In 1801, six years before Napoleon’s armies invaded the Iberian Peninsula, the Marquess of Alorna wrote a letter to Dom João, the Prince Regent of Portugal, in which he reminded the Regent of what had happened to the crowns of Sardinia and Naples and pointed out that the Great Powers undoubtedly had similar designs on his own. The Marquess said, “Your Highness has a great empire in Brazil,” and advised that he should take the royal family and depart for the New World, there to build up enough power to defeat the enemy in the Old.1

Dom João was not a man to act in a hurry, even on good advice, nor was his experience in life one to lead him to place complete confidence in any of his advisers. Born in 1769, he was the product of the marriage of Dona Maria I with her uncle, who styled himself Pedro III, King of Portugal, by virtue of that marriage. Dom João remembered his father as an ineffectual creature who spent his days in religious exercises. His elder brother José had died in 1788 at the age of twenty-seven, when Dom João became Prince of Brazil and heir to the throne. His wife, Dona Carlota Joaquina, daughter of the King of Spain, had been sent to the Portuguese court at the age of ten to be brought up in accordance with Portuguese customs. She grew up to be “one of the most rebellious, restless and capricious princesses in the history of Portugal,” phenomenally ugly, bad-tempered, tyrannical, and using her undoubted intelligence in political intrigue against her husband.2 His mother, overtaken by madness, spent her days lost in visions of Hell, distracted by the need to propitiate the Devil for the sake of her husband and elder son, held there, she believed, by the weight of their sins.

Since 1797 Dom João had been Regent. He did not have even the outward appearance of royal command. He was stout and clumsy, with prominent eyes that tended to stare, taciturn and without social graces.3 He was vacillating, procrastinating, and suspicious of all who surrounded him. Thus, in spite of many persuasions, some sincere and some prompted by ulterior motives, he sat in his palace at Mafra until November, 1807, while Napoleon gained victory after victory. At last, the persuasions of Viscount Strangford, the British Minister, prevailed and Dom João decided to cast his lot with the only political ally left to Portugal. The royal fleet escaped out of the harbor as General Junot’s grenadiers entered Lisbon, the last puffs of a favorable but dying wind filling the sails of his own vessels and those of the British naval escort.

So sudden had been his final decision that many members of his entourage, some 15,000 persons, embarked with only the possessions they could snatch up at the last moment. This disorganized multitude of noblemen and noblewomen, clergy and the military precipitated itself onto fifteen naval vessels and twenty merchantmen, which thus carried three times their normal complement. The confusion was so great and the scramble of people and baggage so complete that, it is said, sheets had to be cut up to make shirts for Dom João on the passage across the Atlantic.4

The sea voyage took seven weeks. A storm divided the fleet, so that half of it arrived in Rio on January 17, 1808, with Dom João’s widowed sister-in-law, his aunts and his daughters. Dom João arrived in Baía where he stayed for more than a month, savoring the enthusiasm with which his Brazilian subjects welcomed him. There he experienced for the first time the sumptuous splendors of tropical nature, so different from the familiar landscape of Portugal. He left Baía in the midst of the ecstatic supplications of the inhabitants to remain with them. At dawn on March 7 all of the guns on the forts defending Rio and all the guns of the Portuguese and British vessels anchored in the bay fired salvos of welcome as the Regent’s ships crossed the bar. In the words of John Luccock:

In proportion as the Sugar Loaf draws to the northward of the ship the gorge opens, and through it is beheld the calm expanse of what is generally deemed the finest bay in the world. The entrance is about a mile wide, and fenced on either side by solid masses of granite, one entire stone without a chink; that on the West is nearly six hundred feet high, commonly estimated at much more; its neighbour, on the other side, rears its head to a somewhat higher elevation and is topped with a signal staff, from which the first notice is given to the city of approaching vessels…

Proceeding up the harbour, the waters expand on either side. On the left opens the bay of Bota-Foga, skirted by inaccessible and verdant mountains, guarded by the Sugar Loaf and the fort of St. John on one side, and a smooth mass of granite on the other. On the right is the Sacco, or as the British call it, Five-Fathom Bay, surrounded by gentle and fertile woody slopes, verdant grass bands, and a yellow sandy beach; the whole enclosed by numerous peaks. Its fine expanse, not less than three miles in diameter, is broken and adorned by a singularly irregular mass of rock, the abode of sea fowl. The gorge of this bay, on the southern side, is flanked by a lofty cone of smooth granite rock; on the northern, by the small island of Boa-Viage, about a hundred feet high, with perpendicular sides, composed in part of grey and brown stone, in part of red clay. The intermixture of these colours, all glowing in the sun, broken into patches by the rich verdure, which descends from the summit, and occupies every spot, where nature can fix a root, together with the small white church, which surmounts the whole like a crest, is one of the finest objects, which the most fertile imagination can conceive.5

