The English in Pernambuco
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Last update: 13/02/2017
In the early 19th century, when the Prince Regent Dom João opened the country’s ports, the British began to arrive in Brazil — especially in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife. England possessed a powerful fleet that ran the world, and the British hoped to find good opportunities here to expand their industry and trade and obtain maximum profit.
At that time, the city of Recife had approximately 200,000 inhabitants, and the English colony was already quite significant with the presence of the following firms, banks and public utility providers: the Western Telegraph Company (which allowed contact with the world through a submarine cable), Pernambuco Tramways and Power Company (which by its trains connected Recife with other cities of Pernambuco and the Northeast), Huascar Purcell, Pernambuco Paper Mills, Western of Brazil Railway Company, Price Waterhouse, Machine Cotton, John A. Thom (cotton, rubber, sugar, castor and wax dealer), Cory & Brothers, Bank of London & South America, London & River Plate Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Boxwell & Co. (the largest cotton baling establishment), Williams & Co. (sugar and cotton exporters), Connolly & Co. (currency exchange), Ayres & Son (representative of various firms and manufacturers), and White Martins.
In 1810, the Strangford Treaty was signed by Portugal and England. Article 12 provided: His Majesty’s vassals who died in territories of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent of Portugal, should be buried in places designated for this purpose. So the following year, both in Bahia and in Rio de Janeiro, land was selected to bury the British subjects who, by not being Catholic, could not be buried in Catholic churches or small cemeteries annexed to them, and thus needed to be buried elsewhere: on beaches, in fields or other unoccupied areas.
Regarding Pernambuco, in 1814 the governor of the then Captaincy, under the Prince Regent’s orders, ordered the demarcation, in a place that since the 16th century had been called Santo Amaro das Salinas, of
a plot of 120 feet wide by 200 deep, expropriating and giving that area to the English Consul with the specific purpose of building the English Cemetery there. Close by was the Santo Amaro Lazaretto, where incoming slaves from Africa were quarantined, which shows the relative isolation of the place chosen at that time (PARAÍSO, 1997, p.36).
On the initiative of the English themselves the area was expanded through the acquisition of neighbouring land.
The English Cemetery is located on the Cruz Cabugá Avenue in the Santo Amaro neighbourhood, the thoroughfare linking Recife and Olinda. It is closed most of the time. It features an iron gate dating from 1852 — the work of the British Foundry d’Aurora — and has a private, unpaid administrator elected mostly by English and/or the descendants of those buried there. In the chapel of the cemetery can also be found a display of ex-votos (offerings).
The cemetery was once named the road of Luís Rego on the Salinas Farm. It was not only the final resting place of British Anglicans, but also in recent times, of Dutch, French, Swiss, Americans, Germans, and not only Protestants, and even non-Protestant Brazilians. The cemetery contains the remains of General Abreu e Lima, who although Christian and had not declared himself to be Protestant, could not be buried in so-called “Campos Santos”, due to the intransigence of the Catholic Bishop Francisco Cardoso Ayres.
The English influence in Pernambuco was very strong. When today’s Conde da Boa Vista Avenue was only called Rua Formosa, there was an Anglican church — Holy Trinity Church (pictured above) — where today stands the Edifício Duarte Coelho and São Luiz Cinema. The people of Recife called it Igrejinha dos Ingleses [Little Church of the English]. At number 35 of the former Boa Vista reclamation (today Rua da Imperatriz) was the British Hospital, a four-story building with a pier for loading and unloading on the Capibaribe River, which was in principle for British subjects and closed at the end of 1878. The English themselves used to live on Rua Padre Inglês [Father English Street], today called Rua do Padre Inglês [same translation], in the Boa Vista neighbourhood.
When the first football clubs in the city were created, the English were there. Many employees of Great Western and Western Telegraph played the sport in their backyards. From the enthusiasm of these men the Sport Club do Recife was born, the city’s first football club, founded on 13 May 1905.
It is worth mentioning that in 1909, there was a match between the Sport and Náutico Clubs (both containing many English players) on the field of the Pernambuco British Club (not to be confused with The British Country Club, which did not yet exist). This was a club created by the English whose headquarters were where today stands the State Museum, on Avenida Rui Barbosa. Two teams maintained by the English participated in the championships at that time: Great Western and Tramways, whose players were mostly employees of those companies. The Tramways in particular, whom many called “Trâmis” [Trammies], became prominent in Pernambuco football and was state champion in 1936 and 1937.
There is a large influence of English in many terms used in Brazilian football — such as goal, team, goal-keeper, match, referee, foul, centre-forward, dribbling, corner, offside, penalty, full-back — which were adopted by the people of Recife and took on a more local pronunciation: centrefó, dribe, córne. The words ‘off-side’ and ‘penalty’, were incorporated into football, as well as direct translations of ‘goalkeeper’ [goleiro], ‘corner’ [escanteio], ‘centre forward’ [centroavante] and feint [finta]. Not to mention countless others that have been incorporated into the Portuguese language and are not related to football: sweater [suéter], beef [bife], wagon [vagão], roast beef [rosbife], bluff [blefe] and flirt [flerte]. Some say, even, that the word forró came when Great Western promoted a lively dance to celebrate the opening of its first railway with accordions and drums, putting up a poster on which was written ‘for all’.
The English influence was also felt in certain habits: the use of an English tropical fabric, a white diagonal linen — Taylor & 120 — that did not hurt the skin of the neck, of cashmere, bow ties, shoes with gaiters, straw hats, walking sticks and others. In Recife, several businesses had names that suggested English heritage — whether or not British owned — aiming to give them greater credibility and an idea of solidity. Among them can be mentioned: Botica Inglesa [English Chemist], Sapataria Inglesa [English Footwear], Casa Black [Black House], Botina Inglesa [English Boots] and Alfaiataria Londres [London Tailoring].
In 1919, there were already at least three clubs of English origin in Recife: the Pernambuco Cricket Club, the Lawn Tennis Club and the Pernambuco British Club. In 1920, it was time for The British Country Club to be founded in the neighbourhood of Aflitos, which belonged to the Náutico Club. The club was created with the purpose of promoting athletic games and social gatherings, and its statutes established that the members who were not of British nationality would not be entitled to vote at general meetings or take part in any internal Club business.
In 1928, George Little, graduate worker of Great Western, and some of his friends set up a golf club called Pernambuco Golf Club, which gave rise to the today’s Caxangá Golf & Country Club. The Town British Club on Rua Bom Jesus, above the London Bank, was founded also by the British. It later moved to the Avenida Rio Branco, closing its doors at the end of the 1980s.
The last English tram circulating Recife ran from Boa Vista to Madalena until March 1954. The No.104 tram, however, was able to be preserved: it remains on display in front of the Museum of the Northeast Man at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation.
Recife, 17 July 2003.
(Updated on 30 January 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.
FREYRE, Gilberto. Ingleses no Brasil: aspectos da influência britânica sobre a vida, a paisagem e a cultura do Brasil. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio; Brasília, INL, 1977.
MELLO, José Antonio Gonçalves de. Ingleses em Pernambuco: história do cemitério britânico do Recife e da participação de ingleses e outros estrangeiros na vida e na cultura de Pernambuco, no período de 1813 a1909. Recife: Instituto Arqueológico, Histórico e Geográfico Pernambucano, 1972.
PARAÍSO, Rostand. Esses ingleses... Recife: Bagaço, 1997.
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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Ingleses em Pernambuco. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <hhttps://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009