Navigation – Plan du site
Débats | 2019
Scientific Republics – Knowledge, engineering, society and state building in Latin America 1790–1870 – Coord. Annick Lempérière
Arnaud Exbalin

Policing, Practical Knowledge and Urban Management: Public Lighting in Mexico City (late 18th - early 19th century)

La police, savoir pratique de gestion urbaine. L’éclairage public à Mexico (fin XVIIIe-début XIXe siècle)
La policía: conocimiento práctico de gestión urbana. El alumbrado público en la ciudad de México (finales del siglo XVIII-inicios del siglo XIX).
[11/06/2019]

Résumés

Afin de reconsidérer le passage des empires aux nations du point de vue des sciences, des savoirs et des techniques, nous nous sommes intéressé aux sciences administratives à un moment – à la charnière des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles – où celles-ci se perfectionnent dans les villes, notamment à Mexico. Dans le langage de l’administration coloniale, les sciences administratives renvoient précisément au concept de « police », c’est-à-dire au bon gouvernement des villes. Cette notion polysémique est abordée d’un point de vue pratique et matériel, à partir d’un nouvel objet du mobilier urbain (le réverbère) et d’un personnage, le sereno autrement appelé guardafarol qui, comme son nom l’indique, est chargé d’entretenir et de veiller au bon fonctionnement des lanternes. A partir de 1790, plus d’un millier de lanternes sont en effet installées dans les rues de Mexico. Cet article traite tout d’abord de la question de la circulation des savoirs techniques liés aux dispositifs d’éclairage, car ces derniers se diffusent non seulement dans l’ensemble des capitales européennes mais aussi dans les capitales d’audience de l’empire espagnol avec une surprenante synchronie ; puis des effets de l’éclairage sur les formes de gouvernement de la ville, car éclairer les rues de manière permanente engendre de nouvelles formes de surveillance du voisinage.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 The population of Mexico City was estimated at 115,000 inhabitants in 1790-91 according to the cens (...)

1In the terminology of monarchical and imperial administration, the administrative sciences often refer to the concept of "policing" - that is to say, the good government of cities. My area of research is Mexico City, which was the most prosperous city in the West Indies as well as the most prestigious in the Council of the Indies during the 18th and early 19th century. During this time, Mexico City was the capital of the viceroyalty of New Spain, as well as the most populated city in the Americas, counting more than 130,000 inhabitants1. Over the course of this chapter, the notion of administrative science will be approached from both a practical and material point of view, using two concrete starting points: the lantern, a new kind of street furniture, and the guardafarol – also called the sereno – the municipal guard who was responsible for lighting the lanterns and ensuring that they functioned properly. Beginning in 1790, more than a thousand lanterns were permanently installed in the streets of Mexico City. These innovations in urban policing give rise to the two issues to be addressed in this chapter: first, the circulation of technical knowledge, and second, the effects of the acquisition and application of this technical knowledge on different forms of city government.

  • 2 Roche, Daniel, Histoire des choses banales. Naissance de la consommation, XVIIe-XIXe siècle, Paris, (...)
  • 3 In Lima, provisions were made in the police regulations of 1786 (Archives Générales des Indes, Lima (...)
  • 4 For more on panopticism, see Foucault, Michel, Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison, Paris, (...)

2This nascent form of public lighting was the greatest innovation of La Ilustración. Historians have described the general illumination of Europe’s cities as a "conquest", and even a "revolution", as this technique had far-reaching consequences for general habits, ways of thinking, and nocturnal sociability2. These new lighting installations spread not only throughout the capitals of Europe, but also in those of the viceroyalties, captaincies and Audiencias of the Spanish Empire with surprising simultaneity: from the streets of Lima, Bogotá, Buenos Aires all the way up to New Orleans and Manila, thousands of lanterns were installed between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century3. The spread of this urban planning technique was part of the beginnings of state modernization, insofar as the installation of public lighting had a decisive impact on how cities were governed. Indeed, permanently lighting the streets at night generated new forms of neighborhood surveillance, and reflected a new ideal of transparency that was characteristic of the Enlightenment4. The ability to see what happened in the streets at night thus became one of the essential characteristics of modern policing.

3Numerous sources are available for the study of both the circulation of technical knowledge and its concrete application in Mexico City: royal decrees and regulations on the installation of lighting in public spaces; a file in the municipal archives of Mexico called the Alumbrado, in which daily reports by the head of lighting (guarda mayor del alumbrado) shed light on night-time policing; the periodical press, which was one of the means of disseminating technical knowledge; and finally, the iconography of the end of the colonial era. In the first part of this article, we will define the polysemic concept of “policing”, and show how it was influenced by the project of lighting city streets. The second part will show how the installation of lighting devices changed the physical and technical management of urban areas. Finally, the third part will analyze how the creation of the corps of serenos transformed methods of managing and policing urban populations.

Policing and Street Lighting

  • 5 For France, Napoli, Paolo, Naissance de la police moderne. Pouvoir, normes, société, Paris, La Déco (...)
  • 6 These are the different definitions provided by the Diccionario de Autoridades de la lengua Español (...)
  • 7 See notably the work developed in France as part of the « Circulation et construction des savoirs p (...)

4Several authors have endeavored – though not without difficulty – to define the word "police" under the Ancien Régime, both in Europe and in Hispanic America5. The notion of police is quite fluid, and difficult to grasp for two primary reasons. On one hand, the concept was constantly evolving, whether in the 16th, 18th or 19th century, when it took on its current meaning of administration to combat public disorder with uniformed officers. On the other hand, it is a word with various meanings because it is at once synonymous with urbanity, good government of cities, clarity and civilization6. This plurality of meanings has lasted for several centuries. Historians of the police have therefore given up on offering a single definition, and adapted to the term’s polysemic nature; French historians, for example, speak of the police in the plural (les polices) in order to identify all the organizations that participate in the good government of the city7.

  • 8 For more on the spread of police reforms, see Denys, Catherine (ed.), Circulations policières, 1750 (...)
  • 9 Mantilla Trolle, Marina, Rafael Diego Fernández Sotelo and Agustín Moreno Torres (ed.), Real ordena (...)
  • 10 This text was published by Lombardo Ruiz, Sonia (comp.), Antología de textos sobre la ciudad de Méx (...)
  • 11 González Polo, Ignacio (comp.), Compendio de providencias de policía del segundo conde de Revillagi (...)
  • 12 We found one of these reports in Seville, in a file in AGI, México, file n° 1, 886.

5In Mexico City at the end of the 18th century, due to the Bourbon reforms and police reforms in the European capitals, the word “police” gradually lost its civilizational connotations, and was increasingly associated with the good government of objects, people and urban spaces8. In the Ordenanza de Intendentes de Nueva España (1786), the most representative text outlining the Bourbon reforms in the New World, an entire chapter was dedicated to the police9. It was described as an autonomous branch of the territorial government, alongside the branches of justice, finance and war. At the same time, in the European capitals as well as in the great cities of the Spanish Empire, there was a proliferation of projects, memorials and regulations concerning good government where the word was increasingly used in titles, such as the Discurso de policía, an anonymous police brief written in Mexico City in 178810. Between 1792 and 1794, the secretariat of the virrey Revillagigedo sent a series of reports (the Relaciones de las providencias de buen gobierno y policía) to the Council of the Indies in order to inform them of progress in management and urban order. These reports were made up of a series of lists that compiled the measures adopted in the field of urban administration. Some of the points addressed illustrate the wide scope of what exactly was “policed” at the time; according to the report, things which fell under the jurisdiction of the police included dogs, sausages, kites, inns, confessors, sewers, fountains, entrances and exits without doors, wooden balconies, bridges, cockfighting, barracks, lazarets, nudity, hangmen, pits, carrion, car rental, overnight transport, and so on11. The police were thus faced with banal and ordinary concerns that were fundamentally local, but which prompted the circulation of information regarding their management on both sides of the Atlantic, and interested the highest ranks of the imperial government12.