Dom João was not gifted with the most fertile imagination, but he too was entranced by the tropical splendors of Guanabara Bay. He was possibly the only member of the party of royal fugitives to be pleased with what he saw. His seventy-year-old mother, enfeebled by the hardships of the ocean passage and frightened by the strange commotion about her, was incapable of comprehending the new scenes. His wife, already plotting his downfall and her own accession as regent of Spain in Buenos Aires for her brother Ferdinand, detested Brazil and the Brazilians from the first. The ladies of the court were dismayed by the appearance of the port, “more African than European,” with dirty, squalid streets full of half-naked black slaves. The hundreds of disgruntled Portuguese peers and their retainers were outraged at the lack of decent housing.6

The city, enchanting from a distance, when seen close to was dilapidated and primitive. Its population of about 80,000 people lived on a half mile of low, flat ground, surrounded in part by marshes, with no sewage system. Its water system, dependent on the great aqueduct built by the last viceroy, fed a small number of public fountains. Life was sluggish and dull. No industry had been permitted in Brazil that might compete with Portuguese enterprise, and no plants that were already cultivated in other Portuguese domains might be grown. The poverty-stricken character of the material aspects of life was reflected in the social. Brazilian women were immured in their houses in oriental seclusion. The only public spectacles were religious processions and celebrations and an occasional reception given by the viceroy.

Untouched by the dismay felt by the members of his court, Dom João was happy and vigorous. More than one observer of the events was of the opinion that his transporting of a whole government across the Atlantic was not a mere headlong flight from captivity but a deliberate choice of policy. The Englishman, James Ligham, said that “He was the only European sovereign who had the firmness and the wisdom to do precisely what he should have done.”7 And another Englishman, John Luccock, who observed him in Rio, declared: “the Prince Regent has often been accused of apathy; to me he appeared to possess more feeling and energy of character than friends, as well as accusers, usually attributed to him. He was placed in new and singularly trying circumstances, and submitted to them with patience; when roused, he acted with vigour and promptness.”8

The change in Dom João wrought by his transfer to Brazil was striking. Sympathetic contemporaries described him as a kind man, thoughtful of those about him, and loyal to his friends. He lost the doltish look that Mme. Junot had derided when she saw him in Portugal, and he sometimes made shrewd remarks with a slyly good-humored smile.9 The passage from the Old to the New World dispelled not only his mental lethargy, but his physical torpor also. In Portugal he had been a man of abnormally sedentary habits. He once had been thought mad for remaining indoors in his palace at Mafra for an entire year. In Brazil he became peripatetic, fond of excursions among the natural beauties of Guanabara.10

Within a few months of his arrival a “respectable merchant,” Antônio Elias Lopes, presented him a country house, the Quinta da Boa Vista, so that he might escape from the crowded, dirty town, to the inspiring sight of great dark green mountains, often crowned, of a May morning, with moist white clouds. Enlarged and embellished, it became the Palace of São Cristovão. Here in the extensive park of the Quinta he preferred to live with his two sons and his eldest daughter. He was fond, too, of his country place of Santa Cruz in the flat land west of the city. It was there, however, that he was bitten by a tick. The wound became infected and resulted in an ulcer that refused to heal for six years. Unable to walk on his swollen leg, he was carried by slaves in a chair. Since he could not ride he even went hunting at Santa Cruz in the chair, which he ordered placed under a tree, and there he would sit drowsily with his gun at the ready, waiting for game.11

On occasion, for sea bathing, he visited the establishment in Bota-fogo where his consort, Dona Cariota Joaquina, had elected to live with her younger daughters and plot against his life and crown. Sea bathing was in fact the only sport he would indulge in, having a fixed dislike of washing in fresh water. Frequently he sailed out into the Bay to the island of Paquetá, where in idyllically romantic surroundings he visited his friend the militia captain, Francisco Gonçalves da Fonseca, who saw to it that a cannon on the Praia dos Tamoios fired salvos to announce his arrival.12

He had a phenomenal memory, at which his own ministers marvelled, for the events and the undertakings of his government, which served him as a well-organized archive, capable of surmounting the loss of documents and the lack of complete records. His procrastination served the purpose of giving him time to understand the situation in which he found himself and to use it to the best advantage.13 He fully appreciated the change in circumstances brought about by Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and by the transfer of his own government to Brazil. A week after his arrival in Baía he signed the decree that opened the ports of Brazil to direct trade with the world. He also attached to his court the man responsible for the adoption of that legislation, his first and most famous Brazilian councilor, José da Silva Lisboa, later Viscount Cayrú. In a eulogy written years later, Cayru said:

