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Detained at Rio

Monday 28th – beautiful W,r  By the assistance of a light breeze and of the tide we came to anchor at 2 P.M. in the Harbour of Rio.

As soon as the anchor was dropped, the Captain being ill of the Gout, the Master was sent on shore with the Mail, and I accompanied him, together with a D.r Villa and M.r M. Gibbon, our passengers. We first took the Mail to Peppins Post Office Agent, with whom for the first I became acquainted. We found her to be always very civil and polite, and she on the present occasion requested us to wait for a short time, and she would send for a conveyance to take us to the Ministers house with his dispatches. This soon appeared in the shape of a covered gig with two horses and was on the whole a tolerable vehicle, in which we contrived very comfortably to be trundled along to Arthur Ashtons Esq.r H.M. Charge d’Affaires and Secretary of Legation, opposite the public gardens. This gentleman, or the Ambassador if there is any, has the power of detaining the Packet, for as long a time as he conceives the public service may require. As if we were fated to meet with nothing but detentions and delays wherever we go, M.r Ashton found it necessary in the present state of public affairs, to delay dispatching the Packet for a fortnight – and when you know how matters have gone on, you will think that he acted in so doing with the utmost propriety. I propose, therefore, to defer every other thing and remark till I have given you at some length the history and occurrences of our stay – intending however at the end of this History to detail those circumstances & observations which occurred to me unconnected with the chain of public events.

General Remarks

As in the natural world certain phenomena which, altho’ capable of exciting great interest and curiosity from their novelty or beauty, might be buried in oblivion if unattended with important consequences – acquire additional interest and are long remembered when they are found to be the forerunners of some dreadful calamity, whether occasioned by an earthquake, an inundation or a storm – so it is in the world of human society. Certain events, whether in public or in private, take place and for the time they are interesting, but being followed by no remarkable catastrophe, they are speedily forgotten. When, however, some very important and unlooked for changes spring from them as their causes, they are then raised in our estimation to a rank of the highest importance – they are carefully recalled to our recollection, and much pains is employed in retracing them with all their connections, until we arrive at the final result.

To apply the above reflection to the present subject of my letter, which leads to nothing less than a revolution in Brazil, I may observe, that the apparently trifling events which preceded this change might have been forgotten, if they had had their origin merely in the temporary ebullition of party spirit, and had led to nothing serious or permanent – but being, as it were, the first slight commotions and rumblings which indicated the approach of the Earthquake shock, which has taken place, they merit now to be carefully remembered & retraced. Such in its fullest extent must be the test of the future historian, if he hopes to fulfil his duty with success and fidelity – but as to myself I do not pretend to take upon me to perform his part as my opportunities were so limited – nor is it necessary to do so, since my object is solely the information and amusement of you and of my other friends. I shall however endeavour to the best of my power and means to give you some idea of the occurrences which have happened in Rio, and if you find some omissions in my account, and some links awanting to complete the chain of events, you will at least learn what I saw & knew myself, or heard from competent authority.

Account of Disturbances in Rio – History of the Revolution

You may remember that when I wrote you from Rio about ten or twelve weeks from this date, I mentioned that the Emperor had gone to the province of Minas Geraes, accompanied by the Empress, with what views I cannot say. Matters at Rio were then apparently tranquil, although indeed I heard some slight rumours which however were contradicted to me by a respectable merchant – and we set sail for the River Plate without entertaining the least suspicion that so momentous a crisis as the present was so near, or even probable. During our unusually long absence we heard no news of importance from Brazil, and it was only when we returned at the latter end of March, that the intelligence of the disturbed state of the City was first received.

