Autobiography of Viscount of Mauá, Brazilian industrialist and banker

Exposition to the creditors of the Viscount of Maua & Co. and to the public

Viscount of Mauá, Brazilian industrialist and banker

Born in 1813, he was one of the most important industrialists and bankers of South America. He build the first iron foundry, shipyard and rail road in Brazil. He started to explore the transport using the Amazonas and Guaíba rivers with steam boats and installed the first public illumination system in Rio de Janeiro. He also installed the first telegraphic cable between South America and Europe and created the longest rail road connecting South American countries. He  opposed the traffic of slaves and defended Brazil could only prosper with free workers and investment in technology. He was the owner of 8 of the 10 largest companies in Brazil at his time and had 17 companies in 7 countries, including some of the largest banks in South America. It is estimated that his fortune would be the equivalent of US$60 billion today.  By the end of his life, he had lost most of his fortune, writing his Biography “Exposition to the creditors of the Viscount of Maua & Co. and to the public” as a way to explain to his creditors the events which led him to bankruptcy. The following is a translation of the introduction of his autobiographic book. 


In the spring of life I had already obtained, through honest and relentless work, a fortune that could assure me the utmost independence.

One of the best kind of humanities was represented by an English trader who distinguished himself by the old school of positive morality. After sufficient proofs of myself in service, he chose me as the Partner manager of his company, when I was still immature, putting me, so early, in the commercial career, in a position to develop the elements that by chance nested in my spirit. Twenty years of activity without rest would be enough to assure me an yearly income of 50 contos [1] , not counting the time necessary to recover the lost strength drought from continuously dealing with those matters. Had it been the capital employed in the well guaranteed titles of our country, the liquidation of the transaction of a strong import and export commerce whose activity is central to myself, besides the portion due to the other partners.

Such was my position in the occasion that I refer to, that 32 years had been gone. Up to now it was not necessary to have ink in my fingers to write any special petition to the any representative of administrative authority of my country.

One can see that entering another activity, I had satisfactory fortune – and it invited me to enjoy it.

In my spirit there was a vivid war between SELFISHNESS, that inhabits human heart in smaller and larger doses, and the generous ideas that elevate us and take us to other destinations, being the idea of having an ENORMOUS fortune, a secondary question in my spirit, I can say gladly, with my hand in my conscience and the eyes on God.

It is not necessary to say I committed a mistake, a gross mistake that you, creditors of the Maua Bank & Co., have carried with me, the consequences of the mistake I committed when I chose a new life of activity never seen before in our land, very rare in other countries, where other elements will help the efforts of a vigorous individual initiative, that I assert it was the dominant thought in my actions, taking all the others considerations much below this level.

One had the right to be believed in the bitterest hour of existence, when aspirations where destroyed by the machine gun of misfortune, when reality imposes its authority, putting apart the mind and its illusions; when a philosophical spirit (in the true sense of the word), guided by clear reasons to appreciate what is the worth and purpose of Earthly house, in the winter of life, measures with cold blood the short space that lies between the present and the future-so-close, that one excludes the appreciation of what the future can give to him.

It is not in this solemn hour, when the victim of a great and undeserved misfortune comes to give explanations for those who have the right to request them, that I would remember to do a false narration of the facts with which is my due occupy your attention, when the truth, anyway, had been the shield in all the vicissitudes of a long life. In this new sphere of work, that the force of destiny brought me into, I had my share to intervene and make true many and important things. It is not for sure the fatuity, that would be in truth ridicule regarding the circumstances where I see myself, that induced me to record the services rendered to the country and obliges me to begin to appreciate some of the actions in which I was instrument, ignoring some that could yet appear in advantage, given that they will indirectly take a role in the financial and economic life of Brazil; I limit myself to those of public notoriety, teasing openly any contentiousness, with the goal of thoroughly replying to the impugners, while the cold board doesn’t cover the tired remains that wrap the soul of a being, who during his entire life had one fixed point as his entire aspiration – to do what is good – and that taken from the position where he did so, sees himself thrown to trial! The explanation of reasons that could have influenced the disaster, that I consider large, because I am not the only one who suffers, and the interest of third parties touch the bottom of my soul.

In those circumstances, the explanation is at the same time a right and a must. I know not all of these commitments will have a favorable output, but to let know the causes that matter is another right and another duty, because I intend to be judged by the true truth and not by the interpretations of the obloquy.

In the advanced age of myself, in the presence of the happenings that motivate this exposition, realized by the way it was resolved, I can not have another goal in sight other than save from shipwreck what for me is worth more gold than what has been taken from the mines in California – a clean name, because I persist in believing that misfortune is not a crime.

Among the companies I created and those that existed because of my efforts and aid – as well as some services of great importance and people who based themselves in my credit and on the resources of the house of Maua in the second half of my life, that began 32 years ago, not all had favourable outputs, and the history of those that I will deal with here will prove that.

As much as I can record in a moment of such torment, the chronological march of facts that I refer to happened as follows:

• Estabilishment of the Ponta d’Areia [2]
• Company of tugboats for the Rio-Grande bay
• Company of gas illumination of Rio de Janeiro
• Services to the imperial government in Rio da Prata, requested by the ministers
• Fluminense Company of transports
• Bank of Brazil (before the current one)
• Company of the railroad of Petropolis
• Company of steamboats of Amazon
• Services to the organization of the Pernambuco railroad in London
• Services to the railroad in Bahia
• Company of floating dykes
• Company of tannery
• Company Luz Estearica
• Montes Aureos Brazilian gold mining company
• Railroad from Santos to Jundiai
• Services to the Company D. Pedro II railroad
• Services to the Tijuca railroad
• Botanical Garden’s, Rail Road Cy.
• Exploration of the railroad between Parana and Mato Grosso
• Submarine cable [3]
• Water supply to the capital of the Empire
• Rio-verde railroad
• The bank of Maua & C. and its ramifications inside and outside the country
• Services to the agriculture

This list is not complete, also, I did not include less direct services to the efforts of others in the material improvements of the country, which would be long to enumerate.

The facts I will analyze constitute, therefore, a part of a large set of practices during 32 years, that happened after I let myself be carried by the idea that the public well and the advancement of the country had priority. The need to enter in this now, although they are not favourable to the intellectual exercises of the anguish moments that I face, is throbbing; the mere naming of the facts in order explains nothing, because what matters is to highlight the impact of these facts in the finances of the House of Maua, for good or for bad, so that they are the counter proof that will make disappear the unfair impressions that the malevolence, who has followed me for many years, could have created.

My intention is not to expose the services rendered, but to establish the veracity of the facts, explaining vividly and allowing my unjustified enemies to understand the seriousness of their conduct, or, if they continue on their unfruitful purposes, so that they can claim any of these facts are untrue.

1) Money of the time in Brazil, 1 conto was roughly equivalent to 1 Kg of gold
2) Shipyward.
3) Between Europe and Brazil.

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