The coming of Dom João to Baía marks a great era in the annals of civilization, through the suspension of the Colonial System. The Friend of Humanity displayed his true philanthropy no less than his enlightened policy … in establishing … a liberal economic system which destroyed the anti-social effects of the Continental System.14

Certainly in the annals of Brazil Dom João is the “Friend of Humanity” described by his Brazilian minister. His response to the warmth of his welcome was immediate. He was fond of music and he had brought his own string orchestra to play in the royal chapel, and his band of players to give theatrical performances at the palace. Because he required it, Brazilian women began to appear at social functions, awkward, illiterate, ignorant as they were from generations of a harem-like existence. He founded schools, set up a royal printing press, opened a library and the national museum and school of fine arts. These acts aroused even greater enthuiasm in his Brazilian subjects. Dom João earned a place in their regard which he retained throughout the troubles created by subsequent intrigues involving the Portuguese royal family.15


Not least among his gifts to future generations of Brazilians was the Botanical Garden, at the foot of some of those solid masses of granite John Luccock described, where he liked to repair to enjoy the beauties of nature.16

The incentive for its foundation came from his other chief councilor, whom he had brought with him from Lisbon, Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, later Count Linhares, his Minister of Foreign Affairs and War. Dom Rodrigo was a typical man of cultivation and position, with an interest in many aspects of science and human affairs produced by the 18th century. He had read widely though haphazardly and also had traveled widely. He had been Portuguese ambassador to Turin and later Minister of the Navy and Overseas Dominions and also of the Treasury. From all these experiences he had accumulated a vast and heterogenous acquaintance with the problems of trade and industry and with the current advances in science. He abounded in physical energy, mental alertness, and an optimistic desire to forward the progress of mankind. He was fond of quoting Turgot and Adam Smith, being, he said, really a philosopher disguised as a man of state.17

In Lisbon in 1798 he had founded the Real Sociedade Marítima, Militar e Geográfica. At the beginning of each year he gave a general report regarding the plans that had been carried out and were to be carried out. It is significant that in the list of projects contained in his first discourse of 1798 was the item “The introduction of useful plants into Brazil.”18

If Dom Rodrigo’s desire was to promote the welfare of mankind, Dom João’s undoubtedly was the promotion of the welfare of his realm, and his practical mind accepted the fact that the hub of that realm was now Brazil. He did not procrastinate, therefore, in issuing decrees that reversed Brazil’s position from that of a backward colony to that of the center of propagation of industry and trade. On his thirty-ninth birthday, May 13, 1808, having been in Brazil a matter of four or five months, he issued a decree setting up a powder factory “not only for the purposes of my royal service, but also for the use of private persons throughout my dominions in the continent of Brazil and overseas.”19 The expense of setting it up was met by a loan of forty contos of reis, to which the merchants of Rio were invited to subscribe, at five percent interest.20

A powder factory was of obvious immediate utility in the colony-turned-metropolis, cut off from supplies from Portugal. But Dom João, “Not content with this beginning and seduced by the beauty of that point of land,” decided to establish in its grounds an acclimatization garden for exotic plants that might usefully be introduced into Brazil.21

The point of land referred to was a tract bounded by three of the mountains that come down close to the edge of Guanabara Bay— Urca, Corcovado and Dois Irmãos—and by the Atlantic Ocean. In 1596, in the reign of Philip III and under the governorship of Francisco Mendonça de Vasconcellos, Diogo de Amorim had established a sugar mill there and named it the “Engenho de Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Lagoa,” from the nearby lake. His son-in-law, Sebastião Fagundes Varella, who held it next, called it after himself. He sold the leasehold to Rodrigo de Freitas Mello e Castro in 1660, and from then until the present it has been known as the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Rodrigo de Frietas having, like his predecessor, become wealthy, returned in time to his native city of Guimarães in Portugal. But his heirs held the land under lease for 148 years, until Dom João appropriated 42:193$430 to buy the leasehold from them. The freehold was owned by the municipal assembly of Rio de Janeiro. The effect of his decree was to make it a part of the royal property. It has been a part of the national property ever since.22

The new garden was to be the focal point for the acclimatization and dissemination of plants useful in the Portuguese domains. A superintendent was appointed for it in October, 1808. In 1809 Dom João decreed a system of bonuses to be given to persons “who should acclimatize anywhere in his States and Domains spice trees from India and who should introduce the cultivation of other plants, either native or foreign, that are valuable because of their uses in pharmacy, dyeing, and other arts.” Such persons were also to receive medals and other favors, including exemption from military service.23 Not satisfied with the results of this initial legislation and undoubtedly at the suggestion of Dom Rodrigo, he issued an alvará granting “new favors” for the same purpose, “wishing to give continued evidence of the great attention and value I place on agriculture as one of the principal sources of population and public wealth.” To this end he was even willing to suffer “some detriment to my revenues” and therefore these new favors took the form of a ten year exemption from customs duties on the import and export of the products of such cultivation.24

