Excursion to Santa Cruz

Chapter VI

Excursion to Santa Cruz

The next excursion of any importance I made, was to Santa Cruz, a royal farm and residence on the sea-coast, about fifty miles S. W. of Rio. A broad and good carriage-road leads to it – the only road which extends for any distance in this part of Brazil. I arrived on the afternoon of the second day after leaving the city, and immediately proceeded to see the palace, which is built on an elevated spot, overlooking an extensive plain of pasture land.

Palácio de Santa Cruz em 1823 – Desenho de Maria Graham

The Jesuits, to whom the estate belonged previous to their expulsion from the country, formerly occupied this place, of which only a part of the ancient convent still remains. The new edifice presents a handsome stone front; and was intended to form a square, but no more than two sides have been completed: it was built two years ago, and is said to have cost a million of cruzadoes[1]. It contains an extensive suite of rooms, scantily and shabbily furnished. A large garden, among other things, was intended to be made; but since the departure of the King, the works then on hand, and this among the rest, have been discontinued, and every projected improvement given up altogether. Several acres of land are actually laid out in the manner of English pleasure-grounds, with walks and thriving shrubberies. In one enclosure is a large collection of tea-plants, for the due cultivation and management of which, a body of Chinese, to the number of two hundred, had been introduced into Brazil; but these people, like the Swiss settlers, soon dispersed themselves throughout the country, or found employment at Rio, where some as pedlars, and some as shopkeepers, had by their industry and good management realised small fortunes; so that in fact a very few remained, at the time I was at Santa Cruz, to take care of the tea-plants, for which they had purposely been brought into the country with infinite trouble and expense.

In the immediate vicinity of the palace are the huts of the negro slaves belonging to the estate, which are sufficiently numerous to form a little town. Diseased and emaciated crowds of these pitiable objects surrounded me at every step, supplicating for charity, in the name of God and of his Saints. The cause of such excessive misery is partly attributable to those who have the management of the estate; partly to their own idleness and misconduct. They are not supported, as is often the case on Brazilian farms, by the proprietor, but have two days in the week allowed them for labour in their own provision-grounds, for themselves and families. Africans, however, are naturally an indolent and careless race of people; and provided they can escape absolute starvation, which in such a climate is easily done, they require some stronger and more effectual incitement to industry, than mere freedom of will. They have here no zealous Missionary to impart the powerful stimulus of religious principle to minds too weak and ignorant to think and act rightly for themselves; no active master, nor superintendent, to take an interest in their welfare, and train them up by a well-regulated system of management to useful habits; lastly, they have no encouragement from the neighbourhood of any market, to raise produce for purposes of trade; and not possessing any artificial wants, nor being able, through excessive brutal ignorance, to appreciate the ordinary comforts of life, such as good clothing, good houses, &c., they live and vegetate in voluntary wretchedness, without thought, without exertion, and without hope. Many other diseases of the worst sort, besides the yaws, prevail among them; yet there is no regular hospital establishment, and no precautions are taken to separate the infected from healthy persons. The proportion of old and infirm, among the beggars, was very considerable, and they really appeared to suffer from the most abject indigence; while it was said, that a far larger number had recourse for subsistence, and indulgence in their only pleasure, namely, drunkenness, to thievery, and other dishonest practices. The number of negroes altogether on the estate is said to exceed a thousand; the most prolific cause of evil among them appears to be the want of sufficient employment.

The estate of Santa Cruz was computed by my informant, an intelligent farmer belonging to the place, to contain nine square leagues of pastureland belonging to the King, which yielded an annual income of 60,000 cruzadoes; and it might, under an abler system of management, be augmented to 100,000 cruzadoes. This income is principally derived from the horses, mules, and horned cattle that are reared for sale, and amount at the present moment to 2000 head; or from the rent paid for pasturage by the owners of others. Five testoens[I] or 2s. 9d. per head, is the sum demanded either for one night, or for any longer period of time not exceeding a year. Upon inquiring why a more equalizing plan was not adopted, so as to proportion the rate of pay to the time of pasturage, I learnt that the chief source of profit arose from the herds of cattle on their way from the interior to the market at Rio, which stopped here to graze for one night only, and were therefore made to pay as much as the more regular annual customers of the farm.

The plain is bounded to the N. W. by the mountain Serra, over which a road leads to St. Paul, a celebrated mining district and city near the port of Santos, to the southward of Rio, and another to St. Joao del Rey, a large city of the interior, in the western part of Minas Geraes. On the south it is bounded by the sea, into which two small rivers, both navigable for large canoes, and flowing parallel at a distance of six or seven miles from each other, discharge their waters. The air, though hot, is not oppressive, being refreshed by alternate land and sea-breezes. An European may, therefore, take walking or riding exercise during the hottest part of the day without distress: the climate of the evening is delightful. The same remark applies to all other parts of the country which I had yet visited, excepting the cold regions of the Serra. The whole plain affords pasturage for cattle, and is almost entirely bare of trees, or even shrubs. In the middle of summer it was still verdant, and resembled the rich pasturages of England, very different from what might naturally be expected in this tropical region.

The village of Santa Cruz offers nothing worthy of notice except the King’s palace. Since he left Brazil, it has nearly ceased to be inhabited by white people, the Prince, Don Pedro, never bringing company or large household establishments with him when he visits the place. Zapativa[II], the neighbouring sea-port, three miles distant, contains about sixty fishermen’s huts, and is frequented by coasting smacks, which bring whatever supplies are wanted for the palace and adjoining properties, and carry back produce to Rio. There is no harbour: the coast forms a very large bay, where vessels come to anchor close alongshore in shallow water. The country, for a few miles round, at this the eastern extremity of the plain, is well cultivated, and abounds in plantations of sugar and coffee.

