Rio de Janiero

Captains sailing from Europe to Australia in the 1830s tried to avoid calling into ports. Stops cost time and they cost money for port charges and supplies. They brought the threat of disease and the possibility that crew might abscond. However if they were short of water or food, ships would stop at Cape Town in South Africa or Rio de Janiero in Brazil.

In the 1830s Brazil was an independent country, having won independence from Portugal in 1822. Rio was its major port and had been capital of Brazil until 1815. Rio’s wealth was founded on the discovery of gold at the end of the seventeenth century and by the 1830s it also exported diamonds and sugar.

Games during the carnival at Rio de Janeiro. Augustus Earle, c.1822. Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

Rio had a reputation for disease and if ships did call captains would usually anchor off shore. Typically, they would allow cabin passengers to go ashore but would be unlikely to allow emigrants travelling in steerage to leave the ship.

A well known artist and traveller, Augustus Earle, visited Rio in 1822. He was horrified by the slave trade. Rio’s sugar industry was based on slavery and in 1840 over 220,000 people were held as slaves. He was struck by the grandeur of the landscape and the harbour that is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Earle was also struck by the revelry of Mardi Gras, the annual celebration that is held, usually in March, before the start of Lent.

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