His interest in the garden and its role as the introductory point for useful plants was not confined to these measures. In 1810 he issued a decree ordering the employment of “the botanist Kancke, as director of the cultivation of exotic plants in the Royal Gardens and Estates and also in the description of the plants of Brazil.” Kancke, who had been recommended to him by Lord Coledon, the British governor of the Cape of Good Hope, was to receive an annual salary of 800$000 payable monthly and a house paid for by the royal treasury. He was to be provided with an area of land of his own selection for the establishment of a botanical garden and with slaves and implements to supply the necessary labor. When he traveled on botanical expeditions his expenses were to be paid by the royal treasury.25

The practical aspects of the garden’s establishment did not overshadow its aesthetic appeal for Dom João. It became his favorite recreation spot, where he would go for relaxation. He built a small house there, with three or four rooms, to accommodate the royal party when he came to inspect the new plantings.


The chief plants which Dom João and Dom Rodrigo had in mind for propagation in Brazil were those of the Far Eastern tropics which at the time supplied so lucrative a trade with Europe. Some of these, the “spice trees of India,” had been important commodities for more than two hundred years, and trade in them had been the cause of great competition among those nations with merchant fleets large enough to control the sailing routes to the East.

After the battle of Trafalgar the British navy controlled the seas surrounding Europe, but Napoleon’s corsairs still were able to harrass shipping in the sea lanes to the East. A useful base for these operations was the island of Mauritius, then still known as the Île de France, from which French raiders could sally forth to intercept vessels of other nations on their way across the Indian Ocean. As Dom João was setting up his acclimatization garden in Rio, the Portuguese frigate Princeza do Brasil was shipwrecked off Goa. The officers, including Commodore Abreu Vieira e Silva, embarked in the brig Conceição. They intended to reach Brazil by way of the Cape of Good Hope, which the British had seized from the Dutch in 1806 while Holland was a dependency of France. In the course of their passage they were captured by the French and taken to the Île de France.

The French, like their European neighbors, had been enticed by the profits of the spice trade and a wish to break the monopoly of the Dutch, whose plantations in the Moluccas were, in the late 18th century, the chief source of supply. The French East India Company had held the Île de France since 1715. In 1767, when the French government took over direct control of the island, it appointed as intendent the naturalist Pierre Poivre, who had been in the employ of the company and who succeeded in introducing cinnamon and nutmeg trees into the Île de France and the Île de Bourbon (modern Reunion).26 Poivre bought from the company the garden at Pamplemousse in which to plant his treasures.27

In 1808 the garden, according to a French naturalist who visited it in the course of a voyage of discovery “performed by order of the Emperor Napoleon,” contained a

prodigious numbers of trees and shrubs, some from the ardent climate of Africa, others from the humid shores of Madagascar, some from China and Pegu, and again others are natives of the banks of the Indus and the Ganges; several are the produce of the summits of the Ghauts, others flourished originally in the rich valleys of Cashmere; and in the isles of the great archipelago of Asia, Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, Bamo, the Moluccas, and the Philippines; Taiti itself has contributed to the richness and beauty of this garden.28

The shipwrecked Commodore Luiz de Abreu, prisoner of war, also saw the garden at Pamplemousse or heard of its renown. The importance that Dom João placed on the introduction of these plants of the eastern tropics into Brazil and the favors he had announced to be granted to the introducers were not lost on the Commodore. He resolved thereupon not only to escape but to take with him plants that could be carried in cases. This he succeeded in doing with the assistance of Rapheal Bottado de Almeida, a “senator of Macao,” who was for some reason at the time on the Île de France, and a Franciscan friar, Brother Francisco João da Graça, who like himself was a prisoner of war. When he arrived in Rio he offered Dom João clove, nutmeg, avocado, and litchi nut trees and the seeds of the sago palm and the breadfruit tree. Also included in the shipment was a palm, the Oreodoxa oleracea, a native of tropical America, commonly called the cabbage palm in English-speaking countries. “Delighted with the beauty of this plant,” says Barbosa Rodrigues, Dom João insisted on setting it in the ground with his own hands, “in order more fittingly to inaugurate the new institution.” This and its descendants are now the Palmeiras reais of Brazil, having thus acquired their popular name and are not to be confused with the royal palm of Cuba, Oreodoxa regia.29

