back to Rio!

[Originally posted July 14, 2014]

Many of our historical books catalogued as 'travel' are primary sources of social history. Historic events and observations are framed by the traveller in exotic places of the distant past, capturing moments in time, that can be relived through the text. This dynamic makes our 'dusty' travel books so interesting to read and a unique source of reference for original research.
Just one topical example in the Collection—

The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro
Bell, Alured Gray, [1870-1925]
London : William Heinemann, [1914]
194 pages : illustrations
List of maps --
Plan of the city : p. 36
General map of Western Telegraph Company's System : p. 150
System and connections of the Brazil Railway Company : end page
image: A corner of the Hall of Honour, Cattete Palace : title page
RGSSA catalogue

For some time, Rio de Janeiro, has been the focus of the sporting world and a good reason to blog about this particular book, and perhaps, to appreciate the life and work of a bygone author.

Major world events are currently being held in Rio and the city is due to hold the next Olympic Games in 2016. In recent weeks, the football World Cup tournament has been played out in various cities in Brazil. The final match has just been decided in Rio and returned a victory for Germany against Argentina [2014]. Meanwhile, elite athletes around the world are training for the next Olympiad in Rio.

Rio de Janeiro was a very different place a century ago...

Ipanema Beach: a South Atlantic Suburb of Rio : p. [30]

Alured Gray Bell (1870-1925) was an Englishman born at Alexandria, Egypt. In The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro he relates his experiences of living in Rio prior to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. These few facts about him are intriguing; definitely, an interesting life.

The book is richly illustrated, a 'Lonely Planet' style guidebook to Rio, with almost one hundred 'moody' black and white photographs depicting a strangely unwelcoming Rio with desolate beaches. From the wintry photograph of Ipanema Beach above it is difficult to imagine that it would become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Today, Ipanema is a fashionable seaside suburb and made a household name by Astrid Gilberto's song, the Girl from Ipanema  (1964). A suburban map of Rio is also included in this book.

South suburban Rio de Janeiro—Ipanema : p. [116]

Throughout, numerous and charming full-page colour plates show the sights and sounds of Rio painted by various unknown artists in an avante-gard impressionist style. This volume is credited as the first English language publication to feature the city [?].

From Bell's introduction; the following conversation took place on a train prior to the First World War—
Travelling across England after a two years' residence in Rio de Janeiro I found myself alone in the train with a schoolboy, aged ten, and asked him if he knew anything about Brazil.  "No," was the little Englishman's reply; "we are only doing Europe."  "But you know where it is?" I suggested.  "America," he replied rather timorously.  "And what do you imagine it to be like?" I asked.  "Don't know."  "But you must imagine something about it—is it all ice, do you think?"  He thought quite half a minute, and then ventured this very respectable guess: "Prairies and fields." Certainly he was right for a fifth of the country; but he should have added "forests, mountains and great rivers."

Bell continues to explain that his book was sponsored by Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, President of the Republic of the United States of Brazil (1910-1914).

The residents of the 'River of January' are known as Cariocas (pronounced care-ree-o-cas) and very proud of their city and its landscape. The Brazilian President intended that English-speaking people should be 'better acquainted than our schoolboy with the magnificent metropolis of Brazil.'

His Excellency Marshal Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca
President of Brazil, 1910-1914 :  frontis to Chapter 1 
[Copyright (extinguished) photograph by Messrs. Huebner and Amaral, Rio de Janeiro]

the 'pre-tango' days

The author's opening paragraph describes luxury cruising at its unrivalled best and an itinerary that would be the envy of modern cruise lines—
My first visit to Brazil, 1909, was by the R.M.S.P. Asturias, twin-screw, 12,002 tons, then the latest and largest ship of this fine British merchant fleet. The trip from Southampton gave the following itinerary: Cherbourg, Vigo, Lisbon (a morning and afternoon on shore in the pretty capital of the mother-country of Brazil), Madeira (a morning on shore), St. Vincent, Pernambuco (the first Brazilian port of call, eight days' sail from Madeira, during which the equator is crossed), Bahia (a day's sail), Rio de Janeiro (on the sixteenth day, allowing a night and a half-day on shore), Santos, Montevideo, and finally Buenos Aires on the twenty-first day. There was not a rough day throughout the passage, and only one hot day. 

