The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro by Alured Gray Bell

[work in progress]

Let's go back to Rio

A dynamic aspect of the RGSSA's collection is the mountain of primary source information on social history. It's so much more interesting to read about facets of history from a personal experience rather than digesting boring lists of names and dates. Many of the travel books in the collection are primary sources of social history that frame travel experiences, events and observations in exotic places of the distant past that capture a moment in time. As an example—

For some time, Rio de Janeiro has constantly headlined in the news, the focus of the sporting world with major events set to be held in Rio over the next few years. The football World Cup is about to start in Brazil with the host nation to play Croatia in the first match, June 12, local time. Meanwhile, elite athletes world-wide are training for the next Olympiad in Rio in 2016.

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], The Bangu Football Grounds: Central Railway : p. 182.
Founded 1904.

However, Rio de Janeiro, a century ago in 1914 was a very different place. This is the setting for one of the travel books in the RGSSA's collection that are classified as travellers' writings in the catalogue. The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro was written by Englishman Alured Gray Bell born in Alexandria, Egypt, 1870. This is the first publication written in English about the city and could easily be titled the Lonely Planet guide to Rio in 1914. It is richly illustrated with almost one hundred 'moody' black and white photographs that depict a strangely unwelcoming Rio with desolate beaches. Charming full page watercolours of the sights and scenes are reproduced throughout the book painted by various unknown artists in an avante-gard impressionist style.

In Bell's wintry photograph of Ipanema Beach it is difficult to imagine how it inspired musicians and became a world famous resort beach. Ipanema Beach is where the summer 'happens' in Rio de Janeiro as popularised in song by Astrid Gilberto (1964) and is now a fashionable seaside suburb located in the southern part of the city. Bell provides a map of Rio in 1914 on page 36.

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], Ipanema Beach: a South Atlantic Suburb of Rio : p. 30.

Perhaps, a little more inviting in colour—

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], South suburban Rio de Janeiro—Ipanema : p. 116.

Another icon synonymous with Rio is the statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks the city. Bell repeatedly describes the mountain of Corcovado in the Tijuca Forest National Park as a 'frowning' presence over the city and was completed in 1931. Corcovado is often confused with nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. Bell's photograph shows the approach to Corcovado and its summit can be clearly seen 'frowning' in the distance, of course, sans statue.

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], On the way to Corcovado : p. 48.

"To go to Rio and not to go up to Corcovado is folly." : p. 50.

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], The Botafogo portion of Rio's Bay-side Avenue, overlooked by Corcovado Mountain: p. 8.

From Bell's introduction; the following conversation took place at the turn of the 20th century.
"Travelling across England after a two years' residence in Rio de Janeiro I found myself alone in the train with a schoolboy, aged ten, and asked him if he knew anything about Brazil."No," was the little Englishman's reply; "we are only doing Europe." "But you know where it is?" I suggested. "America," he replied rather timorously. "And what do you imagine it to be like?" I asked. "Don't know." "But you must imagine something about it—is it all ice, do you think?" He thought quite half a minute, and then ventured this very respectable guess: "Prairies and fields." Certainly he was right for a fifth of the country; but he should have added "forests, mountains and great rivers."
Bell continues to explain that he was financed to write this book by Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, President of the Republic of the United States of Brazil (1910-1914) who desired that English-speaking people should be "better acquainted than our schoolboy with the magnificent metropolis of Brazil. Cariocas (pronounced care-ree-o-cas), residents of the beautiful river January, are very proud of their city and its landscape."

'pre-Tango' days in Argentina?

In the author's opening paragraph, experience luxury cruising at its unrivaled very best and an itinerary seldom offered by modern cruise lines. It's impossible to imagine Argentina as 'pre-tango' today.

