The province of Minas Geräes is not only one of the largest in Brazil, but one of the richest, its natural resources being very considerable. It extends between the 14th and 23rd degrees of south latitude, and between the 41st and 53rd degrees of west longitude, the four more westerly degrees, however, include but a very narrow corner; on the east, it is bounded by the maritime province of Espirito Santo; on the north, by those of Bahia and Pernambuco; on the south, by those of Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo; and on the west, by that of Goyaz. It is naturally divided into two very unequal portions by a mountain chain, that runs from south to north, in which exist the Gold and Diamond mines, for which the province is so celebrated. The country to the east is mostly covered with virgin forests, while that to the west, which is flatter, chiefly consists of pasture lands, much of which, however, is covered with Catinga forests, forming one of the largest tracts in Brazil, to which the name of Sertão is given. In order to reach the Cidade Diamantina, the capital of the Diamond district, which it was now my intention to visit, it was necessary to make a long journey through this desert-like country; the road most frequented, is that which runs southward along the east bank of the Rio de San Francisco, and the north of the Rio das Velhas, a large tributary of the former, which takes its rise in the Gold country; the other, which is a far worse road, leads through the Sertão in a south-east direction; but I preferred it, because it would sooner bring me into the mountainous regions of the Diamond district.
On the 1st of July, preparatory to our departure, my horses were brought over from the island to the east side of the San Francisco, and early on the following morning the luggage was all at once passed over, in a large ajojo, two canoes lashed together. All being now prepared, I had resolved to proceed immediately, but on collecting the animals, my own saddle horse was not to be found; all that day was spent in search of it, but the only trace left, was the leathern strap, by which its fore legs had been secured, and which was found in the wood unbuttoned at both ends, and as this could only have been done by some person, we came to the conclusion that the horse was stolen; I, therefore, resolved to lose no more time in looking after it. About midnight we were awakened by a black man, who had assisted my men in the morning’s search, who came to inform me that a horse similar to mine, had been seen during the day, tied to a tree in the wood considerably further up the river. Early next morning, I despatched one of my people in that direction to look for it, who returned in about an hour, bringing the horse with him; it was evident it had been taken there, in the hope of its remaining concealed, until an opportunity occurred of carrying it away altogether. I now lost no time in commencing the journey, and making a short stage of about a league, rested, during the middle of the day, at a fazenda called Guaribas. The first half league was through a flat thinly-wooded tract, which is generally overflowed by the river, during the rainy season; I saw some fine large trees in this wood, of a species of Triplaris, and an arboreous Bignonia, destitute of leaves, but covered with flowers not unlike those of the Foxglove, in shape, size, and colour. The underwood here consisted chiefly of different kinds of Mimosa, Acacia, Bauhinia, Cæsalpinia, &c., and an immense number of Lemon trees, loaded with fruit; this tree has here become quite naturalized, and the cattle that pasture in the woods are so fond of the fallen fruit, that when killed, their flesh smells strongly of it. The other half league led through a thickly-wooded Taboleira. At Guaribas, I occupied myself with skinning a very large howling monkey, which Mr. Walker shot the evening before, on a tree on the banks of the Rio de San Francisco; and in the afternoon we advanced another two leagues, and arrived at a fazenda, called Passagem. The road was dreadfully bad, in consequence of the underwood which choaked the almost untrodden path; on this journey, every little twig and blade of grass was loaded with carrapatos, in balls, often the size of filberts, and we became completely covered with these annoying insects; the banks of the little stream near the house, in particular, were swarming with them. In the afternoon, we passed two small lakes which were full of wild ducks, but we were too much annoyed by the badness of the road to lose time in shooting any of them, although they appeared to be very tame; they are smaller than those which frequent the lakes of the north of Brazil.
The fazenda of Passagem, at which we stopped, belongs to a person who resides in San Romão, whose acquaintance I made during my stay there; the vaqueiro in charge of it, had orders not only to entertain us for the night, but to guide us to the next fazenda, which is three leagues distant. It was my design to leave early on the following morning, but my mortification was extreme on finding that my riding horse again was not forthcoming with the others. As the country around the house was covered with a thick Catinga forest, abounding in many places with a small kind of Bamboo, of the leaves of which the horses are remarkably fond, we concluded he would be found grazing somewhere near at hand, but all the forenoon was in vain spent in search of him; the vaqueiro, who was a most obliging man, and well acquainted with the country, then mounted his horse, in quest of the lost animal, but he returned in the evening, without having been able to find the slightest trace of him. All the following day was again spent in a useless search, and, as the pasturage at this place was very bad, we went on in the evening, for the sake of other animals, to Geräes Velhas, the fazenda to which the vaqueiro had orders to conduct us. He remained here with us all night, and next morning, I sent one of my men back with him, to have a last search for the missing horse, being unwilling to proceed without him, as he was one of the best belonging to my troop; but on the following day, the man returned without having obtained the slightest intelligence of the lost animal. I entertained no doubt that the thief who had been disappointed on the former occasion, had now followed us, and at last made sure of his booty. The country between Passagem and Geräes Velhas consists principally of a flat Taboleira, which for the most part is covered with a tall grass, a species of Andropogon, from six to twelve feet high. For the next four days after leaving Geräes Velhas, our route was through a very thinly inhabited country, consisting sometimes of low Catinga forests, at others, of Taboleiras cobertas, and not unfrequently of woodless grassy hills, on which that species of Callopisma, called Boca do Sapo, and the beautiful Chresta pycnocephala, grew profusely, both of which were then in full flower. In passing through bushy grassy tracts in the Sertão, the ears of the traveller are greeted, from early dawn till night, by the loud cries of a large gallinaceous bird, called by the inhabitants, Seriema; they generally go in pairs, and by keeping among the long grass, they are seldom seen; like the Ostrich of the country (Emu), they run with great quickness. St. Hilaire compares their cry to that of the turkey, but I find in my Journal, that I have frequently remarked it to be like the yelping of a whelp. They build their nest in the low trees, and lay two eggs; as their flesh is not much esteemed, they are seldom sought after by the sportsman; and on this account are frequently heard uttering their peculiar cry in the immediate neighbourhood of houses: it is the Dicolophus cristatus of Illiger.
In passing through a little hamlet, called Espigão, which consists of about a dozen scattered houses, belonging to people of colour, I met with a horse dealer, with whom I exchanged two of my horses, that were a good deal exhausted, for two better ones, giving him a sum of money to boot; but as he saw I was almost driven by necessity to make this exchange, he, of course, contrived to have the best of the bargain, in which respect the Brazilian horse-dealers very much resemble those of more civilized countries. On leaving Espigão, we travelled all the afternoon, and the whole of the next day, before we came to any habitation; it was dusk when we arrived in sight of it, and it was not without some difficulty, owing to the badness of the road, and our not knowing which path to take, that we at length reached this fazenda, called Caisára. I was much disappointed to find this portion of the province so thinly populated, and exhibiting but few indications of native industry; although many tracts appeared equally well adapted for the rearing of cattle, as the greater portion of Goyaz, we saw scarcely any animals distributed over its surface. There seemed abundance of excellent pasturage and good shelter for cattle, and notwithstanding that the upper parts of the hills were sometimes bare, the valleys appeared to be well wooded. When I asked for quarters for the night, at this place, I was told by the owner, an old mulatto, that if we chose, we might sleep under some orange trees, to which he pointed, at a little distance from the house. Thither we accordingly went, but just as we were getting the horses unloaded, he came down to inform us, that although he gave us liberty to sleep there, he would not on any account allow us to make a fire. The nights in this part of the country being too cold to admit of sleeping in the open air without artificial warmth, I determined to keep aloof from a man who was so uncivil and inhospitable, and therefore moved away from his orange trees, carrying off all our equipage to the high road, which passed by the house, where we kindled a large fire, by the side of which we slept, but most uncomfortably, as the ground was covered with carrapatos. Next morning before we started, the owner of the fazenda came out to visit us, and no doubt being ashamed of his conduct, he begged I would not mention to any one the manner in which we had been received, which was entirely owing to the smallness of his accommodation; but this was evidently a mere excuse, as his house was by no means small. The true reason for making this apology, was his having ascertained, from one of my men, the nature of my profession, for he brought with him one of his daughters, to solicit my advice respecting a complaint under which she had laboured for some time. I was also asked by him to visit one of his slaves, who for many years had been prevented from working, by a complaint not uncommon in Brazil, Sarcocele; this, however, was the most remarkable case I had ever witnessed, exhibiting an enormous mass of solid flesh in a pyriform shape, that reached the ground, weighing nearly as much as the rest of his body. The wretched being who was thus affected was a man still in the prime of life, and suffered but little, except from the inconvenience it caused him.