6We should therefore abandon the notion of the police as an institution during the 18th century either in the Spanish towns or in the West Indies cities. The police encompassed a wide range of objects, territories, and populations, as well as different ways of managing them. Above all, the term was defined by its practices; what its actors did on a daily basis. It was neither a science nor a doctrine as it was in Prussia, but a tool for administrative rationalization. In other words, policing during the late 18th century can be defined as the "practical knowledge" of managing populations and urban territories. Our hypothesis is that the street lighting in Mexico City became one of the main stakes in the modernization of the agency and functions of the police.

  • 13 On that last point, see Koslofsky, Craig, « Princes of Darkness: The Night at Court, 1650-1750 », i (...)

7The ideal of good urban government existed, of course, well before the creation of public lighting, but the modernization of the police coincided with the appearance of lighting devices in city streets. However, the terminology must first be clarified by distinguishing between "public lighting" and "illumination". Public lighting is fixed, permanent and uniform, is based on its own structure (financing, maintenance and lighting personnel, warehouses for the storage of equipment, etc.), and its main objective is to guarantee public safety, facilitating the daily exercise of power. It is also historically dateable, and appears to be the great innovation of the 18th century with regard to policing. It must be distinguished from illumination, which is ephemeral and punctual, takes place during special occasions (such as religious festivals or royal ceremonies), and whose function is to highlight and draw attention to power13.

  • 14 For more on public lighting in Paris, see the following old but well-documented study: Herlaut, Aug (...)
  • 15 Martínez Ruiz, Enrique, La seguridad pública en la Madrid de la Ilustración, Madrid, Secretaría Gen (...)
  • 16 Let us recall that these street lamps, whose creation is attributed to the Matherot Abbey of Pérign (...)

8A comparative chronology of urban policing serves to support our hypothesis. In the kingdom of France, Paris’s first regulations and ordinances establishing public lighting (in 1667, then in 1697) coincided with the complete reorganization of the city’s surveillance measures14. The creation of public lighting and the establishment of the lieutenance générale de police (through the edict of 1667) went hand in hand. Throughout the Iberian Peninsula and in the capitals of India, the process unfolded much later; it was not until the royal orders of 1765 (Establecimiento de la nueva iluminación de calles y plazas de Madrid) and 1774 that lanterns were installed in the streets of the capitals of the Audiencia. In this case, however, there was also a simultaneous restoration of order in the capital, ordered by the ministers Esquilache and Sabatini under Charles III (1759-1788), and the installation of permanent public lighting15. The date (1765) of the installation of nearly 4,000 lanterns – called esquilaches – in the streets of Madrid also echoed the scientific debates on the latest technical innovations in lighting that were taking place in Paris, London and Brussels. It was during this time that the first street lamps were installed in the capitals of Europe16.

  • 17 These regulations and projects aimed at improving lighting have been reproduced and compiled by Lem (...)
  • 18 Marín Perellón, Francisco, “Madrid: una ciudad para un rey” in Carlos III, Madrid y la Ilustración, (...)

9In Mexico City, the 1790 regulation drafted by Viceroy Revillagigedo can be seen as the birth certificate of public lighting in the capital of New Spain17. This measure was part of a wide range of steps aimed at improving urban order: cleanliness, street paving, fire fighting, reinforced tavern control, the redevelopment of the Plaza Mayor, the removal of stray dogs, the pursuit of criminals and vagrants, the use of soldiers for law enforcement purposes, and increased patrolling. Street lighting arose from this takeover of urban order that characterized the end of the 18th century18. But the regulation of 1790 established lighting as more than just a measure intended to prevent misdemeanors and crimes; it was also, as stated in its introduction, the "very foundation of all other police measures, because it attacks vices at their root". In so doing, the modernization and upgrading of the framework of the urban population was based on the prior installation of public lighting. This did not happen in one day; in Mexico City, the process lasted for almost 30 years, from the 1760s to the 1790s, and was largely a process of trial and error, filled with abortive projects and unsuccessful attempts. What may appear today as a banal urban device (how can a city function at night without lighting?), was not taken for granted at the time. Permanent lighting the streets implied facing the technical, financial and cultural challenges that we will now present.

Technical Knowledge and the Installation of Lighting Devices

  • 19 See notably: Cicchini, Marco, La police de la République. L’ordre public à Genève au XVIIIe siècle, (...)

10The process of street lighting in Spanish-American cities remains a little-studied phenomenon, whereas in recent years it has become a rapidly developing subject of research when linked to European urban historiography, particularly concerning the study of social practices, notable those which transpire at night19.

  • 20 Bando del virrey marqués de Cruillas, 23 de septiembre de 1763, Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), (...)
  • 21 In the 6th november 1783 rule, the vice-roy Matías de Gálvez declared: “para facilitar el uso de es (...)

11With regard to Mexico City, we have found at least six regulations concerning the permanent illumination of the streets of Mexico City. These regulations were issued during the last third of the 18th century20. The differences between these regulations emphasize the experimental nature of the establishment of a permanent lighting system. The 1783 regulation, for example, regulated the price of lighting equipment, the 1785 regulation focused on buildings that needed to be illuminated as a matter of priority, and the 1787 regulation extended the duration of lighting and declared sentences against those who destroyed the lanterns21.

  • 22 In Brussels, a genuine public lighting system was installed in 1702-1703. See Denys, Catherine, La (...)
  • 23 On Havana’s pioneering role in matters of policing, see Apaolaza-Llorente, Dorleta, “En busca de un (...)

12The first regulation (1763), formulated at the urging of the virrey, obligated inhabitants to hang a lantern and light it in the evening (from six in the evening until ten in the night) under pain of a one-peso fine for offenders, and eight days in jail for thieves and lantern breakers. It is remarkable that this regulation preceded the first Madrid settlement of 1765. Perhaps the viceroy was inspired by what was then practiced in other cities such as Cadiz (the port of departure for the Indies and point of arrival for the Carrera de Indias), where a regulation similar to that of Mexico City had been issued just a few months before. Thanks to the local periodical press, we now know that the municipality of Cadiz was inspired by the devices and technologies that were already being tested in the cities of the Netherlands22. Cadiz, the point of contact between metropolis and empire, was a crossroads of cosmopolitan connections, and served as a place where anything and everything was exchanged: not just products, but technical knowledge and policing techniques as well. Ports in general – this is also true of Havana – are often seen as a vanguard in this respect23.

  • 24 For more on theatres, vectors for urban transformation, see Traversier, Mélanie, Loir, Christophe, (...)

13Until 1790, therefore, there was no "public" lighting in Mexico, to the extent that the obligation to install lanterns depended on the goodwill of the city’s inhabitants. These inhabitants often failed to fulfill their obligations by arguing that they could not afford it. Between 1763 and 1789, the progress of lighting was therefore driven mainly by the various urban authorities, who tried to set an example. Public lighting, therefore, was limited to a half-dozen streets at the time, such as the one leading to the theatre (a place par excellence of urban modernity and sociability) and others leading to public buildings such as the palaces of the viceroy and the archbishop, the Casa de Moneda (the country’s mint), the town hall, the headquarters of the Inquisition in Santo Domingo Square, and the closed market of the Parián in the Plaza Mayor24. In 1789, we can estimate that there were around fifty lanterns that were lit from six in the evening to midnight, except on nights when the moon was full.

  • 25 This question happens frequently in the rules because the inhabitants did not accept easily to pay (...)
  • 1

14The slow progress of lighting can be explained by the difficulties faced by the various authorities of the city, such as the members of the municipal council, the magistrates of the Audiencia, and the virreys. Many of their problems were financial and fiscal. The city was faced with numerous questions: Who should bear the cost of setting up and maintaining the system: owners, tenants, or the municipality25? How should the city control the prices of oil and wicks which, following this regulation, were the object of speculation? Is it necessary to create a property tax – which requires a precise census and collection agents – or is it better to levy a tax on food imported to the city? Won’t rising taxes provoke anti-tax protests26?

  • 27 For exemple, on july 2, 1792, the capitan in charge of the street lighting suggested the Corregidor(...)
  • 28 Wax is too expansive, tallow is ill-smelling and dirty. In the end, turnip oil is adopted.

