Origins of alpaca
After the Spanish conquest, alpacas were nearly wiped out. By some accounts, 90% of the alpaca herds were destroyed in an effort to subjugate the native people. In the 19th Century alpacas were rediscovered by Europeans and played a role in the Industrial Revolution.
Perhaps the earliest mention of South America camelids occurs in accounts of Sir Francis Drake's 1577 voyage around the world:
"Not farre from hence going on land for fresh water, we met with a Spaniard and an Indian boy driving 8 Llamas or sheepe of Peru which are as big as asses; every of which sheepe had on his backe 2 bags of leather, each bagge conteining 50 li. weight of fine silver: so that bringing both the sheepe and their burthen to the ships, we found in all the bags 800 weight of silver."
Charles Darwin mentioned the alpaca in his writings on evolution, when he stated:
...the Incas followed exactly the reverse system of that which our Scottish sportsman are accused of following, namely, of steadily killing the finest stags, thus causing the whole race to degenerate.61 In regard to the domesticated llamas and alpacas, they were separated in the time of the Incas according to colour: and if by chance one in a flock was born of the wrong colour, it was eventually put into another flock.
In 1853 there was an unsuccessful attempt to export alpacas to Australia. Thomas Holt, who decided to import alpacas, llamas and vicunas, commissioned Charles Ledger, a Peruvian merchant to look for suitable animals.
Alpacas also played an important role during the Industrial Revolution, and in fact were central to moderating some of its excesses. Sir Titus Salt discovered the unique aspects of alpaca fiber and went on to earn a fortune and establish a town dedicated to its processing (Saltaire, in Bradfordshire, England).
Known simply as Alpaca, many references can be found in popular literature of the 19th and early 20th Century. While few may have been aware of the animals, fabric and finished goods were well known and viewed as a luxurious and valuable commodity.
Alpaca maintained its lustre until the development of synthetic fibers in the mid 20th Century began to supplant natural fibers, at which point both alpacas and their fiber once again largely faded from the public's awareness.