In the mid-1890s, a couple of French immigrants recount the difficulties of living in the capital, Rio de Janeiro, taken over by yellow fever and the Revolt of the Navy.
Here we have four letters sent by Xavier and Marthe, a French immigrant couple in Brazil, to an aunt in Paris. They arrived in Brazil in 1891 to try to make a fortune in the construction business, first in Caxambu and then in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, they had to face both yellow fever and the Revolt of the Armada.
The Armada Revolt, which took place in Rio de Janeiro between 1891 and 1894, was an armed action by the Brazilian Navy, which bombarded the capital Rio de Janeiro with warships. Opponents were monarchists, dissatisfied with the presidency of Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca, appointed as one of those responsible for a serious political and economic crisis.
Rio de Janeiro, April 20, 1891.
Dear aunt, I tell you that Martha arrived in Rio on the 8th of April. I went to Rio de Janeiro, where it was unbearably hot. So I stayed only three days in Rio de Janeiro with Martha, because it's also very dangerous for Europeans who aren't used to it, especially when the yellow fever reappeared. (...) But the air is very good here. We always eat at the hotel because I don't know exactly how long we'll be in Caxambu (...).
Rio de Janeiro, February 1, 1893.
I believe that this year again the Americas will not do good business, there is nothing stable, all businesses and three quarters of banks are in a state of collapse (...). Hopefully it will be better soon, but we're not so sure. Work is not lacking, but it is difficult because the prices of materials increase day by day, which makes it difficult to prepare quotations.
Rio de Janeiro, October 29, 1893.
(...) we are in revolution, which does not help at all. God knows when they will end. We're under siege again for a month, we can't get our hopes up, all work is at a standstill.
I sued the client I built it for, but he has just been murdered (...).
If I could, I would have gone to another province called Amazonas. The trip is a little long, there are about twenty days by boat, but I would leave without a problem. Unfortunately I can't leave before the complete end X of the revolution.
You see, when I made the little cross above, a bombardment started, something that is repeated every day. And if you knew where we live, we are on the first line, we dominate the whole city and I promise it is really beautiful (...).
If only we knew the day when this revolution would end, but we've been there for two months and without a decision. I think that at the same time these noises of killings will end, work will resume because the bombings destroyed many buildings, which will require a lot of reconstruction work.
Dear aunt, you see that in every country in the world there are problems, in Brazil too, which is the most beautiful country in the world. We would never have an idea what these countries are like before we see them. And, certainly, I don't regret having come, even if I have the misfortune of not making a fortune, but the magnitude of this nature is a wealth that can only be found in Brazil.
Martha often talks about you, she wants you to come and admire this rich country, especially since our house, where we admire all the sea, but we see this shelling, sometimes with fear because we see all the shots.
Rio de Janeiro, February 2, 1894.
(...) Sorry for not answering sooner, but Marthe is so sick with yellow fever. Today is the seventh day and if she does well, she will be saved. You see we have all possible misfortunes. I only have 17 contos de Réis. We are reduced to starting over, but in an absolutely primitive way. I have a new company, but what I miss are raw materials and money.
We had one of those misfortunes that we rarely see. I got sick three or four times, it's not what it should be. After being at the helm of a small fortune, I lost it so quickly, it would be enough to drive me crazy. (...)
Your coming would be a great pleasure for us, but I don't believe this project can be carried out immediately because this revolution is more terrible. So I guess they wouldn't let you disembark. It would also be the biggest imprudence, because yellow fever is terrible this year and we only cured 9% of the patients, so you can see how devastating it is. Martha is better, I hope to save her.
I don't talk about the revolution anymore because they control the cards. We have nothing to do with politics, so it's better not to talk about it. We are still in a state of war. Business is very difficult. I have a building to do, but at the moment the materials are so scarce that I'm afraid to start. Please take information in Paris because I would like to leave here to go to a healthier country and earn money.