15On the other hand, there were other technical difficulties linked to the power and the dependability of the light emitted from the lanterns, as well as their installation and maintenance. These issues gave rise to more questions: Is it wiser to place the lanterns on a rope stretched in the middle of the street like they do in Paris, or should they be fixed to the facades of buildings? At what height and should they be hung, and with what spacing27? The ideal would of course be to bring them closer together, but this involved making more lanterns, which would affect the overall cost. Should regular candles, tallow candles or oil lamps be installed? Which fuel (wax, grease or vegetable oil) should be used, and would ideally produce light without generating smoke28? When is it appropriate to light the lanterns, especially when taking moonlight into account? Is it necessary to illuminate the streets all night, or only until midnight? Who should be responsible for lighting, monitoring and maintaining the lanterns, whose glass walls tend to blacken because of the smoke?

  • 29 This reproduction can be found in the Mapas y Planos collection in the Archivo General de la Nación (...)
  • 30 Gazeta de México 31 (22 Feb. 1785), p. 255. Consulted online via the official website of la Bibliot (...)

16All of these issues were raised and formulated by traders, scholars and craftsmen through several projects aimed at establishing a sustainable and efficient system of lighting. The subject, considered by the government to be of the utmost importance for the security and comfort of the city’s inhabitants, did not only interest political authorities. Pedro Cortés, a peninsular trader based in Mexico City, proposed the adoption of a system that had already been put into place in Cadiz, which placed tallow lamps in glass lanterns at each street corner. He handed over his project, accompanied by a reproduction of these gaditano lanterns, to the municipality in 177729. A few years later, in 1785, José Antonio Alzate, a renowned scholar from the capital, submitted the plans for an "instrument to communicate light" to the Gazeta de México (no. 31 of February 22). This instrument, called the photophore, was an improved lantern with mirrors (made to be mounted on a lamppost) that had been invented by a Frenchman, Mr. Lambert, and previously presented to the Berlin Academy30. Technical debates on the quality of the oils used, the different fastening systems, and various filling techniques were launched. Ultimately, the use of lampposts became widespread in European cities during the years between 1770 and 1780.

  • 31 Humboldt, Alexander von, Ensayo político sobre el Reino de la Nueva España [1803], Mexico, Porrúa, (...)

17It seems that street lamps – not lanterns, although the archives mention the word farol – were installed in the streets of Mexico City near the end of 1790. Two factors allow us to confirm this: first, the cost of each unit (more than 30 pesos, equivalent to three months' salary for an apprentice), and the testimony of a traveler. In 1803, the famous naturalist Alexander von Humboldt stayed in the capital of New Spain after visiting various other American cities. In his Essai politique sur le Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne (Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain) he wrote that "most streets [...] are clean and very well lit by street lamps with flattened wicks in the form of ribbon". Mexico, he added, was distinguished by its "good urban policing"31, thus establishing a close link between urban order and lighting.

  • 32 Lanterns costed 35 429 pesos which means a third of the Town Council budget. See Juan Vicente de Gü (...)

18During the autumn of 1790, 1128 street lamps were manufactured. The street lamps consisted of a tin lamp with a wick fed with turnip oil, surrounded by a glass-walled frame and mounted on a supporting fixture. They were fixed on the buildings along the main street at a spacing of one lantern every 40 meters – in Paris at the end of the 17th century, lanterns were mounted approximately every 15 meters – which implies that the streets of Mexico City had been previously surveyed and sized up32. In total, around two hundred streets were lit from dusk until two in the morning, except on moonlit nights.

  • 33 On the question of the link between lighting and security, see Mosser, Sophie, “Éclairage et sécuri (...)

19This device should not, however, be idealized; what would Baron Humboldt have thought had he ventured into the city’s suburbs at night? Lighting only affected the central part of the capital, a former Spanish city where the density of housing was highest, and where the country’s official buildings were located. Here we can find the old opposition between the Spanish Republic (central, linear, and with stone buildings) and the Indian Republic (on the edges of the city, with irregular roads and adobe houses). The geography of illuminated Mexico thus reveals the differentiated treatment of space in urban management. The real effectiveness and direct effects of this permanent nocturnal illumination was also dubious with regard to the prevention of misdemeanors and crime. The low light emitted by widely spaced street lamps generated a light whose brightness was relative. Furthermore, lighting the streets had a double-edged result: visibility was not just better for those protecting the city, but also for perpetrators who could escape or identify their targets much more easily33.

  • 34 AHCM, Ayuntamiento, Alumbrado, vol. 345, exp. 9: “Razón de los nombres de las calles que tienen los (...)

20Soon afterward, the viceroy Revillagigedo attempted to extend public lighting to the outlying districts of the city, but due to a lack of both time (his term was to end in 1794) and financial means, the project was abandoned34. The number of street lamps increased only slightly until the 1830s, when the appearance of gas lighting caused their numbers to jump by 50% (to 1,500 in 1835). From then on, the service was entrusted to a private contractor (contratista).

  • 35 Memorial y proyecto de iluminación que tiene presentado, vecino y del Comercio de México, en 17 de (...)
  • 36 AGN Mexico, Bandos, vol. 15, file 56 and, in Séville, AGI, Mexico, 1883, Bandos Iluminación y Limpi (...)
  • 37 López García, José Miguel, El motín contra Esquilache. Crisis y protesta popular en el Madrid del s (...)

21In addition to the abovementioned technical and urban aspects, the search for financial solutions also preoccupied those at the heart of the project. In order for the streets to be illuminated in a uniform and permanent manner, it was necessary to transfer the responsibility of lighting and maintaining the lamps from the city’s inhabitants to its authorities, and by extension to invent, conceive, and find funding for an ad hoc public service that would ensure that this responsibility was carried out. In 1777, Angel María Merelo, a merchant and member of the Consulate of Merchants, submitted to virrey Bucareli (1771-1779) what he professed to be the "easiest and cheapest method for his beloved vassals" in order to finance the purchase and the maintenance of a thousand lanterns by a hundred employees hired to ignite them for an amount of 100,000 pesos a year35. This project, which was never to be realized, nevertheless introduced two innovations. The first was the taxation of shopkeepers, facilitated by the establishment of a team of tax collectors, which was outlined in a financial proposal (cuenta general de los gastos anuales de demostrada iluminación) that Merelo presented alongside his project. The second innovation came from the creation of a corps of municipal lantern lighters. Each lighter would be in charge of a dozen lanterns, for which they would be paid 15 pesos a month. It seems that this project, which Bucareli declined to take up, was nevertheless consulted by Revillagigedo in 1789 at the beginning of his term. He ultimately integrated the main points of the project into his lighting plan, in particular the guardafaroles provided for in his April 1790 regulation36. The plan to tax shopkeepers, however, was not retained. Was it because a new tax might threaten to disturb the peace? Revillagigedo certainly remembered the riots of March 1766 against Esquilache in Madrid, which he had witnessed first-hand. The riots were triggered by the reforms of Charles III’s prime minister, notably the installation of nearly 4,000 lanterns in the streets of the capital, which had resulted in a rise in food prices. During the tumult, these lanterns were the target of popular wrath37. The question of how to finance the lighting system was therefore absolutely central to Revillagigedo’s 1790 text, the majority of which focused on funding. According to the plan, public lighting would be financed by a tax of three reals on each recorded load of wheat flour. Revillagigedo considered this to be a "fair tax", as it only significantly affected the wealthiest classes, who were more likely to eat bread than the city’s Indians and lower classes, for whom the corn-based tortilla was a major staple. The regulation of 1790, therefore, was the culmination of nearly thirty years of regulations, reflection, projects and trials that aimed to illuminate Mexico City at night.

22The lighting system implemented in Mexico during Revillagigedo’s term certainly made its mark on history; it became not only an organizational model for managing the cities of the Iberian Peninsula (with Madrid in the lead), but also a symbol of government efficiency, according to many conservative politicians in Mexico.

  • 38 Our current research seeks to understand whether this regulation was circulated throughout the othe (...)

