Dispatch #5: Brazil / by Martin Toft

 In Rosemary Ormer’s book, From Outpost to Outport she provides a structural economical analysis of the Jersey-Gaspé cod fishery revealing a functional three-pointed trading system, what she refers to as a ‘merchant triangle’ with production in Gaspé, management in Jersey and markets in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and Brazil. Her central question in her book is: ‘How did the cod-fishery, functioning as a commodity trade, shape the economic development of the metropole that managed it and the colony that produced it. ‘ 

Applying Ormer’s question and methodologies of examining the merchant trade in action, ‘the smooth functioning of complex networks of supply, production and trading’ and ‘hidden machinery of information flow, finance flow, management organization and decision making’ I went to visit the archive at the Associação Comercial da Bahia (the equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce in Jersey) established in 1811 by the Portugese crown and situated right on the water’s edge where the old port and seawall were before reclamation of land to extend its waterfront and build a much larger commercial port.

Salvador had a significant British merchant population who were the main commercial partners of Portugal and England exercised huge influence, partly due to a fleet of British warships (accompanied also by the British ambassador, Lord Strangford) escorting the Portugese court and future king Joao VI to Brazil in 1808 during their exile from Napoleon invasion in Portugal. 

For example, Salvador has a British Cemetery, the first protestant burial ground to be granted by its Catholic ruler. In the first book of company registers, Matricula dos Socios there are seven British registered companies listed in the first 20 with corporations such as London and Brazilian Bank Limited (28 Jan, 1874) and Wilson, Sons and Company Limited (23 Jan 1878) – one of the oldest private enterprises in Brazil (established in 1837 by two Scottish brothers, Edward and Fleetwood Pellow Wilson, one of them buried in the British Cemetery) and one of the country’s largest providers of integrated port and maritime logistics and supply chain solutions servicing both domestic and international trade as well as Brazil’s oil and gas industry. Looking through the first 100 registered companies there were no references to Jersey firms or indeed Robin’s agent in Salvador, Messrs. Thomas LeBreton & Co. (est. 1835). As it happened I was staying very close to the British Cemetery and visited it on a number of occasions, partly as it commanded a great view across the bay, right next to the exclusive yacht club in the rich neighbourhood of Vitória in Salvador. There were no headstones visible with any Jersey names, as compared with the Gaspé Coast where most Anglican cemeteries are populated by people from the island of Jersey, However, upon contacting Dr Sabrina Gledhill, a former British expat and academic who lived in Salvador for 30 years and instrumental in campaigning successfully for the British Cemetery to be granted money for restoration, listed as a heritage site and to ensure it didn’t fall victim to real estate speculation, she informed me that according to the cemetery records a John Le Masurier, Master of the British schooner ‘Snowdrop’ of Jersey was buried there in 1873. 

There must have been a large British presence in this part of Salvador as nearby a street named, Rua Banco dos Inglêses, which incidentally also houses the Bahia British Club and two tall residential tower blocks named, Liverpool Tower and London Tower – possibly with reference to United Kingdoms two main ports of Atlantic trade during the British colonial empire. Interestingly enough, I was stopped by several people on the streets in this posh area of Salvador and instructed to put my camera away as ‘it was not safe.’ Salvador city is divided into an upper and a lower city – another remnant of colonialization - with the upper city forming the administrative, religious, and primary residential districts while the lower city being the commercial centre, with a port and market trade. Salvador served as Brazil's first capital and quickly became a major port for its slave trade and sugarcane industry. It forms the heart of the Recôncavo, Bahia's rich agricultural and industrial maritime district and I will be posting next from my travels in the interior of this rich cultural centre of Afro-Brazilian (negro) culture. (image by Benjamin R. Mulock, The British Cemetery, Salvador, Bahia, 1860, Acervo IMS)