Links between Brazil & Ireland




An Anglo-Irish Newspaper in Nineteenth-Century Brazil *


The Anglo-Brazilian Times, 1865 – 1884


By Miguel Alexandre de Araujo Neto


1st. Published in the Newsletter of the Brazilian Association for Irish Studies – ABEI, No. 8, August 1994.  Reprinted by kind permission of Profa Dra.Munira H. Mutran, President, ABEI – São Paulo


* Editions of the newspaper dated 1865 – 1870 can be read on microfilm at Rio´s National Library

(Seção de Obras Raros - 3rd floor.  Index No.:PR-SOR 3279)     




Although the title of this article may suggest that it will deal with journalism and, specifically, the history of the Brazilian press, in fact it is about Irish immigration in Brazil.  This subject has been approached through an analysis of the articles, news items and advertisements published in Rio de Janeiro between 1865 and 1870 in The Anglo-Brazilian Times.


The editorial line of this newspaper was that Irish immigration to Brazil was a potentially viable means of upgrading the country’s levels of economic productivity, which had been hampered up until then by Brazil’s general acceptance and fostering of slave labour.  The Anglo-Brazilian Times both advertised Irish immigration in Brazil and promoted it in Great Britain itself.


From the moment of its inauguration on February 7, 1865, to the early 1870´s, its editor, the Irishman, William Scully, strived fervently to make Irish immigration acceptable to the Brazilian Imperial establishment.  His first achievements included helping the second Liberal Cabinet of Zacarias de Góias e Vasconcelos set up an “International Society for Immigration”, as well as an impressive lodging house for immigrants in Rio modelled upon the Castle Gardens of New York, between 1866 and 1668.  In spite of this, Irish immigration was, in Scilly’s own words, “nipped in the bud”, and was never successful in Brazil, if we judge it by American, or even Argentinean standards.  The episode that marked its failure was the collapse of Prince Dom Pedro’s colony in Itajaí, in the Province of Santa Catarina, which was suddenly deprived of funds and all other sources of support between 1868 and 1869, being eliminated from the Brazilian colonization programme launched in the mid-1860´s.  The political event that appears to have heralded this sudden change of policy was the ousting of Zacarias de Góis e Vasconcelos from power in 1868.  Despite the Liberal majority in Parliament, the Emperor, Dom Pedro II, was determined to have Zacarias sacked from his position as Prime Minister, and maintained his decision invoking the Moderative Power enshrined in the 1824 Constitution.  This power, which was legally stronger than the other three powers, allowed him to rule the country as a quasi-absolute monarch.


Nineteenth-century Brazilian economic growth relied heavily on slave labour.  As is well known, it was not until 1888 that Brazil rid itself of the economic burden represented by the restrictive and counterproductive practice of slave labour.  Earlier, in 1850, the Brazilian transatlantic slave trade had been abolished by a law passed in Parliament, following a series of incidents between Great Britain and Brazil, which had strained their relationship to the limit.  In fact the abolition in question was brought about by British diplomatic and military pressure. (1)


Despite the end of the Atlantic slave traffic, the Brazilian economy still depended on slave labour and internal arrangements were made for slaves employed in the North-eastern provinces to be transferred to the burgeoning coffee production areas especially the Provinces of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the Southeast.  However, once the supply of slaves from Africa died out, plans for an increase in the already existing employment of European immigrants, either in coffee plantations or in long-term colonization programmes, began to multiply, as Brazilian planters, Liberal policy-makers and intellectuals, and early industrialists felt the country ran the risk of gradually isolating itself and eventually plunging into stagnation.


However, fostering European immigration was an undertaking fraught with uncertainties and difficulties posed by the Brazilian landed aristocracy’s attachment to the slave labour system.  This dependence upon slavery was supported by the country’s political and judicial systems, through which ties of personal bondage to local dignitaries and planters were enforced by the franchise system: small tenants normally secured their claims to the use of land in exchange for votes and political loyalty.  Their political patrons would then appoint representatives to defend their own interests in Provincial Chambers and the Parliament in Rio, with little regard for genuine political representation.


            Polls took place in churches.  At the head of the political structure was Emperor Dom Pedro II, who used his Moderative Power to appoint successive Prime Ministers.  Scarcely any citizen was free from political and personal bondage.  Such were some of the props underpinning the functioning of nineteenth-century Brazilian democracy. (2)


Immigration, too, was geared to the lever of political patronage.  The allotment of colonies was strongly centralized by the machinery of the Imperial government.  Imperial authorities earmarked funds for colonization and appointed subordinates to carry out the distribution of land and to provide the incoming settlers with the necessary means for lodging, inland transportation and the setting-up of the elementary facilities required for the colonies to withstand the hardships of their early existence.  There were also religious constraints.


