H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) online

. (page 8 of 29)
Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 8 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

had been found so difficult to efiect in the trade winds.
I was driven in longitude forty-three] degrees west, as
far south as latitude twenty-nine dsgrees north, when
fearing to enter the trades with so little easting, I tacked
and stood north with the wind heavy from east north-
east, and after getting as far north again as latitude
thirty-four, I got a heavy gale of wind from north-east,
which blew so strong for about forty-eight hours, I could

* Consterni et glaces d'effroi ih demandent au del des orages et des
tempete. " Struck with consternation, they pray to heaven for storms
and tempests." Incas of Peru.



not venture to avail myself of it in steering to the
south-east, but was forced to lay to; whereas, had I
been aware of the south-west winds between the trades,
which with a strong easterly current, between latitudes
four degrees and thirty minutes and one degree thirty
minutes north — longitudes twenty-three and nineteen de-
grees west, which set from two and a half knots the hour
to three-quarters of a knot, and from east by north to
east south-east, until it drifted us as much as two hun-
dred miles to the eastward, (by our chronometer) I might
have ventured to have entered the trades in longitude
forty-three degrees — and saved all the beating I after-
wards had, to gain what I thought a prudent longitude
to venture out of the variables. I was under the im-
pression that I ought to lose the north-east trade at
least as high as twenty-two or twenty-three degrees
west, as from all writers on this subject, you will find
that from latitude five degrees north, you get the wind
from about south, which gradually as you approach
the line, draws to south south-east, and after crossing
it to south-east which would force you down to about
twenty-seven degrees before you could gain the line,
from which point even it is not uncommon for dull sail-
ing ships to fall in with the Brazil coast too far to the

When nearly under the line we were once more
blessed with clear skies, and a fine breeze drawing
gradually round to the south south-east, while plea-
sure and cheerfulness again lighted up the countenances
of every one. The temperature of the air was delight-
fully refreshing, and when contrasted with the dismal
regions we had escaped, it is impossible to describe our
satisfaction at the change. We crossed the line in
longitude twenty degrees twenty minutes, the breeze
continuing to freshen every hour. According to im-


memorial custom, the usual ceremonies were performed
on this important occasion, and were productive of much
innocent mirth and gaiety, but an account of particulars
would probably afford no entertainment to the reader,
as they varied but little from those which have been so
repeatedly detailed by voyagers. We had thus far en-
joyed excellent health, even the unpleasant calm weha4
experienced occasioned no sickness among the crew,
owing in a great measure to the cleanliness on
board American ships, and the precautions so care-
fully taken.

Being now fairly in the trades, our course was hardly
interrupted for a moment; we had a steady breeze
filling all our sails, and a smooth sea. Nothing could
he more agreeable than the temperature of the air ; the
sails required little or no attention, but there was no
want of employment in this little busy world. I could
not have imagined such a variety of occupations as the
seamen were continually engaged in. The officers not
on duty, spent their time in reading and study, while the
midshipmen, fifteen or twenty in number, were kept
closely to their books. There was no lounging, no idle-
ness, no silly gossipping, no loud talking ; and as to
intemperance, this is regarded, on board an American
man of war, as a vice for which there is no forgiveness.
The north star gradually disappeared, and its place was
imperfectly supplied by the constellation of the cross,
and the Magellanic clouds. The constellations of the
southern hemisphere are thought by some to be more
brilliant than those of the northern ; the sight of so many
new stars which I had never expected to behold, and
the disappearance of the greater part of those I had
gazed on from infancy, naturally inspired a variety of
strange sensations. The brilliant phosphoric light which
marked at night the track of the ship, resembiiag that


of the comet, very frequently amused us, and caused
our wonder when we reflected that it was produced by
myriads of small insects possessing the properties of
the glow worm, or fire fly. The flying fish was occa-
sionally seen darting through the air for a few hun-
dred yards, and then plunging again into a more con-
genial element. They often fall on board merchant
vessels, but the height of the frigate above the water,
prevented them from passing over us. In latitude nine
degrees south, we ran over a turtle of prodigious size,
which appeared to have been lying asleep on the
surface of the water ; the nearest land was the island of
Fernando de Noronha, distant at least four hundred

As we drew up with the coast of Brazil, the lead was
kept continually going. On the 26th, we passed over a
bed of coral rock, much farther out than is laid do>\Ti
by any chart, and kept soundings in thirty-five fathoms
for five or six leagues, steering south-west, and sud-
denly fell off into very deep water. This spot was de-
termined to be in south latitude twenty degrees thirty
minutes, and in longitude thirty-seven degrees thirty
minutes, by a very good chronometer.

