"Uprising in Brazil — 1823"


Eunice Shanahan

This letter is really interesting, as it describes what is happening, at the time of political upheaval in a foreign country. It shows that the situation was affecting trade and the personal lives of the people concerned. It was addressed to James Finnie Esqr Lisbon, and written by their trading partners I W & I Whitmore of London. The three postal markings are
1) London Foreign office date stamp type in use 1815 to 1836 (Fig.1)

F 2 7 24 (This indicates Foreign Office 1824 According to Willcock and Jay, there is no record of what the 2 & 7 represent).

2) Lisbon arrival stamp 5 LISBOA 2 in oval.
3) Charge Mark in red ink 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) This is the correct rate for a letter at that time. The mail to Portugal usually went by the Falmouth packet, directly to Lisbon, and the rate was 1shilling 7pence for a single letter, plus the cost of inland postage from London to Falmouth at the scale in use in 1805, which was 11d, making a total of 2/6d.

There is also a manuscript note "Rocio Co 350" — I wonder if this is the actual address, added by the Lisbon Post Office for delivery?? (There is a filing note on the letter — London 22nd Jany 1824 J.W. & J Whitmore Received 5th Feby 1824, Answered 14th Do ) so that matches the date on the Lisbon postmark. (Fig.2)

So now to the letter which is in two parts ; the first explaining the postal situation, and then that they have had other letters from Rio de Janeiro.

"London 22nd January 1824
James Finnie Esqr Lisbon.
Dear Sirs
Finding there is no Packet in Port for the Mail of Yesterday we are induced to write in hopes this may be in time to go by the first conveyance, in order that no time may be lost in handing to you the above extracts from two letters we have this day received from our mutual Friends Messrs Finnie Brothers & Co of Rio de Janeiro dated 19th & 25th November, the contents of which we think will prove interesting. You will observe they make us a Remittance for your Account of £641.1.7 on Harmon & Co @ 60 days with which we are doing the needful & the same will appear to the Credit of your Account at maturity.
We have not been favoured with any letter from you since we had the pleasure of advising you on the 7th Inst and there being no material alteration either in the course of Exchange or your Place or the price of the Foreign or British Funds we have not thought it necessary to put you to the expense of Postage.

We subjoin at foot the quotation of one course of Exchanges of last Tuesday as also the prices of the Funds & not having further at present to enlarge on we beg to assure you of the sincere regards with which we remain
Dear Sir
Your faithful Hble Servts
I W & I Whitmore"

The list consists of 30 different financial dealings in European currencies, Bank stocks and Bonds, all with precise rates — for example "Genoa 43-3/4 @ 7/8". (Fig.3)

click here for larger image

There is a surprising range from Spanish, Portuguese and French to Russian, Danish, Prussian and English. The Rio de Janeiro entry is quoted at 50 — and there is a comment about this in the next part of the letter, which continues in a different handwriting. The first paragraph is financial information.

"Extract from 2 letters received from Messrs Finnie Brothers & Co of Rio de Janeiro dated 19/25 November 1823

Inclosed we hand you Henry Miller & Co Dft on Messrs Harmon & Co at 60 days sight to your order P £641.1.7 Stg which we beg you will pass to credit of our mutual Friend Mr. James Finnie of Lisbon advising him thereof in due course."

Fig 4

Then the letter continues with amazing details of the political situation in Rio de Janeiro.

"Within the last week we have had a great change in our political affairs our general Assembly by the order of the Emperor was surrounded by a body of Armed Troops and dissolved by a Decreto on 12 instant, 7 of the Members the 3 Andradas, Montezuma, Verguireo, Rocha & Belcher were apprehended and sent prisoners to the Fortresses and tis said will be sent off to Havre de Grace in course of a Day or two — All the troops are still in Arms encamped at St Christove near the Emperors Palace about 3 miles from the City a complete change of Ministry has taken place but several Individuals who were appointed having refused to accept we can hardly give a correct list tho' we believe it will be composed of Jao Severianno Maciel da Costa for the Impero, Luis Jozedo Carvalho e Mello for Foreign affairs, Felizberto Caldeira for War, Francisco Villela Barboza for Marine, Marianno Joze Perreira da Fonseca for Finance and Clemente Ferreira Franca for Justice.