23It should be noted that the printed regulations of 1790 have been widely reproduced, and copies can be found both in the archives of Mexico (both the national and municipal archives) and in Seville in the Archives of the Indies (AGI / Mexico 1883), a fact which attests to the largely standard and commonplace circulation of local provisions and arrangements that officials were required to have validated by peninsular authorities38. Furthermore, the measure was the subject of remarkable publicity. Official iconography, for example, played a key role in popularizing the image of a viceroy "lighting up the nights of Mexico": a portrait of the second Earl of Revillagigedo depicts the viceroy diligently studying projects aimed at improving Mexico City’s facilities [Figure 1]. On his desk, there is a plan for urban development, an accounting list (is it the registry of the inhabitants of the city in 1790?), a model for a cart used for garbage collection, and a drawing of a street lamp with its supporting fixture. In this portrait, one can find both a summary of the measures taken up by the viceroy (who is painted as a prudent decision maker), and a prime example self-promotion.

Figure 1 – Portrait of the Viceroy Second Count of Revillagigedo

Figure 1 – Portrait of the Viceroy Second Count of Revillagigedo

Source: Felipe Fabrés, El Excelentísimo Señor Don Juan Vicente de Güemes Pacheco de Padilla (1790), oil on canvas, 92 x 69 cm, Museo Nacional de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City.

  • 39 Gazeta de México IV/39 (2 Aug. 1791), p. 365-366, “Carta de un Vecino de México a D. M. J. D. R”. 

24The periodical press of the time was responsible for transmitting news about local advancements in the field of lighting from one side of the Atlantic to the other. On August 2, 1791, the Gazeta de México published an article from the Diario de Madrid’s January 25 issue from earlier that year, in which a reader, obviously from Cadiz, invited the authorities in Madrid to follow the example of Cadiz and the cities of Holland, where teams of nocturnal guards, now known as serenos, had been created in order to protect the cities’ amenities for their inhabitants39. Following this article, the columnist of the Gazeta de México sent a reply from a "resident of Mexico" to the director of Madrid’s daily newspaper in order to inform him of the advances made by Mexico City’s night police, who were evidently still unknown in the peninsula:

  • 40 “No menos, [la ciudad de México] debe contarse entre las que ofrecen mayor seguridad y comodidad a (...)

[Mexico City] is one of the cities that offer excellent security and amenities to its inhabitants, mostly thanks to its guardafaroles, who were established only a year ago [...]. In this respect, if your majesty wished to obtain a copy of the by-law, I would send it to him; through this contribution, I merely wish to demonstrate the transformation of this beautiful and opulent city, and provide evidence of our city’s future as an example for others with regard to the establishment of its solid, though nascent, police force. This amenity has been made possible through the relentless effort, prudence, and discretion of he who governs these kingdoms40.

25This excerpt added to the widespread publicity celebrating the edilitary activity of the viceroy. On the other hand, the exchange of letters between the periodicals of Madrid and Mexico also illustrates the constant circulation of ideas and debates that was made possible on an imperial scale thanks to the press. Furthermore, this excerpt reveals that the establishment of a public lighting system had become one of the new criteria to be taken into account when developing the world’s leading cities. Indeed, the authors of these letters seem to have held the opinion that a capital without a public lighting system was condemned to a second-rate status. This competition, held not only by Spain’s imperial cities, but also by the cities of the New World and Europe, was, of course, strictly informal. But by the end of the 18th century, new policing requirements led to the emergence of new criteria that served to distinguish between the Western capitals, including the quality of street paving, fluidity of circulation, efficiency of waste collection systems, nocturnal lighting, and so on. The implementation of these new services also implied an increase in technical knowledge.

  • 41 Martínez Ruiz, La seguridad pública, p. 256-261. Palmer, Simón, “Faroleros y Serenos. Notas para su (...)

26In the passage quoted above, it appears that the guardafaroles, defined in the Diario de Madrid as guards vested with multiple functions and responsibilities, were first created in Cadiz and the cities of Holland. As we have already pointed out, the former played a leading role in the establishment of street lighting, both in Spain and New Spain. Finally, it is remarkable that Mexico’s corps of serenos was created nearly ten years prior to that of Madrid (1799). While the project to establish a team of Madrilenian street lamp lighters had dated back to 178541, the absence of the resources necessary for their establishment meant that the project, which was presented to Floridablanca first in 1788, and again in 1794 in a new form, was not completed until the end of 1798, when the first serenos were named and put to work. A look into the content of the decree establishing Madrid’s corps of serenos reveals that its author was, in fact, inspired by the serenos in Mexico City.

  • 42 Carlos María de Bustamente (1774-1848) was a legal expert, historian and deputy, Manuel Payno (1810 (...)

27The creation of a public lighting system in Mexico City not only ushered the capital into the era of modern policing; according to Mexican writers, historians and publicists of the 19th century, it also marked the emergence of "state modernity". Carlos María de Bustamante, Manuel Payno and Joaquín García de Icazbalceta saw in Revillagigedo the founder of a state that guaranteed the security of its property and people42. The introduction of public lighting, which was systematically mentioned in these writers’ biographical notes, was thus presented as one of the major achievements of Revillagigedo’s term.

Figure 2 – Statue of a Sereno in Zona Rosa, Mexico City

Figure 2 – Statue of a Sereno in Zona Rosa, Mexico City
  • 43 The date mentioned here does not correspond to any reform concerning public lighting. It should als (...)

Translation of the inscription: “The Sereno: with the creation of this figure, public security officially began in the capital on November 3rd, 1792" 43.

Photography taken in 2004, Arnaud Exbalin

28More recently, in the early 2000s, the Public Security Secretariat of the Federal District (SSPDF) erected a statue representing a sereno in the rotunda of Zona Rosa, located opposite the headquarters of the Secretaría de la Seguridad [Figure 2]. Remarkably, those who study the official history of the Mexican police see Revillagigedo's mandate as the prototype for public security, and consider the sereno to be the first figure of modern policing in the capital. Modern policing, then, must be understood as the conjunction of several phenomena that occurred in Western cities starting in the middle of the 18th century: the division of urban space into new, delimited jurisdictions that were easily navigated on foot; the creation of a territorialized, uniformed guard corps who received a salary, a registration number and a written set of rules that precisely outlined the tasks to be carried out; and finally, the development and production of increasingly specialized urban knowledge (partes de policía, civil registration, shops, road defects, etc.) by these guards and their superiors. These written reports served not only to improve the amenities of the inhabitants after having been treated by the various municipal commissions, but also as a means for the authorities to verify the actual activity of the guards.

Enlighten, Monitor and Punish

  • 44 The Alumbrado-345 bandle is composed of several petitions to obtain a permanent street lighting. Fo (...)

29The establishment of public lighting in Mexico City was not only a matter of spatial management; it was also part of a desire to control the population. With the establishment of public lighting, a new police force was born: the guardafaroles. The development of public lighting was thus inseparable from all of the measures implemented in order to monitor and punish, but also reassure urban society. The illumination of Mexico City’s streets should not, however, be reduced to a mere despotic measure imposed by the viceroys; security demands from neighbors must also be taken into account, even if these came much later with regard to lighting, and only from certain fringes of the colonial society living in the city center (la traza)44.

  • 45 Let us recall that each high-ranking official in the colonies was subject to a juicio de residencia(...)
  • 46 Juicio de Residencia de Revillagigedo, México, Publicaciones del Archivo General de la Nación, vol. (...)