A year later, in 1810, Marshal Manoel Marquez, who with the help of a British squadron had taken possession of French Guiana, sent a new collection of plants from Cayenne.30 On the first of May, 1811, an agronomist, Paul Germain, disembarked in Pernambuco, having been summoned to Rio by Dom João. He brought with him in the galera named Princeza D. Maria Thereza, various Asiatic plants cultivated in the Gabrielle garden at Cayenne. These had been sent by Maciel da Costa, then Intendant General of Guiana, to the acclimatization garden of Olinda in Pernambuco. On November 1, 1817, when he left the government of Cayenne and embarked in the schooner Andorinha, Maciel da Costa brought still other useful plants, among them the variety of sugar cane known as canna, de Cayenna, reputed to have a higher sugar content than other varieties. These plants were carefully cultivated and responded so satisfactorily that in a short time they were introduced into the subsidiary botanical gardens of Baía, Minas, Pernambuco, and then throughout Brazil.31

This enthusiasm for new plants—new, that is, to Europeans— was typical of the educated men of the age. It was generated by two motives. On the one hand, there were the undoubted profits to be made through the control of sources of food and medicinal plants for which a growing market existed. On the other, the scientific discoveries of the 18th century, especially in the natural sciences, had sparked an interest in the purely intellectual side of exploration into new fields of human knowledge. In England in particular increasing and more widely spread wealth and a rapidly expanding middle class created a hospitable environment for the gentleman scholar and through wealthy patrons opportunities for the man of science without family backing. In 1804 Sir Joseph Banks met with six companions at Hatchard’s bookshop in Piccadilly to form the Royal Horticultural Society. The introduction of plants from both Asia and the New World was the particular interest of that society and others like it and of the nurserymen who catered to the demands of wealthy landowners like the Empress Josephine, who had a taste for embellishing their properties.

There was one particular shrub that botanists and heads of state in several European countries coveted as a source of wealth. For years the tea plant had been sought, so that the Chinese monopoly could be broken in the increasingly popular beverage. Tea did not make its appearance in Europe until 1606, when the Dutch imported a quantity they had obtained by barter from the Chinese. Sage, at the rate of one pound for four pounds of tea, had been the medium of barter, as the Chinese were fond of what they called the wonderful European herb, and to which they attributed numerous virtues.32 Tea was not known in England until 1641, Samuel Pepys being one of the first to mention it as a new and rare Chinese drink. But its popularity had grown through the 18th century, bringing wealth to the British East India company.

A living tea plant reached Europe only in 1763. Not only were the problems of transportation difficult, but also the Emperor of China jealously excluded Europeans from his domains and sought by every means to prevent them from learning anything of the cultivation and preparation of tea. The Portuguese had perhaps the best chance to obtain tea plants and to learn about their culture, since Macao, off the coast of south China, on the west side of the entrance to the Canton river, was the oldest European outpost in the trade with the Chinese. However, so strictly did the Chinese control trade at Macao and Canton, that no attempt to smuggle out tea plants was successful.

Dom Rodrigo, nevertheless, nurtured the hope of propagating the tea plant in Brazil, perhaps to the extent of supplying the whole European market. In 1812 Luiz de Abreu, no doubt inspired by the success of his first gifts of plants, after insistent requests sent to the same Raphael Bottado de Almeida who had helped him escape from the French in Mauritius, prevailed on him to send the first seeds of the tea plant to Rio through the agency of Commander Joaquim Epiphanio de Vasconcellos of the brig Vulcano. When these seeds germinated, the planting of tea on a large scale was undertaken.33

In order to develop these new tea plantations, in 1814 Dom João brought a colony of two hundred Chinese to Rio from Canton by way of Macao. Their purpose was to give instruction in the cultivation and preparation of tea. In 1817 six thousand plants were set out and the enterprise prospered to the extent that tea was actually sold in bulk in the trade at Rio. However, in the end it was not a success.34 John Luccock, an observer of the events of Brazil’s transformation from colony to metropolis, described the tea experiment thus:

About three miles farther, at a small place dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is the Botanical Garden, in which, amongst many tropical plants, native and exotic, is the tea-tree. When first introduced here, several persons were brought from China to superintend its growth and management; and it was even supposed, that at no great distance of time, the whole European market might be supplied from here. There can be little question about the care taken of it, and every observer must see that it flourishes luxuriantly; yet the projecters of the scheme seem to have calculated ill, are become dissatisfied with their own plan, and consequently neglect it. The rate of wages is too high to admit of the production of tea at moderate prices; while the Chinese, though diligent, are too precise and slow in their modes of culture.35

But principally “o que faltou” was the propelling force of Dom Rodrigo, for Dom João lost his energetic minister by death in January, 1812.36 With Dom Rodrigo went the planning and organizing power behind the tea scheme.

