a botanical career. Pavón was a member of the Real Acdemia de Medicina, the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, and the Real Academia de Ciencias, all in Madrid. he was also elected to societies in Berlin, Lisbon, Montpellier, Bordeaux, and the Moselle, and to the Institut de France. after being rebuffed for five years, he was elected a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London in 1820. No portrait of him is known to exist.

The lack of details on Pavón’s life is consistent with his forty years in the shadow of Ruiz, not only during the expedition but also for the many years thereafter in Spain, as they sought to publish their findings. All Pavón’s publications but one (of fourteen pages) were as junior author to Ruiz, although he did leave three unpublished manuscripts; and it was Ruiz who wrote the account of the expedition. (One should consult the article on Ruiz for information on the achievements of Ruiz and Pavón.) Following the death of Ruiz in 1816. When Pavón at last took charge, there was lots to do but little was ever done. Three-quarters of the expedition’s findings remained unpublished; but the Spanish government apparently did no more than occasionally prod the aging Pavón into brief flurries of action, as each new ministry sought to justify the expense of this project they knew so little about,. When Pavon, “touching the threshold of decrepit age,” was censured for the final time in 1835, the Flora peruviana et chilensis was at last a dead letter, instead of a merely atrophied one.

Ruiz leaves the impression that Pavón was timid in the face of danger; other found him docile, even indolent. The contrast with the irascible Ruiz sometimes turned Ruiz’s enemies into friends of pavós’s and vice versa. Pavón could be obsequious and, in his last years, self−pitying. The most crushing evaluation we have is that of a commission established in 1831 to learn the status of theFlora peruviana. The members concluded that the death of Ruiz had “paralyzed in an absolute fashion the scientific works of that Office, there not being in it a person who could continue them.”

It is unfortunate that Pavón is so hidden in the records of the expedition, for in fulfilling the essential eighteenth-cntury role of boatnizer, he experienced years of deprivation and hardship in the tropical forests of Peru. And in meeting the needs of a science swamped by new finds, Pavón joined Ruiz in announcing 141 new genera still recognized today. Over 500 species continue to bear names given by Ruiz and Pavón. The Spanish crown had been hard put to find any accomplished botanists when the French Académie des Sciences proposed the expedition. Ruiz and Pavón, when chosen, were only twenty-two years old. Spain sent major botanical expeditions into others of its realms, but only that of Ruiz and pavón published any of its findings during the participants’ lives.

Ironically, Pavón’s greatest individual contribution to the world of botany came by chance. The Napoleonic occupation of Spain hadhalted the botanists’ work. In 1814 Pavón found a new source of income: selling herbarium duplicates to the British collector Aylmer Bourke Lambert. Over the next eleven years he disposed of thousands of specimens, including many from the Sessé-Mociño Mexican expedition, of whose finds he had become the guardian. The relationship with Lambert ended on a jarring note in 1825, primarily over financial arrangements. The experience did not prevent Pavón from seeking other customers, among them Philp barker Webb, to whom he sold 4,500 species in 1826–1827. Webb’s collection is today at the Botanical Institute of the University of Florence: Lambert’s has been scattered over Europe and, of late, in the United States.

Although the botanical world has suffered confusion from Pavón’s mixing of specimens from various Spanish realms, his private merchandising ventures gave scientists easier access to knowledge of Spanish-American plants than they would otherwise have had. To the Spanish government, however, Pavón’s actions smacked of treason, for Spain could no longer publish anything not already known to the rest of Europe. Investigations turned up shortages in the property of the Flora office; and pavón found himself, at the age of eighty-one, obliged somehow to repay the government. Whether he ever did is lost to the records-as are many other details of his career.


I. Original Works. Aside from the works he wrote with Hipólito Ruiz, Pavón had only one brief publication, “Disertación botánica sobre los géneros Tovaria, Actinophyllum, Araucaria y Salmia, “ in Memorias de la Real academie médica de Madrid,1 (1797), 191–204. He nearly completed “Nuevaquinología, “which was published by John Eliot Howard as Illustrations of the Nueva Quinologia of pavón (london, 1862). Two unpublished MSS are “Laurographia “and an index of the plants of Peru and Chile.

II. Secondary Literature. See Agustín J. Barreiro, Don José Antônio Pavon y Jiménez, 1754–1840 extracted from the proceedings of the Asociationón Española para el Progreso de las Ciencias, 1932 (madrid, 1933[?]), a seven-page work drawn from documents belonging to Pavón’s descendants. Hortense S. Miller, “The Herbarium of Aylmer Bourke Lambert, “in taxon,19 (1907), 489–53, gives detalis on the disposition of Lambert’s herbarium. Arthur R. Steele. Flowers for the King: The Expedition of Ruiz and pavón and the Flora of Peru (Durham, N.C., 1964), from which the quotations in the above article are taken, is a detailed study of the expedition of Ruiz and Pavón and its aftermath.

Arthur R. Steele