On the afternoon of the following day, we arrived at another fazenda called Cabeceira, the distance between the two places being about four leagues and a half. On this journey, the country still continued to rise, and about half a league before reaching this place, we passed over a bare Serra of considerable height, the ascent of which was rather steep, although the road over it is excellent, being so constructed that carts can cross it without difficulty. That portion of the mountain in which the road has been made is a soft brownish-coloured clay slate, but at no little distance on each side, the more lofty summits of the Serra consist of black compact limestone. The bushy campos through which we passed in the forenoon, were beautifully adorned with a fine plant, belonging to the natural order Compositæ, which grew in the greatest abundance, and reached to the height of about five feet, the Chresta sphærocephala of De Candolle; it has large leaves, which, together with the stem and branches, are covered with a white woolly substance, and is much branched at the top, each branchlet being terminated by a large globose compact head of purple flowers. As there was a good watering place in a wood a little beyond Cabeceira, we preferred going there, rather than remaining at the house, to which we were invited by the owner. During the whole interval since we had left the province of Goyaz, we never suffered for want of water as we had done in the dry provinces of the north. In every part of the country through which we were now travelling, we found in nearly every valley a little stream of clear, cool, and delicious water, and during our future progress it became even more abundant. We were now only two leagues and a half distant from the Villa de Formigas, but owing to the badness of the roads, we did not reach it till nearly one in the afternoon, notwithstanding we left our encampment at an early hour. The country was rather hilly, and the road stony, but it presented one great advantage to the traveller, which I knew well how to appreciate, in the bridges which are to be found crossing all the little streams that intersect the roads. They are constructed of wood, and however rude, they save the traveller much trouble, and prevent the risk of damage to the luggage, as we too often experienced on our journey between Arrayas and San Romão. Immediately on entering the Villa we passed over an excellent bridge of considerable span, one of the best I had yet seen in the interior; it crossed a small river which passes through a portion of the town. Having letters of recommendation to the Vigario of the district, Padre Antonio Gonsalves Chaves, I proceeded at once to his house, where we met with a most hospitable reception; an excellent breakfast was immediately prepared, and good quarters provided us, in an empty house belonging to him, adjoining the one which he inhabited.
The Villa of Montes Claros de Formigas, is of small dimensions, containing a population of about 1,000 souls, but in respect to its situation, the arrangement of its streets, and the neat and clean appearance of the houses, it far exceeded any Villa I had seen in the interior. It is distant from Rio de Janeiro and Bahia upwards of two hundred leagues, and about fifty from the Cidade Diamantina; until the year 1832, it ranked only as an Arraial, but in that year it was elevated to the dignity of a Villa, and is now the chief town of the Comarca of the same name. The site on which it is built has been well chosen, being a slightly elevated plateau, in the centre of a large valley, which is surrounded on all sides by an irregular ridge of hills of considerable elevation. The greater part of the houses are arranged in the form of a very large square, much longer than broad, of which the south side is still incomplete. At the north end of this square stands the only church the Villa contains, near which is an excellent roofed market-place, for the sale of provisions brought from the country; at the south-end of the space fronting the church, is a large jail not yet finished. The small river that passes it, called the Rio Vieira, falls into the Rio das Velhas, yielding the town a very good supply of fish, similar to those found in the Rio de San Francisco. The Villa contains a few shops, where European goods are sold; these goods were formerly brought from Bahia, but Rio de Janeiro seems now to be the principal resort of the merchants, who take with them in exchange to the coast its chief produce, saltpetre, which is found not only in the soil in certain parts of the surrounding Sertão country, but in caverns in the limestone rocks, of which the low mountains in the vicinity are principally formed. The fazendeiros in the country around Formigas, occupy themselves principally in the rearing of cattle and horses, which are for the most part driven to the Bahia market. They also cultivate a little mandiocca and Indian corn, but no rice, the dry nature of the country not being suited to its growth.
I remained only two days in Formigas, being now very anxious to reach the gold country, where I expected to find letters from England awaiting my arrival: I should otherwise have made a longer stay here, in order to recover from the effects of the bruise I received on my leg at San Romão, which, in consequence of my being obliged to ride every day on horseback, had become so greatly inflamed and swollen as to cause me much pain and inconvenience, and totally to prevent all chance of making any excursions on foot in the neighbourhood of the Villa. During my stay I received many kind attentions from the Vigario, who readily afforded me the use of his library, which, though small, contained a good selection of Latin, French, and Portuguese works. From him I received the following information respecting the unfortunate impostor Douville, the pretended author of the travels in the interior of Africa:—
In the year 1836 he visited Formigas, and lived for some time in the house of the Vigario, passing himself off as Dr. Douville, and gaining much money by the practice of medicine: he also trafficked in the buying and selling of horses, notwithstanding that he said he was sent to Brazil by the king of France, on a mission to investigate its natural productions and curiosities, and to construct a map of such portions of the empire as he chose to visit during his travels. He boasted much of his African journeys, exhibiting everywhere a gold medal, which he said he received from the Geographical Society of Paris, subsequent to the publication of his work. The Vigario, as well as other persons of intelligence in Formigas, suspected him to be an impostor, concluding that he was not the real Douville who was said to have travelled in Africa, but another person who had got fraudulent possession of his papers, &c. He generally charged exorbitant sums of money to those he attended in his medical capacity, and it was owing to an instance of this kind that he met with his death. Somewhere near the Rio de San Francisco, he was called upon to attend a fazendeiro who was ill, and with whom he bargained to effect his cure for the sum of 200 mil-reis, about twenty-five pounds sterling; but in the end the patient died, notwithstanding which, he insisted on receiving the stipulated sum, and after some time, the heirs of the deceased yielding to his importunities, gave it to him. They did not, however, intend it should remain long in his hands, for when Douville embarked to go down the river, they sent a man after him, who killed him one night as he was asleep in his canoe, and robbed him not only of the 200 mil-reis, but of everything he had in his possession; thus he fell at last a victim to his own gross impostures.
We left Formigas on the morning of the 13th of July, and after travelling about half a league we reached the mountain range, by which the valley is bounded, its structure being a dark compact primitive limestone. The ascent, which is very gradual, is well wooded with small trees, but on reaching the top, we entered upon an undulating open barren country, with only here and there a few clusters of trees in hollow places; to these isolated woods, the name of capoes is given, an appellation which is highly poetical, being derived from the Indian word Caapoám, which signifies an island. These island-woods form a peculiar feature in the upland, open, undulating campos of the province of Minas Geräes. The trees which compose them, chiefly consist of different species of Myrcia, Eugenia, Vochysia, Anona, Laurus, Styrax, &c., intermingled with climbing shrubs, such as Bauhinia, Paullinia, &c. The soil in which these trees grow, is often so swampy that it is difficult to get among them, nor can this be done without risk, on account of the large boa constrictors which frequent these places.
After a journey of about three leagues through this description of country, we came to a small stream in a hollow, where we determined to halt for the remainder of the day, as we had been told the next watering-place was about three leagues further on. The spot we selected for our quarters was under the shade of some small trees, but we had scarcely unloaded one horse, when we found ourselves covered with carrapatos, and on examination discovered that both the grass and ground were swarming with them. No time was lost in abandoning this spot, and ascending again to the open campo, we obtained shelter under the wide-spreading boughs of a large Jatobá tree. In the grassy fields I found a pretty little melastomaceous shrub with rose-coloured flowers; and on the slanting face of a hill which led down to one of the island-woods, I collected no less than five species of the genus Eryngium. During the night a cold wind blew over the table-land where we slept, from the effects of which we endeavoured to protect ourselves, by means of a large fire that we kept burning, but which we had some difficulty in maintaining for want of dry wood. Towards morning we were all aroused by the barking of our large mastiff dog, and the screaming of some one he had attacked. Our encampment was close by the side of the public road, and the dog had sprung upon a poor black man who was on his way to Formigas from the diamond districts, and who had set out on his journey at this early hour to escape the heat of the day.