"My first visit to Brazil, 1909, was by the R.M.S.P. Asturias, twin-screw, 12,002 tons, then the latest and largest ship of this fine British merchant fleet. The trip from Southampton gave the following itinerary: Cherbourg, Vigo, Lisbon (a morning and afternoon on shore in the pretty capital of the mother-country of Brazil), Madeira (a morning on shore), St. Vincent, Pernambuco (the first Brazilian port of call, eight days' sail from Madeira, during which the equator is crossed), Bahia (a day's sail), Rio de Janeiro (on the sixteenth day, allowing a night and a half-day on shore), Santos, Montevideo, and finally Buenos Aires on the twenty-first day. There was not a rough day throughout the passage, and only one hot day. I recall the morning swim in the large, improvised sail-bath on deck, between Lisbon and Pernambuco, as the hall-mark of a perfect voyage. Lovely Brazilians and Argentines also haunt the memory from those so-called pre-Tango days and the 'regulation' fancy-dress ball of the Asturias. Wealth and luxury abounded on board; and if only more people knew of the pleasure of this stock voyage of the great steamship line, more would try it for the sake of health, education, art, novelty, and ease."
Chapter I. Between the United Kingdom and Brazil by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company : p. 1. 

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], Aboard a "Royal Mail." : p. 48.

In the next chapter, Bell describes the unspoilt vista he saw entering Rio de Janeiro Harbour by steamship.
"We have turned from a southerly to a westerly course around Cape Frio, about latitude 23° South, just inside the Tropic of Capricorn, and after a few hours' steaming we are off the harbour entrance, and turn north to enter this peerless bay. Now to right and left are forest-clad mountains with stretches of buff beach on either shore, and islands which seem as sentinels of a treasure house. We pass in. In the mouth of the channel is the Island of Lage, dividing it into two passages. We take the western and broader passage, 950 yards wide, leaving close on our left the Sugar Loaf (Pao de Assucar) Mountain, 1,383 feet high, an almost scrubless rock. Now the South Atlantic is dead-astern, and the majestic panorama unfolds—the mountain-guarded, pear-shaped, island-studded harbour, eighteen miles in length from south to north, and twelve miles at its widest point between the eastern and western shores. On our immediate left lies Rio de Janeiro; we steam ahead for two miles and anchor from a quarter to half a mile off the city, or moor alongside the new and spacious quays. We have passed several islets on the way in. Around and about us everywhere are noble mountains and hills, the loftiest, the Organ Mountains, attaining upwards of 6,000 feet, closing in the bay on the north."
Chapter II. Rio de Janeiro and the Bay of Guanabara : p. 7.

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], A little bit of Guanabara Bay : p. 78.

"I have journeyed in five continents, and have yet to see the equal of the Bay of Guanabara" : p. 6.

'Carnivalling' against one's will

No book on Rio is complete without the author's impression of Carnival.
"There is then Rio de Janeiro's greatest outburst, the annual Carnival. This amazing four days' interruption of all business does amaze and, at first brush, annoy the English or American business visitor. But so well is the whole thing done, and so really genuine becomes the universal fun-making, that one is caught carnivalling against one's will. It has been estimated that over 200,000 people can and do collect by day or night in the Avenida [Avenue] Rio Branco, all more or less on harmless mischief bent. The sobriety of the crowds is astonishing, so also is the squirting of perfumes, while the special parade of fancy and illuminated cars, organised by such carnival clubs as the Lieutenants of the Devil, and others, afford spectacles well worth seeing. Throughout Carnival motor-cars are at a premium, every car that the city contains being in full use for the four days.
Up in Petropolis I came in for a carnival of water. Everybody was exchanging water—water from garden hoses, from buckets, from water-balls. With my companions I hired a carriage and proceeded to give and take all the water possible, and there was no lack of water trade. The sober Legations were drawn into the frivolous deluge, and at one time between the balcony of the French Legation and a mock fire-brigade in the road an appalling water bombardment was in progress directed with spirit by the Minister's wife. Very forlorn and very paper and confetti-strewn do the streets of Rio look before Carnival is finally swept up. The more enthusiastic spirits then retire to their lairs, and premeditate more mad frolic for the carnival to come."

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], A bit of Petropolis : p. 76.

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], Residence of Mr. Frank H. Walter, Petropolis : p. 60.

