Irish and German Mercenary Soldiers' revolt
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| Empire of Brazil
Kingdom of France
|Commanders and leaders|
|Dom Pedro I||August von Steinhousen|
| Effective military police of Rio de Janeiro:
1,000 Brazilian Recruits
600 French Marines
400 Royal Marines
|Casualties and losses|
The Irish and German revolt in Brazil was a revolt of German and Irish people in 1828 during the Cisplatine War of 1825–1828. The immigrants, who were recruited in their homelands to come to Brazil, discovered that the promises made to them by the Brazilian government were not fulfilled. In the revolt, the Irish and Germans took control of large parts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Citizens of the town and troops from French and British warships suppressed the revolt.
The Cisplatine War (1825–1828) between Brazil and Argentina over Cisplatina (now Uruguay), was not going well for either side. An Argentine land victory on the plains of Cisplatina was offset by Brazil's effective Rio de la Plata naval blockade.
Dom Pedro I, the Brazilian emperor, sent Colonel William Cotter back to Cotter's native Ireland to recruit Irish mercenary soldiers. Cotter arrived in early January 1827, no mention was made to the Irish of their being recruited as mercenaries. Instead it was suggested that they would be needed to join a militia in Brazil but that this would not interfere with their farming endeavors.
Advertisements were run in local newspapers, and notices were posted on numerous church doors, mainly in County Cork and in County Waterford. The Colonel promised free passage, free land – 50 acres for each family, six shillings per day, and military training (local militia only). No mention of the war against the Argentinians was ever made.
Almost 3,000 mostly poor and illiterate people quickly volunteered to make the long and dangerous sea voyage. Some sold what little they owned to buy farm implements for their new life in Brazil. Most apparently did not realize that they had been recruited to fight as mercenaries. 2,700 people actually showed up on sailing day, and boarded the nine ships anchored in Cork Harbor.
The voyage to Brazil
The first ship sailed for Rio de Janeiro in August 1827, and the rest of the fleet soon followed.
Once ashore in Rio de Janeiro, the Irish were assigned to several barracks buildings. They complained of poor food, and of no replacement clothing for the sea voyage rags that had largely rotted off of them. Some of the Irish simply refused to join the Brazilian Army, claiming that they had been falsely recruited. Several hundred of these holdouts and their families were finally sent, in March 1828, to provincial Taperoá, Bahia to farm. Those who did join the Brazilian Army were subject to drilling under unpopular officers offset by endless hours of idleness. Relief, and trouble, were readily available to all the mercenaries at the local grog shops in the form of a cheap yet powerful rum, called cachaça.
Rio de Janeiro's black slaves and the Irish did not get along. Taunts of 'white slaves' when the Irish first landed escalated into individual fights, then large scale brawls, and finally, into murders by roving bands on both sides in the dark streets.
Unrest among both the Irish and the German mercenaries due to rough treatment, non-payment of wages, general misery, and rumors of going into battle soon, grew. The similarly recruited (and deceived) German mercenary soldiers started the Great Mercenary Revolt on 9 June 1828. When one of their number was sentenced to fifty lashes for a minor infraction, which was quintupled to 250, after 210 lashes the Germans freed their comrade, and attacked the hated officer, who fled for his life. Word of the German revolt quickly reached the Irish, and about 200 Irish joined. Weapons and liquor were seized. Irish sources state that the homes of a few hated officers were looted and burned by marauding bands. Brazilian sources record that whole blocks of downtown Rio de Janeiro were razed.
By the second day, it was realised that the available Brazilian troops in Rio de Janeiro were insufficient to quell the armed and drunk mobs. Black slaves, who needed no coaxing, and other citizens, were given arms and sent against the mercenaries. The Irish and Germans were slowly pushed from the streets and back into their barracks, their best defensive positions.
The emperor requested and received help from marines aboard British and French ships in the harbor. Not wanting to fight against them, many of the rebel barracks surrendered on the third day. The final barracks building was only taken by storm on the fourth morning with very heavy casualties on both sides.
The surviving people were rounded up. The Germans were sent to outlying provinces in southern Brazil. At Brazil's expense, 1,400 of the 2,400 Irish who had arrived in January 1828 were sent back to Ireland in July 1828. They arrived home even poorer than when they had left.
The mutiny virtually destroyed two of Dom Pedro's supposed best units and ended his hopes for a land victory to augment his successful naval blockade of Argentina. Brazil and Argentina both agreed to give up their stalemated war. Dom Pedro ratified the peace treaty on 28 August 1828, and Uruguay became an independent buffer state between the two South American giants.
Sources, and further reading
- Armitage, John. The History of Brazil: From the Period of the Arrival of the Braganza Family in 1808 to the Abdication of Dom Pedro the First in 1831. 2 Volumes. London: Smith, Elder, 1836.
- Baldwin, C.J. "To the Editor of the New York Ev. Post" in New York Evening Post, 6 August 1828.
- Basto, Fernando L.B. Ex-Combatentes Irlandeses em Taperoa. Rio de Janeiro: Editorial Vozes, 1971.
- Bruce, Donald Roger. "Irish Mercenary Soldiers in Brazil, 1827–1828" in The Irish Link, Issue 3 (1998), pp. 30.
- Calogeras. Joāo Pandiá. A History of Brazil. Translated and edited by Percy Alvin Martin. New York: Russell & Russell, 1963.
- "Dover Loses Oldest Resident: Mrs. Nancy Burns Had Passed 95th Milestone and Was Especially Active for Her Advanced Age". Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. (12 December 1917).
- Galogebas, Joao Pandia. A History of Brazil. New York: Russell & Russell, 1963.
- Koebel, W.H. British Exploits in South America: A History of British Activities in Exploration, Military Adventure, Diplomacy, Science, and Trade in Latin America. New York: Century, 1917.
- Macaulay, Neill. Dom Pedro: The Struggle for Liberty in Brazil and Portugal, 1798–1834. Durham, Duke University Press, 1986.
- "Mrs. Burns 93 Years Old". Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. (4 February 1915), pp. 1.
- O'Maidin, Padraig. "An Irish Mutiny in Brazil and a Betrayal" in The Cork Examiner, 21 May 1981.
- Rees, Ronald. Some Other Place than Here: St. Andrews and the Irish Emigrant. No location: New Ireland Press, 2000.
- Von Allendorfer, Frederic. "An Irish Regiment in Brazil, 1826–1828" in The Irish Sword, Vol. III, No. 10 (Summer 1957), pp. 18–31.
- Walsh, Robert. Notices of Brazil: in 1828 and 1829. 2 Volumes. Boston: Richardson, Lord & Holbrook, 1831.
- Worcester, Donald E. Brazil: From Colony to World Power. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.
- Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute -Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro-, 1918, Tomo 83, "Alternate Pictures" "Quadros Alternados", on the mercenaries rebellion in which Irish settlers took part, according to the contemporary narrative by the German mercenary Theodor Bösche, page 179 onwards
- Irish mercenaries in 19th century Brazil
- Irish immigrants in Rio de Janeiro: routine and rebellion, Universidade de São Paulo, in Portuguese
- William Cotter Irish officer in Dom Pedro's army of imperial Brazil
References and sources
- Walsh, p. 273
- Walsh, p. 278
- Walsh, p. 280
- Walsh, p. 282
- Walsh, pp. 284–286
- Walsh, pp. 288–290
- Walsh, pp. 290–295
Robert Walsh: Notices of Brazil in 1828 and 1829 (London 1830; Boston: Richardson, Lord & Holbrook 1831). Vol. 1