"I recall the morning swim in the large, improvised sail-bath on deck, between Lisbon and Pernambuco, as the hall-mark of a perfect voyage.

Lovely Brazilians and Argentines also haunt the memory from those so-called pre-Tango days and the 'regulation' fancy-dress ball of the Asturias.

Wealth and luxury abounded on board; and if only more people knew of the pleasure of this stock voyage of the great steamship line, more would try it for the sake of health, education, art, novelty, and ease."

Chapter I. Between the United Kingdom and Brazil by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company : p. 1 

The Royal Mail
Steam Packet 'Arlanza' : p. [2]

In the second chapter Bell describes experiencing his unspoilt view of entering Rio de Janeiro Harbour by steamship—
We have turned from a southerly to a westerly course around Cape Frio, about latitude 23° South, just inside the Tropic of Capricorn, and after a few hours' steaming we are off the harbour entrance, and turn north to enter this peerless bay. Now to right and left are forest-clad mountains with stretches of buff beach on either shore, and islands which seem as sentinels of a treasure house.  We pass in.  In the mouth of the channel is the Island of Lage, dividing it into two passages.  

"We take the western and broader passage, 950 yards wide, leaving close on our left the Sugar Loaf (Pao de Assucar) Mountain, 1,383 feet high, an almost scrubless rock.

Now the South Atlantic is dead-astern, and the majestic panorama unfolds—the mountain-guarded, pear-shaped, island-studded harbour, eighteen miles in length from south to north, and twelve miles at its widest point between the eastern and western shores.  On our immediate left lies Rio de Janeiro; we steam ahead for two miles and anchor from a quarter to half a mile off the city, or moor alongside the new and spacious quays.

Aboard a "Royal Mail" : p. [2]

We have passed several islets on the way in. Around and about us everywhere are noble mountains and hills, the loftiest, the Organ Mountains, attaining upwards of 6,000 feet, closing in the bay on the north."--Chapter IIRio de Janeiro and the Bay of Guanabara : p. 7

'I have journeyed in five continents,
and have yet to see the equal of the 
Bay of Guanabara' p. 6

A little bit of Guanabara Bay : p. [78]

'To go to Rio 
and not to go up to Corcovado is folly' : p50

Another landmark synonymous with Rio is the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city (completed, 1931). The Redeemer sits atop a mountain aptly named 'Corcovado' meaning 'hunchback' in Portuguese and is often confused with nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.

The Botafogo portion of Rio's Bay-side Avenue, overlooked by Corcovado Mountain : p. [8]

Bell repeatedly describes Corcovado in the Tijuca Forest National Park as a 'frowning presence over the city'. The photograph below shows the approach to Corcovado and its summit can be clearly seen 'frowning' in the distance.

On the way to Corcovado : p. [48]


A book on Rio is never complete without the author's impression of Carnival—
There is then Rio de Janeiro's greatest outburst, the annual Carnival. This amazing four days' interruption of all business does amaze and, at first brush, annoy the English or American business visitor. But so well is the whole thing done, and so really genuine becomes the universal fun-making, that one is caught carnivalling against one's will. It has been estimated that over 200,000 people can and do collect by day or night in the Avenida [Avenue] Rio Branco, all more or less on harmless mischief bent. The sobriety of the crowds is astonishing, so also is the squirting of perfumes, while the special parade of fancy and illuminated cars, organised by such carnival clubs as the Lieutenants of the Devil, and others, afford spectacles well worth seeing. Throughout Carnival motor-cars are at a premium, every car that the city contains being in full use for the four days.

"Up in Petropolis I came in for a carnival of water. Everybody was exchanging water—water from garden hoses, from buckets, from water-balls. With my companions I hired a carriage and proceeded to give and take all the water possible, and there was no lack of water trade. The sober Legations were drawn into the frivolous deluge, and at one time between the balcony of the French Legation and a mock fire-brigade in the road an appalling water bombardment was in progress directed with spirit by the Minister's wife.