On the following morning we went on to the next watering-place, which was a spring in a wooded hollow. The country through which we passed was very different from that we had traversed on the previous day; the first half of the three leagues was through an elevated, but rather thickly wooded country, on leaving which we ascended a low Serra, covered with a stunted shrubby vegetation; to these elevated shrubby tracts the inhabitants of Minas Geräes give the name of Carrascos. Many of the shrubs seen here, belonged to forms that were quite new to me. One of the most remarkable of these was a fine new species of the curious genus Lychnophora, belonging to the natural order Compositæ, and is peculiar to the mountains of Minas Geräes, and which, together with the Vellozias, give a decided feature to their otherwise peculiar vegetation. This shrub is about six feet high, with numerous branches issuing nearly horizontally from the upper part of the stem, each bearing a cluster of narrow leaves about half a foot long. The whole of the plant, with the exception of the upper sides of the leaves, is everywhere covered with a dense coat of long brownish-coloured wool, which, in places where it grows abundantly, is collected by the inhabitants to fill their beds and pillows. I afterwards met with some other species, having their leaves so very narrow that at first sight they resemble the Scotch fir, the likeness being increased by their habit of growth, which is somewhat similar. In the afternoon we made a journey of three more leagues, through a hilly, barren, grassy country, and halted for the night in a hollow by the side of a small stream, a little beyond a fazenda called Viados.
After travelling about a league on the following morning, through a flattish country, we arrived at the Arraial de Bom Fim, an irregularly built village, consisting of a church, and about forty or fifty houses, many of which have a very dilapidated appearance. We stopped here no longer than was necessary to give a feed of corn to the horses, of which they stood greatly in need, the pastures through which we now were passing affording very little nourishment. The principal shop in the village of Bom Fim belonged, as it did twenty years before, when it was visited by M. Auguste de St. Hilaire, to Colonel Pedro José Virciani, the proprietor of a large fazenda about two leagues distant, where he resides, the shop being entrusted to a person in whom he confides; this practice I found to be not uncommon with rich fazendeiros in this province. From the Vigario of Formigas I obtained a line of route from this place to the Cidade Diamantina, but being here informed of another road having the double recommendation of being both better and shorter, I determined on giving it the preference; by so doing it became necessary to pass the fazenda of San Eloi belonging to the above-mentioned Colonel Virciani. On arriving there I sent one of my men to ask leave to remain till the following day, which was granted; but on learning that I was a foreigner, he immediately ordered two good rooms to be prepared for me and my men, in a house adjoining that in which he resides. On being introduced to him, I found him to be an elderly man, of hale appearance, and of very pleasing manners. I passed the evening very agreeably in his house, when he informed me that M. Auguste de St. Hilaire remained a day and night with him during the course of his journey to the Rio de San Francisco. Although he made no mention to me of the circumstance, I afterwards learned that some observations made by that learned traveller and botanist, in the account of his visit to San Eloi, had much offended this worthy man. The obnoxious passage was the following:—“Pendant tout le temps que je passai chez le Capitaine (for he was then only a captain) Virciani, la maîtresse de la maison ne se montra point; cependant, tandis que nous mangions, je voyais un minois féminin s’avancer doucement à travers la porte entr’ouverte; mais aussitôt que je jetais les yeux de ce côté, la dame disparaissait. C’est par une curiosité semblable que les femmes cherchent à se dedommager du peu de liberté dont on les laisse jouir.”
The same lady was still alive, and I saw her every time I was in the house, but twenty years had made great alterations on the pretty face of which St. Hilaire had only a few glimpses. She had, however, several daughters grown up, who were no less shy than the mother was in her younger days. As soon as the colonel ascertained that I was acquainted with the practice of medicine, he talked upon no other subject, being, as he said himself, a Curioso, which is the appellation given to those who dabble in any profession, without having been regularly educated to it. As a number of his slaves were indisposed, I accompanied him on a visit to each in succession, his object being to ascertain whether he was treating them properly, and to have my advice respecting their complaints. His usual guide in these matters was a Portuguese translation of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine. I found all over Brazil, individuals possessed of no better information, who made a livelihood by their practice of medicine, passing from town to town, and from fazenda to fazenda, many of them, like their brethren in Europe, making large sums of money by their pretended skill in this science.
This fazenda was one of the best I had then seen in the interior; the colonel’s house, which was of two stories, those of his slaves, his store-houses, and other offices, were arranged in the form of a square; near the house was a garden, in which most of the common European vegetables were cultivated with great care, and yielded good crops. It was here that, for the first time since I left the coast at Aracaty, I saw water employed to drive a wheel, as a substitute for manual labour, in the grinding of mandiocca, &c. This wheel was about fifteen feet in diameter, and was well supplied, on the overshot principle, with water from a small stream that passed at some distance, conveyed in a well-constructed wooden aqueduct: this power served alike for the grinding of mandiocca, of cane, of Indian corn, and for bruising castor oil seeds. The colonel every year prepares a considerable quantity of castor oil, which is of better quality than any I have seen made in other parts of Brazil; it is used principally for burning in lamps, but a little is also employed medicinally. The property belonging to Colonel Virciani is well adapted both for the rearing of cattle and the cultivation of sugar-cane, and it is from these sources that he principally derives his large income. The mandiocca, Indian corn, &c., which he cultivates, are grown in quantities, not more than sufficient for the consumption of his household and slaves. Besides an abundant supply of corn for my horses, for which he would not accept payment, the colonel provided me with a small quantity of tea, as my stock was then nearly exhausted, and none could be purchased either in San Romão, or Formigas. Colonel Virciani and his family used it constantly, procuring at intervals an entire chest from Rio de Janeiro.
On the morning we left San Eloi, we did not depart till after breakfast, so that we only accomplished a distance of about two leagues and a half, passing through an elevated level country, large tracts of which were covered with low shrubs, forming that kind of vegetation called Carrasco; we then halted for a short time under a large silk-cotton tree, near an open marshy campo, in which a fine stemless Eriocaulon grew in great abundance. In the afternoon we made another journey of about a league and a half, through an upland, grassy, hilly country, and towards dusk arrived at the fazenda do Sitio, which belongs to the Guarda-Môr, Gonsalvo Christovão Pereira d’Alcami, from whom, though I carried no letter of recommendation to him, I received a most hospitable reception: rooms were immediately prepared for our use; and during the day and a half we remained there, both Mr. Walker and I were entertained at his table. His house, which is an excellent one of two stories, is situated in a hollow, from which the view of the hilly country in the distance is very fine.
I remained here a day longer than I had intended, finding my collection of plants so great that it became necessary to arrange them; this occupied me a whole day, and I had fortunately the assistance of a bright sun-shine, which enabled me to dry all the moist paper, and to place all the specimens in dry sheets. A fine stream flowing from the hills, passes close to the house, and in a walk I took along its banks in the afternoon, I added many botanical novelties to my collection. I was informed by our host, that in the gravel of this stream two or three diamonds had been found, from which it was evident that we were now on the verge of that district, to which this precious stone gives its name.
My collections having been all put into order, I had resolved to resume the journey early next morning, but in this I was disappointed in consequence of one of my horses having strayed into the woods, and therefore our departure was delayed till the afternoon. I had here again the choice of two roads, one winding round the foot of a very high Serra, which, although longer, was much better than the other that passed over the top of the Serra: I preferred the latter on account of the very different vegetation I expected to find there, but as regarded the horses, which were not at all in good condition, the former would have been the better. The Guarda-Môr wished me to remain another night, in order to avoid sleeping on the top of the mountain far from any house; but as we were all much accustomed to this, it gave us no concern, although afterwards we had reason to regret our decision. Shortly after leaving the fazenda, we ascended a Serra of considerable height, barely wooded with a few low shrubs, the greater part of which consisted of three species of Lychnophora. Continuing along the undulating top of this, we reached another ascent, stony and difficult in the extreme for the horses, which terminated in a rocky and rather flat top of considerable length. This place presented quite an alpine appearance; the rugged arenaceous schistose rocks, and even the ground, as well as the small shrubs, had a hoary appearance, from the numerous lichens by which they were covered; and the cold we experienced was quite in unison with the aspect of the country.