Rio owes much to Italian architects

The main street in Rio was Central Avenue, modernised and renamed Avenida Rio Branco in 1914 and appears in more than one hundred illustrations in the book. In the chapter devoted to architecture, the author highlights the role of Italian architects, particularly Antonio Januzzi who left his mark on some of the most beautiful buildings in the Avenue. Bell presents Antonio Januzzi as a key figure for understanding the modern architecture of Rio and writes: "Despite the strong influence of French design, the new Rio owes much to Italian architects. Still arise here and there copies of the Portuguese style, called with disdain by many Brazilians as 'plum pudding' style."
Bell mentions two awards given to Antonio Januzzi: the decoration of Commander of the Italian Crown (1896) and the gold medal of the Exhibition of Turin (1898) for the brilliant work done in the Brazilian capital. Januzzi designed more than 5000 buildings in the city and its surroundings. Worthy of note is the disdain with which the Brazilian elite regard Portuguese architecture. Bell identifies the style as: "has French windows, facade Spanish, English sills, German or Italian roof and shutters. Abuse of blue, green and red and the use of images of saints."

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], A portion of the Avenue of Royal Palms, Botanical Gardens : p. 172.

National Library
"The foreigner will do well to visit the National Library in Rio de Janeiro with its splendid rooms and halls. The National Library is the best-equipped and the best-housed institution of its kind in South America. It was founded by the Prince Regent of Portugal, Dom Joao, afterwards King Joao VI., who on coming to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 brought with him the Portuguese Royal Library, which consisted of some 60,000 volumes of old works. ...The National Library was at first housed in a large building at Largo da Lapa, but was later on transferred to the architecturally handsome pile in the Avenida Rio Branco, which it now occupies.It was opened in 1910 in commemoration of the centenary of the foundation of the library. The building is fireproof and isolated from other buildings, and in every way suitable to house the valuable collection which it contains. The furniture is all of steel, and the elaborate manner in which the library is equipped makes it one of the best appointed in the world. It is divided into four sections: for printed matter, manuscripts, drawings, geographical maps and pictures and coins and medals."

Bell, Alured Gray, [1914], The National Library staircase : p. 176.

To highlight, as mentioned, the dynamic of reading personal travel experiences and the realisation that places and cultures are not static but constantly evolve and sometimes, sadly, not always for the better.
"You do not need to carry a revolver in Rio de Janeiro".  Tram and motor traffic is dangerous as in any great capital; drunkenness is rare, and I am inclined to think that crime is also. I have suffered twice from the pocket-picking fraternity, but it can be shown that the majority of this crowd is of the imported article. If Rio suffers at all, it is not in the number, or the failure in detection, or the immunity from arrest of criminals, but in an excessive leniency of the courts and juries, Brazilians themselves constantly remarking a curious public sympathy with the accused. There is another peculiar anomaly in Rio. Gambling is, I believe, prohibited by law; but it is permitted openly under police control."
Chapter XV. Justice and police : 161.

To conclude with the author's observations on sport in 1914—
"In Rio de Janeiro climatic insistence makes sport of nearly every kind a very severe tax on the human frame during at least five months in the year. It is then a little surprising that, in a census recently taken of its readers by a Carioca daily, as to the king of sports, association football headed the list. Various enthusiasts recorded their reasons for this choice, and it remains an enigma to me why a sport that prohibits the use of the human hand should appeal so especially to Brazilians. The fact, however, is that "soccer" first, then rowing, and then horse-racing, with lawn tennis a long way next, and athletics almost nowhere, is the order of popularity of sport in Rio. It is really only in the last fifteen or twenty years that these games have been earnestly taken up, and yet with the material at her command Brazil ought not to be very far from the day when her athletes enter for the Olympic Games. There is one defect which I venture to think holds her back: the indifference of the Brazilian woman to the value and charm of sport; her aversion from exercise. Lawn-tennis has made very little headway, while golf is absolutely unknown. In the purely masculine sphere cricket has not taken on, and the princely game of polo does not exist. Under the spell of international rivalry, school and college athletics and gymnastics are now being cultivated, and her friends must hope to see Brazil follow the new lead of France among the Latin nations in these important fields. ..."
"Rugby does not seem to take root, only two clubs, the Paysandu and Rio Cricket, pretending to fifteens. Rowing is popular, and the Botafogo regattas especially so. The attendance of the President at the big regattas is almost de rigueur and both here and in the pretty football club grounds the attendance of mothers and sisters is visibly on the increase. I should not call the standard of rowing high; it is perhaps too amateurish to attain Henley form, but it is producing, with swimming, for which Rio supplies such perfect facilities, men of fine physique."
[Should have been philosophical here; life, death and the universe and thanks for all the fish]

Olá to Jonathon who follows this blog and resides in the beautiful Rio de Janeiro.

