Local pioneer and mercenary featured in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Press release issued: 8 October 2009
Almondsbury anthropologist Richard Edward Latcham (1869-1943) and Richard Longfield Vowell (1795-1870) of Bath, who was prominent in the campaign for Venezuelan independence, join over 2,200 notable historic figures connected with the Bristol and Bath area featured in the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB).
Almondsbury anthropologist Richard Edward Latcham (1869-1943) and Richard Longfield Vowell (1795-1870) of Bath, who was prominent in the campaign for Venezuelan independence, join over 2,200 notable historic figures connected with the Bristol and Bath area who have been rediscovered and featured in the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB).
Born the son of a wheelwright in Almondsbury, Latcham attended Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School for Boys in Bristol before studying engineering at the Polyechnic Institute, London. A chance meeting with a Chilean, who was involved in the colonisation of the southern Araucanian region, led to Latcham becoming a road builder in Chile. Meeting many Mapuche people, he learned their language, and developed a self-taught interest in Chilean anthropology and pre-history, on which he became a leading authority. In 1928 he became director of the Chilean National Museum of Natural History at Santiago.
Vowell from Bath was prominent in the campaign for Venezuelan independence. Orphaned at the age of twelve, and expelled from his Oxford college in 1815, he was inspired to fight for the independence of Spain’s South American colonies like many young Britons in the romantic age. He joined the army of Simón Bolívar, though he had difficulty in mastering South American styles of horsemanship and on one occasion avoided capture by Spanish forces by hiding among the corpses. After independence was secured he returned to Britain – fortunate to have survived – and wrote a vivid account of his exploits, published in 1831. It was often assumed that he died in Bath soon afterwards, but recent research has located his death in a remote farmstead in Victoria, Australia.
The entry on Latcham was written by Dr Jo Crow and the entry on Vowell by Dr Matthew Brown, both from the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University. Dr Brown is specialist academic adviser to the DNB on Britons in Latin America.
Speaking about Vowell's colourful personality, Dr Brown said:
‘Vowell was one of many Britons who took part in winning Latin America’s independence from Spanish rule. Slippery, canny, a lover of a good time and with a brilliant eye for detail, he is renowned in Venezuela as one of the most astute observers of Simón Bolívar and other leaders. In Bristol and Bath, where he spent many years before and after his time in South America, he has until now been a relative unknown.’
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