With the exception of the elevated ranges of the Organ mountains, this was the richest botanical field I had met with during my long peregrinations. So numerous indeed were the objects that presented themselves on every side, each more beautiful or more curious than the other, that I was obliged to restrict myself in the number of specimens collected, so that I might obtain at least a few of each kind. The shrubs here consisted of different species of Lychnophora, beautiful Melastomacea, a Virgularia covered with rose-coloured blossoms, several Hypti, a Panax, &c.; and among these grew many curious kinds of Eriocaulon, and other small herbaceous plants. The soil here was rather boggy, and numerous little rills of limpid water were flowing down the mountain in all directions. Leaving this flat, we entered upon a third ascent, steeper and more stony than the previous one, which shortly brought us to a flattish, grassy, somewhat shrubby tract.
On this ascent a different vegetation again presented itself, two of the most beautiful of the plants being a species of Physocalyx, a handsome shrub about three feet high, with numerous orange-red flowers, surrounded by a large inflated calyx of nearly the same colour, and a beautiful scarlet-flowered Lisianthus. We proceeded on the flat top of this ridge about half a league, every step yielding some new plant. It was quite dark before we arrived at a place suitable for our encampment; this was a dry, sandy, grassy spot, by the side of the path; there were only a few small trees in the immediate neighbourhood, and the men, by groping beneath them, obtained as many dry sticks as sufficed to make a small fire wherewith to cook our supper.
The sky was quite clear on our arrival, but shortly afterwards a thunder storm was seen gathering to the westward; and no sooner were we laid down on our hide beds, by the side of the fire, than the rain began to fall, and having no shelter of any kind, we were soon completely drenched; the men, in their anxiety to keep the fire alight, held a hide over it till the storm ceased. The flashes of lightning were extremely vivid, and the peals of thunder fearfully loud. After it had passed over, we made ourselves as comfortable as our circumstances would permit, and laid ourselves down, in the hope of not being again disturbed. In this, however, we were sadly disappointed, for shortly after we had fallen asleep, the storm returned in all its fury, leaving us in a far worse state than we had previously been. Those only who have passed a night under such circumstances can imagine the annoyance we experienced; could we have seen the probability of its occurrence, we might have been better prepared for it, but in the middle of the dry season we certainly had no reason to expect so much rain. A third time we laid ourselves down, not to sleep, because that was now impossible, cold and wet as we were, for the fire had been completely extinguished by the quantity of rain that had fallen.
When daylight broke, I found the place where we were encamped to be one of the most lovely that can be conceived, abounding in a variety of beautiful shrubs, and many curious plants. We remained here till noon, in the expectation that the sun would shine with force sufficient to enable us to dry all the things that had been wetted by the rain during the night; but the whole forenoon continuing cloudy, we resolved to pursue our journey. In the morning, immediately after breakfast, I returned with one of my men to the top of the last ascent we had passed the night before; and made several other shorter excursions in the vicinity of the encampment, by which many interesting novelties were added to my collections. We did not start till shortly after mid-day, when, after a fatiguing journey of three long leagues, we arrived at a very recently established gold working called Lavrinha. Our route was entirely along the flat top of the Serra, sometimes passing through large open grassy tracts, abounding in numerous kinds of Eriocaulon, Melastomaceæ, Compositæ, a blue flowered Lupinus, a small Virgularia with pale rose-coloured flowers, great profusion of a purple Vellozia, and the beautiful scarlet-flowered Lisianthus, &c.; and sometimes through rugged tracts thinly wooded with small shrubs, among them numerous Melastomaceæ, many of them with small imbricated leaves, and large rose-coloured blossoms, forming the most elegant little bushes imaginable, in general habit not unlike heaths. Although this journey was very fatiguing to the animals, to me it was exciting and delightful in the extreme; the whole country through which we had passed for nearly two days, was one vast flower garden, where, ‘like a child at a feast,’ I knew not which object to grasp at first: everything was not only new to me, but each more beautiful or more curious than the other. In this upland region a solemn silence reigned, not a single animal of any description having been observed during our progress through it, nor any sound heard except that made by ourselves.
We reached Lavrinha about five o’clock in the afternoon; and although the sun shone brilliantly during the better part of our journey, it was too late to attempt drying any of our things when we arrived. Lavrinha, as I have already stated, is a small gold working, then but recently established. The only buildings near it were a small hut, made of a few posts and poles, covered with Buriti palm leaves, where the overseer slept, and a few sheds of the same materials for the shelter of the slaves; we obtained accommodation in one corner of the former. A small stream that passes close by, but which is only supplied with water in the rainy season, had offered some indications of gold, which induced some rich fazendeiros, among whom were Colonel Virciani and the Guarda-Môr, to form themselves into a society, six months before my visit, with the object of establishing a working; accordingly about forty slaves were sent to carry on the operations, under the directions of the person who first discovered the gold, and who, for his labour, obtained a number of shares in the concern. The vein from which the gold found in this small stream had been washed, was discovered proceeding downwards through a soft white arenaceous schistose rock; and at the period of my visit, they had mined to the depth of about thirty feet. I found them then occupied in washing the material they had taken out, which proved to be very uncertain in its product, some days yielding one, two, and three ounces of gold, but more frequently the amount was less than an ounce. A short time before our arrival, as much as four ounces resulted from a single day’s labour, but it had again diminished to less than an ounce. It appeared to me, from the awkward manner in which the works were then carried on, that they would never turn to profitable account, as the person in charge of the operations was not only quite ignorant of the art of mining, but unacquainted with the most simple operations in mechanics. While employed in the labour of excavating, a considerable amount of water was constantly flowing into the mine from two springs; and this was again drawn out in buckets by hand labour, continued both day and night; whereas a pump of no large diameter would have served to carry off the water more quickly and effectually, and saved the labour of at least ten or twelve men. When I mentioned this to the manager, he told me that no one in the neighbourhood had the smallest idea of the construction of a pump. Even a common winch and buckets would have been far better than the plan here adopted, but such was the low state of their mechanical knowledge, that they knew not how to construct even so simple a machine.
The following day being one of clear sun-shine, we were occupied all the forenoon in drying our wet clothes, and in arranging the large collection of specimens made the day before; and in the afternoon, I took several short walks in the neighbourhood in quest of novelties. Lavrinha is situated on the southern extremity of the Serra, in a hollow, surrounded by rocky hills, somewhat lower than those which form the northern parts of the Serra. Here I again made numerous collections, among which were two fine orchideous plants, both species of the beautiful genus Lælia, one of them bearing violet-coloured, and the other bright yellow flowers. In dry arid clefts in the rocks grew several curious little Vellozias, and Eriocaulons; one of the latter was a branched species about six feet high.
Having so frequently mentioned this curious tribe of plants, I will here make a few observations upon them. When Linnæus published the last edition of his Species Plantarum, in 1764, he described only five species from all parts of the world, while, from Brazil alone, my herbarium contains upwards of one hundred. Only one species is found in Great Britain,—a little grass-like plant, with a single flowering stem about six inches long, bearing a small globular head of minute white flowers. It is found only in lakes in the Isle of Skye, and in the west of Ireland. Very few of the Brazilian plants bear much resemblance to this northern species; for a great number of them are large suffruticose plants, often obtaining a height of from four to six feet, with leafy, very much branched stems, each branchlet terminated by a large white ball, composed of a vast number of smaller heads, placed on peduncles of unequal length. Another remarkable circumstance connected with these strange plants, is the fact, that the greater number of the Brazilian species do not inhabit water, in the manner of our native British one, but grow in the most dry and arid portions of mountainous declivities; many others also grow in parched, flat, sandy places, which are flooded in the wet season; the truly aquatic Brazilian kinds, more or less resemble our own in habit.
Shortly after leaving Lavrinha, we began to descend the Serra, which on this side is of no great height. The road was very bad, turning and winding among large blocks of rock, and covered with loose stones, which rolled under the horses’ feet, and rendered our downward progress not a little dangerous. Having at length accomplished the descent, we found ourselves on a comparatively good road, and in a flat country, being in fact a large valley surrounded by hills, and presenting several small swamps where a few Buriti palms grew, but which, from their diminutive stature, compared with those we had seen in similar situations in the provinces of Piauhy and Goyaz, did not appear to thrive under the great degree of cold to which they are here exposed. After travelling about two leagues and a half, we halted during the middle of the day in a shady place by the side of a small rivulet, opposite a rounded knoll, which was covered with Lychnophora pinaster, bearing much resemblance to the Scotch Fir, and a large kind of tree-lily.