Though the economic value of the garden declined, however, its aesthetic appeal to Dom João continued even in the midst of the turbulent political events that followed the final defeat of Napoleon. Shortly after he was crowned king of the united kingdom of Portugal and Brazil, he formally transformed his acclimatization garden into the Royal Botanical Garden and indicated the importance he attached to it by naming two members of his government to be directors— Councilor João Severiano Maciel da Costa, the former Intendent of Guiana and later Marquês de Queluz, and Deputy João Gomes da Silveira Mendonça, later Marquês de Sahará. “Having ordered the establishment of a garden for exotic plants in the Fazenda da Lagoa de Rodrigo de Freitas,” he said in his decree, “it is my pleasure that it should be enlarged, an area being designated as soon as possible for a plantation of cloves and other spice trees.”37


In the meantime, the train of political events in Portugal and Brazil bore Dom João inevitably along to the day when he must leave Rio. The Portuguese had begun to agitate for his return in 1813, and in 1814 he had acquiesced in their demands to the extent of informing the British government that he wished to return as soon as Napoleon’s defeat was certain and definitive. In Brazil, as in the rest of the Americas, the spirit of independence was evident, and in 1817 it was expressed in the quickly suppressed republican revolution of Pernambuco. In Portugal the spirit of liberalism produced the revolution of 1820 which established a constitutional monarchy. The demands for Dom João’s overdue return from his Brazilian sojourn became more insistent. Not a little of the pressure came from among those who had emigrated with him and had never found Brazil nor the Brazilians congenial, a party headed by his restless queen, Dona Cariota Joaquina.38

As the pressure mounted Dom João continued to temporize. He agreed at first that he would allow his eldest son and heir Pedro to return to Portugal, but without his wife and children. At this Pedro’s Austrian wife, Dona Leopoldina, rebelled. Finally, when the course of events showed him the inevitability of his need to return, he announced on March 7, 1821, both his departure and the fact that Pedro would remain as Regent of Brazil. On April 24, 1821, he embarked on the vessel bearing his own name, with all his family except his eldest son and daughter-in-law and their children. It was a departure made in funereal gloom, over a sea as stormy as that over which he had come in 1807.39

Dom João survived his unwilling return to the Old World by five years. They were five years of political intrigue and warfare with his vengeful wife and rebellious second son Miguel, who made common cause against his life and his throne. In the bitter hours of this family strife memories of his happy Brazilian days must have been present with him. Among them certainly were recollections of the cottage he had built at the gate of the Botanical Garden. On its verandah he had on occasion eaten his breakfast, enjoying the view of the “lake with the mountains and woods—the ocean, with three little islands that lie off the lake; and in the foreground a small chapel and village, at the extremity of a little smooth green plain.”40

Or so the view was described by Maria Graham, the English sea captain’s widow who visited Rio in 1821 and was later appointed governess to the Brazilian-born princess who became Queen Maria II of Portugal. Mrs. Graham, until she lost her husband while rounding Cape Horn, had traveled with him across the great oceans of the world, to the Far East and to the Pacific, and was familiar with the botanical wonders of the eastern tropics. She was disappointed to find that while, in the garden, nothing could “be more thriving than the whole of the plants,” cinnamon, camphor, nutmeg, and clove growing “as well as in their native soil,” there was no collection of indigenous plants. She continued:

However, so much has been done as to give reasonable hopes of farther improvement, when the political state of the country shall be quiet enough to permit attention to these things.41

It was many years before her hopeful thought was realized. As early as 1804 Alexander von Humboldt had explored the vast areas of tropical Brazil, but the idea that here in the New World was a wealth of plant life that could equal or overshadow the “natural productions” of Asia did not gain recognition until many years after Dom João’s death in 1826. However, and fortunately for future generations, his heir, who on September 7, 1822 proclaimed himself emperor of an independent Brazil, also valued the garden at the foot of Corcovado. At the end of March, 1824, he appointed Brother Leandro do Sacramento its director.

Brother Leandro, a Carmelite friar who had been the first professor of botany in the Academy of Medicine and Surgery, was fifty years of age when he took on the new task, but still full of enthusiasm. He found the garden in a state of neglect and the tea plantation abandoned.42 The decay no doubt was due in part to that “greatest liberality to strangers,” which was commented upon by Mrs. Graham:

For instance, at the botanic gardens there is a constant nursery of the rare and useful plants, which are given away, on application, to strangers and natives alike, so that not only the gardens of Brazil are stocked with the rarer products of the East, but they are carried to different countries in Europe, prepared by this cooler climate for their farther transportation.43

Until he died in 1829, three years after Dom João, Brother Leandro was the indefatigable guardian of the plantings, and builder of the picturesque monuments that have been familiar features of the garden ever since—the waterfalls, the avenues, the Mesa do Imperador, a favorite picnic spot of both Brazilian emperors, Dom Pedro I and Dom Pedro II. He organized the first catalog of plants then cultivated in the garden and rehabilitated the tea plantation, so that in his time the market at Rio was supplied with tea grown in the garden.44

From these beginnings the garden has slowly been transformed into a truly scientific establishment, one of the renowned botanical gardens of the world. At the end of the 19th century an arboretum and a new area for the planting of Brazilian species were added, so that it became not only the home of long-established immigrants from the Far East but also of examples of the multitudinous species of native Brazilian plants. Thus it has survived as the most abiding and appropriate monument to that other happy immigrant to Brazil, Dom João VI.