We found that about a fortnight before our arrival, the Emperor had come down in great haste, and by a different route from the mines, and had anticipated by several weeks the expected period of his return, to the surprise of some, and the disturbance of others. This proceeding was rendered necessary by the state of public affairs, which could no longer be concealed. Notwithstanding the shortness of the time and the unexpectedness of the circumstance partial illuminations took place – but unfortunately the Portuguese embraced the opportunity of evincing their national feelings against the Brazilians. This will require some explanation. You are probably not aware that the Luzo-Braziliana are very numerous – that they are very wealthy and compose the most industrious portion of the community. They entertain a rooted contempt for the native Brazilians and take no pains to conceal this feeling. They treat them as persons of an inferior mould to themselves and would have spurned with contempt the idea of comparison. In the earlier period of the History of Brazil, when that country was a dependency of Portugal, and the offices of its Government confined to Portuguese, the superiority of the natives of the Mother country was imperiously exercised and as yieldingly submitted to, because it was acknowledged. But when Brazil was separated from all political connection with Portugal and had been raised to the rank of an independent Empire, governed by its own Head, and under particular laws – and when as a necessary consequence, the Natives obtained a share in the Administration, they began to entertain higher notions of their own importance, and to dispute the claim to superiority which they had once admitted. Hence arose renewed hatred and contempt on the one hand, and hatred not wholly unmixed with dread on the other. I have myself seen instances where these feelings have been manifested, and we may fairly conclude that now the native Brazilians conscious of their strength, are glad to be able to enter the lists against their enemies, and will consider it their greatest triumph to have delivered themselves from the galling thraldom in which they had been held. Having given you this explanation of the views with which the native Brazilians and Luzo-Brazilians have formerly regarded, and even now regard each other, you will be easily able to understand what follows.

From the 11th of March the rivalries and disputes between these two dissimilar and repellent parts of the population have been gradually increasing in violence, and indicated some approaching crisis on the one hand or the other. On the 13th and three succeeding days, the Portuguese are accused of having conducted themselves towards the Brazilians in the most insulting manner, of having officiously and prejudicially interfered in the political affairs of the country and of having maltreated those whose government and country had so generously extended protection to them. Amidst the shouts and vivas which welcomed the Emperor, many expressions, which were calculated to keep alive old animosities, and national distinctions were heard from the mobs of Portuguese which had assembled, and naturally enough excited the indignation of the Brazilians. It is not a little singular that the natives of Madeira resident at Rio were anxious to exonerate themselves from any charge of having participated in the insults and outrages offered to the Brazilians on that occasion, and published a declaration to that effect in the public Prints, to which was attached a number of signatures. Perhaps from theirs being also a dependant country, they regard the natives of Portugal with the same feelings as the Brazilians, and if so their story may be credited and the latter justified in according their belief to it.

The 25th being the 7th Anniversary of the Oath taken by his Majesty the Emperor to the Constitution, the occasion was eagerly seized by the Brazilians as most favourable for displaying their sentiments, and expressing their wishes. The Te Deum was sung in the Imperial Chapel, a levee was held – different orders were conferred, and the troops were reviewed. At night illuminations took place, and every public demonstration of joy exhibited. The Emperor himself when riding along the line of troops raised his hat and gave three vivas for the Constitution and in return, they shouted “Long live the Emperor and his august family,” to which it is reported that some added the qualifying and saving clause, “while he is constitutional.”

On the 29th of March we arrived at Rio, and on my first landing I was struck with the great number of people wearing the Brazilian cockade. Men and boys – blacks and whites were equally so distinguished. No other cockade was then to be remarked. I had expected at least to have seen some with the Portuguese national emblem, knowing the state of parties – but not one was visible. I learned afterwards that only one or two days after the disturbances of the 13th & 14th, the Portuguese had assumed the National Brazilian cockade, whether from insulting bravado or fear I cannot say. I should imagine that the latter feeling was the cause of this, but the Brazilians themselves pretended to consider this assumption of their cockade as a token on the part of Portuguese of their alleged sovereignty and consequently as an affront of the most aggravated nature to the Natives of the Country. With this idea in their minds they had raised a loud outcry, and in unison with the general feeling, the municipal body of the very Loyal and Heroic City of Rio de Janeiro called upon all the Brazilians to mount the national insignia and to maintain its honour, while the Public papers insisted that the naturalized Brazilians, or rather Portuguese, who ought to form no part of their political body, should be distinguished either by the constitutional badge of Terceira or that of Don Miguel. Thus, they argued, all confusion would be prevented, and the number of those who supported either party would at once be indicated. It was doubtless a measure of prudence on the part of the Portuguese, if in the hope of concealing themselves and escaping the effects of popular violence, they had not adopted the Brazilian cockade, but, if from contempt of the native Brazilians and its acknowledgment of their superiority, they acted most unwisely.
 As yet I had seen no open and public manifestation of those serious disputes, which actually now subsisted. All was apparently quiet and tranquil. I heard, however, of several instances where the national animosity had displayed itself in the usual mode. Some rascally Portuguese had murdered some Brazilians – nay one of the former had successfully stabbed three of the latter – but then in other cases dreadful retaliation had been exacted by the Brazilians, without the one party or the other seeming to have the decided ascendancy. Matter were notwithstanding fast approaching their crisis, and a few days only were to elapse before confusion and dismay were to be the portion of the Portuguese, and triumph, of the Brazilians.