30The sereno serves as a familiar symbol of order in the social landscape of Hispano-American cities. Even today, this image of the sereno persists in certain neighborhoods and individuals, having been popularized in the 19th century by folklorist literature and iconography. By the end of the 18th century, the sereno received a salary equivalent to that of a public construction worker, and reported to the lieutenant (teniente) and the head of lighting (guarda mayor), himself under the tutelage of corregidor, magistrate of the municipal police. The serenos served not only as lighters of street lamps, but also as night guards charged with multiple tasks and responsibilities, all of which were recorded and preserved in the city’s statutory texts. The equipment provided to them attests to their versatility: "They will be equipped with a halberd, a whistle, a lantern, a ladder, a tinplate and rags that will be given to them immediately, and paid for by deducting the cost from their wages" (art. 2). The scale, the tinplate - which contained the oil for the lanterns - and the rags concerned their primary duty, that of lighting the lanterns. Every day, early in the morning, the sereno had to replace the oil and wick in a dozen lanterns, and clean the glass walls of each. The ladder was necessary to reach the lanterns, which were more than two meters high. The sereno’s function as a night watchman was materialized by the halberd, which served as his weapon, and the lantern, which made him easily recognizable in the neighborhood, and allowed him to identify those he apprehended. However, the fact that the sereno carried around a lantern also testified to the weak power of permanent lighting. His whistle was used to call other guards to the rescue, or to report an incident. This tool was indispensable, as the sereno was under no circumstances to leave his territory; he was charged with the responsibility watching over a very specific area, usually more than a dozen lanterns in one or two streets. It was thus his duty to arrest criminals and thieves in the act, as well as drunkards and beggars, whom he would lead to the nearest prison after warning any nearby soldiers of the night watch with his whistle (art. 5 and 6). Lastly, the sereno served as lookout in the event of a fire, and was in charge of getting rid of stray dogs (art. 8 of the regulation). Igniter, night watchman, and lookout, the sereno served as a sort of handyman; in addition to all the aforementioned tasks, he was also at the service of the neighborhood, always ready to call for a doctor, a surgeon or a midwife in an emergency (art. 9). He came when he was called, and shouted out the time and weather every fifteen minutes: cloudy, clear, rainy, or otherwise. Neighbors saw the sereno as a public servant (criado público) of the new urban order, as the Franciscans testified in 1796 during the juicio de residencia against Viceroy Revillagigedo45. In the trial between the viceroy and the municipality, the Franciscans pressed that the serenos contributed to public safety by removing the drunkards lying in the road, and "rushing to the aid of the city’s inhabitants", both rich and poor46. This testimony introduces the question of the discrepancy between political-administrative projects and their social interpretation. Although they were originally conceived by the vice-regal authorities as agents of a new public service (with rules, a salary, and police prerogatives), it seems that the serenos were, in practice, perceived as mere handymen. Clearly, the nascent notion of "public service" did not have the same meaning for everyone.

31In 1791, the creation of the post of corporal (cabo) serenos reflected a certain degree of professionalization among the city’s lighting personnel. The law instating these corporals stipulated that there were to be eight (each one, therefore, coordinating the work of a dozen serenos), that they were to wear a sword (a more prestigious weapon than the common halberd), and that they were to be paid 20 pesos a month, or 20% more than the serenos. Although we do not have precise information on this subject, it is possible that they also trained new recruits (reading them the rules, giving them practical advice, and supervision them in the field). The corporals were chosen from the most deserving, the most punctual and above all the best-educated nocturnal guards, and had to submit daily written reports to the head of public lighting. It is these reports that are now of interest to us, as they provide an inside perspective on a new system of night surveillance and city government.

  • 47 While I was able to consulta round 20 of these reports, there are around several hundred. The major (...)
  • 48 For example, on the 27th april night 1791, the sereno number 1 helped the Tribunal de la Acordada g (...)
  • 49 The sereno night reports give us information about their daily job and also the small illegal traff (...)

32The partes del guarda mayor del alumbrado were daily reports drawn up by the head of lighting from the oral reports provided by his guards, as well as the written notes of the corporals47. They were all written using the same model, and were based on two folios. First, the date in the heading was followed by the title "Reports on the previous night made by the guardafaroles", under which the accounts of each of the 93 serenos were recorded. These accounts detailed the patrols carried out (or not) by other police forces, the time it took them to make their rounds, and the various events that took place during the night, such as assistance to the public, arrests, brawls or robberies. Each report ended with the number of dogs executed, and a small note that developed the most striking events of the night48. The report, written in the morning, was delivered to the corregidor during the day, who in turn transmitted it to the viceroy. Revillagigedo, who initiated the adoption of this procedure, thus inaugurated an administrative practice that was replicated by his successors, at least until the eve of independence in 1821. The reports drafted by the different heads of lighting were, in fact, drawn up using the same model in successive administrations49.

  • 50 Some serenos describe the uniform of some guards, where they go and if they are with prisoners. For (...)
  • 51 The alcaldes de barrio were established in 1782 on the Madrilenian model of the 1768 police reforms (...)
  • 52 On the 26th September night, the 92 serenos counted 291 patrols by other guard corps. On the 28th J (...)
  • 53 For example: in one trial mounted against an alcalde de barrio en 1797, six serenos served as witne (...)

33These reports reveal an unprecedented nocturnal police system in which patrols involved several guards, police assistants and security forces. Patrols were conducted from eight in the evening to four in the morning, with a higher frequency before midnight. Several types of forces intervened50. First (and most importantly), there were the soldiers of the infantry companies (patrullas disfrazadas): these patrols were by far the most active, marching up to seven times a night in the same area. Next, there was the night watch (rondas) of the alcaldes de barrio with their alguazils51. Then there were the commissioners of the tribunal of the Acordada (a special court for trials involving highway criminals) who patrolled the city two or three times a night, usually starting at around ten in the evening. In some districts, other corps intervened, such as the market guards (ayudantes de plaza) and the customs officers, who patrolled the area surrounding customs booths that collected the excise duty. On the night of September 26 or 27, 1791, for example, Sereno No. 1 recorded seven patrols from nine in the evening to four in the morning, a night watch at ten in the evening and the Acordada at ten in the evening – all in all, nine patrols over an eight-hour period, or one patrol an hour52. The intensity of the rounds, however, depended on the neighborhood. According to the reports consulted, streets that were closer to the center were more closely monitored and more frequently patrolled than those on the periphery of the center. These reports testify that the serenos spent part of their service recording the times that each different force of the order patrolled a given street. Their work implied the integration of a schedule, timed nearly to the minute by the chimes of the local churches. The serenos most likely had to keep a regular account of the night’s patrols - if not, how could they have memorized all their different routes and tasks? How did they plan and carry out their duties, when the majority of the serenos were illiterate53? These questions have been left unanswered due to lack of available sources. Perhaps they simply used charcoal to mark a schedule on a wall...

  • 54 See several cases in the bandles of Criminal section in AGN, for example AGN, Criminal, exp. 12, “d (...)
  • 55 Although they are grouped together in the immense dumping ground that is the Indiferente Virreinal, (...)

34Finally, while the serenos participated in a sophisticated nocturnal surveillance network, they were constantly monitored by their superiors (the corporals) and other guards, such as the alcaldes de barrio and soldiers on patrol. In turn, each sereno participating in the night patrols produced reports, each of which went up the ladder to the viceroy who, under the mandate of Revillagigedo, centralized the various pieces of information. The various reports thus enabled the viceroy to have a general view of the various events unfolding in the streets of the capital (a kind of nocturnal radiography), as well as a general knowledge of how the guards acted and interacted. Indeed, this nocturnal panoptic device created a mutual surveillance between the serenos, soldiers and alcaldes de barrio. Nevertheless, it is necessary to avoid over-estimating the effectiveness of such a device. The judicial archives, for example, recorded regular clashes between these various corps, including altercations, insults, brawls and even oil theft by the soldiers54. The fact remains, however, that these reports were then circulated between the various governmental bodies of the city. Some reports were sent to the Junta de policía (the municipal committee in charge of public construction) and allowed the local magistrate (juez de cuartel) to take the appropriate measures to correct certain flaws or weaknesses in the police corps. Others reports were found in the judicial archives, and served to bring additional evidence in a case treated by the Criminal Division/Chamber of the Real Audiencia. Finally, all of these reports were used to establish lists of all of the dogs killed over the course of the night, which were communicated to the corregidor and viceroy to attest to the effectiveness of the systematic exterminations carried out throughout the 1790s55.

  • 56 On the electrification and modernization of public lighting in Mexico, see Briseño, Lilián, Candil (...)

