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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

EMPIRE ADRIFT* - account of the voyage of the Portuguese Court to Brazil in 1807

(Taken from the book “Império à Deriva – a Corte Portuguesa no Rio de Janeiro 1808 – 1821”, (Empire Adrift – the Portuguese Crown in Rio de Janeiro), by Patrick Wilcken, civilização editora, 5ºedição 2006, pp 21-66)

*Same as title of book

The French had arrived at the border under the command of Junot. All the attempts of neutrality had stopped and now the Portuguese Crown played on 2 sides at the same time: on one hand agreeing with the French Invasion to avoid the blood spill like it happened across Europe and on the other maintaining a secret alliance with England. And while the population was somewhat oblivious to it all, not knowing if they should wait peacefully for the Invasion, as told, or just run for the countryside, the French artillery remained at the border while few infantry men entered Lisbon, since it wasn't under the orders for an attack and since the Portuguese military wasn't prepared anyways.
Strangford, the British diplomat in Portugal advises a strategic retreat of the Crown to Brazil, but the King is afraid of the ocean. Nevertheless, on the 24th of November they leave at night towards the Lisbon harbor. On the 27th the King arrived, the queen later. (Junot crosses the border between the 23rd and the 26th of November and arrives in Lisbon on the 30th).
At the docs a countless number of boxes with valuable documents, jewelry, religious icons, books, century old bibles, furniture, gold, coins, clothing, all the valuables of several palaces and governmental buildings mount up, drawing the attention of the population. An endless “ocean” of crying , begging, chaos and general hysteria started as soon as the news of the Crown hit the streets of Lisbon.
The exodus moves forward and behind them remained hundreds of scrolls, valuable books and the 1st edition of the “Lusíadas”.

The King embarking for Brazil, Roque Gameiro, "Quadros da História de Portugal", 1932.

An estimated 10 thousand people left Portugal for Brazil, but it isn't an exact number; there are no official records. Doctors, religious people, servants, cooks, military, lawyers, civil servants and their families, all of them leave with the Crown. And to these, others who managed to “tag” along with bribes and requests. Lisbon had around of 200 thousand people leaving in the city at the time, so the number of people at the docs must have been amazing.
For the Crown there were 4 ships available: Afonso de Albuquerque, Rainha de Portugal, Príncipe do Brasil, Príncipe Real. This last one for the 2 eldest sons. And as military escort until the archipelago of Madeira, the British ships: HMS Marlborough, HMS Bedford, HMS London and HMS Monarch.
These ships and many other smaller vessels where in no conditions for such an endeavor. In fact, they were criticized by the British officials, having some of the ships been sent back for their lack of navigability: the wood was rotting, water was leaking in, the ropes were old, the sails ripped, the mast in risk of falling, etc. That is what happened to the Medusa and the D. João de Castro, hurting people. Even servants were told to sew new sails.
Not even counting with the fact that they were traveling in Winter, in cold weather, facing storms and rain, and navigate through stronger maritime currents and that most of these people never had traveled before, yet alone by sea.
There are few reports of the journey that have survived and most of them by anonymous people that have written letters and personal journals: besides the 4 royal vessels, the exile might have been made out of 3 or 5 frigates, 2 or 4 brigs, 1 supply ship, 8 liner ships with cannons only for the royal squadron, an a countless number of merchants ships, smaller brigs ans sloops chartered by so many people.
They were too many people and badly equipped with supplies. Everything was lacking: water and loads of it(!), food, live stock, ropes, wax, fire wood, oil, clothing, etc. The ones in most need were the women having only the clothing on their backs. The British navy had to distribute sheets so clothing could be made.
There where outbreaks of diseases and lice. Men would throw their wigs into the sea and would stand in line to have to kneel down and have their heads shaved and dusted. How humiliating it must have been.
The ships were so overcrowded that people would sleep on deck and the ones that were moved to the British vessels were the lucky ones.
All these conditions worsened as the voyage moved on and the emotional state of these people too. Continuous quarrels and fighting where the normality. One of the letters written on the subject by one civil employee states that it more looked like the conditions of the British prisoners sent to the colony of Australia.
And as soon as they crossed the hemisphere, the climate conditions where the opposite: such calmness and heat and no wind. They only traveled 30 nautical leagues in 10 days. Approaching Brazil, several ships landed in several different places out of despair.

Map of the journey. Taken from the book mentioned above.

On the 22nd of January of 1808, the main naval exodus reached Salvador, where only 1 governmental official received them and in surprise because of no previous warning of arrival dates nor of what sort of etiquette should be applied. Locals were removed from the streets but the King contradicted the orders because he wanted to see the people he ruled over.
One of the 1st things that were organized was clothing for the travelers. The official landing wasn't immediate, only 1 day after the landing, and the general looks of the exodus shook the mythical opinion of the colonials of the metropolis. The New World was in awe to see these filthy exiled filled with lice and in rags. The second thing organized was a mass in the main cathedral to thank the safe arrival of the Crown.
In contrast, this new city was very different of what anyone had ever seen in Europe: the climate, vegetation and “naturals” were very different. Many of the people had mestizo origins already and the Portuguese language had evolved to something else; the architecture was random and up the hills, new products and slaves being brought to land, the smells of palm oil and fried fish covered the air and the rich people let themselves be carried by litters.

Dom João VI arriving in Brazil.

And so started a new chapter on the History of Portugal and for these exiled Portuguese. During a decade and a half they would be far away form the French (but not from the Brits).

Príncipe Real arriving in Rio de Janeiro and being hailed by HMS Marlborough, Geoff Hunt.

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