Bollaert, William (1807–1876)

By: Michael L. Tate

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 21, 2017

William Bollaert, writer, chemist, geographer, and ethnologist, son of Andrew Jacob Bollaert, was born at Lymington, England, on October 21, 1807. After training in chemistry, he took a position as a laboratory assistant at the Royal Institution while only thirteen years old and worked for several eminent scientists, including Michael Faraday. He made several original discoveries about benzoic acid and published articles in the Journal of the Royal Institution before the sudden blindness of his father forced him to seek a more lucrative career. At age eighteen he sailed for Peru, where he worked as an assayer in the silver-mining province of Tarapacá. The young adventurer subsequently surveyed the vast mining district for the Peruvian government and became one of the first Englishmen to cross the treacherous Atacama Desert. Failure to secure an assistantship at King's College, London, in 1830, ended Bollaert's aspiration for an academic career. Afterward, he devoted his life to worldwide travel. During 1833 he used his talents in artillery and engineering to assist Maria II of Portugal to retain her throne. For this service he received the Portuguese War Medal and was made a Knight of the Order of the Tower and Sword. After a six-year life of intrigue in Spain, Bollaert journeyed to the Republic of Texas at the behest of his friend William Kennedy, who was subsequently appointed British consul at Galveston. He reached the coastal town in February 1842 and began to prepare a report for the British Admiralty. During the next two years he traveled extensively throughout Texas and wrote not only his formal report but also a very detailed journal, which he hoped to use someday as material for a commercial book. Troubled with fevers and the dimmed prospects of Britain's future in Texas (because of British opposition to annexation of Texas), he left Galveston on July 10, 1844.

Bollaert returned broke to London and decided to settle down for the first time since leaving the Royal Institution. In August 1845 he married Susannah McMorran of Stamford, England. They subsequently had a son and four daughters. After several years of financial difficulties, Bollaert became able to provide a comfortable middle-class life for his family. In 1854 business took him again to South America, where he visited Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. Later ventures in the Ecuadoran Land Company failed to yield a profit. Throughout his life, he steadily produced publications about history, ethnology, science, and travel. By 1865 he had published eighty articles in a variety of journals, ranging from the popular Colburn's United Service Magazine to the scholarly Transactions of the Linnaean Society. He published three books: Antiquarian, Ethnological and Other Researches in New Granada, Ecuador, Peru and Chile (1860); a translation entitled The Expedition of Pedro de Ursa and Lope de Aguirre in Search of Eldorado and Amagua in 1560–1 (1861); and The Wars of Succession in Portugal and Spain, from 1826 to 1840 (1870). He also wrote an "Essay on Salt," which won him a bronze medal from the Society of Arts in 1853. Despite his prolific publication, his writing about the Texas years was limited to a few scattered articles published in popular journals. His original "Texas Manuscript," consisting of six diaries and two volumes of journals, was purchased in 1902 by Edward E. Ayer and presented nine years later to the Newberry Library in Chicago. In 1956 editors W. Eugene Hollon and Ruth Lapham Butler published the original manuscript under the title William Bollaert's Texas. It remains one of the most important sources of information on the Republic of Texas and its people. Bollaert died in London on November 15, 1876,

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  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Michael L. Tate, “Bollaert, William,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022,

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June 21, 2017