Letter in the Public Archives of Rio de Janeiro, reproduced in Luiz Norton, A corte de Portugal no Brasil (São Paulo: Companhia Editôra National, 1938) (Brasiliana, Serie 5a., vol. 124).


Ibid., p. 73.


One of the least favorable accounts is that of the Duchesse d’Abrantes, the widow of Napoleon’s General Junot, whose memoirs were published in both French and English in several editions during the latter half of the 19th century. Duchesse d’Abrantes (Mme. Junot), Memoirs of Napoleon, His Court and Family (New York: Appleton, 1895).


Luiz Norton, op. cit., pp. 33 ff. The definitive study in English of the flight of the Portuguese court to Brazil and its effects is, of course, Alan K. Manchester, British Preeminence in Brazil; Its Rise and Decline (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1933). Dr. Manchester refers to many sources not cited here.


John Luccock, Notes on Rio de Janeiro, and the Southern Parts of Brazil; Taken During a Residence of Ten Years in That Country, from, 1808 to 1818 (London: S. Leigh, 1820), pp. 32, 33.


Pedro Calmon, O rei do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1935), p. 5.


Luiz Norton, op. cit., pp. 38, 39.


John Luccock, op. cit., p. 94.


Manoel de Oliveira Lima, Dom João VI no Brasil, 1808-1821 (Rio de Janeiro: Jornal do Comercio, 1908) I, 85. Luccock adds in the introduction to his Notes (p. vii) that “The King is a good man, and a good sovereign, but it would not have been right to represent him as superior to human nature, entirely free from those weaknesses and feelings of which all partake.”


Gastão Cruls, Aparência do Bio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1949), pp. 283, 493.


A. C. D’Araujo Guimaraes, A corte no Brasil (Pôrto Alegre: Livraria do Globo, Barcellos, Bertaso & Cia., 1936).


Gastão Cruls, loc. cit.


Luiz Norton, op. cit., p. 38.


José da Silva Lisboa, Memória dos beneficios políticos do govérno de el-rey nosso senhor D. João VI (2 ed.; Rio de Janeiro: Oficinas do Arquivo Nacional, 1940), p. 66; first edition (Rio de Janeiro: Impressão Regia, 1818). Silva Lisboa was Deputado da Real Junta do Comercio, Desembargador da Casa da Supplicação do Reino do Brasil.


Oliveira Lima states: “Dom João VI foi sem duvida alguma, e ainda è um rei popular. Da dynastia nacional continua elle a ser o favorito. Dom Pedro I impõe-se pela sua energia e bravura; Dom Pedro II inspira mais veneração e fervor pela sua elevação moral e acrisolado patriotismo, mas em Dom João VI o sentimento público faz menos cerimonia. Olha-o com urna ternura em que entrain urna certa dose de reconhecimento, um poucochinho de compaixão e uns toques de proteção.” Op. cit., I.


The Botanical Garden at Rio de Janeiro was not the first established in Brazil. In 1796 Dom João, in a carta régia dated November 4, directed the Captain General of Pará, Dom Francisco de Souza Coutinho, to organize a public garden on the São José highroad, for the acclimatization of plants, which was accordingly established in 1797. Its first director was an emigrant from Cayenne, the agronomist Grenoullier, who included in the plantings both native plants and some brought from French Guiana. See J. Barbosa Rodrigues, Bortus fluminensis on breve noticia sobre as plantas cultivadas no jardim botânico do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro: Typ. Leuzinger, 1894), p. iii. The historical summary in this work was also published as O jardim botànico do Rio de Janeiro. Uma lembrança do 1° centenário 1808-1908 (Rio de Janeiro: E. Bevilacqua & Cia., 1908).


Pedro Calmon, op. cit., p. 130.


Américo Pires de Lima, Uma grande figura nacional, o Conde de Linhares, Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho (Pôrto: Trabalhos do Instituto de Botânica “Dr. Gongalo Sampaio,” 1954).


Colecção das leis do Brasil de 1808 (Rio de Janeiro: Imp. Nacional, 1891), p. 30.