Very forlorn and very paper and confetti-strewn do the streets of Rio look before Carnival is finally swept up. The more enthusiastic spirits then retire to their lairs, and premeditate more mad frolic for the carnival to come."--Chapter XIX. Carioca Society : p. 194

image (top):

Alto da Serra: Petropolis—Leopoldina Railway
A bit of Petropolis : p. [76]

Italian designs on Rio
Rio was undergoing major modernisation during the years Bell lived there. He devotes a chapter to the new architecture and highlights the role played by Italian design and architects.
Rio's main street, Central Avenue, was renamed the Avenida Rio Branco after the modernisation in 1914 and features in many of the illustrations in this book. Italian architect, Antonio Januzzi, was a key figure in redesigning Rio and left his mark on many of the most beautiful buildings in the Avenue. 

Bell writes:
"Despite the strong influence of French design, the new Rio owes much to Italian architects. Still arise here and there copies of the Portuguese style, called with disdain by many Brazilians as 'plum pudding' style'. Januzzi  designed more than 5000 buildings in the city and won two major design awards for his brilliant work in the Brazilian capital." 

Worthy of note is the disdain with which the Brazilian elite regarded Portuguese architecture. Bell identifies the style as having: "French windows, facade Spanish, English sills, German or Italian roof and shutters. Abuse of blue, green and red and the use of images of saints."

Residence of Mr. Frank H. Walter, 
Petropolis : p. [60]

'One of the best appointed libraries in the world' ...
The foreigner will do well to visit the National Library in Rio de Janeiro with its splendid rooms and halls.  The National Library is the best-equipped and the best-housed institution of its kind in South America.  It was founded by the Prince Regent of Portugal, Dom Joao, afterwards King Joao VI., who on coming to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 brought with him the Portuguese Royal Library, which consisted of some 60,000 volumes of old works. ... The National Library was at first housed in a large building at Largo da Lapa, but was later on transferred to the architecturally handsome pile in the Avenida Rio Branco, which it now occupies. It was opened in 1910 in commemoration of the centenary of the foundation of the library. The building is fireproof and isolated from other buildings, and in every way suitable to house the valuable collection which it contains. The furniture is all of steel, and the elaborate manner in which the library is equipped makes it one of the best appointed in the world. It is divided into four sections: for printed matter, manuscripts, drawings, geographical maps and pictures and coins and medals.
Chapter XVII. The National Library and the Arts : p. 177 

National Library staircase and gallery : p. [176]

Since the original posting in 2014; Rio de Janeiro's Museu Nacional, the National Museum, founded in 1818, was gutted by fire exactly two hundred years later on September 2, 2018.
Unfortunately, there are no images of the National Museum in this volume and the following quote is the only reference Bell makes to the Museum
Another building that the visitor should see is the National Museum. This is housed in the old palace of the Emperor in the S. Christovão quarter or north-western part of the city, and stands in a goodly park, not un-English in appearance. It is not by any means one of the leading museums of the world, but the collections connected with the habits and customs of Brazilian Indians, their arms, utensils and costumes, and the native fish, shells, birds and reptiles are very interesting, as is also the mineralogical section. In the vestibule may be seen an enormous meteorite, originally over four tons in weight, discovered on the bank of the Bendego river, in the State of Bahia, at the end of the eighteenth century. There are also fragments of the skeletons of the mastodon and dinotherium, found in the States of Sergipe and Bahia.--p. 35  
Fire Devastates Brazil's Oldest Science Museum-
'We loose some of who we are'. National Geographic

'You do not need to carry a revolver in Rio'...
Reading historical travel books is to realise that cultures and places constantly evolve, and sadly, not always for the better

"Tram and motor traffic is dangerous as in any great capital; drunkenness is rare, and I am inclined to think that crime is also. I have suffered twice from the pocket-picking fraternity, but it can be shown that the majority of this crowd is of the imported article. If Rio suffers at all, it is not in the number, or the failure in detection, or the immunity from arrest of criminals, but in an excessive leniency of the courts and juries, Brazilians themselves constantly remarking a curious public sympathy with the accused. There is another peculiar anomaly in Rio. Gambling is, I believe, prohibited by law; but it is permitted openly under police control."
Chapter XV. Justice and police : p. 161

image (top): Carioca Square 
below: Some smart Rio policemen : p. [154]

