Travellers (reports on Brazil, from the 16th to 19th centuries)

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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The travellers were people from both sexes, from varied social classes, professions and diverse intellectual educations who described aspects of Brazil through chronicles, travel reports, correspondence, memories, diaries, albums and drawings.

The collection of works left by them integrates the so-called travel literature and makes up a literature of witnesses, whose records and observations help to learn the reality of Brazil at the time.

The presence of foreign travellers and their reports published on Brazil date back to 16th century. There are over 260 works, in various languages, where the authors talk about the inhabitants, social life, customs and conventions, fauna, flora and other aspects of the old Portuguese colony, especially during the 19th century after Dom João VI decreed the opening of Brazilian ports in 1808. With this opening there was a growth in shipping and consequently an increase in the foreign presence in the country.

The first to narrate the early history of the country was Pero Vaz de Caminha, in a letter he sent to D. Manoel I, King of Portugal, when he discovered the Terra de Santa Cruz (Land of the Holy Cross).

Still in the 16th century there are other reports from Hans Staden, Voyage to Brazil (1557) and Jean de Léry, Voyage to the Land of Brazil (1574).

From this large quantity of foreigners, travellers and adventurers (English, French, German and Portuguese) who wrote about their impressions and chronicles of Brazil, mention can be made of some who were in Northeast Brazil and made their reports about the region.

One of the best narratives about the Northeast in the first half of the 19th century was by the Englishman Henry Koster, who wrote the book Travels in Brazil, published in London in 1816. In 1898 it was translated by C. de A. Pimenta and published in the Magazine of the Pernambuco Archaeological, Historic and Geographic Institute. However, its first book edition in Brazil is from 1942, with translation by Luís da Câmara Cascudo under the title Viagens ao Nordeste do Brasil (Travels in Northeast Brazil).

As a complement to Koster’s report, Frenchman Louis François de Tollenare wrote, between 1816 and 1818, a diary which approached important aspects of social and political life, customs and conventions, popular festivals, slavery, political movements and the economy of the society at the time. The parts refereeing to the states of Pernambuco and Bahia were translated by Alfredo de Carvalho and published under the title of Notas dominicais (Dominican Notes), in the Magazines of the Pernambuco Archaeological and Geographic Institute in 1904 (v.61), and of the Bahia Historic and Geographic Institute in 1907 (v.14).

Another important record is by James Henderson, a traveller and English diplomat who was in Brazil from 1819 to 1821 and wrote the book (still without a Portuguese translation), A History of Brazil: Comprising its Geography, Commerce, Colonisation, Aboriginal Inhabitants, published in London in 1821.

German Johan Moritz Rugendas has a significant work for the study of the physical characteristics, habits and customs of the black and Indian population, as wells as of the mulattos and mixed-races that today form the so-called Brazilian race. The book was translated to Portuguese and published in 1940 under the title of Viagem pitoresca através do Brasil (A Picturesque Travel through Brazil).

Another important report on Brazil and the Northeast from the 19th century is by Englishwoman Maria Graham who came to the country three times and wrote Journal of a Voyage to Brazil, and Residence There, During Part of the Years 1821, 1822, 1823, published in Portuguese in the Série Brasiliana, v. 8 in 1956.

Two German scientists, Johan Baptist von Spix and Karl Friedrich Philip von Martius,  undertook a long trip in the interior of Brazil from 1817 to 1820, passing through various provinces, following the São Francisco River through Minas Gerais and Bahia, passing through the semi-arid region of Pernambuco, Piauí and Maranhão, analysing and making notes about the rural populations. Their notes were translated to Portuguese and published by Imprensa Nacional under the title Viagem pelo Brasil (Travel through Brazil) in 1938.

Richard Francis Burton was one of the great English travellers of the 19th century. In 1865 he was appointed as British consul in Santos and in 1867 he was granted permission for a trip around Brazil that lasted five months. He visited Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Paulo Afonso in Bahia, going all the way to Penedo in Alagoas on the São Francisco River, which he called the “Brazilian Mississipi”. His observations were recorded in the book Explorations of the highlands of the Brazil, published in London, in 1869 and translated to Portuguese under the title Viagens aos planaltos do Brasil (1941).

The narratives of the travellers, collected in books, sometimes published in more than one edition and in various languages, were great success at the time, being sought after by the public interested in descriptions of exotic peoples and customs.

The travellers were, therefore, the great chroniclers of Brazilian life in the 16th to 19th centuries, describing in their works aspects of the land, the people, the customs and the conventions of Brazil. All of the works cited in the text can be consulted at the Blanche Knopf Central Library of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation.
Recife, 29 June 2004.
(Updated on 9 September 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.


ANJOS JÚNIOR, João Alfredo dos (Org.) Viajantes ingleses no Nordeste do Brasil no século XIX. Recife: Fundaj; Instituto de Documentação. Biblioteca Central Blanche Knopf; The British Council, 1991.  [Não paginado]. Catálogo de exposição bibliográfica.
CALDEIRA, José de Ribamar C. O Maranhão na literatura dos viajantes do século XIX. [São Luís]: Academia Maranhense de Letras; Edições AML/Sioge, 1991.  93p.
SILVA, Leonardo Dantas. Viajantes: a paisagem vista por outros olhos. Ciência &Trópico, Recife, v. 28, n. 2, p. 249-260, jul./dez. 2000.


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Travellers (reports on Brazil, from the 16th to 19th centuries). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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