The initial legislation is contained in three decrees of June 13, 1808: a) Manda incorporar aos proprios da Coroa o engenho e terras da Lagoa de Rodrigo de Freitas; b) Manda tomar posse do engenho e terras denominadas da Lagoa de Rodrigo de Freitas; c) Manda contrahir um empréstimo para estabelecimento da Fábrica de Pólvora. Ibid., pp. 52, 53.


Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., p. iii.


Ibid., pp. i, ii.


Decisão no. 33. Tribunal da Real Junta do Comercio, Agricultura, Fábricas e Navegação, em 7 de agosto de 1809. Colecção das leis do Brasil de 1809 (Rio de Janeiro: Imp. Nacional, 1891), p. 32.


Alvará de 7 de julho de 1810. Colecção das leis do Brasil de 1810 (Rio de Janeiro: Imp. Nacional, 1891), p. 119.


Decree of May 25, 1810. Ibid., p. 111.


Larousse du XXe siècle. Pierre Poivre, Voyage d’un philosophe. (Yverdon, 1768). 2 ed., Maastricht, J. E. Dufour and P. Roux, 1779. English editions in London, 1769; Dublin, 1770; and Baltimore, 1818.


He later patriotically sold it to the king of France for the same price he paid for it. Jacques Gerard Milbert, Voyage pittoresque àl’Île de France, au cap de Bonne Espérance et à l’Île de Teneriffe (Paris, 1812).


François Peron, A Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Hemisphere Performed by Order of the Emperor Napoleon During the Years 1801, 1802, 1803, and 1804 (London, 1809), p. 49. The original French edition was published by the Imperial Press, 1807-1816.


Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., p. iv, lists the original plants as: As plantas primitivamente trazidas de Cayenna por esse chefe de divisão foram as seguintes:

  • 4 Moscadeira (Myristica fragrans Hout.)

  • 4 Abacateiras (Persea gratissima Gaertn.)

  • 2 Pès de Litchi (Nephelium litchi Linn.)

  • 3 Canalleiras (Laurus cinnammomum L.)

  • 10 Turangeiras (Citrus Pomum Adami Risso)

Além dessas plantas, trouxe sementes de:

  • Acacia Lebbech Willd. (Coração de negro).

  • Cycas revoluta Thunb. (Sagú)

  • Artocarpus incisa Lin. (Eructa pão)

  • Spondias sp. (Cajás)

Areca. È a Oreodoxa oleracea Mart. (Palmeira real, como veremos.) With regard to the palm, Barbosa Rodrigues states: “Já dissemos o modo por que o chefe de divisão Abreu trouxera da ilha de França as plantas que primitivamente aqui foram introduzidas. No numero destas achava-se urna palmeira conhecida por Areca que não era mais que a Oreodoxa oleracea Mart., a cujo genero pertenceu. Encantado pela belleza do vegetal, o regente D. João quiz plantal-a com as proprias mãos, afim de inaugurar mais solemnemente a nova instituição. D’ahi veio o nome Palmeira real, nome que poderia confundil-a com a Oreodoxa regia. Nossa palmeira real è a O. olerácea Mart., a Euterpe Cariboea Sprengel ou Areca olerácea Linneo.


It is interesting to note that the Gabrielle garden at Cayenne was the transshipment point for plants brought from Macao and destined for Brazil. Even the first shipment brought by Luiz de Abreu from Mauritius apparently passed through Cayenne. Oliveira Lima, op. cit., I, 451 (citing Mello Morães, Historia do Brasil-reino e do Brasil-imperio, vol. I) states that the Gabrielle garden was established and maintained by Louis XVI out of his private purse and that it was used as an acclimatization garden for trees brought from Ceylon by a French botanist sent there for that purpose.


Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., p. vi.


The History of the Tea Plant (London: London Genuine Tea Company), p. 17.


Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., p. v.




Luccock, op. cit., p. 287.


Oliveira Lima, op. cit.


Decree of May 11, 1819, quoted by Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., pp. v, vi.


Luiz Norton, op. cit., pp. 80, 168-195.




Maria Graham (Lady Dundas), Journal of a Voyage to Brazil and Residence There During Part of the Years 1821, 1822, 1823 (London, 1824), p. 164.


Ibid., p. 163.


Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., pp. ix ff.


Maria Graham, op. cit., p. 299.


Barbosa Rodrigues, op. cit., p. x. Unfortunately, this first catalog was never published and was subsequently lost. Barbosa Rodrigues described the friar: “A tradição nos apresenta o activo e sabio carmelitano sentado à sombra de urna velha jaqueira, contemporânea de outras que ainda hoje existem, animando os escravos que cavavam o lago e transportavam terra para o cômoro de que já fallámos, com esta frase característica: ‘como formigas … minha gente … como formigas …’”

Author notes


The author is an attorney on the staff of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Washington, D. C. She has had a life-long interest in Brazil particularly and Latin America generally, being in fact a Carioca.