Brazil’s Emperor, Pedro II, during his time abroad found out
how much Brazil needed to do to
‘catch up’ with the more
industrialized countries. Traveling discreetly he sowed the seeds
European popular imagination of Brazilians as easy
going, good natured and informal people.
As London swells with foreign visitors during the summer months, its apt to recall a distinguished visitor who made
his first visit to British shores more than a hundred years ago. At the end of June 1871, the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro
II, arrived with his entourage to enjoy a six-week stay in Britain in circumstances greatly different to those of today.
While tourism is now big business, in the time of Pedro it could not have been more different. It was a time before
air travel, when visiting Europe from far away as Brazil necessitated journeys by sea and a considerable amount of money.
Indeed, Pedro’s journey of 1871 was the first of two he would make during his time as sovereign, in this case for a period of ten months.
Pedro was born in 1825 in Rio de Janeiro, the son of Brazil’s first emperor, Dom Pedro I and his French wife and
grandson to Dom João VI of Portugal. As a child his father abdicated the throne and returned to Portugal, leaving him in the care
of regents who brought him up as Latin America’s only monarch. He learnt French and read widely, growing up to be a
conscientious man who wished to see Brazil’s fortunes improve.
Brazil during the time of Pedro was a largely agricultural country, highly dependent on its sugar exports, especially
in the northern state of Bahia. An economy devoted to sugar fuelled the demand for slaves, but while the slave trade
between Africa and Brazil was supposedly abolished, illicit cargos still found their way to Brazilian ports.
Brazilian society was poor in comparison to the Europe that Pedro visited. The majority of people were illiterate.
Education opportunities and health provision were virtually negligible. Most of the population lived on the coastal strip of
the country, with much of the interior unexplored and untouched. The big urban centres at the time numbered Rio de
Janeiro, Salvador and São Paulo.
By 1871, Pedro had ruled Brazil for nearly 40 years, during which time the question of slavery was becoming
increasingly divisive and the country had just emerged from a long war with Paraguay. If ever there was a time for a holiday, Pedro
decided now was the time.
Leaving the eldest of his two daughters in charge as regent, Pedro left Rio in May 1871 and arrived in Lisbon on 12
June. Eschewing formality, he made it clear he wished to travel ‘incognito’ under the name of Dom Pedro d’Alcântara, whose
name appeared on his baggage. But given the number of people in his retinue, his imperial demeanor and his assumption he
would be attended to as befitting an emperor, one can only imagine the impression he gave to passers-by!
Pedro had originally planned to spend only a few days in Lisbon before traveling on to London and other parts, with
a more extended stay in Portugal before his return to Rio. But on the same day Pedro arrived in Lisbon, the Brazilian
legation in London sent word to the mayor of Southampton that Pedro, his wife and their retinue would not be arriving there as
planned, but rather at Dover at the end of the month.
One can only imagine the disappointment of the city elders that Pedro was not to make Southampton the landfall for
the British leg of his journey. But Southampton still had a link to play with Brazil. Twenty years later Charles Miller, a
former player at St Mary’s, the forerunner to Southampton FC, would travel the other way to bring football to Brazil.
Upon arrival in Dover, Pedro and his company insisted upon maintaining the informal nature of his visit. A special
train was dispensed with in favor of the ordinary train to Londonalthough not without a royal saloon car for the imperial
guests. Pulling into Charing Cross station, the emperor and his wife, ‘attired in deep mourning’, were met by a crowd of
London-based Brazilians. From there they were taken to Claridges, which was to become their home for the duration of their
stay in London.
Pedro was an avid reader, with a deep interest in how things worked generally and how he might help improve the
lot of Brazil. Noted for his scholarly interests, his time in Britain was spent visiting not only the usual tourist attractions,
including St Paul’s Cathedral and the royal parks, but also public buildings as well.
During his first week in London he went to the House of Lords, where he listened to peers debate army recruitment,
the administration of the navy and trams and juries in Ireland. He also visited Queen Victoria at both Windsor Castle and
Osbourne on the Isle of Wight. She was to write that Pedro was ‘very tall, broad and stout, a fine looking man, but very gray,
though only 44 The Emperor goes about everywhere & sees everything, but does not go into society. He gets up a 5, & is
already out at 6!!’
Indeed, Pedro’s keenness for starting the day early had not gone unnoticed. No doubt reflecting exasperations by
those attached to the party, the Times noted on 31 July that ‘People say he is quite an admirable person, an entirely new type
of Majesty, a great geographer, a man interested in all manner of knowledge but for all that, he is going to be a bore.
[H]e finds it convenient to rise at five and get two or three hours of work over before the sun can exert its full power, to rest
in the middle of the day, and to work again in the cool of the evening ’
Indeed, to modern eyes, Pedro’s idea of sightseeing might see odd. One can only wonder what his wife, the empress,
made of it all. In Oxford he visited not only the museum and the Bodlein Library, but also the Radcliffe Infirmary and the
city’s post office. In Birkenhead he was shown the docks and the ship building works, while in Gateshead he made a detour to
the electric telegraph works. In Cambridge the emperor arrived in the afternoon and visited the Trinity College, the
university library and museums, the botanic garden and the Round Church before leaving for London on the morning train.
Listening to the Lords
In London he sat in the House of Lords, where he listened to the peers debate recruitment in the army, the
administration of the navy and trams and juries for Ireland. At Highgate Cemetery he visited Coleridge’s tomb and attended a service
at London’s Central Jewish Synagogue, where he both read a passage and translated from the Hebrewa language which
he had learnt along with French in his youth. At Woolwich he was shown around the arsenal while in Copenhagen-fields he
visited the cattle market.
Given his enthusiasm for all manner of activities and events, it may therefore come as a surprise to learn Pedro failed
to attend a conference on colonial issues at which he was expected to appear and over which the Earl of Shaftsbury
presided. Perhaps the recognition of Brazil’s relatively recent past as a Portuguese colony and Britain’s informal influence
exerted by its navy in South America might have discouraged Pedro from appearing. But only a few years later, in 1876, he was
to visit the United States during its
100th anniversary, following its renunciation of monarchy. The symbolism then could
not be more telling; perhaps by then Pedro no longer cared.
The Emperor and Empress of Empress eventually left Britain for the continent on 12 August. But it was not to be the
last time he visited the country. Following his tour of the United States in 1876, he was to return to Europe once again.
Eventually he was to make France his home, following a coup d’état in 1889, which overthrew the monarchy and created a
republic. The new government forced Pedro, Brazil’s secondand ultimately lastemperor, into exile until his death in 1891.
Pedro’s enthusiasm and interest in everything he saw during his time abroad made him realize how much Brazil
needed to do to ‘catch up’ with the more industrialized countries of Europe. Committed to improving the lives of his subjects,
he had supported the establishment of schools and hospitals throughout his reign.
Pedro’s commitment to building up Brazil is well documented. What is less studied is his other legacy as Brazil’s
most prominent tourist. During his stay in Britain and Europe he was at great pains to decline ceremony and formality. He
sought to travel discreetly and avoid excessive treatment given his royal status. In so doing he sowed the seeds in the European
popular imagination of Brazilians as easy going, good natured and informal people.
Guy Burton was born in Brazil and now lives in London where he works for the Liberal Democrats in Parliament.
His research on the Partido dos Trabalhadores in the Espírito Santo and Brasília state governments between 1995 and 1998
was recently published in Gianpaolo Baiocchi’s Radicals in
Power (Zed, 2003). He can be contacted at