Great Britain, the Paraguayan War and Free Immigration in Brazil, 1862-1875

Miguel Alexandre de Araujo Neto



As such, the defence of Brazilian sovereignty was structurally entangled with the defence of the slavery system. At a purely diplomatic level, from 1863 Great Britain had abandoned its efforts aimed at the direct termination of slavery in Brazil. Now, however, Great Britain's attention seems to have turned to undermining the foundations of the Brazilian slave system by means of liberal propaganda and free immigration. [13] It was around this issue that Scully's altercations with Brazilian elites would centre, subsequent to the Christie Affair. They appear to have been the most profound reasons for the events of July 1868 and the failure of British colonisation schemes in Brazil.


A Sabotaged Project: The Irish in Santa Catarina (1867-1869)

In 1866 some advances were made in some of the directions proposed by Scully. The creation in Rio de Janeiro of the International Emigration Society, in February of that year, had the direct participation of the Irish journalist, despite all the criticisms he made of the profile of that entity. [14] The Third of August Cabinet, inaugurated that year, showed a disposition towards implementing some type of effective mass immigration programme, reflecting the growing perception that the war effort was bound to intensify the country's labour shortage. Later on, Councillor Zacarias determined, in November 1866, that the slaves owned by the State ('slaves of the Nation') be emancipated for military service, prompting the acquisition of slaves from private owners for same purpose (Costa 1996: 244-248).

Immigrants before landing in Santos, São Paulo
(Acervo Museu da Imigração, São Paulo)

However, the clearest proof that the slavery question was the object of primary consideration in Brazil at that time is afforded by the Imperial Speech ('Fala do Trono') that opened the first session of the Thirteenth Legislature of the General Legislative Assembly on 22 May 1867. Addressing the issue, Dom Pedro II gave the legislators the following message:  

The Servile element in the Empire cannot but merit opportunately your consideration, providing in such a manner, that, respecting actual property and without a severe blow to our chief industry - Agriculture - the grand interests which belong to emancipation may be attended to.


Next, the Emperor hinted that 'to promote colonization ought to be the object of your particular solicitude' (Brazil. Federal Senate 1988-1: 264). [15]

It is of significance that the 23 May 1867 issue of The Anglo-Brazilian Times featured a very enthusiastic commentary by Scully:

Should Europe pour in here her superabundant population, where employment could be given to 20,000,000 of them, then the Government of Brazil can emancipate the slaves without ruining the production of the country and with some prospect of providing for the future of the freedmen.


This was preceded by a curious occurrence when, a few months earlier, Scully had apparently been sent to jail. Following the outbreak of a fire in the office of his newspaper, in February 1867, the Irishman had had a heated discussion with Chief of Police Olegario Herculano Aquino de Castro, during the course of investigations on the matter and the policeman arrested him. The Emperor himself seems to have interceded and the Chief of Police was exonerated. His substitute, however, issued an order of imprisonment against Scully, who complained about this with the Emperor's son-in-law, and heir to the throne, Luís Filipe Maria Fernando Gastão de Orleans, Count d'Eu (1842-1922). The order apparently was not executed. [16]

Meanwhile, since 1866, the immigration of North American Confederates had been on the increase. Having decided to leave the United States after the Union's military victory in the 1861-1865 Civil War, the Southerners encountered in The Anglo-Brazilian Times' editor a fervent collaborator and publicist. An example of this can be seen in the editorial of 23 June 1866, when Scully praised the then Minister of Agriculture, Antonio Francisco de Paula Souza (1843-1917), a freemason. Scully noted that:

Brazil needed only to be known to be appreciated as a field of emigration, and, fortunately [...] the dissatisfaction in the Southern States of North America caused Brazil to be visited by various small parties of Americans deputized by various companies of expatriating Southerners to seek homes wherever best for them.


The estimates vary greatly, but, according to Frank Goldman, around 2,000 Confederates settled in Brazil, out of approximately 10,000 people who left Dixie after the war (Goldman 1972: 10).