Online resource:
Bell, Alured Gray. "The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro." London : William Heinemann, [1904] Retrieved June 2, 2014 from

Copyright disclaimer
Based on Internet Archive Digital Library content that has been
reviewed, edited, and republished. Original image by N/A. Uploaded by
S.E. Thompson published on [2 June 2014] under the
following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike. This
license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for
commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new
creations under the identical terms.
Images taken from the Internet Archive Library of digital works that
have been reviewed, edited, republished and are not in copyright.
Original image creator is unknown and not applicable.
Uploaded by S.E. Thompson, published on [2 June 2014]
Under the following license:
Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike.

Other RGSSA resources featuring Rio de Janeiro

George French Angas (1822-1886)

The RGSSA's collection holds original water-colour drawings of Rio de Janeiro by George French Angas. A natural history painter, many of Angas' sketches from his travels as a naturalist in the mid 1800s became the basis for lithographic plates used in his publications. He was born at Newcastle upon Tyne and the son of George Fife Angus (1789-1879) who was a significant figure in the establishment of the Colony of South Australia.
In 1844, George joined his brother, John Howard Angas in South Australia. The brothers had been sent to Adelaide by their father to salvage the family fortune. He explored and sketched extensively in South Australia, New South Wales, New Zealand and South Africa. Several of his self-illustrated volumes are in the Society's collection, some in limited edition.

It was on a voyage from Sydney around Cape Horn to England, Angas was aboard the "Royal Tar" in 1846 when the ship was delayed in Rio de Janeiro that he did a number of water-colour drawings. It would be these drawings in the RGSSA's collection. They were intended for a book called The Scenery of Rio Janeiro but it was never published. Angas writes up his arrival in Rio de Janeiro most eloquently in volume II of Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand from his diary entry dated Dec. 2 [1846]—
This morning we were cheered by the sight of land: the high mountains of South America were before us, in the province of Rio Janeiro. The day broke gloriously, and it was beautiful in the extreme to see the Brazilian coast with its jagged and lofty peaks, now struggling through the mists of early day.

To the voyager, weary of the endless waters, land is a joyous spectacle; and to us it is gladdening to see the blue peaks of South America glittering in the pure sunshine, and inhale the fragrance of sweet blossoms from the shore, brought hither by the land-breeze during the night—to watch the green and golden dolphin, flashing like a blaze of jewels through the snowy foam—and to know that we are rapidly nearing an earthly paradise, and that the sparkling fish, radiant with beauty, and the stray birds and butterflies overhead that have wandered from the shore, are harbingers of more brightness and beauty upon the land that lies bathed in sunshine before us. Such influences as these bring with them happy and buoyant spirits. Here, too, we saw the turtle, lying like little floating islets upon the surface of the water, with their heads stretched up into the morning sunshine. Large and very singular-looking birds, with long wings and tails, soared above us; and as we neared the land, new beauties presented themselves every moment. Passing the island of Raza—on which stands the lighthouse and Rodondo, a lofty abrupt cone—the Paya and Maya islands are seen to the right, scattered with cocoa-nut trees; and the Morris's isles, of tragic interest, lie still further distant. Here the grandeur of the mountains becomes very imposing: giant masses of rock—hurled, as it were, into the most wild and remarkable forms, resembling spires, cubes, and pyramids—rear their lofty summits, bare and naked, against the sky.

