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Shirle Hill, William Bragge and the Emperor of Brazil

by Pril Rishbeth

In one of 3 boxes of items concerning William Bragge of Shirle Hill, now held in Sheffield City Archives, is an intriguing letter. It describes the visit of the Emperor of Brazil to William on 8 August 1871. I quote it in full.

Written on 8 August 1871

When some of the young ladies who had slept here, were playing and dancing merrily in the large room, it was quite a treat for me to see Jessie Oxley – a tall beautiful girl dressed in white- capering about like a child, in a Scotch reel. Yesterday was from the beginning to end a pleasant and exciting day. The Emperor was in town, and William was with him, and we felt that at any time he might drop in on us – He did not come though ? we were half through dinner from after ? – and then he and the Empress, two ladies and the Emperor’s Chancellor – the Baron de Bom Retiro, arrived and went at once into the Library where they were thankful to accept some biscuits and Claret cup – After a very short time with the books, they went to see the Pipes [William was famed for his extensive collection of pipes and all things pertaining to tobacco] – and then began a tour of the whole house – even to the pantries and lavatory.

The Emperor, even, went upstairs and into different places with just the same interest as the ladies. An English house, with its water taps, drains and comforts generally, was a perfect novelty to them all – so they asked to see everything – Each bedroom seemed to have a special interest to them – they were told who slept in each, and then the pictures and ornaments were all noted – The Empress came out of Jeannie’s room[ William’s daughter]without seeing the ? Haywood’s portrait, so the Emperor took her back to see it – He, as well as the Empress was evidently bent on seeing everything. Martha [William’s wife] led the way for them – speaking in French – Jeannie also had to air her French.

When the tour was ended they all came into the sitting room where Mr. Browning and I were waiting – Wm had popped in before – to tell us not to go away – and we were both introduced and had the honour of shaking hands with the Emperor and Empress. Don’t suppose that we sought the honour – their Majesties came forward and offered it as some new friends might do after hearing something good of us before an introduction. It was the same with the Emperor when he left – we bowed, but he walked across to shake hands. The Emperor told Mr. Browning how well he knew his ? names, and where he had seen his instruments, and heard of him – speaking in French – Mr. B replying in the same language – I was heartily ashamed that I had to remain dumb – when the Chancellor wanted to talk with me, and I was obliged to confess that I knew only English! Mrs Doyle, as “the Cook”, came in for a most friendly greeting from the Empress – who, when she saw the servants vanishing from the kitchen as she went in, had them called back – as she “wanted to see them” she said.

Frank [William’s youngest son] had his introduction in my presence, and it was beautiful to see his manly way of looking up at the Emperor’s face and telling his name as though he was proud of it, as indeed he might well be just then! Jeannie was introduced in her Papa’s dressing room, which place was especially admired, as also was the breakfast room – some of the ladies said it was a “home nook”. Just before leaving the Countess de Barral handed to Jeannie for her Papa, Carte de visite portraits of the Emperor and Empress on which were their autographs, and on the envelope the inscription “ to Mr. William Bragge, Master Cutler of Sheffield, as a Souvenir of August 8th 1871”. The parting was not in the least formal – The Empress came back to have one more shake of the hand with Martha, and to say how much her visit had gratified her – Martha came in for many compliments abt. the order and beauty of her house – and I really think she deserved them. They staid(sic) here abt. three quarters of an hour, and turned round as they drove away to wave their last adieus.
Fancy us then left alone – and what a chat we had about the day’s events! Wm was really knocked up, but was so full that he could not but talk his best. He had started from Bradfield with the Emperor at 5.30 am and had ever since been sightseeing.

All Sheffield ? today in honour of the Master Cutler – and Shirle Hill is now a more important place than ever!!! I sent into town for papers, but cd. get none, which disappoints me very much. I will try again tomorrow though really the reports of the visit are wonderously poor.
It was droll to see the Reporters getting up the article. One knocked up the door for news ten minutes after the Emperor left – and then another soon after. One was prowling around on Sunday, tempting Yates – and offering a sovereign, for news of the arrival. The ? had been careful not to tell anything, so poor Yates ended the day as poor as he began it. I am forgetting to tell you that Wm presented to the Emperor Charles Dicken’s writing case – and the Emperor accepted it most gladly – refusing to let the Chancellor take charge of it, carrying it about himself as though too precious to lose sight of.

Yesterday was a grand day for me another way still, and perhaps a better one, for I had a splendid view of the Sun’s spectrum through one of the largest Spectroscopes got made. Mr. Browning gave Charlie and me a lecture some hour and a half long upon Spectrum analysis, and it was most interesting to me. I seem now to have some clearer notions about it. Mr. B has gone back today I am sorry to say.
I also shall be gone back – for I mean to be with you before ? Minnie goes to Birmingham if I can get a travelling companion.
I am writing in the garden – and am tired so shall stop now.
I have written as much as I could – more than I shall write again, so shall you please let Lizzie and Tom and Robert see this. – Carrie too – for I fancy all will be interested, though they will laugh at my chronicle of such small events.

Your loving brother,

? Bragge.

Who was this Emperor of Brazil? And why was he visiting William Bragge at Shirle Hill, Sheffield, England?

The Emperor was Dom Pedro II, nicknamed the Magnanimous. His father, Dom Pedro I had abdicated the throne of Brazil in 1831 in favour of his 5 year old son. During the regency the young Emperor had a lonely childhood but received a rigorous education. Together with a broad spectrum of subjects, his guardians instilled in the boy many liberal ideals, suitable for moulding him into a perfect monarch. Dom Pedro was not raised in luxury, being a boy with little chance of seeing other children, so found solace in his books. At 14 he was declared of age and was crowned the following year. It is supposed that the Regents felt that they could have control of such a young ruler.
His reign brought in a period of progress and prosperity for Brazil. He encouraged advances in medicine and education, besides supporting the arts. He was even responsible for bringing an end to slavery. It was because of his keenness to bring the new technical advances being made in Europe that he approached Messrs Bellhouse & Co of Manchester, asking them to send a young engineer out to him. This is where William Bragge comes into the story.

Bragge spent 12 years in Brazil, from 1846-58. He started by installing gas lighting in Rio de Janeiro and helping to provide a sewage system. Then went on to survey for the first railway line in the country, going from Rio de Janeiro to Petrópolis up a very steep route. He had been well prepared for this work by working in a variety of civil engineering jobs, including being involved with surveying for the new Chester and Holyhead Railway line. Dom Pedro awarded him the Order of the Rose in appreciation of his work.

The two had become friends. They had so many similar interests. Note the Emperor’s curiosity about the taps and drains in Shirle Hill, as well as the books in the library. Both loved to travel. Pedro was fluent in up to 14 languages and liked to travel incognito, as Dom Pedro de Alicantara. They shared being patrons of libraries, museums and learned societies, especially aiming to open cultural experiences to the ordinary working person. I’ve previously described William as a man of the Victorian Age, having an enquiring mind, and far reaching interests. He wanted to give all the chance to broaden their minds. As Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro wanted the same for his people. He is described as a truly enlightened monarch, reigning for 58 years, and taking his country forward, caring for all its people, leading the way amongst other South American countries.

Dom Pedro’s visit to Shirle Hill in 1871 was some 13 years after William had left Brazil. Their friendship had lasted over the years and it was fortunate that Dom Pedro could visit in the year that William was Master Cutler.

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