4 Great Britons in Brazil

The British have a long and intertwined history with Brazil. In 1808, the Royal British Navy ushered the Portuguese Royal court and Government to its new home in Rio de Janeiro and safe from the belligerent Napoleon Bonaparte sweeping into the Iberian peninsula - the only example in history of a European power shifting its centre of power to its colony.

So began over a century of heavy British cultural and economic influence on Brazil. Even today,  young children can be heard using the expression ‘para inglês ver’, or ‘for the English to see’, a phrase harking back to the days of the righteous British and their quest to abolish Brazilian slavery in the mid 19th century... We pick some of our favourite Britons who shaped Brazil over the years...

1. Sir Henry Wickham - The Thief at the End of the World

At the height of the Victorian era, Henry Wickham—a man with no formal education, little funding and limited experience—went adventuring in the darkest jungles of Brazil. He had learned of a particular kind of rubber tree that produced the strong and durable rubber that scientists and entrepreneurs in England craved.

After a few near-death experiences, encounters with gigantic insects and the deadly inhabitants of the Amazon River, he emerged exhausted, ragged, and sunburned, with 70,000 illegally obtained rubber tree seeds. It was the first case of massive bio-piracy in the modern era, it would break the Brazilian monopoly on rubber and it would change the world forever.

Read about Sir Henry here

2. Colonel Percy Fawcett - The Real Indiana Jones

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, the inspiration behind Conan Doyle's novel 'The Lost World' and the Indiana Jones character, was among the last of a legendary breed of British explorers. For years he explored the Amazon and came to believe that its jungle concealed a large, complex civilization, like El Dorado. Obsessed with its discovery, he christened it the City of Z.

In 1925, Fawcett headed into the wilderness with his son Jack, vowing to make history. They vanished without a trace. For the next eighty years, hordes of explorers plunged into the jungle, trying to find evidence of Fawcett's party or Z. Some died from disease and starvation; others simply disappeared. The mystery remains. Even Hollywood is about to explore the legend of the doomed Fawcett in a new film...

Read more about Colonel Percy Fawcett here

3. Charles Miller - The Father of Brazilian Football

Football in Brazil began with Charles Miller, popularly recognised as the ‘father of Brazilian football’, who was born to Scottish railway worker John Miller and a Brazilian mother, Carlota Fox, in Sao Paulo in 1874. Football, having only been played under common rules in England for just over a decade, had not reached Brazil during Miller’s early years. But at the age of ten, Miller – along with many children of British workers who lived in Brazil – moved back to Britain to attend boarding school in Southampton. 

After finishing school, Miller returned to Brazil in 1894 with two footballs, a set of FA rules and some boots. By the 20th Century Miller had set up Brazil’s first football team within São Paulo Athletic Club (SPAC) and would give the name of Corinthians to what is now Brazil's most-supported club.

Read about Charles Miller here

4. Admiral Thomas Cochrane - The Sea Wolf

Lord Cochrane was a daring and successful Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, leading the French to nickname him Le Loup des Mers ('The Sea Wolf’). His life and exploits inspired the naval fiction of 19th- and 20th-century novelists, particularly the figures of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian's protagonist Jack Aubrey, played by Russell Crowe in the film ‘Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World'.

Less known is that Cochrane took command of the Brazilian Navy in 1823 and attacked, blockaded and forced the surrender of the Portuguese navy. As a result of Cochrane's efforts, Brazil became de facto independent and free of any Portuguese troops. On Cochrane's return to Rio de Janeiro in 1824, the Emperor Pedro I rewarded his officer by granting him the non-hereditary title of Marquess of Maranhão (Marquês do Maranhão) of the Empire of Brazil.

Read more about Lord Cochrane here