Autograph letter dated 8 April, 1815, signed A. Cunningham to Admiral Sir Sidney Smith concerning his estate at Praya Grande (present-day Niterói) near Rio de Janeiro.
4to 6 pp.
D. João, the Prince Regent, who ruled the Portuguese empire in the name of his deranged mother, Dª. Maria, had showered titles and rewards on those British officials who had conveyed him to Brazil in recognition of their services; Sir Sidney Smith had been given "a villa with a good deal of land which he named Chacara de Braganza" (John Barrow, Life and correspondence of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith). He had been replaced in his South American duties in May 1809.
Cunningham refers in the letter to the arrival of Smith's friend, Admiral Sir John Beresford who, now that the French had been driven out of the Hispanic Peninsula in December 1814, had been instructed by the British government to convey the Royal Family back to Portugal, though D. João vacillated then refused to embark. He comments on the cultivation and improvement of Sir Sidney's estate, pointing out that to gain any profit he would have to hire 20 or 30 slaves and obtain an honest overseer, and therefore proposes letting the land for building. He complains of protracted legal problems concerning the estate, which Sir Sidney wished to sell and, since the land had been a gift, the Prince Regent had considered him ungrateful, and he proposes to dispose of the land privately. He hopes to let the house for at least £100 a year and to be able to send Sir Sidney some £1000 or £1100. He tries to discourage the Admiral from buying land near Pontas Alegres (Ponta d’Areia?) for cultivation, as he points out that Lord Strangford, with whom Sir Sidney was on bad terms, would have secured some of the best plots of land by reason of the titles granted to him. The land would require slave labour and he stresses its inefficiency. He states that he will probably return the Admiral's affairs to the hands of Mr. Chamberlain (British consul in Rio de Janeiro), prior to taking up his position as consul in Salvador (Bahia). He closes with news of British subjects in Rio de Janeiro.
Alexander Cunningham was a central figure in the British community in Rio de Janeiro in the era of Brazilian independence; Maria Graham refers to travelling with "Colonel and Mrs. Cunningham (in) their comfortable English chariot . . ." and later "My good neighbours, Colonel and Mrs. Cunningham, try by their hospitality . . ." (Journal of a voyage to Brazil, pp. 166 & 253).
John Luccock (Notes on Rio de Janeiro, p. 262) found that Smith's house was unfavourably situated, "about a mile nearer to the point of Armazen, lies the estate presented by the Regent to Sir Sydney Smith. The house on it is small, and the situation oppressively hot; the land rocky and of little value. At the point itself are some large warehouses, originally constructed for the extraction of oil from the whale, when that fish rolled his enormous bulk in the harbour of Rio. Just at their back is one of the finest stations on the Eastern side, for viewing the whole extent of this beautiful bay."