These caused much distress as mixed marriages (between Catholic and non-Catholic partners) were forbidden, non-Catholic churches were not allowed to display any external signs betraying their members´ persuasion (although freedom of belief was constitutionally safeguarded), burials could only take place in Catholic cemeteries, as they were the only ones available, and so on.  In addition, corruption was widespread among bureaucrats in charge of the administration of the colonies.  As a result, the whole initiative was both expensive and inefficient, as the number of incomers who actually settled was greatly reduced by those returning home or moving elsewhere. (3)


On the other hand, other attempts to attract European immigrants had great success.  They were inspired by the French “metayer system” of colonization, and consisted of contracts whereby settlers received both a cash advance for their travel and settlement expenses and a plot of land to cultivate coffee on a family basis.  Debts had to be settled with the annual crop surplus.  Meanwhile, the peasants could make a living from the cultivation of other crops, provided they did not neglect their contractual obligations to repay their debts with the coffee surplus, which often entailed various kinds of abuse on the part of the landlords.  The foremost examples of this kind of experiment was that of the Vergueiro Co. in Rio Claro, in the Province of São Paulo, which eventually resulted in a revolt led by over-indebted Swiss colonists in the mid-1850´s, and the practice was gradually abandoned afterwards. (4)


The underlying crisis in Brazil stemming from the increasing lack of manpower in the post-1850 period was further complicated by the diplomatic struggle with Great Britain following the extinction of the Atlantic slave trade.  The two countries had signed an agreement in 1826 whereby the slave traffic would become extinct by 1831.  In order to enforce this legislation mixed commissions were set up in Africa and in Rio.  Searches were carried out from 1831 onwards in order to seize slaves at sea and some of the latter were handed over to the commission in Rio.  Brazilian authorities were supposed to take care of them until 1849 when they would have been freed, had they not been smuggled into the country instead.  Meanwhile, the treaty was never really enforced and thousands of slaves poured into Brazil until Great Britain decided unilaterally to put a definite curb to the slave trade with the passing of the Aberdeen Act in 1845, empowering British ships to seize cargoes and even sink vessels suspected of being engaged in the trade.  In 1846 the agreement of 1826 became null and void.  In 1850 Brazilians grudgingly approved their own legislation banning the slave trade, but Great Britain still was not satisfied, demanding that the lists containing the names of the slaves held by the commission in Rio be produced and that the slaves actually be set free.  A Minister Plenipotentiary, William D. Christie, was appointed and was instructed to obtain the lists.  The ensuing quarrel ended with the British Navy blockading the port of Rio de Janeiro after some parallel incidents unconnected to the main issue, and Brazil broke off relations with Great Britain in 1863. (5)


Nonetheless Brazil was somewhat dependent on British capital for her early industrialization.  The repayment of loans paradoxically depended upon a coffee surplus produced by slaves.  This rekindled the overheated diplomatic atmosphere in which the first issue of The Anglo-Brazilian Times was published.  Among the many questions addressed in its first editorial there were pledges “… to point out, and seek for grievances and defects in the commercial and political intercourse of England and Brazil”; the paper would also strive “… to promote a good knowledge of each other; and to turn attention to the immense field which is afforded to England for the employment of a part of her abounding wealth and energy, and of the skill acquired by so many years of pre-eminence in the constructive and creative arts, to their mutual benefit and to a more perfect interlacing of the ties that should bind together these two Constitutional monarchies”


Accordingly, William Scully had to appease most Brazilians leaders in power, and the Emperor in particular, by criticizing very strongly the way Christie expressed his views on the slavery issue in his Notes on Brazilian Questions, published soon after the inauguration of The Anglo-Brazilian Times. (6)  The Irish newspaperman apparently delighted in trying to mend the badly damaged relationship between England and Brazil, (ABT No. 4, March 24, 1865), to the point of verging on a pro-slavery stance, so as to dismiss the charges made public by Christie and thereby please the Brazilian political establishment.  Any assessment of how influential Scilly’s opinions regarding the Christie Affair may have been is likely to be vague.  In any case Anglo-Brazilian relations were resumed soon afterwards, since Brazil could not wage war against the invading Paraguayan army without British help (war broke out in December 1864), and loans were soon obtained in London for that purpose.


In was not long before Scully started his own campaign for massive immigration, so that England could actually employ “her abounding wealth and energy” for the improvement of the Brazilian economy.  This task absorbed much of the newspaper’s resources and energy until at least 1870.  As far as wealth was concerned, there was a great deal of British capital invested in Brazil.  Scully was convinced that now was the time for British (and in particular Irish) energy to play a greater role, as it had done in the American model.