The hope of soon approaching land awakened a
new interest in our breasts. Even the hardy sons of
the ocean seemed to be cheered with the prospect ;
much greater therefore must have been the gratification
of mere landsmen. By our observations and reckoning,
we expected by twelve o'clock on the 27th to make Cape
Frio, a headland of great celebrity with mariners. Dur-
ing the greater part of the forenoon all were anxiously
looking out for it, and about one it was descried by the
man stationed at the mast-head ; but it was not until two
or three that it could be seen from deck ; and even then
for some time only by those who were accustomed to


distinguish the loom of the land from the low clouds
which skirt the horizon. We found our reckoning within
eighteen miles of being correct, having been set some-
what to the southward by a current, which usually sets
with the wind along the coast. By observation we were
in twenty-three degrees nine minutes south, and by
chronometer in forty-one west. Cape Frio was seen at
the distance of fifteen or twenty miles ; its appearance is
so remarkable and so easily recognized from the descrip-
tion of navigators, that it is impossible to mistake it.
It seemed to be a high promontory, its summit present-
ing a waving line, with places somewhat conical ; and
when first seen it has the appearance of two sepa-
rate islands, from a hollow in the middle. The clouds
rested on its summit. It appeared to be an immense
naked rock, incapable of affording sustenance to any
living thing, and yet I felt a kind of pleasure in con-
templating this huge inhospitable mass, being weary of
seeing nothing for nearly sixty days but the sky and

Having ascertained where we were, the commodore
gave orders to stand along down the land, under easy
sail. It was somewhat squally during the night, as
is usual in the neighbourhood of these headlands. Be-
fore day it fell calm, when we descried the sugar loaf,
the entrance of the harbour of Rio Janeiro, bearing
west south-west, at the distance of twenty miles ; by
which it appeared, that we had been set twenty-one
miles to the westward by the current. There appeared
before us an irregular line of high rocky coast, and a
person not accustomed to measure distances by the
eye, would have thought himself not more than a few
miles off, and the rocks, instead of mountains, to be
little more than a hundred feet high. The sugar loaf, a
leaning cone, looked like' a watch tower at the termina-


tion of a high irregular rampart ; it fonns the western
portal of the entrance of the harbour, towards which
it leans as if frowning on those who approach. Im-
mediately on the opposite side, there is the same kind
of rock though not quite so high, but more broken and
irregular. A light breeze springing up from the land,
we worked in towards the shore, and as we approached
discovered high mountains in the back ground, whose
tops rose above the region of the clouds. Every object
of nature is here on the boldest and most magnificent
scale. In the evening we came to anchor within a few
miles of the forts which command the entrance to the
harbour, and Lieutenant Clack was despatched by the
commodore, to wait on the commander of the fort and
to obtain a pilot. The number of vessels continually
entering and leaving the harbour, gave us a high opinion
of the commercial importance of the city we were about
to visit. The anchorage is excellent every where along
the coast. Before the entrance there are a number of
small islands from two to six miles out, of various sizes
and appearances. They seem to be small detached
knobs or hills, gradually sloping on every side to the
water's edge, with a thick covering of shrubs and vines,
and their summits crowned with palm trees. They are
uninhabited, although some of them are several miles in
circumference. The largest vessel may sail with perfect
safety between them, as the water is, with scarcely an
exception, bold and deep.

