Alexander Caldcleugh (1795-1858), businessman and traveller, was born on 17 June 1795 in London (where he was baptized at St Olave's, Hart Street), the only son and fourth of five children of Alexander Caldcleugh (d. 1809), shipowner and merchant, of Broad Green, Croydon, Surrey, and his wife, Elizabeth, née Beatson (d. 1835). He inherited property in Scotland from his father, who was of Scottish descent. Little else is known of his early life.
On 9 September 1819 Caldcleugh left Plymouth on HMS Superb for Rio de Janeiro, where he arrived on 21 October 1819 as private secretary to Sir Edward Thornton (1766-1852), the British minister to the Portuguese court in Brazil. Caldcleugh remained in Rio and its surroundings from October 1819 until January 1821, when he was invited by Captain Stanhope to visit Buenos Aires on board the Alacrity. He visited Montevideo before arriving on 5 February 1821 at Buenos Aires, where he was well received by a local British merchant, George Frederick Dickson, who was later appointed consul to London by the Buenos Aires government.
From the River Plate Caldcleugh travelled to Mendoza, and subsequently to Chile. On 14 April 1821 he left Valparaíso for Lima on board the Creole, and stayed in Peru for few days. Afterwards he returned to Valparaíso, and from there once again crossed the Andes and arrived back at Mendoza on 9 June 1821. From Mendoza Caldcleugh returned to Buenos Aires and there embarked for Rio de Janeiro in late June. At the end of 1821 he left Brazil for England, where he arrived on 22 November 1821.
From 1822 to 1829 Caldcleugh lived at Broad Green, Croydon. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1822, and a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1823, having collected South American plant specimens for A. B. Lambert of Kew Gardens. The Chilean plant Caldcluvia was named for him. During his travels in South America he had kept a detailed diary, on the basis of which he published Travels in South America, During the Years, 1819-20-21, Containing an Account of the Present State of Brazil, Buenos Ayres, and Chile (2 vols., 1825), which was very well received in Britain, and was translated into German the following year. Travellers wrote extensively about Latin America during the decades of independence, and among the British writings Caldcleugh's are regarded as some of the most important descriptive works. They contain not only personal experiences, but also historic, geographic, statistical, and commercial information.
In 1829 Caldcleugh returned to Chile as a commissioner to liquidate the failed Anglo-Chilean Mining Company. He made personal investments in mining enterprises in the provinces of Coquimbo and Serena (his greatest investment is believed to have been the Panulcillo mine, Ovalle), and he also acquired farming land in central Chile. He was appointed agent of the British bondholders of the loan of £1 million that the government of Chile had raised in London in 1822. The Chilean government defaulted on the loan in 1826, and Caldcleugh entered into direct negotiations to obtain payment of dividends and in 1842 reached a settlement for the repayment of the debt.
In the early 1840s he was entrusted with similar powers by the British bondholders of the 'Peruvian loan'. He negotiated with the Chilean government on behalf of Admiral Thomas Cochrane to obtain compensation for Cochrane's services. Caldcleugh himself was appointed by a Chilean governmental decree of 19 May 1835 to organize the circulation in Chile of British copper coins of low denomination: the first copper coins arrived in Valparaíso from London in July 1836, followed by a second cargo in early 1837. In 1855, with two other British investors (Thomas Cood and William Waddington), he obtained the exclusive rights to build a railway between La Serena and Coquimbo, one of the first to be constructed in South America.
Caldcleugh maintained his scientific interests and in 1831 was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London, publishing a paper on the Chilean earthquake of 1835 in the society's Philosophical Transactions. He was recommended to Charles Darwin by Henry Stephen Fox, the British minister at Rio de Janeiro, as 'a very accomplished chemist and mineralogist, as well as a most agreeable well informed and obliging person' (Fox to Darwin, 25 July 1834, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1, 1985, 403). During the Beagle voyage Darwin visited him, first in 1834 at Santiago de Chile and Valparaíso, and again at Valparaíso in 1835, when Caldcleugh assisted his excursion through the Andes. He invited Darwin to visit his mine of Panulcillo, where they spent a few days together in May 1835.During his residence in Chile, Caldcleugh lived at Valparaíso, Santiago de Chile, Coquimbo, Ovalle, and La Serena. On 5 July 1845 he married Leonor del Carmen Calvo (1805-1849), the widow of Manuel Jose Valdivieso y Balmaceda (d. 1844). A widower, Caldcleugh spent his last two years semi-retired at Valparaíso, where he died on 11 January 1858 in the house of Isabel Valdivieso, sister of Miguel Estalisnao Valdivieso, who regarded himself as Caldcleugh's 'political son'. He was buried in Valparaíso cemetery. Having no children of his own, he bequeathed his property to his deceased wife's three daughters.
Sources R. Donoso, 'Alexander Caldcleugh', Revista Chilena de Historia y Geografia, 133 (1965), 152-231 · V. O. Cutolo, Nuevo diccionario biográfico argentino, 1750-1930, 3 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1968-71) · Desmond, Botanists, rev. edn (1994) · C. d'Orbigny, Dictionnaire universel d'histoire naturelle, 13 vols. in 25 pts (Paris, 1841-9) · L. M. Méndez Beltrán, La exportación minera en Chile, 1800-1840 (Santiago, 2004) · M. G. Mulhall, The English in South America (1878) · T. E. Nichols, 'British economic activities in Chile to 1854', MA diss., U. Cal. Berkeley, 1946 · Charles Darwin's Beagle diary, ed. R. D. Keynes (1988) · 'An act to enable the trustees under the will of Alexander Caldcleugh Esquire, deceased, to grant building leases of lands in the parish of Croydon in the county of Surrey', Parl. papers (22 June 1825) · 'Correspondence with foreign powers relative to loans by British subjects, 1823-1847', Parl. papers, no. 839 (1847) · A. Caldcleugh, Travels in South America, during the years, 1819-20-21, containing an account of the present state of Brazil, Buenos Ayres, and Chile, 2 vols. (1825) · Alexander Caldcleugh's death, Valparaíso, 13 Jan 1858, Archivo Nacional de Chile, Santiago de Chile, archivo judicial de Valparaíso, vols. 174-5 · TNA: PRO, FO 16/8, 20, 30, 133/2 · IGILikenesses portrait, repro. in Donoso, 'Alexander Caldcleugh'
Manuel Llorca-Jaña, 'Caldcleugh, Alexander (1795-1858)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.