Easter Week at Rio

On the afternoon of the 31st the solemnity of Easter commenced, a season, during which, it might have been expected that in a Christian country all dissentions and acts of violence would have ceased. The Emperor and Empress according to use and wont repaired to the Imperial Chapel, and after paying their devotions for a short time, departed, and, altho’ I was present, I did not hear or see any demonstration of public feeling. The Emperor looked very grave and stately, the Empress very timid. On Good Friday the usual grand religious procession went forth from the Chapel, passed in front of the Palace, at the balconies of which were the Emperor and Empress, and then paraded several streets, returning after some time to the place whence they started, and during all this time appearances were kept up.

On Saturday it had always been the custom for the people to show their detestation of the traitor Judas by hanging, drowning and burning him in a thousand different places – and to set off large quantities of fireworks. By an order from the Minister of Police these amusements were strictly prohibited - & all persons found with fireworks were to be taken up and punished, and the reason assigned was the unquiet state of the city, and the apprehension that if the mob which usually assembled, should be permitted, they would seize the opportunity of creating disturbances.

Disturbed state of Rio

On the 3rd April an extraordinary session was summoned to meet as soon as a legal number of members could be collected, in order to take into consideration the present critical state of affairs – a measure which was now imperative, as every hour and every minute was hastening the progress of public feeling. Parties of armed men were seen in open day parading the streets, armed with pistols, bayonets, and whatever else they could supply themselves with, without a question from the City Guard. – and by their looks and words sufficiently indicating their intentions of having recourse to violence, should their alleged grievances not be redressed, and their demands not be complied with. It was now very unsafe for the Portuguese to show themselves openly, and many of them returned to the vessels in the Harbour. Of course during the holidays of this season, all the shops were closed and all businesses intermitted to be resumed only after the holidays – but on the present occasion the shops remained closed beyond the usual time. The coffee houses and the French shops, which are nearly all to be found in the Rua Ouvidor, alone were open – some few others were partially opened, but the inmates stood at their strong doors, and could secure them in an instance, should they perceive it to be necessary.

Foreigners likewise were placed in a most disagreeable dilemma whilst walking the streets, lest they should be mistaken for others, and meet the fate which not unfrequently befell the wretched Portuguese. Orders were now given to prevent the assembling together of more than two or three people and soldiers were stationed at the corners of the streets – musquets loaded and bayonets fixed – who were authorised to fire upon such as refused to disperse. All sailors were required by an edict to go on board their vessels at sunset, and such as were found in the street after dark, were to be severely punished. Additional troops also were marched into the City from different stations to maintain the public tranquillity, and it was even rumoured that the Emperor was resolved to put the City under Martial Law.

Rapid Change of Ministry

Notwithstanding every possible measure the public ferment continued to increase, the Brazilians became more and more daring in their behaviour, and the whole population in appearance poured in crowds to the Campo d’Acclamacao, and there with arms in their hands demanded the dismissal of the Ministry. In England nor in any European state have you ever heard of such a rapid change of the Ministry as in Brazil, and it might naturally be thought that surely one change or another would have been satisfactory to the Brazilians – and so it would perhaps, but then, the Portuguese faction would have been up in arms and insisted upon such a Ministry as would have been agreeable to themselves. According to the account of the Brazilians, they have never received the smallest benefit from the numerous changes, and have always had to complain that their interest was neglected, and their persons and property were subject to the oppressions and galling bondage of a Portuguese Government.

Two or three changes have followed each other within a very short space of time. One set of Ministers at the request of the Brazilians were dismissed because they had always favoured the faction of Portugal – a second because they seemed inclined to connive at the mode of revenge adopted by the Brazilians – and a third Ministry was appointed, consisting of some who were known, it is said, to be hostile to the interest of Brazil. The object then of the discontented people assembled in array against their Sovereign was to demand the dismissal of all the obnoxious Ministers, and the appointment of such as were favourable to their cause.