Proceeding in the afternoon through the same valley, which had now become gradually narrower, and which was bounded by two long ranges of bare grassy hills, we arrived about sunset, on the banks of a small river, called the Rio Inhacica, and took up our quarters for the night in the open veranda of a small venda, the only house in the place. We fully expected to have purchased here some addition to our stock of provisions, but the only article to be found for sale was rum. Not long after our arrival, however, a person belonging to the house returned from the river with a fine fish about a foot and a half long, which I gladly bought for a small sum, and it afforded us an excellent supper. While engaged in arranging my plants, and placing the specimens in paper, I was surprised to hear from the proprietor of the venda, a middle aged mulatto, who was standing by looking on, that he also was well acquainted with that kind of occupation, having been in the employment of Drs. Spix and Martius, during their excursions in the provinces of Minas Geräes, Goyaz, and Bahia. He spoke in the highest terms of the kindness he received from these travellers, and the pleasant life he led while in their service, the only drawback to which was the great trouble he often experienced in drying the paper for preserving their botanical specimens. This I could well believe, as I found from experience that the men did not at all relish such labour, being often obliged, in cloudy and rainy weather, to dry every day several reams, sheet by sheet, over the fire.
The mulatto, being the ferryman, passed the luggage safely over to the opposite side of the river in a canoe. We were again annoyed by our too frequent cause of detention, the straying of one of the horses, which was not found till near mid-day, so that we were not able to accomplish that day more than about three leagues. The country still continued flat, with the exception of one or two low, dry, gravelly hills that we passed over; in many places, particularly in the hollows, it was pretty well wooded with small evergreen trees. The day was very hot and sultry, and as I suffered much from a severe headache, I was extremely glad when we arrived early in the afternoon at our destination, which was a little hamlet, consisting of about half a dozen houses called As Vargems: we were allowed to take up our quarters in an open shed belonging to one of the houses, used for the preparation of farinha de mandiocca, in which process several persons were then employed. The wheel used for grinding the root was driven by a small water-wheel, which, although rudely constructed, answered the purpose extremely well, and saved much manual labour. The little streams of water, which are so frequent in the hilly districts of the province of Minas Geräes, afford the inhabitants great advantages over those of the dry northern provinces. This was only the second time I had seen water power applied to such purposes, but in travelling further south I found it generally used. The people belonging to the house where we rested, were nearly white, and appeared to be very poor, but they were very civil and kind.
A journey of about a league and a half from As Vargems, through a flat valley, bounded on the right by a high bare rocky Serra, brought us to another small stream called Rio Inhahy, which, being here of no inconvenient depth, the horses forded in safety with all the luggage. On a rising ground a little beyond the river, we observed a large house close to what appeared to be the ruins of a church; but we afterwards learned that it was a Registo, or place where all travellers, who passed into or out of the Diamond district proper, of which this is one of the boundaries, were duly examined, in order to prevent any contraband extraction of diamonds—a system of precaution that was chiefly in vigour prior to the independence of Brazil, when the workings of this precious stone were carried on entirely by the government. On reaching the house we found it uninhabited, and fast falling into a state of decay: we took possession of one of the largest apartments, which, being well roofed, afforded us better shelter from the sun than we could have obtained under the shade of a tree. It was late in the afternoon before we left this place, having employed the morning in repairing the horses’ trappings, and we did not accomplish more than half a league of our journey, our route being, for the greater part of the way, over a bare grassy hill, where I found a few shrubs in flower: we encamped for the night under some trees in a hollow, by the side of a little limpid stream. Another short journey of somewhat more than half a league, brought us early in the forenoon of the following day to a place known by the name of Bassoras and Areas, on the banks of the Rio Jiquitinhonha. Although this river is not very large here, we found it too deep to venture the luggage upon the horses’ backs; and as there was no canoe, no alternative remained but to have it carried over on the heads of the men; this occupied so much time, that we found it too late to proceed further before breakfast.
I was afterwards glad that we were obliged to remain here, as it afforded me an opportunity of witnessing the operations carried on in one of the largest diamond mines, if not the largest, at this time worked in the district. The principal house in this place belonged to Captain Jozé d’Almeida e Silva, who was also the proprietor of the mine. As no large tree could be found under which we could take shelter, I was directed to the house of the captain, who would be most likely to afford us accommodation, during the short time we intended to remain here; and seeing him at the door, I accosted him with this view, when he politely informed me that the only place he could give us was an open shed, to which he pointed, where some black carpenters were at work. About half an hour after we had established ourselves in this not very comfortable place, and while employed in arranging the collections made during my morning’s ride, the captain having learned the nature of my occupation, came over to offer me the use of an empty room in his house, but as all my luggage was now unpacked, I thanked him for his kindness, and declined his invitation: he, however, politely pressed me to remain all day, that I might see how the mining operations were carried on. About an hour after we arrived, a troop of several mules came in from one of his fazendas, with provisions for his slaves; and very soon after, he sent me a present of fruit, consisting of a basket of fine oranges, and another of Jabuticabas, both of which we greatly enjoyed, as we had not tasted fruit of any kind for a long time. The Jabuticaba is the fruit of a species of Eugenia (E. cauliflora, Mart.), which grows wild in the woods of the south of Brazil, and is also cultivated in most of the gardens in the diamond and gold districts. It is of a black colour, about the size of a greengage plum, of a pulpy consistence, and very refreshing.
The mine of Captain Almeida was close to the Rio Jiquitinhonha, upon an elbow of land that at one time must have formed the bed of the river. A mine in the neighbourhood had been worked by the government about forty years ago, which yielded, in the course of three years, not less than thirty-seven lbs. six drs. of diamonds; the formation, as it is called, becoming exhausted at the end of this period, the mine was abandoned. In the expectation of similar good fortune, Capt. Almeida commenced operations near the same place, about seven months before my visit, with upwards of a hundred and fifty slaves, all of whom were hired from his neighbours. At an expense of about £1,000 sterling, he brought a small stream of water from a distance of a league and a half, opened a large excavation, and erected pumps, worked by a water-wheel, for the purpose of clearing the mine of water. The excavation was carried on to the depth of about thirty feet, without encountering any proper diamond formation, although on being washed it yielded a small number of stones of no great value. A short time before my arrival he commenced another excavation in the same neighbourhood, about forty yards square. The different kinds of soil through which it was necessary to cut, before reaching the deposit in which the diamonds were found, were, in the first place, about twenty feet of a reddish sandy soil, which was loosened by the hoe, and then washed into the river by a current of water, issuing from the small stream that served to work the water-wheel; below this was about eight feet of a tough yellowish clay, which was dug out by the hoe, and carried away on the heads of negroes, in flat wooden bowls about a foot and a half in diameter, no such implement as a barrow being known here; beneath this clay appeared a layer of coarse reddish sand, about two feet and a half in thickness, below which was found the peculiar soil that contains the diamonds. When this diamond formation consists of loose gravel, it is called Cascalho in the language of the miners, and Canga, when found in the shape of a ferruginous conglomerate; this bed varies from one to four feet in thickness, and the gravel of which it is composed, consists of small pebbles of primitive rocks, which from their rounded and polished nature have evidently, at some distant period, formed the bed of a stream of running water. These pebbles are of various kinds, but when there appears much of what they call Esmeril preto, a variety of tourmaline, the Cascalho is considered to be rich in diamonds. The Cascalho generally rests upon a substratum of a kind of hard clay called Pizarra, beneath which are found the solid schistose rocks which generally prevail throughout the whole diamond district. Sometimes Canga, or the agglutinated gravel, rests upon a rock called Marmore, which appeared, from the description of it given by Captain Almeida, to be a kind of limestone; and when this occurs, it is always found to be rich in diamonds.