'Brazil ought not be far away from entering the Olympic games'
To conclude with sport, Bell writes—
"In Rio de Janeiro climatic insistence makes sport of nearly every kind a very severe tax on the human frame during at least five months in the year. It is then a little surprising that, in a census recently taken of its readers by a Carioca daily, as to the king of sports, association football headed the list. Various enthusiasts recorded their reasons for this choice, and it remains an enigma to me why a sport that prohibits the use of the human hand should appeal so especially to Brazilians. The fact, however, is that "soccer" first, then rowing, and then horse-racing, with lawn tennis a long way next, and athletics almost nowhere, is the order of popularity of sport in Rio." 

image (top): The Bangu Football Grounds: Central Railway [Founded in 1904]
A portion of the Derby Club Racecourse Enclosure : p. [182]

"It is really only in the last fifteen or twenty years that these games have been earnestly taken up, and yet with the material at her command Brazil ought not to be very far from the day when her athletes enter for the Olympic Games. There is one defect which I venture to think holds her back: the indifference of the Brazilian woman to the value and charm of sport; her aversion from exercise.

Lawn-tennis has made very little headway, while golf is absolutely unknown. In the purely masculine sphere cricket has not taken on, and the princely game of polo does not exist. Under the spell of international rivalry, school and college athletics and gymnastics are now being cultivated, and her friends must hope to see Brazil follow the new lead of France among the Latin nations in these important fields.

Rugby does not seem to take root, only two clubs, the Paysandú and Rio Cricket, pretending to a fifteens [rugby side]. Rowing is popular, and the Botafogo regattas especially so. The attendance of the President at the big regattas is almost de rigueur and both here and in the pretty football club grounds the attendance of mothers and sisters is visibly on the increase. I should not call the standard of rowing high; it is perhaps too amateurish to attain Henley form, but it is producing, with swimming, for which Rio supplies such perfect facilities, men of fine physique."--Chapter XVIII. Sport and lotteries : p. 181

top image: Botafogo Bay, where the Rio regattas are held
below: The Paysandú Cricket Club Ground : p. [181]

The RGSSA holds many rare volumes regarding the discovery, exploration and history of Rio de Janeiro and the Americas.

George Angas, 1848, by Charles Baugniet
The Collection holds eight original watercolour drawings of Rio de Janeiro by George French Angas (1822-1886). He was a renowned naturalist and painted specimens on his travels that were the basis of lithographic plates used in his publications. Born at Newcastle upon Tyne, he was the son of George Fife Angus (1789-1879), who was a significant figure in establishing the Colony of South Australia. 

In 1844, George French Angas joined his brother, John Howard Angas, in South Australia.  The brothers were sent out to Adelaide by their father to salvage the family fortune. George explored and sketched extensively in South Australia, New South Wales, New Zealand and South Africa. Several of his self-illustrated volumes are in the Society's collection, some in limited edition.

the 'silent rapture' of the vast Atlantic

On a voyage from Sydney around Cape Horn to England, George Angas was aboard the Royal Tar in 1846 when the ship was delayed in Rio de Janeiro for two weeks.  He did a number of water-colour drawings of Rio, some of his original drawings are in the RGSSA's collection.  They were intended for a book called The Scenery of Rio Janeiro but it was never published. Angas describes his arrival in Rio de Janeiro, some fifty years before Bell's description and perhaps more eloquently, in the second volume of Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand.
From his diary entry dated Dec. 2 [1846]— 
This morning we were cheered by the sight of land: the high mountains of South America were before us, in the province of Rio Janeiro.  The day broke gloriously, and it was beautiful in the extreme to see the Brazilian coast with its jagged and lofty peaks, now struggling through the mists of early day.

The peaceful bay of Rio. The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro--p. [184]

"To the voyager, weary of the endless waters, land is a joyous spectacle; and to us it is gladdening to see the blue peaks of South America glittering in the pure sunshine, and inhale the fragrance of sweet blossoms from the shore, brought hither by the land-breeze during the night—to watch the green and golden dolphin, flashing like a blaze of jewels through the snowy foam—and to know that we are rapidly nearing an earthly paradise, and that the sparkling fish, radiant with beauty, and the stray birds and butterflies overhead that have wandered from the shore, are harbingers of more brightness and beauty upon the land that lies bathed in sunshine before us. Such influences as these bring with them happy and buoyant spirits. Here, too, we saw the turtle, lying like little floating islets upon the surface of the water, with their heads stretched up into the morning sunshine. Large and very singular-looking birds, with long wings and tails, soared above us; and as we neared the land, new beauties presented themselves every moment. 

