Latin America & Caribbean

In pictures: A journey through 19th Century Brazil

In 1893, British industrialist Sir Benjamin Stone travelled to Brazil to observe a full solar eclipse.

A keen traveller of considerable personal wealth, Sir Benjamin joined a Royal Astronomical Society expedition to the Amazon river.

As well as taking photos of the eclipse, he also took a series of photographs of his journey by boat to Brazil and of the people and places he encountered.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection

Sir Benjamin travelled to Brazil on board the Royal Mail Ship SS Trent from Southampton. During the crossing, he photographed his fellow passengers, many of whom were poor emigrants from rural areas of Portugal in search of a better life in Brazil.

Upon his arrival in Brazil, Sir Benjamin joined the Royal Astronomical Society expedition and travelled with them to Paracuru, where they were to observe the total eclipse.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection

On the way to and from the eclipse station, Sir Benjamin used his whole-plate camera to record images of everyday life in Brazil.

His photographs show the country on the eve of industrialisation and offer a rare glimpse of the country's north-east at the end of the 19th Century.

He secured more than 250 negatives which he had shipped back to England. His assistant made and mounted platinum prints to which Sir Benjamin added captions.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection

Sir Benjamin's whole-plate camera had an almost magnetic effect on local residents, especially children, and he often attracted large crowds.

He also had a particular interest in photographing key buildings and landmarks that the expedition came across during their travels.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection

But he also recorded life in the forests surrounding the towns and documented the poor conditions recently freed slaves and members of the indigenous communities lived in.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection
Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection

The expedition travelled to the port city of Paracuru, on Brazil's north-east coast, which they had chosen as the location for their "eclipse station".

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone collection

Here, they set up huts made of canvas mounted on wooden frames to house their equipment and instruments.

Their aim was to photograph the corona, an aura of plasma surrounding the Sun which is most easily seen during a total solar eclipse.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone Collection

Their station attracted a fair number of visitors, including a party of astronomers from Rio de Janeiro who had set up their own observation station a few miles away.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone collection

The negatives taken during the eclipse were developed in darkrooms in Brazil before being shipped back to England.

In June 1903, a report illustrated with drawings made from Sir Benjamin's photographs was published in the English newspaper The Graphic.

In it, expedition leader A J Taylor wrote that "the photographs obtained in Brazil are very satisfactory and will doubtless yield a harvest of scientific information".

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone collection,

After the eclipse, and following a few days' rest, expedition members travelled on board the SS Brazil to Pernambuco, a state to the south of Ceara.

As had become his habit, Sir Benjamin again chronicled life on board the ship and, as in this picture, the pastimes its passengers indulged in.

Image copyright Sir Benjamin Stone collection

The expedition parted company in Pernambuco, with some members returning to England while Sir Benjamin journeyed up the Amazon river.

Upon his return to Britain, Sir Benjamin continued to take photographs and in 1897 founded the National Photographic Record Association, of which he became president.

His love of photography earned him the nicknames of "the knight of the camera" and "Sir Snapshot".

The photos from his Brazilian expedition are in the Stone archive at the Library of Birmingham.

They remain unpublished but a collection of 50 of them can be seen until 7 November 2014 at the Embassy of Brazil in London in an exhibition curated by Rodrigo Orrantia and Pete James.