The manner in which the washing of the Cascalho is carried on is the following: along one side of a pond of water is placed a range of eleven troughs, about three feet square, made of small straight stakes driven into the ground, the side next to the water being much lower than the others; the bottom is made of clay closely pressed down; the troughs are called Bacós, and into each of them a portion of Cascalho is put by a slave stationed there for that purpose; immediately in front of each Bacó stands a slave up to his knees in water, having a large flat wooden plate (Bateia) with which he dashes water upon the Cascalho with considerable force; by this means, and by stirring it at frequent intervals with a small kind of hoe, it is freed from the earth and sand with which it is mixed, when the larger particles of gravel making their appearance on the surface are taken out; it is during this process that the largest diamonds are generally found. Immediately in front of these troughs, and about three feet above the level of the ground, separate seats are erected for two overseers, each armed with a long leathern whip, who keep a strict look out that no diamonds are stolen. This labour is continued from morning till about four o’clock in the afternoon, when the Cascalho, thus washed and purified, is taken out of the Bacós, and carried to the side of a little stream of running water, to be finally washed. On accompanying the captain to witness the performance of this operation, which to the stranger is the most interesting process in diamond-mining, I found seven slaves seated on the side of a small canal about four feet broad, with their legs in the water nearly up to their knees; this little stream of running water is called the Lavadeira. Each of the slaves had a large flat wooden plate, similar to that used in washing the rough Cascalho, into which a small shovelful of the purified Cascalho was put by a slave stationed behind the others for that purpose. This done, the washer filled the Bateia with water, and whirling it round in a peculiar manner on the surface of the stream, the larger gravel rose to the top, and was carefully examined. This being repeated several times, he then placed the Bateia on his knees, the right knee being considerably lower than the left, when with his hand he threw water on the fine gravel, which was thus washed out with great care into the canal, continuing in this manner until the Bateia was empty; it is in this last process that diamonds are expected to be found. A small Bateia, containing a little water, was placed on a low pedestal between the two overseers, and into this the diamonds were put as they were found, which on this occasion amounted to eleven, all of which, however, were small. In the bottom of the Bateias is always found a small quantity of gold dust, which is carefully preserved.
Although diamonds are usually found in the diluvial gravelly soil above described, that is not, however, the matrix in which they have originally been formed. Whatever may be the case in other countries, I remained perfectly satisfied that here, they have originally been formed in the metamorphic quarto-schistose rock, of which the mountains in the Diamond district are constituted, and that they have, during a long series of years, been washed down along with the other débris, to the places where they are now found so abundantly. These rocks are rather soft in their nature, and of course easily disintegrated; hence the many wild ravines which intersect this range, excavated by the small streams that flow from it. Small masses of the rock have frequently been found containing diamonds imbedded in them; in the Cidade Diamantina I saw two beautiful specimens, in each of which one half of a small diamond was exposed; the extravagant price asked for them prevented me from purchasing either.
When we read in books, that the diamond is a production of the most recent geographical epoch, as stated, for instance, by Dr. A. Petzholdt, in Jamieson’s Journal, no. 68, we cannot help imagining that those who promulgate such opinions, have been led astray by travellers, who have listened to the idle stories of the uneducated inhabitants of Diamond countries, who almost all assert, that diamonds are regenerated in the course of a few years, in the soil from which others had previously been taken. This I found to be a very common opinion in Brazil; but those best able to form a just conclusion on the subject, for instance, such intelligent miners as Captain Josè D’Almeida e Silva, believe otherwise. It is true that he, as well as others, have frequently a second time washed the same Cascalho that had been worked when the government held the monopoly in its own hands, not because they believed new diamonds to have been since formed, but because they well knew that in those times the Cascalho was not so carefully examined as it is at present; indeed, notwithstanding the most careful scrutiny, it is believed that some diamonds still escape notice.
We resumed our journey on the following morning, and after travelling about two leagues and a half, we halted to breakfast in an open shed, belonging to a house by the road-side, which was then uninhabited. The country through which we passed was hilly, and well-wooded with small trees and shrubs. The ascent and descent of the higher hills are much facilitated by the care bestowed on the formation of the roads, as they are well paved with large flat blocks of the schistose rocks, of which the mountains are composed. In many places, however, the pavement is beginning to give way, from the water flowing over it in the rainy season, and if not repaired, it will soon fall into a very ruinous state. A wooden bridge, also, which crossed a small river, and which appears to have been at one time of excellent construction, was now in such a decayed state, that no one could venture to pass over it; we were consequently obliged to ford the stream a little way below the bridge. In the bed of the river we saw several groups of people washing for diamonds. Early in the afternoon, we started for the Arraial de Mendanha, only half a league distant; the road led through a flat bushy valley, surrounded on both sides by mountains, those on the left rose to a considerable height, and presented the same arid rocky aspect as the mountains in the Highlands of Scotland. In the middle of this valley ran the Rio Jiquitinhonha, which we crossed to reach the village on the opposite side: this was easily accomplished over a well-constructed wooden bridge, of considerable span, on which is a toll-bar, the first we had yet met with in the country, and this afforded evidence that we were now approaching a more civilized part of Brazil than any we had yet traversed. At this bar, I had to pay forty reis for each loaded horse, and twenty for each of my men, which I did with much pleasure, as I well knew the labour and risk encountered in passing the luggage over rivers, when not provided with bridges.
On enquiring for a place where we might pass the night, we were directed to the public Rancho, but finding it a small place, extremely dirty, and occupied by a number of black Tropeiros, I could not think of taking up my quarters there. Ranchos are large sheds, generally open at the sides, and built near a venda, for the accommodation of travellers. This was the first I had seen since leaving the coast, but I afterwards found them very common on the more frequented roads in Minas, but particularly on the great highway between the Gold district and Rio de Janeiro. Rather than remain at the Rancho, I preferred hiring an empty house for the night, and obtained, at last, after some trouble, the keys of one that was newly built.
The Arraial de Mendanha appeared to be a flourishing little place, containing a population of about eight hundred persons, nearly every house being inhabited. The situation of the village, although romantic, is far from fertile, being on the bare rocky bottom of a high mountain, which nearly overhangs it, with little or no ground in its vicinity fitted for plantations of any description. The greater part of the inhabitants obtain an income by employing their slaves in mining for diamonds, or by keeping shops to supply the others with provisions and clothing, principally in exchange for diamonds and gold-dust, and were it not, indeed, for the diamond mines that exist in the neighbourhood, not a single house would have been erected in this place. Soon after leaving Mendanha on the following day, we began the ascent of the Serra, which bears the same name; it was about a league in length, and notwithstanding its steepness in many places, the excellence of the road rendered it comparatively easy. In nearly its whole extent, it is well paved with large flat blocks of the sandy schistose rock, of which the Serra is formed, taking a zigzag direction, where the ascent is steepest; the lower part of the Serra, particularly along a deep ravine, by the side of which the road leads, is pretty well wooded with small trees and shrubs, but towards the summit it presents the same bare alpine appearance as that we had crossed before reaching the little gold mine at Lavrinha. I walked up the greater part of the ascent on foot, botanizing all the way, and picked up several novelties. From the summit to Duas Pontes, which is a league distant, the road leads through a flat rocky and bushy country, with some elevated ridges on the left, covered with a very stunted shrubby vegetation. At Duas Pontes, where we halted to breakfast, we found two houses, being the only ones existing between Mendanha and the Cidade Diamantina, a distance of four leagues; the place takes its name from two bridges which exist near it, standing about a mile distant from each other, both very well constructed of timber. One of the houses was a small venda belonging to a negro, who informed me that he was a native of Africa, and had worked for many years as a slave in diamond washing, but that by the provident use of his privilege of working on his own account on Sundays and holidays, he had been fortunate enough to find as many diamonds as enabled him not only to purchase his freedom, but that of his wife and several children. Near this place I found a species of Rubus loaded with fruit, which forcibly reminded me of the days of my boyhood, and the bramble hedges of my native country. In open places, I met with a few specimens of a second species of Physocalyx, and a beautiful Andromeda, having large panicles of crimson flowers. We were now only two leagues distant from the Cidade Diamantina, a journey that might easily have been accomplished that afternoon, but not wishing to enter it by night, owing to the great difficulty a stranger always experiences in find accommodation, as well for himself as for his animals; under such circumstances, I resolved to take up my abode for the night, in an open campo on the top of the Serra, near a small stream of water, within half a league from the city. The country through which we passed on this short journey was almost entirely destitute both of trees and shrubs, consisting chiefly of large undulating grassy campos, in many places abounding in great blocks of rocks, similar to that of which the Serra is composed. Two miles before reaching the place where we halted, we obtained a most extensive view of the country to the eastward, which is perhaps one of the most rugged and arid regions existing in Brazil; as far as the eye could reach, nothing was to be seen but hundreds of bare hills, whose barren tops were whitened by the numerous Lichens with which the rocks were covered. Overlooking these lower ridges stood the lofty peak called Itambé, the top of which is upwards of 6,000 feet above the level of the sea. It was with great difficulty the men could find as much wood as would make a fire to cook our supper, and we were obliged, for the first time, to lay ourselves down to sleep without a large fire burning all night, at a time, too, when the cold was greater than any we had yet experienced.
