Exploring the Hispanic-Anglosphere…Author: Lesley Kinsley
This coat of arms of an indigenous high-ranking individual, circa 1560, was unearthed on the island of Chincha Norte, Peru by a digger of guano (nitrate-rich seabird droppings) in 1847, during the first decade of the so-called ‘Guano Age’ (1840-1880). Henry Hucks Gibbs (1819-1907), later to become Lord Aldenham, but then a partner in Antony Gibbs and Sons, donated the artefact to the British Museum in 1859. The Gibbs’ company, under the directorship of William Gibbs (1790-1875) of Tyntesfield, held the monopoly in the export of guano to Britain from 1847 to 1861. The bird excrement had been carefully conserved and used as an agricultural fertiliser by indigenous people for centuries prior to the Spanish conquest of Peru. However, the first global mass transport of agricultural nutrients in the mid 19th century radically changed this unique coastal ecosystem and the relationship of humans with it. The slab is named after explorer William Bollaert (1807-1876), who recorded its discovery in his book of 1860 and in British periodicals. It then disappeared from public view until its rediscovery in British Museum vaults in 2006. It is a unique artefact in its depiction of the entanglement of Spanish and Chincha cultures, and furthermore of the British in its later discovery through guano extraction and its transport to Britain. The artefact is believed to be the property of the indigenous nobleman Don Pedro Guanneque, of the then guano-laden Chincha Islands and Chincha Valley, probably represented in the bottom right quadrant. The wording is ‘don pedro guanneque prinsipal del valle de [c]hincha’. The Chincha people, who were antagonistic to Inca rule, adopted Christianity, as evidenced by the bell tower and red cross on this coat of arms. The top right quadrant probably depicts a Peruvian cormorant or guanay, one of the main guano producing birds.
Sources and Suggested Reading: Bollaert, ‘Carved Stone Found on the Chincha, or Guano Islands, Peru’, Illustrated London Times, 4 March 1859, p. 157; W. Bollaert, Antiquarian Ethnological and other researches in New Granada, Ecuador, Peru and Chile: with observations on Pre-Incarial, Incarial, and other monuments of Peruvian nations (London: Trübner and Co., 1860), p. 150; W. Bollaert, ‘Carved Stone Found on the Chincha, or Guano Islands, Peru’, Reynold’s Miscellany, 19 September 1868, p. 221; W. M. Mathew, The House of Gibbs and the Peruvian Guano Monopoly, (London: Royal Historical Society, 1981), 1-6; G. T. Cushman, Guano and the opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 1-8; L. Kinsley, ‘From textile to guano merchants: Antony Gibbs & Sons and their coastal trade links’, National Trust ‘Views’, 52, (2015), 80-82; L. Kinsley, ‘Dynamic Dung: Peru’s Guano birds and the British Empire’, Animal History Museum [http://animalhistorymuseum.org/exhibitsandevents/online-gallery/gallery-8-animals-and-empire/enter-gallery-8/ii-the-animal-resource/guano-birds/, accessed 09 January, 2015]; ‘Clash of Empires’, British Museum [http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/themes/the_inca/clash_of_empires.aspx, accessed 05 November 2017]; L. Kinsley, ‘Guano, science and Victorian high farming: An agro-ecological perspective’ in W. Parkins (ed.), Victorian Sustainability in Literature and Culture, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 126-145.
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