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Fair and barbarous province

200 years ago, São Paulo was tamed by scientific expeditions

One of the positive effects of the extensive celebrations of the 450 years of the city of São Paulo is to have its history intensively recalled by newspapers, magazines, books and special radio and TV programs. The scientific expeditions undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries through the country’s hinterland are some of these happenings that are being slowly redeemed from being forgotten – with the exception of those carried out in the then captaincy of São Paulo, almost never remembered.

In the second half of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century, naturalists from Portugal, France, England, Austria and Russia disembarked in Brazil, interested in collecting material, to reproduce and analyze Brazilian nature. The Portuguese Court encouraged the expeditions, concerned with knowing which raw materials could help to boost Portugal’s economy.

In São Paulo, Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada, from Santos, delved into the interior of the captaincy to get to know better the lands of São Paulo. As an inspector of forests and mines, he produced the reports Journals of the travels of 1803 to 1804 and Diary of a mineralogical journey through the province of São Paulo in the year of 1805. In them, Martim Francisco made multiple observations about geology and animals in his explorations through the forests and rivers of Santos, Peruíbe, Iguape, Cananéia and environs of São Paulo.

But he also spoke of the customs of the populations, criticized the “indolence” of the people, praised the prodigious nature, and even hazarded a criticism of the Court (“… Your Highness is very far away, and it is only nearby that you may see the improvements that your colonies lack”). Fourteen years later, Martin carried out a new exploratory journey, this time with his brother José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, back in Brazil as an eminent scientist and important politician, after spending 36 years in Europe. The Andrada brothers set off from Santos and arrived in Itú, to return via Sorocaba.

In the report Economic-metallurgic digression through the mountains and fields of the interior of the fine and barbarous province of São Paulo, of 1820, they talk of gneisses, mica schists, and argillaceous schists from the Paranapiacaba mountain range, clays from the capital, iron ores from Santo Amaro, gold alluviums from the Jaraguá range, and they report numerous observations regarded as precise by specialists years afterwards. At the end of his scientific experiments, José Bonifácio saw himself once again co-opted by national politics, in which he exercised functions that had capital consequences for Brazil, to the point of his becoming known as the Patriarch of the Independence.