Colônia Príncipe Dom Pedro also figured among the destinations of the Confederates. Situated on the right bank of the Itajaí-Mirim river in Santa Catarina and in proximity to another colony, that of Itajaí (renamed Brusque), settled mostly by Germans. Created by the Imperial Decree of 16 February 1866, Príncipe Dom Pedro colony began to be effectively occupied by southern North American pioneers at the beginning of the following year. Its first director was an American, Barzillar Cottle. The amateur historian from Santa Catarina, Aloisius Carlos Lauth, in his most valuable work about the 'Príncipe Dom Pedro' indicates that, at the end of 1867, the number of Confederates involved in the colonising project had reached 237, that is, 35.5% of the total. The number of Irish coming from New York through the initiative of Quintino Bocaiuva was 129 (19.5%), and that of English, 108 (16%). There were also, in smaller numbers, French, Germans, Italians and others (Lauth 1987: 35). [17]

In 1866 Scully took the initiative of advertising Brazil as a prospective home for Irish emigrants. As well as writing a book about all of the Brazilian provinces to serve as a guide for immigrants (published for the first time in 1866 and again in 1868), he twice published in the Anglo-Brazilian Times, in October, a letter addressed to the Anglican Clergy in Ireland, requesting the procurement of colonists to that end. At the same time, in Brazil, the journalist continued to intensify propaganda for Irish immigration:

The Irishman, perhaps justly accused of unthriftiness and insubordination at home, for he is hopeless there and has the tradition of a bitter oppression to make him feel discontented, becomes active, industrious, and energetic when abroad; intelligent he always is. He soon rids himself of his peculiarities and prejudices, and assimilates himself so rapidly with the progressive people around him that his children no longer can be distinguished from the American of centuries of descent (ABT 23 January 1867).


At the end of 1867, around 339 immigrants coming from Wednesbury, England, were ready to embark for Brazil (256 of them Irish) (Marshall 2005: 56). Leaving England on 12 February 1868, and arriving at Rio de Janeiro on 22 April 1868, these immigrants were received in person by Emperor Dom Pedro II. [18] They were subsequently embarked for Colônia Príncipe Dom Pedro, where Irish migrants were not well respected because of the problems caused by compatriots of theirs, from New York, who had settled there and were involved in brawls and excessive drinking. Scully, noting the undue interference by another immigration agent (Chevalier Francisco de Almeida Portugal) in the undertaking, and informed of the problems that awaited the new arrivals, advised them not to go to the Itajaí-Mirim river valley (ABT 23 March 1868). [19] But it was too late.

When we turn our attention back to Scully's attacks against Caxias in January 1868, we see that the chronology of events is quite suggestive. It can be assumed the imminent embarkation of the Wednesbury immigrants had lifted Scully's spirits, because of his direct interest in the success of the undertaking. Certainly, the apparent moroseness with which war operations were being conducted in Paraguay during the period of the siege of Humaitá irritated him to the extreme, because of the urgency he felt that the proposals put forward by him since 1865 were successful. Therefore, the tone of his diatribes against the Brazilian marshal were not in any way gratuitous or extemporaneous. There was a great deal at stake. The experience in the Itajaí-Mirim valley looked like it constituted the first step towards the formation of a demographic magnet, designed to attract more British immigrants. [20] Therefore the fact that the necessary resources for the promotion of immigration were being spent on the war effort must have been quite exasperating. Actually, after July 1868 and the deposition of Zacarias de Góes e Vasconcelos, the new Conservative Minister of Agriculture imposed severe 'budgetary cuts in the support of state colonies, in part due to the mounting costs of the Paraguayan War' (Marshall 2005: 78).