On rising in the morning, the thermometer indicated 54°, Fahrenheit, under which temperature we were all shivering with excessive cold, so long accustomed as we had been to a warmer climate. In an hour’s time, after resuming our journey, we commenced the descent of the Serra, over a road constructed in the same manner as the ascent at Mendanha, but neither so long nor so steep; shortly after which, we came in sight of the famous Cidade Diamantina, or city of Diamonds. This capital of a rich province occupies the whole acclivity of a Serra, equal in height to that we had just descended, from which it is separated by a narrow valley. The traveller approaches the city so suddenly, that it almost appears as if called into existence by the power of magic; he is astonished at the sight of so great an assemblage of large white-washed houses, intermingled with many churches, rising gradually one above the other along the steep sides of the Serra, together with the numerous small plantations, by which the houses in the suburbs are surrounded, consisting of orange trees, bananas, and the usual productions of a tropical country; together with abundance of the compact growing Jabuticabeira, and many fine trees of the large grotesque Brazilian pine (Araucaria Brasiliana), which contrasts strangely with the rocky and absolutely bare country, that surrounds the city on all sides: it is, indeed, an Oasis in the desert.
Having no letters of recommendation to any person in the city, I went immediately on my arrival to the house of the Juiz de Paz, to present my passport, and learning from him that a small inn was to be found in the lower part of the city, I determined to put up there, until I could succeed in hiring an empty house for a few days; fortunately, the landlord had one to let, in the upper part of the city, whither we quickly removed, glad that we were not obliged to remain at the inn, where the accommodations were far from tempting.
This place, formerly known as the Arraial de Tijuco, was, in the year 1839, elevated to the dignity of a city, under the name of Cidade Diamantina, from its being the capital of the Diamond district. According to information which I received from the Juiz de Paz, its population amounted to about 6,000 souls; the streets are very irregular, and generally very narrow, as well as badly paved; both within the city and in the suburbs there are many fine houses, of two and three stories, and as there is abundance of excellent stone in the neighbourhood, nearly all are built of this material. They are constructed, however, at an enormous expense, owing to the great distance from which timber can be obtained; it is all dragged by bullocks from the Sertão, a distance of from four to sixteen leagues, over a rugged, hilly country, through which carts cannot pass; owing to the same reason, fire-wood is extremely dear in the city, and very bad in quality, as it is often brought for sale in a half green state. Many slaves are employed by their owners in cutting the large shrubs that grow in the ravines, within a short distance from the city, the branches of which are made up into bundles, and offered for sale from house to house; the stems of the large tree-lily (Vellozia) are also collected for fuel, particularly a kind that exudes abundance of resinous matter. The Tropeiros on approaching the city with their loaded mules, always bring with them, from the wooded countries, as many bundles of split wood as suffice them for the purposes of cooking till the period of their departure.
Many of the shops are quite equal in appearance to those in Rio de Janeiro, and are provided with nearly the same articles, the difference in price seldom exceeding twenty per cent. All European goods, with the exception of a few from Bahia, are brought from Rio on the backs of mules, which are daily to be seen arriving in troops, sometimes of a hundred at a time. With the exception of the few vegetables grown in the gardens around the city, every product consumed here as food is brought from a distance of from ten to twenty leagues, and sold in large market places, called Intendencias. These products consist chiefly of farinha de mandiocca and Indian meal, the latter being much more extensively used in the province of Minas, than in the northern provinces; also dried beef, sugar, pork, cheese, Indian corn, french beans, rice, and castor-oil, which is used to burn in lamps. The city contains three or four handsome churches, one called Nossa Senhora da Rosaria, belongs to the negroes from the coast of Africa, and where, over the high altar, is seen the figure of a black virgin. As we lived closed to this church, I attended on several evenings the celebration of one of its festivals, and found not only the blacks who usually attend the church, but many of the most respectable male and female inhabitants of the city. Every thing was conducted with the greatest propriety, and on one evening I heard a very excellent sermon preached by one of the priests belonging to the city. During our stay a Novena was held in another of the churches, Nossa Senhora das Mercês, where I attended several times; on all these occasions I was particularly struck with the different mode in which the ladies dressed here, from that I had observed in other parts of the interior. In the large towns I had previously visited, I remarked that a greater number of ladies attended church during the Novenas than at any other time, when both the more respectable, as well as the poorer classes, were always dressed in their best attire. In Cidade Diamantina, although the churches on such occasions were equally well attended, the most respectable ladies were not so well dressed as usual, and were it not that the superior classes avail themselves of the privilege of squatting on the floor before the altar, they would not be distinguished from the poorer individuals who take their station behind them. They all appear in the same kind of dress, which consists of a dark coloured cloth cloak, with a large cape, in which they muffle themselves; and a white handkerchief which is tied round the head, surmounted by a man’s hat. During the three weeks I remained in the city, I never saw a lady walking abroad in any other kind of hat; some few were white, but black seemed the most fashionable.
The most elevated portion of the city is about 4,000 feet above the level of the sea, and the climate is consequently mild. During my stay in the month of July, the thermometer ranged from 54° to 60° at noon, a temperature we had long been unaccustomed to, and we suffered not a little from the cold. As a fire could only be kindled in the kitchen, we used all to get as close to it as possible, particularly in the morning; it was however during the night that we suffered most, for our bed-clothes were too light for this climate, and my stock of money had now become so far reduced, that I could not afford to purchase additional blankets either for myself or my men. It was necessary to devote the little that I had to the purchase of a stock of provisions, for the continuation of our journey; there was no one here to whom I could apply for money, and we were still far from any of the English Mining establishments, where alone I could expect to obtain cash for bills on my agents in Rio de Janeiro. The coldest months in this region are May, June, and July; the hottest months are those of November, January, and February, during which period the thermometer ranges from 74° to 88°, but mostly only reaching 84°. During the early part of the warm season, thunder storms are very frequent, which always come from the north. For a few days after our arrival, the air was clear and bracing, but a cold drizzling rain soon set in, which lasted nearly a week. The houses have generally a small garden attached to them, in which I observed most of the common European vegetables, such as potatoe, cabbage, pease, lettuce, parsley, &c.; as well as many of the flowers that are ordinarily cultivated in the gardens of Europe. Some of the European fruit trees are also found in the gardens, such as the apple, pear, peach, fig, and quince. The city is abundantly supplied with excellent water, from springs that take their rise in the mountain on which they are situated. These streams are conducted into several of the houses, and many families are by this means supplied with one of the greatest luxuries that can be enjoyed in a warm climate, at a very small expense; there are also several public fountains in different parts of the city.
The privilege of diamond washing, formerly a monopoly of the government, is now accessible to any individual who chooses to risk his time and capital in this labour, a privilege only conceded since Brazil has declared its independence; all that is required is that the adventurer should give notice to the Camara municipal, of the exact spot where he intends working, a notice demanded in order to protect some of the virgin tracts still preserved as royal property. The greater portion of the inhabitants of the Cidade Diamantina who possess a few slaves, employ them in the washings, which are generally chosen in places where the Cascalho is near the surface, and near the beds of the little mountain streams, which are so numerous in the adjoining locality. Many free blacks also work on their own account, and thus obtain a precarious livelihood. The persons engaged in these adventures are generally a very improvident race, for even those who carry on the most extensive Serviços, as the workings are called, often run deeply in debt after a rich washing has been exhausted, before they succeed in finding another productive spot. I was assured by one of the most extensive miners in the district, that the excitement produced by this kind of life is like that of a gambler: whoever enters upon it, never renounces it. The district which gives rise to this curious source of industry, is comprised within the space of fourteen leagues square, and it is beneath the mark to state that 10,000 individuals subsist entirely upon the product of diamonds and gold extracted from its soil. It is not, however, so much the miners as the shopkeepers who reap the greater share of profit from this source of industry, all of whom trade more or less in diamonds and gold-dust, which they take from the miners in exchange for the supply of their own wants, and those of their slaves. It is rare to meet with a miner, who is not in debt to some shopkeeper, to whom he is bound to give in payment the product of his washings, at a lower rate than he could obtain, if he had the advantage of offering them in an open market to the highest bidder. The life of a shopkeeper, although not so exciting as that of a miner, is one, however, less subject to risk; he generally soon grows rich, while the poor miner struggles on in poverty, his greatest source of happiness existing in hopes that are seldom realized.
