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BR AZI L Brazil was a beautiful but dangerous place 200 years ago, when three Liverpool brothers set out for its shores. They began by working as merchants, but were soon appointed as British Consuls in the ports of the newly-independent Empire of the Brazils. There, their official duties brought them into close and daily contact with rebellion, piracy, shipwreck, mutiny, but, above all, with the cruelty and the chicanery that surrounded the Slave Trade. In this unusual book, Ian Sargen paints a fascinating picture of the lives and fortunes of the three brothers. One spent twenty years in the northern port of Sáo Luis, with its gracious buildings and its dangerous tides, where he successfully protected the British residents against attack, and had to deal with the devious Lord Cochrane. He then spent another twenty years battling against aggressive slave-traders in the bustling port of Rio de Janeiro, with its dramatic backdrop of volcanic peaks. Another brother represented the British Crown in Belém on the banks of the vast and muddy Amazon, from which he had to flee for his life when the vicious Cabanagem Rebellion broke out. The third brother acted as Deputy Consul in Sáo Luis, and then offended the Foreign Office, and was deprived of promotion. We meet their wives – the beautiful and love-lorn Margarida, and the 19 year-old Georgiana who married the British Consul in Rio, thirty years her senior. We meet their many children, some of them orphaned and left penniless by the early and tragic deaths of their parents.

Compiled from rarely-seen original sources, “Our Men in Brazil” gives a vivid picture of the vanished world of the nineteenth-century British Consul, who worked without complaint in the tropical heat, surrounded by his often quarrelsome compatriots, to help British merchants, British seafarers, and wretched African slaves. It is a timely reminder that great causes, like the growth of a newly-independent nation like Brazil, or the abolition of the heinous Slave Trade, often depend for their success on the quiet work of forgotten men, like the Hesketh brothers of Liverpool.


Sargen, cover for Our Men in Bra1 1


BR AZI L the

Hesketh brothers abroad


We also meet the towering authoritarian figures of Castlereagh, Canning, and Palmerston, who controlled the complex network of British diplomats and consuls throughout the world from their antiquated Foreign Office building in Downing Street. Palmerston, in particular, emerges as a surprisingly sympathetic figure.



IAN SARGEN 20/10/2009 15:06:16




Macapá Bay of Marajó Salinas

Isle of Marajó Belém

São Luis BRAZIL Rio Tocantins

Bay of Guajará


Fort Antonio

British cemetery The Old Docks Custom House Castello Governor’s Palace Cathedral Arsenal Rio Guama

Belém – main features c.1835

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SA N TA M A R I A DE BEL ÉM “…o terra de ricas florestas, Fecundadas ao sol do ecuador… (‘Hymn of Pará’ – Arthur Porto) (“Land of rich forests, Fertilised by the soil of the Equator…”)


he city of Santa Maria de Belém was founded in 1616, not long after São Luis, by Francisco Caldeira. Its discoverer had set out from the newlysettled colony of Maranhão; three centuries later, the two towns were still closely linked in trade, transport, and politics. What was happening in one was always a matter of concern and interest to the other. In the early nineteenth century, their successes and their tribulations followed a parallel track. There were some geographical similarities, too. Both lay close to the dangerous and tricky north coast of Brazil, with its equatorial weather and its perilous tides. Both cities controlled the entrance to a vast river-system. Both lay at a great distance from the rest of Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro several weeks’ sailing-time away. But there were differences, too: São Luis lay only a mile or two from the Atlantic coast, with a shallow harbour, whereas Belém lay 80 miles (120 kilometres) from the coast, and its harbour was spacious if not deep. Belém was named after the royal enclave of the same name in Lisbon, which, in its turn, was a rendering of the name of Christ’s birthplace. For much of its history, it has also been called Pará, although that term is properly reserved for the province as a whole, which was the largest in Brazil, and included the major part of the great Amazon basin. The site on which the city was built offered a ready opportunity to erect a fort or two, a naval arsenal, a cathedral and several other churches, a bishop’s palace (for it soon merited a bishopric under the archiepiscopate of Lisbon), a Governor’s Palace, and a Customs-House, all along or near the waterfront. In 1819, when John Hesketh first arrived there to run his mercantile business, there was still dense forest surrounding the city. There was also a great deal of fertile land around it, and along the banks of the rivers which formed the Amazon delta. The province’s products were many and various, most T H E H E SK E T H BROT H E R S A BROA D

