Notes from the Hassler archives: Carnival in Rio

[This post is part of a series on the archives of the 1871-1872 Hassler expedition, written by Bruno Costelini, Science without Borders intern at the Ernst Mayr Library]

After being prevented from going onshore in Recife due to a yellow fever outbreak in the city, one could expect that the Hassler party would be anxious to step on land as soon as they arrived in Rio de Janeiro, on January 23rd 1872. However, they seemed to rejoice under the ship’s awning, which provided shelter from the blistering heat, and spent time observing the scenery as Blake sketched on his journal:


The entrance of the harbor we arrived at about 8 o’clock and I confess I am far from being able to do them justice by any description., but on either side are the lofty mountains which are very picturesque and grand. The Noted Sugar Loaf [which as the story goes only one man has ever climbed, he an American sailor who planted the Union Jack there] is situated on the left hand side a very steep rock, almost perpendicular and doe to the water, on the western side is a ridge of hills about half as high, extending against the back of it.


View of Rio
"View of Rio de Janeiro, from the Hassler Scrapbook"


A couple of days later they could no longer resist and Blake was finally confronted with the Brazilian customs, giving particular attention to the contradictions of a country that was just beginning to modernize itself:

The cars are as good as we have in America as they were built in New York and the pictures around on the inside were painted by some American painter who tried hard to represent Brazilian scenery but had New England (cars driven by a span of mules) and Brazilian together.

 The cows are driven from door to door to distribute the milk and are milked as the costumers come. This is the way they prevent watering the milk – but I have been told the milkman sometimes carry a leather filled with water around their body concealed under the clothes and slightly put in the water when a chance offers itself. Every car I saw driven about in this manner had with her a muzzled calf which is tied to the cow’s tail, so with the man ahead leading the cow and calf tied behind quite a procession is formed.


Pictures of Rio
"Pictures of Rio de Janeiro, from the Hassler Scrapbook"


While there they went on an excursion to the top of Tijuca Mountain, riding on mules, and later into the country’s interior through the recently built railroad to Minas. They also visited the Public Garden and the fish market which Blake found to be extremely rich in variety but "where the fish were sold at an exorbitant price and I suppose because the city is composed chiefly of Catholics who eat much fish.” Their last days in Rio also coincided with perhaps the greatest and most lavish Catholic holiday:


Three days before Lent people array themselves in the most fantastic, some in the most horrid and hideous while others the richest dresses of disguise and masque, parade about the streets and make as much noise as possible. They form long processions and march through the streets with bands and comic bands of music […] Some were dresses as Kings some as Carnavalers, Soldiers, Italiens, Chinamen, etc etc. People generally gather about five or six o’clock as the middle of the day is too hot, and the streets are literally filled with people. Some carry perfumery which is squirted on the people […] But during my whole visit to the city and when thousands of people were in the streets I never saw one intoxicated. After three such days of amusements they consider themselves fit for the forty days fasting.