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Alessandro Palma di Cesnola

Alessandro Palma di Cesnola (1837–1914)

SAMUEL BIECH, Esq., D.C.L., LL.D., F.S.A., Keeper of the Egyptian and Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum

The following biographical notice of the author will, it is hoped, be acceptable to many readers. Major Alexander Palma di Cesnola, F.S.A., was born at Rivarolo-C'anavese, in the province of Turin, 26th December 1840, of noble parents, Cav. Maurizio Palma di Cesnola and Eugenia, third daughter of the Conte Picca di Castelvecchio. His father, and his father's eldest brother, Conte Alerino, were condemned as heads of the movements in the Revolution for the Italian Independence in 1821, the former to prison, and the latter to capital punishment, with the confiscation of his goods and degradation from his honour and title. Conte Alerino tied to Greece, and died there in 1852 after thirty-one years of exile, having refused the sovereign's pardon in 1849. Alexander was the seventh and last child born of this marriage. He was educated in the Colleges at Eivarolo Cuorgnè and Biella. In 1855 he enrolled in the 5th Battalion of Bersaglieri, which at that time was quartered in Turin. He volunteered for the expedition to the Crimea in the temporary 3rd Battalion destined for the 18th Company, commanded by Captain the Marchese Pallavicini di Priola, now commander of the 10th Corps of Arms. At the termination of the Crimcan War, during which his battalion had lost two-thirds of itsnumbers through hard fatigue, and in being engaged in the battles of Tchernaia and Sebastopol, Cesnola returned to Italy with the same battalion, and was promoted in that year to the rank of Sub-officer. In 1859 he went to the War of Independence, where he distinguished himself in many ways for his bravery, especially in the battles of Palestro and San Martino, for both of which he was decorated with "honourable mention", and many times his name found a place in the order of the day. He was nominated Sub-lieutenant in the same Corps, and Lieutenant in 1861. With this rank he passed into the 1st Infantry Royal Marines, where he was promoted Captain in August 1862. He took part in the War of Independence in 1866, and was present at the celebrated Battle of Lissa. In Brigantaggio, in Sicily, he was wounded at the head of his Company, but remained at his post up to the end of the action, for which gallantry he was decorated with the medal for "Valore Militare." In 1869 he retired from the Army, to go to South America in March 1870, where, after having visited Bio Janeiro and Montevideo, he settled for a time in Buenos Ayres. He fitted out, at the end of the same year, an expedition to explore the interior of the Argentine Republic, and having reached the source of the great river Bio de La Plata, he visited the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and the towns of Corrientes, Paysandu, Salto, Concepcion, and after passing to the Paraguay Republic, visited the capital, Assumpcion, at that time in ruins by reason of the War of Independence against two Republics and an Empire. He advanced, and visited the coasts of Bolivia and Corumba, and afterwards the provinces of Brazil and Matto Grosso; and having sojourned a little time in Cuyuba, the capital and military district, advanced to the extreme of the province and visited Dimantino, the vicinage being then only inhabited by savage tribes, in a great part cannibal. These expeditions brought down considerable criticism upon Cesnola, at the hands of the Italian press, and of his countryman, Dr. B. Cittadini. In spite of this, the firmness of character and the courage of the Italians guided and conducted by Alexander Palma di Cesnola, gave good results to this exploration, and in spite of these difficulties Cesnola was enabled to reach places that very few had been to previously. If this example of Cesnola had been followed by others,it is certain that it would have proved a great advantage for commerce with so rich a country, especially in gold mines; but the many dangers of the journey deterred those from continuing this exploration. Abandoned afterwards by his companions, who had at first supported and assisted him, continual fatigue, the hardships of life, and the daily increasing danger as he advanced further in such countries, Cesnola, after three months, returned in 1871 to Buenos Ayres, just at the moment when the terrible epidemic of yellow fever was raging.