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The city of Pará (or Belém), with the Custom-House on the left, and the Castello on the right

growing in the forest: cocoa, corn, rice, cinnamon, coffee, sugar, India rubber, nuts, and drugs of many kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Pará was exporting all these, along with tapioca, balsam, capivi, anatto, isinglass, cotton, sarsaparilla, cloves, copal, vanilla, and many hardwoods. It was also exporting hides in some quantity, for the vast island of Marajó, 120 miles long and as large as Switzerland, lay across the Bay of Guajará from Belém, and produced large herds of cattle. Pará’s rubber boom was some years off. Charles Goodyear was already busy with the process of vulcanisation in 1839 and 1840. His work was to change Belém for ever. Augustus Cowper, John Hesketh’s successor as Consul in Pará, suggested that there were many minerals to be exported, “if the people were not so ignorant”, and talked about gold deposits133, but his optimism has only recently been fulfilled, with the development of mineral extraction plants in the province. In 1840, two years after John’s death, the population of the city was only thirteen thousand, of whom a third were free men and women over twenty-one, a third were slaves, and a third were children. There were also over four hundred people who originated in other countries, twenty-five of them British. At a time when the steam-engine was 116

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powering a vast number of industrial processes in Great Britain, there were still only two steam engines in the city, one used to prepare rice, the other used in a sugar-mill. There was a poor standard of elementary education, according to Cowper, and only the Portuguese inhabitants possessed any degree of education. He had a low opinion of the city’s priests, who were “unrivalled demagogues; they are the cause of disturbance, and have immoral habits.” Trade, which had been growing encouragingly in the early 1830s, had been dealt a harsh blow by the Cabanagem Rebellion later in the decade, and was only recovering slowly again in 1840. The province was divided into four regions, twenty-six parishes, and a hundred and seven districts, and was headed by a President appointed by the Emperor for a period of three years. The Provincial Assembly had limited powers, and was elected by only three hundred and twenty men out of the total population of four hundred thousand people. There are numerous accounts in existence of Belém in the mid nineteenth century, for it was a popular starting or finishing point for the increasing number of expeditions up the Amazon. William H. Edwards, for instance, set off from New York in February, 1846, for Pará, on the “Undine” in the company of the American Consul to Pará, Mr. Smith and his wife.134 After twenty days, they saw the blue-green water of the Atlantic Ocean change to the muddy-brown waters of the Amazon. They steered past the two great sand-banks, the Bragança and the Tigoça, and sailed past the settlement of Salinas, with its broad, white beach and its dangerous breakers. Normally, ships took on a pilot here, but the “Undine’s” captain decided to trust to his own skill, and proceeded up the river against the current and the tide, to begin the 24-hour trip to Belém. On the right stretched the long island of Marajó, and on the left, a series of long, low islands. They passed tall trees, clearings, and haystack-shaped huts, and then threaded their way past the islands that lie twenty miles north of the city. They reached Belém at 8 o’clock at night, and anchored opposite the town. “It was too late for a visit, and we turned in, impatient for the morning. All night long, church bells were ringing, and clocks striking, and, at intervals, we could distinguish the notes of a bugle, or the loud cry of the patrol.” The next morning, they awoke to find that they were anchored amongst ships of many nations, river-boats, and canoes loaded with all kinds of produce. “Fine-looking buildings, of three or four stories height, faced the water, all yellow in colour, and roofed with red tiles. Vast cathedrals and churches covered with the mould of age, shot up their tall spires, their walls and roofs affording sustenance and support to venerable mosses and shrubs of goodly size. Garden walls were hung with creeping vines, like ancient T H E H E SK E T H BROT H E R S A BROA D

