Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
Travels in the Interior of Mexico in 1825, 1826, 1827, & 1828. By R. W. H. Hardy. Glorieta, N.M.: The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1977. Introduction by David J. Weber. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 558 pages. $20.00.
Reviewed by W. Michael Mathes, Professor of History, University of San Francisco, Consejero Consultivo del Archivo del Estado, La Paz, author of books and articles on the history of the Californias.
Among the earliest English-language accounts of the Gulf of California and Baja California, Hardy’s Travels, originally published in London in 1829, has become a rare and costly item of Californiana. This second edition, nicely printed on high-quality paper, in a slightly larger format than the original, and with an introduction by Professor David J. Weber, provides an economical solution for researchers, collectors and librarians who have long sought this scarce work.
As Dr. Weber states, Lieutenant Robert William Hale Hardy entered Mexico shortly after independence had opened the new nation to the relatively free entry of foreigners. Hardy, jobless due to the post-Napoleonic Pax Britanica, was commissioned by the General Pearl and Coral Fishery Association of England to reconnoiter the potential of exploitation of the Gulf of California and negotiate the appropriate concessions from the Mexican government. At the time, 1825, Mexico was highly interested in overtures made by Great Britain to acquire trade monopolies, and was carefully considering British versus United States economic advantages.
In a rather typical English fashion, imbued with a Black Legend-anti-Catholic-anti-Spanish mentality, Hardy provides a generally negative, often incisive, occasionally humorous, but always interesting account of his three years of travels through central and northwestern Mexico. Unaware of the history of the region, Hardy often appears naive, especially when considering himself the only foreigner to visit the northwest or when criticizing the observations of the great Alexander von Humboldt; his spelling of Spanish and use of accents is atrocious and his enthusiasm when meeting non-Mexicans abounds, for they were not “odd”, “greasy”, “dirty”, or “barbarian”, as were his hosts.
After six months in Mexico City where he met such greats as Victoria, Alamán, Ramos Arizpe, Mora, Bravo, Gómez Pedraza, Tornel and Llave, Hardy set out by land for Guaymas, via Morelia, Guadalajara, Tepic and Mazatlán. There he embarked for Guaymas, arriving in January, 1826, and, finding that his ship, Wolf, had not yet reached port, proceeded to explore the interior of Sonora and Sinaloa, with visits to Pitic (Hermosillo), Ures, Oposura, Alamos and El Fuerte, the then capital of the province. In July, Hardy embarked in the Wolf for Loreto and, after visiting with governor José María Padrés, one of the few Mexicans he admired, explored the gulf to La Paz and then northward to Mulegé, Isla San Marcos, Tiburón and the mouth of the Colorado River. After extensive reconnaissance of the Colorado and Tiburón, Hardy returned to Guaymas and then set out by land for Mexico City via Oposura, Chihuahua, Parral, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, León and Guanajuato. After almost a year in the capital, he left for Veracruz, sailing for England by way of New York in March, 1828.
Hardy’s narrative, fluctuating between diary and running commentary, contains almost everything—descriptions of people, places, terrain, roads, buildings, politics, economics, mining, flora, fauna, society, medicine, remedies, Indian culture, navigation, food and lodging. With other contemporary observations on central Mexico available, the real value of Hardy’s work lies in his descriptions of California, the first to be made by a foreign visitor in over fifty years. His picture of Padrés is excellent and particularly of interest is mention of the plan to transíer the capital from Loreto to La Paz prior to the Loreto flood of 1829. Similarly, his descriptions of Yuman, Cucupá and Seri peoples are of great value to ethnologists, and his charting of the mouth of the Colorado River is the earliest extant. Hardy’s original maps of Sonora and the Gulf of California and the mouth of the Colorado River have been reproduced along with seven drawings by Claudio Linati included in the original edition.
An index which perpetuates Hardy’s errors and reflects little knowledge of Mexican geography or the Spanish language has been added and, with an active imagination the reader may recognize, among other entries, that “Molexe” is Mulegé, “Cerebro” is Cerralva, “Guiriguis” is Huirivis, “Pesceyra” is Pesqueira, “Toison” is Tucson, “Osis” is Ocio, and “Tertulia” is not a place! Also unfortunate is the lack of the name of the author of the introduction on the title page as well as the “glow-in-the-dark” garishness of the binding. These criticisms notwithstanding, Travels in the Interior of Mexico is a very valuable contribution and a necessary addition to any collection of Californiana or Mexicana.