A great deal of dissatisfaction prevails among the people and how these proceedings will terminate we cannot say but dread the result for such must produce a great sensation in the other Provinces — a Proclamation has been issued by the Emperor (*) in which he promises to convoke a new Assembly and in the interim he is to give the People a Constitution much more liberal than the Project which the former Assembly were discussing, a Manifesto has also come out insinuating that it was absolutely necessary to dissolve the Assembly as some of the Deputies taken up were at the head of a Conspiracy. A General Embargo is laid on all Merchant Vessels and very little business is doing."

(*) NOTE :- The Emperor. In 1808 after Napoleon invaded Portugal King John VI moved his capital from Lisbon to Brazil. In 1821 he returned to Lisbon and his son Crown Prince Pedro, remained as regent. In 1822 Pedro declared Brazil an independent kingdom and took the title Emperor Pedro I.

The letter then continues with information about the port and cargoes. All the ships listed were part of the British fleet, and much information about them is available on the internet. The Spartiate for instance was a French vessel built in 1797 but was captured by the British at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and pressed into service in the British Navy.

"The Spartiate 74 with Sir George Eyre arrived here on the 17 Inst and we have besides the Creole, Briton and Doris Frigates and Mersey S.W. in the Harbour.

Sugars continue 1800 first quality and 1000 for Muschoos Coffee 4300 Hides 145 & 155 Novas Cotton 5500 Geraes 4700. Silver Currency 5 P% Four Milrea Pieces 15P% Six Milfours 32 p% Premium Spanish Dollars 1000 Doubloons 15c 200 Each."

These last four items were Portuguese coins. A doubloon was a gold coin worth a double pistole — slightly over £1 in value. The Milreis was worth 1000 Reis possibly the Milfour was worth a quarter of it.

"Lord Cochrane arrived here on the 9 Inst in the Don Pedro 74 from Maranhao -and the Netherohy Frigate has arrived at Bahia."
(Note Lord Cochrane was a colourful character who deserves a story to himself, but he arrived in Rio, as reported here in this letter, to take command of the Brazilian navy 1823-25. I wonder who appointed him — a Briton, instead of a Portuguese admiral, as Brazil had been under Portuguese rule since the 1500s. Perhaps his reputation — as he had been in command of Chile's navy from 1818, where in 2½ years he made Chile mistress of her own waters. Perhaps the new Emperor Pedro was making a break from his father King John VI of Portugal.)

The second extract is a progress report on the political situation, beginning with the exchange rate, which is now worse than reported in the letter.

"25 November 1823
Our exchange has declined to 48½ and may go lower as affairs here still wear a very gloomy aspect, all the Troops are still encamped at St Christove, some incendiary Proclamations have appeared and some more people have been imprisoned. We understand that in course of a few days the Basis of a new constitution will be presented consisting of about 40 articles, in the meantime the Deputies are returning to their respective provinces and what proceedings may be adopted on their arrival it is difficult to say."

Then there is a final request which is an indictment of the high cost of postage at this time. I think it is surprising that merchants would bother, but that is the way to stay in business. Another interesting point is that the parcel they want to be forwarded, is addressed to James Finnie, a friend, yet it comes from the Finnie brothers in Rio.

"By Mr de Roos under another cover we send you a small parcel with an inclosure for our friend Mr James Finnie which have the goodness to forward by some Merchant Vessel to Lisbon in order to save Postage."

What I find so interesting about these old letters is that they give a personal viewpoint of some event in the past. It seems unlikely that in 180 years from now there will be any personal letters in existence telling of current events, as the phone and e-mails have taken over, and few people save their e-mails.

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite
Contact us

back to Old Letters

Return to our Home Page