horizontal line
The Museu Nacional and its European employees Jens Andermann
Birkbeck College

horizontal line

Local expertise in collecting and classifying specimens from the interior of Brazil was scarce throughout the nineteenth century, and the museum heavily relied on foreign travellers and naturalists who had taken residence in Brazil, commissioning them with the collection of zoological, botanical and ethnographic material. In 1829, the Italian Ricardo Zani was contracted to undertake an expedition to Pará and the Amazon; but only from the 1850 the museum had the means to employ foreign specialists on a more regular basis. The first generation of these travelling naturalists were usually Frenchmen who spent a few years in Brazil before returning to their home country: Jean Théodore Descourtilz, an ornithologist, collected samples in Espirito Santo from July 1854 to his death in February 1855; Alfred Sohier de Gand, a naturalist and merchant of botanical and zoological specimens, was sent to the provinces of Pará and Amazonas in 1855; Louis Jacques Brunet, a Frenchman living in Pernambuco, was contracted to collect in the Amazon region between 1860 and 1861; and Jules Audemars de Brassus held the position of travelling naturalist from 1863. Another compatriot of these, Arsène Onessim Baraquin, in exchange for sending samples of his collections from Pará and Amazonas, was granted the title of Honorary Naturalist.

After Ladislau Netto´s appointment as full director in 1876, a second generation of naturalists, usually from Anglosaxon and Germanic countries, were contracted on a more permanent base, until relations between them and the National Museum deteriorated in the early 1890s, upon which most of them assumed leading positions at the new provincial museums of São Paulo and Belém. Many of these were not only travelling naturalists but, in addition, held positions as sectional directors or subdirectors, even though sometimes they lived in the immigrant communities of the South and only occasionally visited the museum. As Maria Margaret Lopes points out,

these latter naturalists, in contrast to the majority of their predecessors, were not travellers any more. The built their professional careers at the museum. Generally they arrived here for this very purpose, albeit continuing to send collections and publications abroad. Once they had settled in Brazil, however, they would eventually found their own institutions and museums. And, once they had arrived in their own institutions, they would try to implement their own scientific conceptions, most of which rather than continuing the naturalist tradition of the Museu Nacional, were profoundly marked by the breakup between the model of the General Metropolitan Museum incarnated by the Museu Nacional, and the provincial models of ever more highly specialized museums that emerged during the last decades of the century, precisely in opposition to the old imperial museum.
(Lopes 1996: 65)

The first foreign scientist to assume a permanent position was Lutz Riedel, a German botanist who had participated in the Russian exhibition to Matto Grosso commanded by the baron Langsdorff in 1826-1828. When in 1842 the museum was divided into separate sections, Riedel was appointed as director of the botanical section, a post he was to hold until his death in 1861. According to a catalogue published in 1838, the botanical collection had only comprised the relatively small number of 1600 specimens; over the nineteenth century it was to increase to around 30,000. Theodor Peckolt, a German, was the first head of the Chemical Laboratory; Charles Frederick Hartt, an American geologist and palaeontologist who had been a disciple of Agassiz at Harvard and a professor at Cambridge, directed the geological section in 1876 and 1877, to be succeeded by his compatriot Orville Adalbert Derby

Click for image details
Orville A. Derby; Derby, Orville Adalbert

. The German Carlos Schreiner served as adjutant naturalist from 1872, and as travelling naturalist from 1889, to eventually become subdirector of the zoological section in 1895. In 1884, the museum contracted the brothers Gustav and Ernst Rumpelsberger, as travelling naturalist and drawing assistant, respectively, and in 1891 the fellow German Ernst Ule, a botanist, was appointed as travelling naturalist, eventually becoming subdirector and director of the botanical section. Wilhelm Schwacke, Fritz Müller and Hermann von Ihering, German zoologists living in Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul and who, just as Derby, would eventually move to the Museu Paulista after resigning from their posts in the capital, held titles as travelling naturalists, and their Swiss colleague Emil August Goeldi, who was later to assume the direction of Belém´s Museu Paraense, was subdirector of the zoological section from 1885 to 1890.

Click for image details
Dr. Fritz Mueller; Lacerda, João Baptista de

Among these, Müller demands special attention for his Für Darwin (For Darwin, 1864), a complex discussion of the law of ontogenesis dedicated to his friend and correspondent Charles Darwin, and considered the first major theoretical scientific work published in Brazil. The book relied on experimental research Müller had carried out in the frontier areas of Santa Catarina. A free thinker, his attempts to alphabetize and educate the local peasantry soon earned him the scorn of the great landowners (latifundistas), on whose initiative he was sacked from his post as professor at the Lyceu of Florianópolis in the early 1890s, and only narrowly escaped execution after the bloody crushing of the provincial uprising of 6 September 1895. Müller died in poverty two years later in Blumenau, Santa Catarina´s principal German settlement.

Meanwhile, open conflict had broken out between the foreign naturalists and the Museu Nacional´s administration when, after his return from the Paris World´s Fair of 1889 and the Congress of Americanists at Berlin that same year, Ladislau Netto issued a new, and considerably more "nationalistic" set of rules for museum staff and administration which, while maintaining the encyclopaedic and imperial scope of the institution, sought to re-centralize the competences and budgets of formerly autonomous sections such as the Laboratory of Experimental Physiology (headed since 1876 by the

Click for image details
Dr. Louis Couty; Couty, Louis

French anatomist Louis Couty) and restrict eligibility for future posts to Brazilian citizens, while demanding continuous presence at the institution by all members of staff. In response to Netto´s `autocratic´ measures, Müller, Ihering, Derby and Emil Goeldi, as well as the naturalists Wilhelm Schwacke and Lacerda, resigned in protest from their posts and, even though Netto, who suffered a stroke in 1891, resigned from his post the year after, most foreign scientists had by then followed Ihering and Goeldi to set up new institutions at Belém and São Paulo (the Museu Paraense, directed by Goeldi from 1894 to 1907; and the Museu Paulista, directed by Ihering between 1895 and 1915).

Click for image details
Hermann von Ihering; Ihering, Hermann von

The conflicts involving Ladislau Netto (by then the most prominent Brazilian scientist) and the foreign naturalists during the final years of the Empire and the first years of the Republic, then, albeit in a sometimes contradictory way reflected some of the tensions and lines of conflict between a capital-based, bureaucratic project of a lettered and sophisticated tropical modernity, incarnated by the courtly elite of bacharéis, and the various dissenting projects brought forth by the ruling sectors of provinces such as Pará, São Paulo, or Paraná, who sought to challenge Rio´s national hegemony, a claim that was to be fundamented, precisely, by new, state-of-the-art institutions of display and research, concerned not so much with the representation of the nation as with attesting the province´s achievements in modernity and progress. As Goeldi formulated it, on taking charge of the new provincial institutions, the foreign naturalists were also seeking to establish "a kind of barrier separating the past and the future of museums" (Goeldi 1894), and thus also to draw a line between the `archaic´ former imperial capital and the northern and southern pioneer states, flourishing on the height of the rubber and coffee booms.

horizontal line

[Back to top]