The entrance to the harbour of Rio Janeiro now faced us, guarded by the Sugar Loaf mountain on the left, and on the right by the conical rock above Santa Cruz. We speedily discovered houses, and forts, and flags, with crowds of shipping in the distance between the opening. On the right of the entrance stands the fort of Santa Cruz: here no vessel is allowed to pass into the harbour without hailing, and reporting "her name," "where from," "number of clays out," &c. The water is deep close alongside the fort, and any vessel not bringing up, or coming within hail, is immediately fired at, without the slightest ceremony, until she obeys these orders. Farther on, situated upon an island nearly in the centre of the harbour, is the fort of Vilganhon, which we had also to hail; and being permitted to pass, we were directed to our anchorage, not far from this latter fort, and about two miles from the shore. Here we lay in company with other vessels that had put in for refreshments: ships waiting to take in or discharge cargo lie higher up the harbour, close to the city."
"Silent rapture" of the vast Atlantic
"About eight miles from Rio Janeiro, beyond Boto Fogo, there is a lovely mountain-path leading to a ruined archway on the summit of the mountain-ridge that divides the harbour from the ocean. I pursued it alone, and never shall I forget the silent rapture with which I stood by that arch and gazed around; looking down upon the gay harbour and the distant city on the one hand, while on the other lay a waste of wild and dreary sand-hills, intersected with glens of rich foliage, bounded by the immeasurable ocean—the vast Atlantic. There was no sound save the distant roar of the sea, every wave of which I could see distinctly break along the shore for miles; and no sign of life but the busy throng of insects flitting around, and an occasional serpent gliding stealthily into the bushes."
The National Academy in Rio Janeiro
"During my stay in Brazil, I was introduced to the celebrated Rugendas, the French artist, whose pictures of South American scenery are so justly esteemed. Rugendas had not long since returned from a sketching tour amongst the Andes of Chili. I accompanied him to the annual exhibition of paintings at the National Academy in Rio Janeiro on the opening day. The rooms were decorated with a profusion of flowers, and the stone floors of the various apartments were strewn with the leaves of laurel and bay. Two rooms were devoted to the chalk-drawings and other productions of the students during the past year. Several pieces of sculpture were exhibited of considerable merit. The best pictures—for there were about half a dozen very clever ones amongst an alarming quantity of trash—were a couple of exquisite landscapes; three paintings by Rugendas—" Wild Horses on the Pampas," "Thirsty Travellers arriving at a Boiling Stream," and "Crossing a Glacier of the Andes,"—and a wonderfully painted Scripture piece, by Barraudio—"The Murder of the Innocents"—in which the expression of horror is admirably portrayed. There were many indifferent portraits, and amongst them two of the Emperor. Although the fine arts have not been much patronized in the New World, it is gratifying to observe that the Brazilians are following in the march of intellect."
Chapter IX. Voyage Round Cape Horn -- Rio Janeiro -- Arrival In England : p. 249.

Online resource:

Biographical online references:
E. J. R. Morgan. "Angas, George French (1822–1886)" Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved June 2, 2014 from

"Biographical entry. Angas, George French (1822 - 1886)" Encyclopedia of Australian Science 2010. Retrieved June 2, 2014 from

"Angas, George French (1822-1886)" Trove. Retrieved June 2, 2014 from

Images in the National Library of Australia
Angas, George French, 1822-1886.
St. Sebastian, Rio Janeiro [i.e. Rio de Janeiro] [picture]
[1845] 1 drawing : pencil ; 24.5 x 30.2 cm.

Angas, George French, 1822-1886.
Rio Janeiro [i.e. Rio de Janeiro] [picture]
[1845] 1 drawing : pencil ; 25.2 x 32 cm.
Angas, George French, 1822-1886.
Aquaduct, Rio Janeiro [i.e. aqueduct, Rio de Janeiro] [picture]
[1845] 1 drawing : pencil ; 24.5 x 30.6 cm.

Copyright disclaimer
Based on Internet Archive Digital Library content that has been
reviewed, edited, and republished. Original image by N/A. Uploaded by
S.E. Thompson published on [2nd June, 2014] under the
following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike. This
license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for
commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new
creations under the identical terms.
Images taken from the Internet Archive Library of digital works that
have been reviewed, edited, republished and are not in copyright.
Original image creator is unknown and not applicable.
Uploaded by S.E. Thompson, published on [2nd June, 2014]
Under the following license:

Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike.

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