Frigate Ex-NRP Hermenegildo Capelo F481
Hermenegildo Carlos de Brito Capelo (1841 – 1917)
Born in Palmela on February 4th, 1841, Hermenegildo Carlos de Brito Capelo was the sixth son of an illustrious landowning family:
His father, Major Félix António Gomes Capelo, was the Governor of Castelo de Palmela (his mother was D. Guilhermina Amália of Brito Capelo);
João Carlos (1831-1891), a Navy Vice-Admiral, a hydrographical engineer and meteorologist and Guilherme Augusto (1839 - 1926), an officer in the Portuguese Army and colonial administrator (under whom he served in the role of General Governor and Royal Commissioner of Angola), were two of his brothers who also became equally notable figures in Portuguese society.
On joining the Navy in 1855, Hermenegildo graduated from training four years later. The following year, in 1860, he would become the Second Lieutenant on board the "D. Estefânia" corvette (under the command of D. Luís, later the 32nd king of Portugal) and headed for Africa, where he would spend most of his professional service, specifically in the territories of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea, and where his studies and missions would make him famous.
From 1875 the voyages of Hermenegildo Capelo would take on a greater importance for Portugal due to him having founded the Lisbon Geographical Society, and under his direction, the "National Portuguese Commission for the Exploration and Civilisation of Africa" which would revive political-military and scientific interest in the African continent, in a response to the growing European expansionist quest in Africa.
The first big opportunity arose in 1877 when Hermenegildo Capelo was appointed to head a scientific expedition to Central Africa, in which he would seek to study the territories between Angola and Mozambique and the relationship between the hydrographical basins between Zaire and the Zambeze in order to complete the Central-Eastern African Charter.
Accompanied by the Navy officer Roberto Ivens (1850 - 1898) and by the Army Major Serpa Pinto (1846 - 1900), Hermenegildo left in July of that year, however, disagreements between Serpa Pinto and Hermenegildo Capelo resulted in the expedition splitting up and Capelo, accompanied by Ivens, travelled across the Benguela regions towards the Iaca territories, a journey that was immortalised in a piece of writing of the same name.
After finishing an important part of the journey between Bié and the Zambeze and after the creation of the Cartographic Commission in 1883, of which Hermenegildo Capelo and Roberto Ivens where named board members (Hermenegildo would later become the President of the Commission), the two were then selected for a new mission in Africa. In this specific case the choice of two Navy officials for this mission hinged on the fact that they were to unknown and unmapped territories, in which it was necessary to use principles of maritime navigation to make progress. Between January 1884 and September 1885, this second journey, known as the "Angola to Coast" journey, the aim was to identify a possible commercial route between Angola and Mozambique.
As part of his commitment to science and geography, as well as being an explorer, Hermenegildo Capelo was vice-president of the Ultramarine Institute (an institution whose first President Queen Dona Amélia), organiser of a geographical map of the province of Angola and a government delegate in a congress in Brussels. Another important role on the list of roles he occupied was to be as an Aide-de-Campe for Kings D. Luís and D. Carlos and Military Chief of Staff to D. Manuel II (on his departure into exile in 1910, Hermenegildo Capelo ended his military career), and was a Plenipotentiary Minister to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
Hermenegildo Capelo was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1902 and Vice-Admiral in 1906. In 1964 he became the patron of a Naval College.
Throughout his life, Hermenegildo Capelo was decorated in various ways nationally and abroad. In 1971 the Municipality of Palmela paid tribute to him, inaugurating the "Hermenegildo Capelo High School". A few years before that, the Portuguese Navy baptised two frigates of the João Belo class with the name of the explorer and his loyal companion - "Commander Hermenegildo Capelo" and "Commander Roberto Ivens".
Hermenegildo Capelo died in Lisbon on May 4th 1917.
For further information, visit the Hermenegildo Capelo reference page on Wikipedia.
Image: Drawing from the photographic collection of the General Navy Archive.