Slaves are allowed to work on their own account on Sundays and holidays, not in the Serviços of their masters, but any where else, except on the royal preserves; and it was told me as a remarkable fact, that most of the largest diamonds obtained in this district have been found by slaves on these occasions; it is not, however, an unfair inference to conclude, that as the blacks are most expert thieves, some of those stones at least have been stolen. Better opportunities now exist for more readily disposing of diamonds thus obtained, than when the workings were entirely in the hands of the government. In those days they were mostly disposed of clandestinely to contraband dealers, many of whom used to hide themselves in the mountains by day, and at night visit the huts of the slaves, to purchase the stolen property; even the shopkeepers were deeply engaged in these illicit transactions. The Juiz de Paz, who was during the period of my visit one of the richest merchants in the city, owes his fortune to the following circumstance:—At the time Brazil still remained under the dominion of Portugal, he was the proprietor of a small shop, and occasionally made a journey to Rio de Janeiro to purchase goods. One evening returning from one of these long journeys, having retired to rest earlier than usual, he heard some one knocking at his door, to which at first he paid no attention, concluding it to be only some customer; but, as the noise continued, he at last arose, when he saw a slave who had come to offer a large diamond for sale, that weighed about two pennyweights and a third. The price asked for it was six hundred mil-reis, at that time equal to about £180 sterling; but not having so much money in his possession at the moment, he was obliged to borrow some for the occasion. Early next morning he set off on his return to Rio de Janeiro with his purchase, stating to his friends that he had forgotten some important business, which could only be settled by his presence. On reaching the capital, he found it necessary to use great caution in endeavouring to dispose of his prize, as all trade in diamonds was at that time contraband, any one found dealing in them being condemned to ten years’ transportation to Angola, on the coast of Africa, his property being at the same confiscated, and sold for the benefit of government. At last he was prevailed upon to dispose of it for 20,000 mil-reis, about £6,000, which amount was paid to him in hard dollars; never having seen so large a sum of money, he was perfectly astonished at its amount when it was brought to him, and after regarding it for some time, he asked with great simplicity if it all belonged to him. Shortly afterwards, the individual who bought the diamond sold it for 40,000 mil-reis, and when the Juiz learned its great value, and found that he might have sold it for at least a third more than he received, his mortification it is said was so great as to affect his mind. He has long, however, recovered from his chagrin, and is now one of the most active, as well as the most extensive, gold and diamond merchants in the district.
The temperate climate enjoyed by the inhabitants of this part of the country, renders them more healthy than those who live in the Sertão; the women are the most beautiful I met with in Brazil, and the men are also a finer race than those of the low countries, many of them having more the appearance of Europeans, than of inhabitants of a tropical climate. The diseases most common here are those induced by sudden variations of temperature, such as colds and inflammatory complaints; the slaves who are constantly working up to their knees in water, are subject to rheumatism; their diet, which is not of the most nutritious nature, consists chiefly of boiled French beans and Indian corn meal (fubá), which, with the addition of hot water, is made into a thick paste, called Angú; this gives rise to general debility, particularly in those addicted to the immoderate use of rum. It is not the slaves only who are given to this vice, but whites of both sexes, in almost all classes of society, indulge in it to a great extent; this is in some degree manifest, from the very great quantity of that spirit daily brought to market, for it is said, that for every troop that enters the city with provisions, another arrives with rum from the sugar plantations in the low countries. I must confess that I saw but few instances of intoxication in the streets, except among persons of colour.
As I arrived in the city without letters of introduction, I made very few acquaintances among the inhabitants. During my stay, however, I received great kindness from Senhor Antonio Gomez de Carvalho, the Juiz de Paz, and Major Luiz José de Figueredo, the President of the Camara Municipal, both of whom called on me the day after we reached the city. M. Auguste de St. Hilaire, who visited these provinces in 1817, speaks in high terms of the great hospitality of the inhabitants of Minas Geräes, but they do not now appear disposed to treat foreigners with the same familiarity as formerly; this may be attributed to their great intercourse with Europeans, particularly since the introduction of English mining companies, which has greatly tended to alter their character. In one of the houses where I occasionally visited, I met with Portuguese translations of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘Guy Mannering,’ They had been sent from Rio de Janeiro to one of the daughters of the family by whom they had been read with the greatest admiration; she had received an excellent education, and composed verses fluently. I was rather surprised when informed that neither a bookseller’s shop nor a library existed in the city.
During my residence in this place, news arrived that produced a great sensation; the young Emperor, Don Pedro the Second, had been called upon to assume the reins of government, contrary to the wish of the regent, before he had attained the age provided by the Legislature; a proceeding that seemed to be highly approved of by the greater part of the inhabitants, and rejoicings were consequently made on the occasion. In the afternoon, high mass was celebrated in the Matriz church, at which were present all the members of the town council, as well as the whole body of the national guard. In the evening there was a general illumination, and the national guard, after firing several volleys in front of the house of the commandant, paraded through the principal streets, with the band playing, accompanied with the town council, and all the principal inhabitants of the city. I walked along with the council, having been invited to do so by the president, and had thus a good opportunity of witnessing the whole proceedings; every now and then a halt was made before the house of some respectable citizen, where generally five or six persons recited verses, composed during the day in honour of the occasion, while the ladies of the house, from the balconies, were showering down flowers perfumed with Eau de Cologne; and occasionally the crowd below was honoured by a song from one of the fair ones. This was repeated for three successive nights; many of the verses produced on this occasion were extremely appropriate, but a greater part consisted of the most fulsome adulation of the young Emperor, which was perhaps as unmeaning and ephemeral, as that bestowed on his father, who when he proclaimed the independence of Brazil, received honours from these same people, little short of those bestowed on a Deity, but after a propitious reign of ten years, was suffered to abdicate in favour of his infant son, without any expression of regret on their part. On the contrary, they appeared to rejoice in a measure that tended to the consummation of those republican views, which at that period seemed likely to draw the Empire into one general vortex of anarchy and confusion. Happily, however, for the country, the greater portion of the community had the good sense to resume its attachment to those monarchical institutions that seem well adapted to the habits and manners of the Brazilian people, and I had now the good fortune to witness the exuberant effusions of an enthusiasm, which I hope will prove more lasting than that exhibited by them on a former occasion towards the illustrious founder of the Brazilian Empire.
When we arrived in the Cidade Diamantina, my horses were in bad condition, owing to the long and fatiguing journey they had just accomplished, and the bad pastures on which they had latterly been obliged to feed. I found, however, to my regret, that the pasturage here was still worse, and I feared that by the time I was ready to leave, they would not be in a condition to resume the journey. The only pastures here are to be found on the top of the Serra above the city, in a region very arid, and particularly cold at this season, whence indeed it derives its name of the Serro do Frio. Although they were fed twice a day with Indian corn, they grew thinner and weaker after the setting in of the cold rain, so that notwithstanding all our care and attention, eight of them died in the course of a few days. Finding the remaining ten were totally unfit for service, I thought it better to dispose of them at once, for a mere trifle (70 mil-reis), rather than see them die off one by one. The person who bought the horses immediately removed them to the Sertão. As this occurred at a time when my stock of money was almost exhausted, with no immediate hope of being able to renew it, I was brought nearly to a stand; with the money I received for the horses I was enabled to hire a troop of mules to convey us to Cidade do Serro (formerly Villa do Principe), which is ten leagues distant from the Cidade Diamantina, on the road towards Rio de Janeiro, and having made the necessary arrangements, I prepared for my departure.