Early next morning the pilot having come on boaid,
more for the sake of complying with every necessary
precaution than because his services were necessary,
we passed into the spacious harbour of Rio. The
entrance is about a mile wide, and probably the safest
and easiest in the world. We passed on the right,
fort Santa Cruz built upon a shelf of the rock, with


several tier of guns and most formidable in its appear-
ance. Strong works are also erected on the steep
rock behind it, from which it is separated by a singular
cleft crossed by a draw-bridge. On the left under the
sugar loaf there is another fort, but comparatively of
not much consequence ; as the best channel lies pretty
close to Santa Cruz, vessels generally pass directly
under its guns. We passed another small fort just
within the harbour. The place is said to be very
strongly fortified; it certainly possesses extraordinary
natural facilities for this purpose. It was forced
about the beginning of the last century by tlie cele-
brated French mariner, Dugai Trouin, who took
possession of the city, and laid it under contribution ;
but its fortifications were in consequence greatly im-

As we entered the harbour, a most magnificent scene
opened upon us. The noble basin, scarcely surpassed
by any in the world, resembling a large lake rather
than a harbour, expanded majestically, bordered by
high woody mountains, interspersed with rocky peaks
and precipices ; their ridges or spurs sloping down to
the water's edge, in some places terminating abruptly,
in others leaving narrow vallies and a thousand beau-
tiful coves or recesses, with sandy beaches. The
ridges, or broken grounds, below the mountains, are
covered with convents, churches, and beautiful gar-
dens, while the little indents or sandy bays are oc-
cupied by elegant country seats ; a great many of them
constructed by Portuguese noblemen, since the esta-
blishment of the court at this place, or by English
merchants who have grown rich since the opening of
trade. A range of much higher mountains is seen to
the north-east, probably at least forty or fifty miles
distant. The city of Rio Janeiro or St. Sebastian, is


built in one of the coves just mentioned, under the
mountain, the houses much crowded together ; and in-
dependently of the buildings perched on heights, or
raised on the neighbouring vallies, it would not pos-
sess a very imposing appearance : but the quantity
of shipping gave proofs of a busy and active com-

The ship was scarcely moored in front of the city,
when an officer dressed in rich uniform came on board ;
and had no sooner set his foot on deck, than he be-
came as familiar as if he had been acquainted with us
for twenty years. He spoke very good English, and

strutted about, repeating the expression, " d d fine

ship, sir — very fine ship indeed." He went below
with very little ceremony, and required no pressing to
refresh himself with a glass of wine. This lively
fellow, after cracking his jokes, took the liberty of put-
ting a few queries to the commodore, such as the name
of the ship, the length of her voyage, her destination,
and her object in touching at this port. Suitable an-
swers having been given to these, he took his depar-
ture, expressing great admiration of what he had seen.
We learned from him that the Ontario, Captain Bid-
die, had sailed from this place about a month before
our arrival. A few days afterwards, I saw this impor-
tant personage sitting very soberly m a room in front
of the palace, where he is employed 1 understand as a
kind of messenger, or in some office to which wo have
nothing analogous in our country. According to pre-
vious arrangement salutes were fired, first twenty-one
guns for the king, which were returned by one of the
forts, and afterwards fifteen guns for the admiral,
which he returned from his ship, a seventy-four, lying
between us and the shore, at the distance of a quarter
of a mile. The Portuguese appear to be extremely


fond of expending their powder ; hardly an hour bf the
day passed without the sound of cannon in some direc-
tion or other.

We were soon after waited on by the commander
and several officers from an Austrian frigate, which had
brought out the Princess Leopoldina to espouse the heir
of the Brazilian throne. These officers spoke French,
and appeared to be extremely desirous of examining our
vessel. The admiration with which they saw every
thing, could not but be highly gratifying to our pride of
country. The Congress is perhaps one of the finest
vessels of her class in the world ; she was at this time
in excellent order, her crew in fine health, and dressed
in clean white shirts and trowsers ; so that she ap-
peared to great advantage. We were afterwards vi-
sited by Captain Hickey of the Blossom ; a frank,
lively sailor, with whom we were all much pleased ;
and a few days after our arrival by Captain ShirefF of
the Andromache, a much younger man, of a more
showy exterior, and as we suspected better supported
by court favour at home, as he was the superior officer
of the two, although but a midshipman when Hickey
was a captain. They were both, however, officers of
liberal and gentlemanly deportment, and manifested a
wish to cultivate a good understanding with us, by
the exchange of civilities and friendly offices. They
invited the commodore and the commissioners to dine
with them, and were invited in turn. The truth is, that
a similarity of manners, and identity of language, are
the best foundations of social intercourse, while the laws
of good breeding forbid the bringing to recollection cir-
cumstances unpleasant to the feelings of the parties.
We could easily see one thing, that secretly nourished
our pride, which was the homage universally rendered
to our superior excellence in nautical concerns. This