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ruins. Vultures were leisurely wheeling over the city, or, in clusters, upon the housetops, spreading their wings to the sun. Mid the ringing of bells, and the discharge of rockets, a long procession was issuing from the church of San Antonio, and a Babel of sounds, from dogs and parrots, and strange tongues, came over the water.” After the formalities of a visit from the port doctor and a custom-house official, they went ashore, past the files of canoes drawn up above the highwater mark: “The more fortunate occupants, who have sold their wares, are variously engaged; some sleeping; others, preparing their morning meal; others, combing and arranging their luxuriant tresses…. and others, the most of all, chattering with their neighbours, or screaming in shrill tones to friends on shore. Here are negroes of every shade and colour, from the pure Congo, to the almost pure whites; some buying, some selling. There stands one, with his basket of coarse cotton cloth and his yard-stock; and close by, an old wench is squatted by a pot of yellow soup, the extract of some palm-nut. Here are strings of inviting fish and piles of less captivating terrapins; coarse baskets filled with Vigia crabs, the best in the world; and others of palm-leaves, fashioned like a straw reticule, are swelled out with the delicious snails. Monkeys, fastened to logs, entice you to purchase them by their antics; and white herons, and various other wild birds, by their beauty. Everywhere, and most numerous of all, are the fruit-dealers, and for a mere nothing, all the luxuries of the fruit-prolific clime are yours … the singularly neat appearance of the women, each dressed in white, and with a flower in her hair, and you remember that it is a holiday. Oddly-dressed soldiers mingle among the crowd; inquisitive officials peer about for untaxed produce; sailors, from vessels in the harbour, are constantly landing; gentlemen of the city are down for their morning stroll, beautiful Indian girls flit like visions, and scores of boys and girls in all the freedom of nakedness, contend with an equal number of impudent goats, for the privilege of running over you.” The naturalist, H.W. Bates, approached the city from the same direction two years later, in 1848, at the end of a voyage from Liverpool.135 He was travelling with Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-propounder with Darwin of the theory of natural selection. His captain took on a pilot at Salinas, and then sailed down the river, which was thirty-six miles broad at its mouth, and was still twenty miles broad opposite Belém. Higher up the river, other 118

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The Market Wharf in Belém in the nineteenth century

rivers joined it, especially the Tocantins, which was sixteen hundred miles long, and ten miles broad at its mouth. Belém is “built on a low tract of land, having only one small rocky elevation at its southern extremity… the white buildings, roofed with red tiles, the numerous towers and cupolas of churches and convents, the crowns of palm trees reared above the buildings, all sharply defined against the clear blue sky… The perpetual forest hems the city in on all sides landwards, and towards the suburbs, picturesque country houses are seen scattered about, half buried in luxuriant foliage.” He met the consignee of the vessel, Daniel Miller, who was soon to be appointed Consul, and went for an evening walk: “There was “ringing uproar” everywhere, with the sounds of cicadas, frogs, and toads. After traversing the few streets of tall, gloomy convent-looking buildings near the port, inhabited chiefly by merchants and shopkeepers, along which [wandered] idle soldiers, dressed in shabby uniforms, carrying their muskets carelessly over their arms, priests, negresses with red water-jars on their heads, sadT H E H E SK E T H BROT H E R S A BROA D

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Our men in Brazil final  

Hesketh brothers abroad the I A N S A R G E N in in CITY OF BELÉM Custom House Rio Guama Fort Antonio Rio Tocantins Macapá British cemetery...

Our men in Brazil final  

Hesketh brothers abroad the I A N S A R G E N in in CITY OF BELÉM Custom House Rio Guama Fort Antonio Rio Tocantins Macapá British cemetery...