At the south-western extremity lies the sugar engenho and plantation of Taguahy[III], about eight miles in a straight line from Santa Cruz. It has the reputation of being the finest and best managed sugar engenho in the province of Rio Janeiro, and as such deserves a particular description. It formerly belonged to the College of Jesuits, and was sold by the Crown at the time of their expulsion from Brazil, for the sum of 250,000 cruzadoes. The annual income now yielded to the proprietor was stated, with other particulars, by the acting superintendent, at between 30 and 40,000 cruzadoes. One large wooden building, of clumsy construction, is appropriated, as in other similar Brazilian establishments, to the mill, the boiling apparatus, and the distillery; it occupies a space of about 100 yards in length, by 25 in breadth. Parallel to this, and under the same roof, are apartments for the proprietor or his agents, an infirmary for sick negroes, store-rooms, and other domestic offices. There are three mills, placed at equal distances, each with three vertical rollers: through these the canes are passed and re-passed, and the juice extracted by this double pressure flows along wooden troughs into the first boiler. While boiling, a negro is constantly employed in stirring it up with a large wooden ladle, and skimming off all extraneous frothy matter: it is then passed into another vessel, and left to cool. The same boiling process is afterwards gone through a second time; after which, and when the liquor has arrived at the state of sugar, it is poured into large earthen-ware pans, and is there left for the last stage of preparation. It is afterwards, at the convenient time, exposed to the rays of the sun in large lumps, and broken up and made fit for the market, and then deposited in the storerooms in boxes of three arrobas[2] each. The refuse juice, being unfit for sugar, is passed through holes bored for that purpose in the floor, to the distillery, which is conveniently situated in an under-ground apartment, well arched with stonework, immediately beneath the mill and boiling apparatus.

The mode of distillation is not different, I believe, from that commonly adopted elsewhere. The refuse of the saccharine matter, after undergoing these various processes, is given to the cattle, and affords them excellent nourishment. The water necessary for condensing the spirit is supplied by a stream which has been never known to fail in the driest seasons, and serves at the same time to turn the sugar-mill. A large horizontal wheel is made use of for that purpose, against which the water, conducted along a narrow channel, drives with sufficient velocity and force to put the whole machinery in motion.

The season of crop begins in May, and ends in September or October. The largest quantity of sugar made in the best season on this estate, was stated to me at 4000 arrobas. It is reckoned, that, working steadily through the week, they can make about 400 arrobas.

The negro establishment consists of 180 in number. They live in detached mud cottages, near the engenho, and appear well taken care of. The produce is carried in carts, or on mules, to the river-side, where it is shipped on board the coasting smacks, and sent to the Rio market.

The aspect of the country is beautiful, particularly in the immediate neighbourhood of the Serra; and all the varied scenery that hill and dale, wood and water, cultivated cane-fields and verdant pasture-land, the whole bounded by a lofty chain of mountains, can offer, is here included in the view. The village of Taguahy contains very few houses; near it is a registro, or guardhouse, at which some soldiers and their commandant are stationed for the inspection of passports, and the examination of the baggage of travellers from the mine-districts.

On my return to Rio, I stopped at another engenho near the road-side, where a steam-engine of an eight-horse power was employed for the works of the sugar-mill. It had been brought from England by an English engineer, with several others, upon speculation, and lately put up on this plantation.

After this short tour, I made another in an easterly direction towards Cape Frio[IV], but saw nothing worthy of a particular description. The country is thinly peopled, and of course not much cultivated. It is extensively occupied by salt and fresh water lakes; some in the immediate vicinity of the sea, others four or five miles inland: these are skirted on their northern sides by hills and forests. The inhabitants, generally speaking, appeared to be an ignorant, boorish, and inhospitable set of people; and the accommodations afforded in the vendas to strangers, were not less wretched than elsewhere.

The walks and rides in the neighbourhood of Rio, offer beauties to the view, in all directions, which can never be sufficiently admired; but however delightful they may be to the individual traveller, reiterated descriptions of them might not afford equal pleasure to the reader: else would it be easy to particularize the gracefully-bending bay and surrounding villas of Botta Fogo[V] – the luxuriant orange and citron groves of Laranjeiras – the magnificent panoramic view from the lofty peak of the Corcovado, and the waterfall and romantic scenery of Tejuco[VI]. Upon the beauties of Tejuco, indeed, it is difficult not to dwell longer, if it were only to mention “with devotion due” the agreeable society and charms of the fair adventurers who graced the party which I was fortunate enough to accompany on a visit to that delightful spot.

The Vasco de Gama put to sea on the 14th of December; and, at the end of ten days, returned with difficulty into port, having sprung a dangerous leak the first night of her voyage. This unpropitious circumstance induced me to make an entire alteration in my plans; and, as the departure of the Vasco had now become very uncertain, I determined, in the absence of another direct conveyance, to effect a passage to China over the Pacific Ocean, by the more circuitous and unusual passage of Cape Horn. After passing, therefore, another week among my hospitable friends and entertainers in Rio, whose attentions, without taking the liberty of using their names, it is no less a pleasure than a duty to acknowledge, I at length again embarked, and bade adieu to the shores of Brazil.


  1. A cruzadoe, 2s. 3d. English currency.
  2. An arroba, 32 ½ lbs. English.

Editor Notes

  1. Tostões.
  2. Porto de Sepetiba.
  3. Itaguaí.
  4. Cabo Frio.
  5. Botafogo.
  6. Tijuca.



Narrative of a visit to Brazil, Chile, Peru, and the Sandwich islands, during the years 1821 and 1822