The Indian who was not and the richest man in Europe

The Indian who was not and the richest man in Europe

This archivist has been able to verify that the photograph does not correspond to Josep Xifré, taking into account that the daguerreotype dates from 1839 and is shown to a young man when he was 62 years old at that time. The photograph would have been taken between 1861 and 1863, according to the data on the back of the image, something that confirms that it cannot be Xifré since he died in 1856. What is not known with certainty is who the young man portrayed is. At the moment, no image of Xifré is publicly known. What there is is a marble sculpture with his face in the mausoleum commissioned by his son in the old hospital for the poor that this Indian man founded in Arenys de Mar.

This is one of the stories included in the book El arriving indià desaparegut by the Efadós publishing house within the prolific collection Catalunya desapareguda . Its author, Anna Castellví, coordinator of the Network of Indian Municipalities of Catalonia, of which 11 municipalities are part, makes a visual historical journey through 21 Catalan localities of this migratory phenomenon between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Starting from a fund of some 5,000 photographs, Castellví initially selected 700 images and then made another selection with the 189 finally published in the book, accompanied by a caption. “First, I wanted the Indian heritage to be seen through the most representative municipalities and, secondly, for it to be as old a photograph as possible,” details the author.

This migratory phenomenon occurred between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
Others were not as lucky as Xifré and fell by the wayside on their journey across the Atlantic, either never escaped poverty or decided to stay in America. During the second half of the 19th century, many young people had no other option than to emigrate in search of new opportunities and for many the so-called New World was the chosen land. The reasons were diverse, although economic was one of the main ones due to the phylloxera plague that devastated the vineyards and many families were forced into poverty. On the other hand, others decided to cross the ocean to avoid military service, which then lasted between eight and ten years.

They began cabotage with small boats to ports such as Palamós or Sant Feliu de Guíxols to take another boat to the port of Barcelona and then reach Cádiz, where the Atlantic crossing began. The first ones did it with sailing boats and it could take between 40 or 60 days, depending on the weather conditions. The advent of steam meant a big change and the trip could be completed in about three weeks.

The missing modernist house Can Formosa, in Arenys de Mar
The missing modernist house Can Formosa, which was in Arenys de Mar L’Abans Archive – Núria Serra de Gràcia Fund
Those Indians who returned enriched, some chose to build their houses on the seafront, making summer vacations in second homes fashionable in a certain way. Today, there are examples such as the Punxes house from the late 19th century on the beach of Sant Pol in Sant Feliu de Guíxols or the modernist-style building on the promenade of Tossa de Mar that was Joan’s house. Sans i Moré, currently the Diana hotel. However, other buildings no longer exist and were demolished. Among them, the residence known as Can Gaspar de Blanes – promoted by the Indian Gaspar Ribas -, the disappeared Lloveras spa located at the foot of the sea in Arenys de Mar or the also extinct modernist house Can Formosa in this same municipality of Maresme, where He built the Raymond Hotel and it is now an apartment block.