Hence, a thorough plan for massive immigration was laid down by The Anglo-Brazilian Times, which included territorial banks, various measures to facilitate the incomers´ access to cheap land, protect their settlement from judicial constraints and to safeguard them from speculators, and the setting up of a society designed to assist immigrants upon arrival in Brazil.  When the first meeting designed to create the “International Society for Immigration” was held in early 1866, Scully strongly recommended that the society must “be independent (original italics) of the Government and of any immigration programmes”, meaning by the latter the kind of colonizing ventures directly run by the Government appointees.  However, these suggestions were not followed and the society turned into yet another area of careless government expenditure.


After the foundation of the society in February 1866, Scully denounced a series of scandals involving prominent political figures of the Empire in swindling and other offences.  But there was also one success story, that of the American Confederates who settled in the Province of São Paulo and counted both on the support given by The Anglo-Brazilian Times as a means of advertising emigration from the States and on the facilities afforded by the society for American immigrants in Brazil.  This seemed very encouraging to Scully, who asked the United Churches of England and Ireland, in a letter addressed “to the Clergy of Ireland” in October 1866, to help recruit emigrants in Ireland and send them over to Brazil.


This assistance was duly given and, in early 1868, 300 immigrants aboard the “Florence Chipman” arrived in Brazil, amid much discussion as to their fitness for agriculture labour, religious persuasion, and so forth.  The Ultramontaine sector of the Catholic Church in Brazil (opposed to the Emperor’s privileges as Patron of the Church) supported the initiative, at a time when the Liberal Prime Minister Zacarias was known to be a fervent Ultramontaine. (7)  Although the Anglican Church appears to have been responsible for the recruitment of the settlers, it is well known that most nineteenth-century Irish emigrants were Catholic.  In July 1868 the Prime Minister was sacked.  The activities of the International Society for Immigration came to a halt, and the feasibility of the Irish colony was shattered: they were given poor land subject to flooding, they were denied assistance and payment for public works they did, and the colony was not served by any public roads.  In 1869 they returned to Rio, “in rags”, and the survivors returned to Great Britain.


Finally, two interesting questions must be raised.  First, there was a serious argument involving Scully and the Commander in Chief of the Brazilian forces at war in Paraguay, the then Marquis of Caxias.  At the time the Irish settlers were about to arrive in Brazil, Scully was urging the Brazilian government to speed up operations so as to bring the war to an end.  He claimed Caxias was delaying military operations on purpose, implying that he was squandering resources that could otherwise have been employed for immigration.  The alleged “moroseness” with which the Brazilian army waged the war during its final stages would have forced the government to divide to the war effort funds vital for the immigration programme.  This can be confirmed by sources that show that Caxias refused to defeat the Paraguayan army in 1868. (8)


Second, there appears to have been no British reaction to the ill-fated emigration attempt.  Instead it is very interesting to note that 1869 is the date when Gladstone introduced in Parliament the bill that was to become the Disestablishment Act of 1871, whereby the Church of Ireland was separated from the Church of England.  Could this Bill have been prompted by the failure of the Irish colony in Brazil?  Would the appointment of another Minister Plenipotentiary to deal with Irish complaints in Brazil have jeopardised British investments in coffee and railroads?  The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland certainly helped to avert any such problem.


Bibliographical References


(1)     Bethell, Leslie.  The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade, 1807-1850.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.  And, Manchester, A.K. British Pre-eminence in Brazil, its Rise and Decline.  New York: Octagon Books, 2nd print, 1964.

(2)     Graham, Richard.  Politics and Patronage in Nineteenth Century Brazil: Stanford University Press, 1990.

(3)     Hall, Michael.  The Origins of Mass Immigration in Brazil, 1871-1914.  Michigan: Microfilms, Columbia Univ., PhD thesis, 1969.

(4)     Dean, Warren.  Rio Claro: A Brazilian Plantation System, 1820-1920.  Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1976.

(5)     Bethell, L. & Manchester, A.K. Op.cit.

(6)     Christie, William, Notes on Brazilian Questions.  London & Cambridge: Macmillan. 1865.

(7)     Vieira, David Queiros.  O Protestantismo, A Maçonaria e a Questião Religiosa no Brasil.  Brasília: Editora da Universidade de Brasília, 1980.

(8)     Warren, Harris G. Paraguay and the Triple Alliance: The Post War Decade, 1869-1878. Austin: Texas University Press, 1978. pp. 16-20.