He participated in many scientific nature expeditions and was part Celestino Mutis and Alexander Von Humbodlt's expeditions. He classified plants and created a large herbarium. He measured mountains and waterfalls, and created several maps. He made observations of the weather.
In 1805, Mutis assigned Caldas to be the first director of the Astronomical Observatory in Bogotá. From 1805 -1810, Caldas spent his time equipping the Observatory, performing scientific experiments and writing papers and reports including: "El estado de la geografía del virreinato con relación a la economía y al comercio" (1807) and "El influjo del clima sobre los seres organizados" (1808) .
In 1808 and 1809, he founded the Seminario del Nuevo Reino de Granada whose mission was to make scientific discoveries.
In late 1809 and 1810, Caldas used the Observatory as a base for the Independence movement. It was there that the "Flower Vase" plan was hatched. Once the Independence movement began, he published the newspaper "Diario Político de Santa Fe" (Politcal Newspaper of Santa Fe). However, soon the leaders of the revolutionary movement were hunted down and Caldas fled to Medellín.
There he was given refuge by the dictatorial government who was running Medellín. The government named him the Coronel of Engineers and wanted Caldas to continue his scientific studies and inquiries. However, his rebellious spirit did not allow him to simply sit quietly and continue his experiments. Upon hearing that Spanish troops were headed to Medellín by way of the Río Cauca, he "acquired" the church bell of the Iglesia de la Veracruz, which he melted down to make a cannon that was then to be used against the Spanish. Unfortunately, he placed the cannon to the South of the city and the Spanish entered the city from the North. So, Medellín did not achieve the goal of Independence at that time. See the 6 minute video here:
He was captured and eventually placed before a firing squad, in what is today the Parque de Santander. At the time, he was in the middle of some scientific experiments. He, and a multitude of people, asked if it would be possible for him to postpone his execution until after he had finished them. Pablo Morillo y Morillo (the Spanish General Captain and Commander over Venezuela) responded with a now infamous line, "España no necesita sabios!" or "Spain does not need wise men!" The execution was carried out October 28, 1816.
Francisco José de Caldas was the Benjamin Franklin of Colombia. The scientist, author and editor turned revolutionary. His unfortunate end has made him a martyr in Colombia and it was for him that the Department of Caldas named.
* Photo by Wikicommons