35Ultimately, the electric lighting system in Mexico, commissioned at the end of the 19th century under Porfiriat, was better known to the general public, and relied on a system that had already been in place by the end of the colonial era56. Thus, the 1790s provided a series of models for future technological innovations aimed at improving the well-being and security (felicidad and tranquilidad pública, in contemporary terms) of the inhabitants of the capital of New Spain. The lantern (followed by the lamppost) and the sereno were the two elements which constituted the backbone of public lighting, and served as two instruments that were also essential to the management of populations and urban territories. They contributed to both the panoptic control by city authorities and the complex process of police modernization. This process developed as a result of the combination of the will of an enlightened government to modernize, and social demand.

36Public lighting was first and foremost a technical and financial affair, and a matter of knowledge that traveled not only from city to city (from Paris, to Berlin, to the ports of Holland) and from the Peninsula to the New World, but also from the ultramarine territories to Madrid. We, as researchers, must renounce once and for all the reductionist model of a simple transfer of knowledge from the metropolis to its colonial peripheries. It is in terms of circulation via complex routes and exchanges that one should consider the framework of a polycentric monarchy. The actors of these technical innovations were not only senior officials but also scholars and traders, Spaniards and Creoles. Thanks to the periodical press, technical knowledge circulated rapidly among enlightened circles on both sides of the Atlantic, and far more easily than "philosophical" ideas due to the Inquisition and contemporary censorship. These newspapers were essential to the circulation of technical progress, scientific knowledge and innovations in policing.

37More than a simple material and technical question, this case study demonstrates that the establishment of a public lighting system had repercussions on policing practices and, by extension, the ways through which the city was governed. Night watches and patrols increased in number, reports and updates on what happened at night were produced, information was centralized, police auxiliaries slowly became professionalized, and so on. Indeed, it is not so much the direct effects of permanent lighting on crime prevention that should attract the historian’s attention, but the indirect effects produced by the permanent illumination of public spaces. That explains that street lights, because they could see them, gave a feeling of security. The people felt that the authorities had considered and taken in charge their district, in short, they thought they were well protected in a civilized city.

Haut de page

Notes

1 The population of Mexico City was estimated at 115,000 inhabitants in 1790-91 according to the censo de población carried out during the term of virrey Revillagigedo. To this number, we can also add 20,000 individuals who sought to escape the tax registry. Some authors, such as naturalist José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez, estimate the number to be as high as 210,000 habitants. See Mayer, Leticia, "Discusiones sobre inferencia estadística en el censo de la Ciudad de México de 1790", Revista Digital Universitaria de la UNAM, 2013, vol. 14/11, (on line). URL: www.revista.unam.mx/vol.14/num11/art45/index.html> ISSN: 1607-6079.

2 Roche, Daniel, Histoire des choses banales. Naissance de la consommation, XVIIe-XIXe siècle, Paris, Fayard, 1997 and Cabantous, Alain, Histoire de la nuit. XVIIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Fayard, 2009.

3 In Lima, provisions were made in the police regulations of 1786 (Archives Générales des Indes, Lima, 676). In Santa Fé de Bogota, 3,000 lanterns were in operation in 1794 (Alzate Echeverri, Adriana María, Suciedad y orden. Las reformas sanitarias borbónicas en la Nueva Granada, 1760-1810, Bogotá, Universidad del Rosario, 2007, p. 147-150. In New Orleans, serenos were established 1796 using Cuba’s corps as a model (Archivo General de Indias, Santo Domingo, 2565) and in Manila, an extensive plan to repave and install public lighting in the city’s streets, modeled on that of Mexico, was launched in 1797 (AGI, Estado, 46).

4 For more on panopticism, see Foucault, Michel, Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison, Paris, Gallimard, 1975.

5 For France, Napoli, Paolo, Naissance de la police moderne. Pouvoir, normes, société, Paris, La Découverte, 2003. For Spain, Fraile, Pedro. La otra ciudad del rey. Ciencia de policía y organización urbana en España, Madrid, Celeste Ediciones, 1997. For Mexico, Lempérière, Annick, Entre Dieu et le Roi, la République. Mexico, XVIe-XIXe siècles, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2004 and Pulido Esteva, Diego, “Policía: del buen gobierno a la seguridad, 1750-1850”, Historia Mexicana, 2011, 239, p. 1595-1642.

6 These are the different definitions provided by the Diccionario de Autoridades de la lengua Española, Madrid, Gredos, 1976. We consulted the 1737 and 1801 editions. It wasn’t until much later, in the 1884 edition, that its definition also included – without discarding the word’s other meanings – the men charged with the responsibility of maintaining public order and assuring citizens’ safety.

7 See notably the work developed in France as part of the « Circulation et construction des savoirs policiers européens, 1650-1850 » program, directed by Catherine Denys (2007-2010) and « Systèmes policiers européens, XVIIIe-XIXe siècle » directed by Vincent Denis (2012-2015), and funded by the National Agency for Research (France).

8 For more on the spread of police reforms, see Denys, Catherine (ed.), Circulations policières, 1750-1914, Lille, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2012.

9 Mantilla Trolle, Marina, Rafael Diego Fernández Sotelo and Agustín Moreno Torres (ed.), Real ordenanza para el establecimiento e instrucción de intendentes de ejército y provincia en el Reino de la Nueva España (1786). Edición anotada de la Audiencia de la Nueva Galicia, México, Universidad de Guadalajara, El Colegio de Michoacán, 2008, p. 133-217.

10 This text was published by Lombardo Ruiz, Sonia (comp.), Antología de textos sobre la ciudad de México en el período de la Ilustración 1780-1792. Discurso sobre la policía, México, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1982, p. 19-152. For a more complete overview of imperial reforms, see Guillamón Álvarez, Javier, Las reformas de la administración local durante el reinado de Carlos III. Un estudio sobre dos reformas administrativas de Carlos III, Madrid, Instituto de Estudios de Administración Local, 1980.

11 González Polo, Ignacio (comp.), Compendio de providencias de policía del segundo conde de Revillagigedo, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983.

12 We found one of these reports in Seville, in a file in AGI, México, file n° 1, 886.

13 On that last point, see Koslofsky, Craig, « Princes of Darkness: The Night at Court, 1650-1750 », in Journal of Modern History, 79/2, 2007, p. 235-73.

14 For more on public lighting in Paris, see the following old but well-documented study: Herlaut, Auguste-Philippe, “L'éclairage des rues à Paris à la fin du XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle”, Mémoires de la Société de l'histoire de Paris et de l'Ile-de-France, tome XLIII, 1916.

15 Martínez Ruiz, Enrique, La seguridad pública en la Madrid de la Ilustración, Madrid, Secretaría General del Ministerio del Interior, 1988.

16 Let us recall that these street lamps, whose creation is attributed to the Matherot Abbey of Périgny and Bourgeois de Chateaublanc in 1744-1745, appeared in Europe sometime during the 1760s, notably on the occasion of a competition to find the best means of lighting the city of Paris, held at l’Académie des sciences at the initiative of Sartine (Lieutenant-General of Police from 1759 to 1774). These technical aspects will be discussed further in the second part of this chapter.

17 These regulations and projects aimed at improving lighting have been reproduced and compiled by Lemoine Villicaña, Ernesto (comp.), “El alumbrado público en la ciudad de México durante la segunda mitad del siglo XVIII”, Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, 1963, IV/4, p. 783-818.

18 Marín Perellón, Francisco, “Madrid: una ciudad para un rey” in Carlos III, Madrid y la Ilustración, Madrid, Equipo Madrid de Estudios Históricos, Siglo XXI de España Ed., 1988, p. 125-151. Exbalin, Arnaud, La bonne police de Mexico (1692-1794). Réformes, acteurs et pratiques de police dans une capitale des Indes occidentales, to be published in 2020.