colira iiot be concealed ; tve could see it in every
look and action of our proud cousins of the family of
John Bull ; and as to the Portuguese and others, they
pretended no competition. Never was national pride
more fully gratified than ours, at the noble and dis-
tinguished figure made in a foreign distant port, by
tMs admirable representative of our national sove-

I felt impatient to set tby foot onee more on the
fixed and stedfast earth, as well as some curiosity to
behold this great city, now the capital of the Portur
^ese empire.* In the afternoon a boat put off for
the shore, and some of us took advantage of this op-
portunity. Our ship lay about half a mile off, and we
had to pass the vessels of war, of which the Portuguese
have a number of various sizes, but not in the best
order, and badly manned. Tho merchant vessels lie
higher up towards the fortified island, das Cobras, on
the other side of which is the inner harbour, at present
filled with shipping. We discovered several American
flags, and from the feelings which they excited in xts,
I could almoist be tempted to say, that we are the mest
national "people in existence. The circumstance of our
being a solitary republic, and therefore a continual tacit
censure on monarchy, perhaps induces us to believe,
that kings can have no cordial feeling towards us, and
for this reason we cling more closely together. It would
be useless to conceal the truth; every American who
goes abroad, has a contempt for royalty and its attend-
ants, and he is only restrained by prudence or good man-
ners from expressing it.

* Rio Janeifo Tjocame the capital of Brazil In i\\t year 17C5^
Bahia, or San Salvador, being then stripped of that honour.


The harbour of New York alone, can bear any com-
parison to this place, in indications of commercial pro-
sperity. A noble spectacle is exhibited by the number
of vessels, a great proportion English, lying at the
wharfs, or anchored in the stream. Great numbers
of small boats were continually moving about, rigged
in a very awkward, clumsy manner, or rowed with a
slow and solemn stroke, as if to the tune of the dead
march in Saul. Among the watermen, a number were
Indians; they wore very broad straw hats, like the
Malays, but their physiognomy bore a strong resem-
blance to the Aborigines of our country. On approach-
ing the queen's stairs, the usual landing place, we
passed a yacht superbly gilt, rigged like a sloop of
war, and armed with brass swivels. This childish
miniature is kept for the use of the queen, or rather
for the sake of pageantry, for I could not learn that it
is ever used. Another object excited our disgust ; some
distance to the left of the stairs, the quay terminates in
a prodigious dung heap, the accumulation of ages from
the stables of the city. Possibly, from the extreme
fertility of the soil, manure is not required, but one
would think that a regard to the police of the city,
would require a difFel-ent disposition to be made of this
offensive mass.

A motley collection of people, attracted by curiosity,
were lounging about the quay, their looks directed
towards the American frigate, as the principal object
of their curiosity. I shall not attempt to describe
their dress or looks ; nothing could be more unlike our
countrymen. The English or French fashions do »ot
appear to predominate. Among these people I felt
myself indeed a stranger; their countenances made u
very unfavourable impression on me, though by no means
disposed to judge hastily, for I have been too often