Passing the island of Raza—on which stands the lighthouse and Rodondo, a lofty abrupt cone—the Paya and Maya islands are seen to the right, scattered with cocoa-nut trees; and the Morris's isles, of tragic interest, lie still further distant. Here the grandeur of the mountains becomes very imposing: giant masses of rock—hurled, as it were, into the most wild and remarkable forms, resembling spires, cubes, and pyramids—rear their lofty summits, bare and naked, against the sky.

Glimpses of Rio. The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro--p. [14]

Sugar Loaf mountain on the left, and on the right by the conical rock above Santa Cruz. We speedily discovered houses, and forts, and flags, with crowds of shipping in the distance between the opening. On the right of the entrance stands the fort of Santa Cruz: here no vessel is allowed to pass into the harbour without hailing, and reporting "her name," "where from," "number of clays out," &c. The water is deep close alongside the fort, and any vessel not bringing up, or coming within hail, is immediately fired at, without the slightest ceremony, until she obeys these orders. Farther on, situated upon an island nearly in the centre of the harbour, is the fort of Vilganhon, which we had also to hail; and being permitted to pass, we were directed to our anchorage, not far from this latter fort, and about two miles from the shore. Here we lay in company with other vessels that had put in for refreshments: ships waiting to take in or discharge cargo lie higher up the harbour, close to the city."

Leme. A favourite Atlantic suburb of Rio.
The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro--p. [14] 
About eight miles from Rio Janeiro, beyond Boto Fogo, there is a lovely mountain-path leading to a ruined archway on the summit of the mountain-ridge that divides the harbour from the ocean.  I pursued it alone, and never shall I forget the silent rapture with which I stood by that arch and gazed around; looking down upon the gay harbour and the distant city on the one hand, while on the other lay a waste of wild and dreary sand-hills, intersected with glens of rich foliage, bounded by the immeasurable ocean—the vast Atlantic.  There was no sound save the distant roar of the sea, every wave of which I could see distinctly break along the shore for miles; and no sign of life but the busy throng of insects flitting around, and an occasional serpent gliding stealthily into the bushes.
Chapter IXVoyage Round Cape Horn -- Rio [de] Janeiro -- Arrival In England : p. 249.
Refer RGSSA catalogue
Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand
Angas, George French, 1822-1886
London : Smith, Elder, 1847
2 v. (x, 339 p., [4] leaves of plates; viii, 280 p., [8] leaves of plates) : ill.

original watercolour paintings of Rio!

'Rio [de] Janeiro from the Convent of Santa Teresa', 1845 by George French Angas

The above watercolour is one of eight sketches of Rio that were never published by George French Angas. This sketch was first reproduced in colour in the RGSSA's Exhibition catalogue for the centenary of the York Gate Geographical and Colonial Library of South Australia, 2008.
Refer RGSSA catalogue
'The Scenery of Rio Janeiro in a Series of Sketches'
Angas, George French, 1822-1886
Bibliographic description:
Eight watercolours, the first is a design for a title page, 32 x 23 cm., the other seven all c. 23.2 x 32.3 cm.
Mounted on cards, in maroon linen folder. (MS. Id Rare Books Room)
York Gate Library stamp on front of folder.
Not in Catalogue of the York Gate Library, 1886.
Angas added titles in watercolour on the views and longer titles in pencil on the mounts. The pencil titles are repeated on backs of mounts.

RGSSA website
pdf download, 16 pages
RGSSA Manuscripts Catalogue, 1981
pdf download, 55 pages : item 1d

Also refer:
South Australian Museum
Biography: George French Angas (1822–1886)

Our Rare Book Discussion Group recently featured the artwork of George French Angas
Please contact us if you would like to see Angas' sketches
Olá to Jonathon who follows this blog and resides at the beautiful 'River of January'

Originally posted July 14, 2014 on our previous blog site  
All external links retrieved November, 2018
Researched and posted by Sandra Thompson
RGSSA remote cataloguer


Popular Posts