19 See notably: Cicchini, Marco, La police de la République. L’ordre public à Genève au XVIIIe siècle, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012 ; Denys, Catherine, Police et sécurité au XVIIIe siècle, dans les villes de la frontière franco-belge, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2002; Koslofsky, Craig, Evening’s Empire: a History of the Night in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2011 ; Delattre, Simone, Les douze heures noires. La nuit à Paris au XIXe siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, 2000. For the cities of the Iberian Peninsula, see Rufino Madrid, Manuel, Vencer la noche. La Sevilla iluminada (Historia del alumbrado público en Sevilla), Sevilla, Universidad de Sevilla, 2007 and González Palencia, Angel, El alumbrado público en Madrid en el siglo XVIII, Madrid, Universidad de Filosofía y Letras, 1928.

20 Bando del virrey marqués de Cruillas, 23 de septiembre de 1763, Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), Bandos, vol. 5, file 76. Bando del virrey Matías de Gálvez, AGN, Bandos, vol. 12, file 67. Bando del virrey Matías de Gálvez, 6 de noviembre de 1783, AGN, Bandos, vol. 12, file 67. Bando de la Real Audiencia, 25 de enero de 1785, AGN, Bandos, vol. 13, file 61. Bando de la Real Audiencia, 13 de febrero de 1787, AGN, Bandos, vol. 14, file 51. Bando del virrey Segundo conde de Revillagigedo, 7 de abril de 1790, AGN, Bandos, vol. 15, file 56. Bando del virrey marqués de Branciforte, 20 de mayo de 1797, AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 188, f. 297.

21 In the 6th november 1783 rule, the vice-roy Matías de Gálvez declared: “para facilitar el uso de este plan tan llano y expedito prohibir, como desde ahora prohibo, se suba el precio de los materiales y obra de los faroles”. In the 25th of january 1785 rule, the Real Audiencia ordered the royal officers to be exemples to the population: “[…] que se expidan las órdenes y oficios convenientes (incluyéndose también los conventos de regulares) con prevención a los jefes de todas las oficinas reales, que se espera procurarán buscar arbitrios para exonerar a la real hacienda de este gravamen, y que puede ser uno de los más oportunos el que los que vivan en casas reales, o las tengan pagadas por razón a sus empleados de cuenta de la real hacienda, contribuyan para este útil gasto por la nueva comodidad que les resulta sobre la que logran en el ahorro del alquiler; en la inteligencia de que por ningún pretexto ha de suspenderse el que se pongan al instante faroles en todas, empezándose por este real palacio, donde se colocarán los necesarios a su frente y costados para que sirva de ejemplo y estímulo a los honrados vecinos”. The rule decree of the 13th february 1787 demanded: “[…] que la iluminación debe ser desde el toque de la oración hasta las doce de la noche, y desde el segundo día después de la luna llena hasta el sexto del cuarto creciente; y porque los malhechores a quienes ofende la luz, o los muchachos, inducidos de ellos, se roban o rompen los faroles, se impone a los que ejecuten lo primero la pena de vergüenza pública y un mes de cárcel, y a los segundos la de veinticinco azotes”. You can check these rules decrees on line: Torre, Guadalupe de la (ed.), Compendio de bandos de la Ciudad de México. Periodo colonial, https://bandosmexico.inah.gob.mx.

22 In Brussels, a genuine public lighting system was installed in 1702-1703. See Denys, Catherine, La police de Bruxelles entre réformes et révolutions (1748-1814). Police urbaine et modernité, Turhout, Brepols, Studies in European Urban History 29, 2013. For more on Cádiz, gateway to the New World, see Bustos Rodríguez, Manuel, Los comerciantes de la carrera de Indias en el Cádiz del siglo XVIII (1713-1775), Cádiz, Universidad de Cádiz, 1996.

23 On Havana’s pioneering role in matters of policing, see Apaolaza-Llorente, Dorleta, “En busca de un orden de policía: los comisarios de barrio y las ordenanzas o reglamentos de policía de La Habana de 1763”, Temas Americanistas, 2015, 34, p. 1-24. For more on ports, see Polónia, Amélia y Rivera Medina, Ana-María, La gobernanza de los puertos atlánticos, siglos XIV-XX. Políticas y estructuras portuarias, Madrid, Casa de Velázquez, 2016.

24 For more on theatres, vectors for urban transformation, see Traversier, Mélanie, Loir, Christophe, « Pour une perspective diachronique des enjeux urbanistiques et policiers de la circulation autour des théâtres (Antiquité, XVIIIe-XIXe siècles) », Histoire urbaine, 2013, 38, p. 5-18.

25 This question happens frequently in the rules because the inhabitants did not accept easily to pay the maintenance of the lanterns with their own money. The Town authorities wrote the viceroy a letter about this problem on the 4th of October 1790: “[…] mientras el logro de tan importante objeto estuviese a cargo de los vecinos jamás se verificaría ; pues no habiendo bastante para conseguirlo, no los repetidos bandos promulgados sobre el asunto, ni el zelo con que en todos tiempos los magistrados lo han procurado, no quedava esperanza de que pudiera hacerse efectivo el establecimiento”, Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México (further away AHCM), Ayuntamiento, Alumbrado, vol. 345, exp.1, f. 1.

26

27 For exemple, on july 2, 1792, the capitan in charge of the street lighting suggested the Corregidor did increase the number of lanterns in the Morelos Street because, “los faroles alumbran poco por la amplitud de la calle”, Idem, f. 20.

28 Wax is too expansive, tallow is ill-smelling and dirty. In the end, turnip oil is adopted.

29 This reproduction can be found in the Mapas y Planos collection in the Archivo General de la Nación, México, (Farol, 1777). Pedro Cortes’s project was also evoked by Valle Arizpe, Artemio, Calle vieja y calle nueva, Mexico, Editorial Diana, 1980, p. 317.

30 Gazeta de México 31 (22 Feb. 1785), p. 255. Consulted online via the official website of la Biblioteca Nacional de España: www.bne.es/es/Catalogos/HemerotecaDigital/

31 Humboldt, Alexander von, Ensayo político sobre el Reino de la Nueva España [1803], Mexico, Porrúa, 1966, p. 120. The work was published in French in Paris in 1811, and in Castilian in Mexico in 1822.

32 Lanterns costed 35 429 pesos which means a third of the Town Council budget. See Juan Vicente de Güemes Pacheco, Compendio de providencias de policía del segundo conde de Revillagigedo, presented by Ignacio González Polo, México, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983, p. 18 : “Faroles. Consta el alumbrado de 1 128 faroles colocados a distancia de cincuenta varas, unos de otros, los que desde el anochecer se encienden, excepto las seis y ocho noches de plenilunio y aún éstas cuando son obscuras en tiempo de aguas y alumbran todos hasta la uno o dos de la mañana”.

33 On the question of the link between lighting and security, see Mosser, Sophie, “Éclairage et sécurité en ville: l’état des savoirs”, Déviance et société, 2007, 31, p. 77-100.

34 AHCM, Ayuntamiento, Alumbrado, vol. 345, exp. 9: “Razón de los nombres de las calles que tienen los extramuros de esta Ciudad las varas que tiene cada uno y faroles que debe haber en distancia de 50 varas”.

35 Memorial y proyecto de iluminación que tiene presentado, vecino y del Comercio de México, en 17 de mayo de 1777”, in Lemoine-Villacaña, Ernesto, (comp.), « El alumbrado público en la ciudad de México durante la segunda mitad del siglo XVIII », Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, tome IV, octobre-décembre 1963, n° 4, p. 796.

36 AGN Mexico, Bandos, vol. 15, file 56 and, in Séville, AGI, Mexico, 1883, Bandos Iluminación y Limpieza which outlines its diffusion in Spain. Below, regulation on lighting (1790).

37 López García, José Miguel, El motín contra Esquilache. Crisis y protesta popular en el Madrid del siglo XVIII, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, 2006.

38 Our current research seeks to understand whether this regulation was circulated throughout the other capitals of the Audencia of New Spain.