taught by experience, the danger of condemning people
by wholesale, merely on account of their looks. The
complexions of the middle and lower classes, are
generally dark, their features coarse, and their per-
sons in general inclining to corpulency. A number
of them were distinguished by ribbons and baubles
attached to their button holes, many wore enormous
ill-contrived cocked hats, and all appeared desirous to
distinguish their persons, by the wearing of some
badge or uniform. There was no smile of welcome to
us in their countenances, but rather repulsive half
scowling glances. A number of them were priests,
dressed in loose gowns, and wearing hats as broad as
parasols. In front of the palace there is a large
open square, at the lower end of which is the king's
chapel; on the right, there is an immense unfinished
pile, intended as a monastery, but on the arrival of the
king, a stop was put to any further work on it, as he
seemed to think, that monks and nuns formed already
a sufficient proportion of his subjects. In front of the
palace there was a body of infantry constantly on
duty, but their arms, with the exception of those who
stood centry, generally stacked; but ever and anon
the drum beats, and they fall in. Towards the lower
end of the palace, a similar duty is performed by a
troop of cavalry, but composed of young men of dis-
tinction, as I presumed, from the richness of their uni-
form and general appearance; they were almost the
only good looking men I saw at Rio, and several of
them were uncommonly handsome. Below the landing
there is a fountain of fresh water, conveyed hither
for the aqueduct, which is constantly surrounded by a
<;rowd of noisy negroes waiting for their turn. I saw
about twenty of these miserable wretches chained
together by the neck, and each one carrying a bucket


of water on his head : they relieved the bodily pain o*"
suffering", by a kind of harsh noise, not unlike that
made by a flock of wild geese. I saw others hitched
to carts or carrying burthens, and all screaming in the
same style, producing a general effect, of which I can
convey no idea.

A part of the square is taken up with some tempo-
rary works, preparatory to the coronation or acclama(^ao,
which we understood was to take place in a few days ;
the ceremony, it is said, has been thus long delayed,
principally on account of the expense. Rows of co-
lumns formed of boards, covered with canvas, painted
to resemble marble, an obelisk, triumphal arches of
the same, and a Grecian temple, supported on pillars
of the like durable materials, were the most conspicuous
among the preparations for the important event. These
fine things were already going to decay, although it
is probably not more than a few weeks since they were
set up : I saw a part of a splendid entablature literally
in rags.

Two American gentlemen who had been at this place
some time, in the most friendly manner offered to be-
come our guides. They first conducted us to a kind
of boarding house, where, together with some other
foreigners, they had procured lodgings ; for there is no
respectable inn or coffee house in the city. I can
scarcely imagine how they contiive to dispense with
what in our cities appear so necessary. After reposing
ourselves here for a short time, we proceeded to recon-
noitre the place. Our walk was extremely unpleasant,
through narrow and dirty streets, without side walks.
The houses in general have a mean appearance, with
projecting galleries on the second story, which approach
so near, that two persons might almost shake hands
across the street; probably the ancient Moorish taste.

Vol. I. H


On account of the great number of old fashioned chaises,
principally drawn by mules, which dashed along without
paying much attention to any one, we were constantly
exposed to the danger of being run over. Great num-
bers rode also on stud horses of a small size, whose tails
swept the ground ; but a still greater number of both
sexes, were carried about in a kind of sedan chair of a
curious construction, and generally ornamented with
gilding. The curtains were sometimes drawn aside
for the purpose of peeping out. The men who were
thus carried along, were generally priests and nobles,
as I judged by their costume and decorations ; for it is
not the practice in this country, to lay aside any in-
signia of distinction, to be used only on days of cere-
mony or parade. Nothing surprised me more, than the
number of persons I saw in the street with decorations
of one kind or other ; I could not but think, that in be-
coming so common, and being so frequently exhibited,
they must cease to impart dignity or importance to the
wearers. Contrasted with the habits and opinions of
our country, where man is hy nature a noble and dig-
nified being, this idle and silly display produced in my
mind the very reverse of respect.

The town seemed to be crowded with inhabitants of
every colour and hue, but the proportion of those, who
with us would be called white, was by far the least con-
siderable. The Portuguese are generally of a very dark
complexion, but the number of negroes and of the
mixed race was such, as to give a different cast in the
general appearance of the population, from that of any
town I have ever seen. We were frequently met by
pairs of lazy lounging soldiers, who, it seems, are
constantly walking in the streets with their bayonets,
for the purpose of preventing disturbance ; their in-

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 8 of 29)