During the interval between the fateful article in the Anglo-Brazilian Times of 7 January 1868 (along with other articles) and the removal of the Third of August Cabinet in July, the recently-arrived Irish people that eventually settled in Colônia Príncipe Dom Pedro had to face the adverse conditions anticipated by Scully, even though some preparations for their accommodation had been made. Among them was the appointment, at the end of 1867, of an Irish Catholic Priest, Joseph Lazenby, to be responsible for the spiritual life of the new colonists. Lazenby had been attracted to the colony when he heard of the presence of Irish settlers therein (Marshall 2005: 75), and he even managed to convert the American director Barzillar Cottle to Catholicism (Lauth 1987: 42-46).

The undertaking was frustrated, though, by a combination of factors, that affected all the settlers attracted to it since the foundation of the colony in 1866. A confrontation with the German colonists of the rival colony of Itajaí, on the left bank of the Itajaí-Mirim, resulted in March in the removal of Cottle and in the subsequent nomination of directors hostile to Anglophone settlers. The precariousness of roadways impeded the transport of the produce of the colonists, many of whom alleged not to have received payments for services rendered for the infrastructure of the colony. The lots of land, all of which were assigned with a considerable delay, were situated in locations subject to flooding and torrents, which indeed later occurred. With the removal of Zacarias' cabinet, from July 1868 the colonists found themselves divested of any political support during the Conservative era inaugurated by Itaboraí. When the Itajaí-Mirim river burst its banks and the colony was flooded, any chances for success for the project were obliterated (Marshall 2005: 78).

The Anglo-Brazilian Times, in its editions of June 1869, related the arrival at Rio de Janeiro, in rags, of a group of Irish people who had left Colônia Príncipe Dom Pedro. Equally, it gave notice that members of the British community of that city had provided help in purchasing return passages for the immigrants to Britain and Ireland. On 19 June a list of donors was published with their respective contributions, totalling £130, which seems to have been employed in the maintenance of the desperate immigrants. Gradually the colony was evacuated of all English-speaking colonists, while the intervention of British consular representatives in Rio and Santos prevented an even worse outcome for the impoverished settlers, most of whom were relocated in Brazil, Argentina and the United States (Marshall 2005: 80-87). Many had lost relatives during the venture. Finally, the lands where the first settlements failed were subsequently occupied by Polish colonists, whose descendants remained there and contributed to the formation of the present-day city of Brusque, an important textile centre in the state of Santa Catarina.



An attentive reading and interpretation of William Scully's editorials and various articles published in his newspaper, The Anglo-Brazilian Times, prior to 1868 suggest that there was a redefinition of the guidelines according to which British foreign policy towards Brazil between 1863 and 1870 was conducted. This seems to correspond to the predominance of the Liberal (Whig) Party in British politics in the mid-1860's.

On the other hand, such an interpretation complements Leslie Bethell and Francisco Doratioto's assertion concerning the non-existence of hard evidence, in primary sources, in support of the idea that England convinced Brazil and her Triple Alliance partners (Argentina and Uruguay) to undertake the eradication of a supposed Paraguayan challenge to British commercial and strategic hegemony in the South American region of La Plata. Scully's political propaganda and the problems caused by it seem to testify to the opposite: the War of the Triple Alliance would have been detrimental to the execution of Britain's anti-slavery policy regarding Brazil.

It is interesting to note that in the same 9 October 1866 issue of The Anglo-Brazilian Times that features a letter addressed to the Clergy of Ireland, whereby the recruitment of immigrants was requested, a short article was also published, which decries the outbreak, and continuation, of the war against Paraguay. In that article, having recalled arguments brought forward by the followers of Thomas R. Malthus (1766-1834) to justify the role of wars as inhibitors of excessive population growth, Scully points out that the same theory 'loses all the dreadful force of its argument when applied to the scantily peopled region of the Americas.'