39 Gazeta de México IV/39 (2 Aug. 1791), p. 365-366, “Carta de un Vecino de México a D. M. J. D. R”. 

40 “No menos, [la ciudad de México] debe contarse entre las que ofrecen mayor seguridad y comodidad a sus moradores, con los guardafaroles, establecidos un año hace […]. Si a este fin quisiese vuestra majestad un reglamento, se lo remitiré; en el concepto de que sólo he conspirado a dar una ligera idea del diverso estado en que a esfuerzos de la infatigable actividad, prudencia y discreción del que gobierna estos reinos, se halla en el día esta hermosa y opulenta ciudad, capaz de que sirva de prueba y ejemplo para otras el establecimiento de su sólida aunque naciente policía”.

41 Martínez Ruiz, La seguridad pública, p. 256-261. Palmer, Simón, “Faroleros y Serenos. Notas para su historia”, Anales del Instituto de Estudios Madrileños, 1976, 12, p. 183-203.

42 Carlos María de Bustamente (1774-1848) was a legal expert, historian and deputy, Manuel Payno (1810-1894) a diplomat and writer known for his novel Los bandidos de Rio Frío (1891) and Joaquín García de Icazbalceta (1825-1894) a historian, editor and member of the Mexican Academy of Language.

43 The date mentioned here does not correspond to any reform concerning public lighting. It should also be noted that the guardafarol did not carry a sword, but a halberd. These inaccuracies, symptomatic of political manipulations of the past, undoubtedly aimed to make the figure of the sereno seem more modern than he actually was.

44 The Alumbrado-345 bandle is composed of several petitions to obtain a permanent street lighting. For example, on the 12th October 1792, the Portal Nuevo of San Augustín shop-keepers payed for four lanterns but they want the serenos to survey and maintain them. AHCM, Ayuntamiento, Alumbrado, vol. 345, exp. 7, f. 22-24. Another exemple, on the 15th February 1799, un priest asked the Corregidor three lanterns on the Villamil Square, “por las muchas ofensas que la oscuridad les proporcionaba para que saliéndose en ella ofendiesen a Dios y al público causada de la vecindad de una pulquería y dos vinaterías”, AHCM, Ayuntamiento, Alumbrado, vol. 345, exp. 15, f. 7. 

45 Let us recall that each high-ranking official in the colonies was subject to a juicio de residencia; the process was carried out in two stages: the “secret part”, led by the judges of the Council of the Indies and the “public part”, led by any individual who felt himself to be wronged or harmed by the term of the official.

46 Juicio de Residencia de Revillagigedo, México, Publicaciones del Archivo General de la Nación, vol. XXII, 1933. See folder n° 24 « Testimonio del expediente en que obran varias certificaciones dadas por los reverendos padres, prelados y comunidades eclesiásticas en obsequio del buen gobierno del excelentísimo señor conde de Revillagigedo », p. 433.

47 While I was able to consulta round 20 of these reports, there are around several hundred. The majority of these reports are kept in the Indiferente Virreinal section in the AGN. To my knowledge, these records have never been used for research.

48 For example, on the 27th april night 1791, the sereno number 1 helped the Tribunal de la Acordada guards to carry out an investigation in two houses at 4 AM. Number 6 sereno pointed that at 0.45 AM, “llegaron dos hombres muy decentes preguntándole por bailes y que estos portaban muchas armas de fuego y que le causó pavor. Que comprehende ser hombres muy sospechosos”. Number 18 sereno left his job because of illness at 11 PM. Number 21 sereno arrested two men and a woman on the Plaza del Volador Market at 0.30 AM. Number 65 sereno was called from a butchery at 2 AM because of a thief but when he arrived there was nobody. Number 75 sereno helped an unwell neighbor by getting a doctor at 11 PM, then a barber at midnight. Number 84 sereno saved a woman from a murderer, but that one attacked the sereno, tore his shirt and the sereno hit him on the head with his halberd and then finally the murderer was sent to jail. Twelve stray dogs were killed. AGN, Indiferente Virreinal, caja 4586, f. 46-48 

49 The sereno night reports give us information about their daily job and also the small illegal traffics they used to practice. This last point is not studied in this article but recently in another one. Exbalin, Arnaud, “Alumbrado y seguridad. Ciudad de México (1760-1810)”, Antropología. Revista interdisciplinaria del INAH, to be published in march 2018.

50 Some serenos describe the uniform of some guards, where they go and if they are with prisoners. For exemple, on the 27th april night, the sereno 41 reported : “la ronda de la Aduana a las 10 y a las 10 y media dos soldados morados con fresadas” ; Number 43 sereno, “tres patrullas a las 9 ½, 11 ½ y 12. A las 4, dos soldados de la Corona con fresadas, dijeron que venían de Santa Fé”; Number 46 sereno, “Tres oficiales distintos con tropa a las 10 ½, 11 ½ y a las 12 unos ministros con 2 hombres y 2 mujeres presos”; Number 78 sereno, “una ronda a las 9 ½, la de la Aduana a las 10 ½, el Mayor de la Plaza a las 12 ½ se mantuvo un gran rato en el cementerio de Loreto”.

51 The alcaldes de barrio were established in 1782 on the Madrilenian model of the 1768 police reforms. They were accompanied in their night watch by two alguazils. An alguazil was a justice of the peace, whose job was performed on a volunteer basis (that is to say, unpaid). See Exbalin, Arnaud, “Los alcaldes de barrio. Panorama de los agentes del orden público en la ciudad de México a finales del siglo XVIII”, Antropología, Boletín oficial del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2012, 94, p. 49-59.

52 On the 26th September night, the 92 serenos counted 291 patrols by other guard corps. On the 28th January night, 327 patrols ; On the 2nd July night 1793, 224 ; On the 17th March night 1794, 305, etc. AGN, Ayuntamientos, vol. 222, exp. 5, f. 1-2. AGN, Indiferente Virreinal, caja 2855, exp. 27, f. 38-39. AGN, Indiferente Virreinal, caja 3339, exp. 8, f. 2-3. AGN, Indiferente Virreinal, caja 4536, exp. 11, f. 12-13.

53 For example: in one trial mounted against an alcalde de barrio en 1797, six serenos served as witnesses, but only two could sign their name. Trail against José Conejo, AGN, Indiferente virreinal, box 6121, file 9.

54 See several cases in the bandles of Criminal section in AGN, for example AGN, Criminal, exp. 12, “diligencias practicadas para la averiguación de lo acaecido la noche del 17 de julio de 1814 con un guarda sereno de esta ciudad con el oficial y soldados de la guardia de prevención del quartel de dicho esquadrón”.

55 Although they are grouped together in the immense dumping ground that is the Indiferente Virreinal, the origins of the twenty reports consulted at the AGN attest to the variety of administrative uses for these reports. On the extermination of dogs, see Exbalin, Arnaud, « Le Grand massacre des chiens. Mexico, fin XVIIIe siècle », Histoire urbaine, 2015, 44, p. 107-124.

56 On the electrification and modernization of public lighting in Mexico, see Briseño, Lilián, Candil de la calle, oscuridad de su casa. La iluminación en la Ciudad de México durante el porfiriato, México, ITESM/Instituto Mora/Miguel Ángel Porrúa, 2008.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 – Portrait of the Viceroy Second Count of Revillagigedo
Légende Source: Felipe Fabrés, El Excelentísimo Señor Don Juan Vicente de Güemes Pacheco de Padilla (1790), oil on canvas, 92 x 69 cm, Museo Nacional de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/docannexe/image/75813/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 721k
Titre Figure 2 – Statue of a Sereno in Zona Rosa, Mexico City
Légende Translation of the inscription: “The Sereno: with the creation of this figure, public security officially began in the capital on November 3rd, 1792" 43.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/docannexe/image/75813/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 881k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Arnaud Exbalin, « Policing, Practical Knowledge and Urban Management: Public Lighting in Mexico City (late 18th - early 19th century) », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Débats, mis en ligne le 11 juin 2019, consulté le 18 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/75813 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.75813

Haut de page

Auteur

Arnaud Exbalin

Université Paris Nanterre
Mondes Américains (UMR 8168 CNRS / EHESS / Univ. Paris Nanterre / Univ. Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne)

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Nuevo mundo mundos nuevos est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page