Further on, he considers that 'here at least there should be no shouldering of each other on the paths of life to necessitate a war to clear the way.' As he listed every conflict situation in the Americas, Scully implies that Brazil was responsible for ongoing political problems in Uruguay, a factor that led to the outbreak of the Paraguayan War: 'we see a chronic condition of war in an adjoining state fanned by its powerful neighbor.' And as for the War of the Triple Alliance itself, he laments that Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina were 'wasting their substance in battling with the little but aggressive State of Paraguay.' The article continues with a vehement plea for a co-ordination of efforts by European world powers and, possibly, the United States, in order to devise a mediation scheme to bring to an end that armed conflict, since 'so many tens of thousands of their sons' had settled in South America and established such 'intimate and extended [...] mercantile relations' with them. Finally, Scully emphasises the need for such a mediation given the prospect of the conflict spreading to the whole of the southern continent 'through that unreasonable jealousy which the American republics display towards the well organized and progressive immense Empire of Brazil, whose peaceful internal condition they feel a continuous slur upon their internecine factions.'

As The Anglo-Brazilian Times was the only English-speaking newspaper in Brazil at the time, the foregoing pacifist discourse does not tally with the theory that maintains that the destruction of Paraguay was of paramount importance to British interests. On the contrary, if one accepts that Scully's newspaper was semi-official, partly sponsored by the British Government, and a vehicle for the conveyance of proposals that expressed the wishes of British policy makers in regard to Brazil, the pacifist spirit contained in the article acquires another meaning. It could be, then, associated with efforts aimed at boosting European emigration to Brazil as part of a larger strategy designed to end slavery through massive immigration. It is not mere coincidence that such an article should accompany an open letter asking for the Clergy of Ireland's collaboration in the achievement of that goal. A state of regional conflagration could only jeopardise those plans, just as appears to have happened.

This analysis thus suggests that the Irish immigrants who were brought over from Wednesbury, England, to people the Príncipe Dom Pedro colony in Santa Catarina, Southern Brazil, in 1867-1868, played the role of pawns in a lengthy and cumbersome international chess match opposing Great Britain to Brazil over the question of slavery - a form of labour exploitation that the latter rid herself of as late as 1888. Ireland, in turn, being a British colony at the time, did not have an independent say on the whole matter, although that country supplied the manpower with which British plans were to be carried out.

As for Brazil, domestically, the 1868 Cabinet change, triggered by Scully's editorials, had momentous consequences. The developments that followed seem to constitute an assertion of the country's sovereignty, and absolute stubbornness, as regards the task of addressing the slavery question. Only in 1871 was a Law effectively approved that liberated newborn offspring of slave women. On the other hand, it consecrated and reinforced the Brazilian version of the North American Jacksonian 'spoils system' in the relationship between the Legislature and the Imperial administration. If one takes it that the Príncipe Dom Pedro Colony was regarded as a type of foreign threat, the wholesale substitution of administrative personnel that followed the downfall of the Liberal-Progressive Cabinet headed by Zacarias de Góes e Vasconcelos was of crucial importance to the goal of securing the colony's failure. Newly appointed Conservative authorities, who replaced Liberal office holders, actually refused to help the English-speaking colonists.

Therefore, that pattern of politico-administrative procedures - and related institutions - was consolidated in 1868, as a basis for a lasting framework of social and political relationships. Derrubadas are still a prominent feature of Brazilian political life, with everything that they entail: nepotism, patronage, favoritism, partisanship and, last but not least, corruption. Upon every major political change in Brazil, democratic or authoritarian and military-led, the parties and newly sworn-in authorities replace, with party-members, allies, friends and relatives, most occupants of federal administrative entities' leaderships, at nearly all levels. The same occurs in state and municipal spheres. There are a few exceptions to the rule, like the Ministry of Foreign Relations, which is rather immune to partisanship. It looks as though, up to this day, those newly appointed to positions of power in Brazilian politics at any given moment since 1868, were always unwittingly celebrating a small, yet significant, and unacknowledged, clandestine victory over British - and Irish - interests: the dismantling of an English-speaking settlement.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 July 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Araujo Neto, Miguel A. de, '
Great Britain, the Paraguayan War and Free Immigration in Brazil, 1862-1875' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 4:3 (July 2006). Available online (, accessed .


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