Carnival & Politics

Carnival at Buenos Ayres

On Sunday 13th February the Carnival commenced and lasted for three days. This festival so common in catholic countries and anxiously looked forward to as the period of unbounded license is now everywhere much on the wane and will soon at least in the Northern hemisphere cease altogether. On the present occasion the ceremony was shorn of almost all its splendour – The most important part viz. the Masquerade was strictly prohibited by the minister of Police on account of the present excited state of public feelings on the Subject of politics – to this I shall allude presently at greater length. All the liberty which was allowed was the throwing of water in various ways – the most common plan is to fill egg shells with water then close up the aperture & keep them for use. These missiles are liberally discharged by men and women known or unknown. It is of no use to get out of humour when you receive a dozen or two bang on the eyes – mouth – or ears – your ill humour only provokes laughter and an increased annoyance from your fair antagonists. Your case is not wholly hopeless – if thro’ ignorance you are unprovided, a few paper dollars will procure you the means of revenging yourself, as their persons, who get a good profit by hawking about the Eggs shot.

This war of egg shells, however, is common & vulgar. By way of being more elegant some gentlemen go about having bottles filled with perfumed water, which they discharge most liberally among the ladies, who in their turn carry similar bottles underneath their shawls and return the gentlemen’s water favours with interest. Hence from doors, from windows, from roof – from streets, the water, the egg shells are continually pouring – in individual parties & reencounters the mirth and fun grow fast and furious until one or another is compelled to quit the field discomfited or from want of ammunition.

It is hoped by the respectable people that such childish, such puerile amusements will soon cease to be followed – a circumstance which would certainly be followed by the most beneficial effects.

Unitarians v. Federalists

In have said that the Masquerade, which is the substance, while the other is merely the shadow of the Carnival, was prohibited by the Minister of Police. In order to understand why such a restriction was necessary, you must know that a war involving Buenos Ayres and other provinces had just broken out, and it was feared that during the licenses of Masquerade some political disturbance connected therewith might break forth. I do not exactly understand the objects of the war fully nor the bearings of all the parties engaged – But what I know amounts to this “That there are two grand divisions of this part of Southern America, & the one styling themselves Unitarians, the other Federalists. The wish of the former is that the whole of the country (including I believe 13 provinces) shall be united under one heard or rather form of Government – that all shall be subject to the same laws and regulations and that thus one grand & powerful republic shall be formed out of a great number of small & but slightly connected states. The Federalists again are anxious that matters should remain in their former state viz. that each province shall have its own laws, and its own rulers, and be totally independent in its internal administration of every other – at the same time admitting that all should be connected for their mutual advantage and security as are regular republics.

These two powerful bodies these Unitarians and Federalists divide all the people of the Argentine Republic – party spirit runs very high – but it is said that the Unitarians have decidedly the greatest number of partisans. The boundary provinces have taken up the cause of the federation, and the principal are Buenos Ayres – Santa Fe – Entrerios and Corrientes, while the Interior provinces, at the head of which is Cordova, have raised the standard of Unitarianism. General Paz styles himself Protector of the Interior, and is Commander in chief of the National army: General Lopez the Governor of Sante Fe is Commander in chief of the Confederate army, and has commenced the Campaign with his army in two divisions, the one under the command of Felipe Iberra, the other of General Quiroga. During our stay at Buenos Ayres several unimportant engagements took place, which the Buenos Ayres always represented as being invariably in favour of their side – but I much miss doubt the correctness of their statements, as there is no free press.

British Newspaper – Disturbed State of Buenos Ayres

Every Saturday we had the perusal of a small paper, called The British Packet or Argentine News [3].  I never could gain any certain intelligence from it. It was so contrarily and oracularly worded, that the most acute lawyer could never [find] the slightest symptom of partiality for either party – and all you could learn from it was merely a knowledge of the bulletin published by the Buenos Ayrean Government, which were abundantly meagre and bombastical. The Editor, indeed, cannot be blamed – nay he deserves the greatest praise for his good general ship. His course lay between Scylla (the Unitarians) on the one hand and Charibdis (the Federalists) on the other, and as a foreigner he naturally endeavours to steer safe clear of these rocks on which it was now so easy to split.

In consequence of the state of the country, we were kept at Buenos Ayres for five weeks – and during that time whenever anyone went on shore we anxiously awaited their return to learn the news. Various and contradictory reports of the state of parties were brought off – but all agreed that to he state of universal bustle & preparation which prevailed in the City. An active impressment was carried on under a horse patrol, and foreigners whether English, French or Americans were not exempt from challenge, and unless provided with a protection, from their respective Consuls, were unceremoniously packed off to the army. Several instances of resistance on their part occurred, and on one occasion the Captain of a merchant vessel was stopped and his protection demanded, which he produced. No sooner did the villains get it into their possession, than in contempt they tore it in pieces, which so enraged the Captain that he drew a pistol from his pocket and shot the man who did it, dead on the spot – no notice of this transaction was taken by the Government, but it produced the beneficial effect of rendering the Press Gang more wary of interfering with foreigners.

This fact with regard to the impressment being thus indiscriminate will appear very extraordinary at home, but I was as much surprised to learn that, By a Decree of 14th Oct.r 1830, every foreigner settled in the country must be enrolled in the militia, whist it is absolutely indispensable that the temporary resident should furnish himself with a certificate from his Consul.

I think it says little for the strength and resources of the Buen: Ayrean that they are forced to have recourse to the odious system of an empressment. The truth is there are but few who are willing or are patriotic enough to leave the shelter & Comforts of a town for the privations & hardships, not to mention the dangers of a campaign. All who can escape, employ the opportunity and besides it is well known that a great number of the people wish well to the enemy, being infected with Unitarian principles. It is a saying that ‘Novelty is always pleasing.’ But it may be confidently quoted against its truth that the Novelty of the military press gang is detestable, & never pleases.

To the European the tremendous fuss and importance occasioned by the squabbles of a few petty states are eminently ridiculous. The whole disposable of the two armies does not exceed few thousands – and every trifling engagement is magnified by popular prejudice, as if the result of a skirmish, wherein 30 or 40 men had fallen could justify such hopes, as could only be realised by a general & decisive victory – whatever be the final upshot of the matter “vae victis” ! ! !

Remarkable Character at Buenos Ayres

I have now told you all that I know of the war politics of Buenos Ayres and shall take my leave of the tiresome place with one or two further “notanda.” There is at present here a very remarkable woman a Mrs. Clarke. In her youth, she had committed some crime which brought her under the cognisance of the law and procured her a passage out to Botany Bay in 1798 [4].  On their passage the female convicts, who had been indulged with too much liberty rose up, and with the assistance of the males overpowered the soldiers and sailors, taking upon them the entire management of the Ship, with which they arrived at Rio de Janeiro. In this affair Mrs. Clarke bore a conspicuous part, and if report does not belie her. She murdered the Captain with whom she was then cohabiting by dividing his throat with a pair of scissors – After leaving Rio, she finally settled at Buenos Ayres where she had now resided for upwards of 20 years. I understand she has endeavoured to atone for her youthful errors by an amended life. Formerly when there were few English Merch.ts at B. Ayr.s she expended many hundreds of dollars in procuring decent funerals for such English as died, who would otherwise have been left a prey to filthy dogs & obscene birds. Whenever too she found her countrymen in distress from poverty or other causes, she aided and relieved them to the utmost of her powers. By these means and the propriety of her conduct she has acquired great respect among the English residents, and subsists respectably upon an annuity she has in England. She has often wished to visit her native country again and great interest has been made to procure her a pardon, but the answer to such requests has always been that she had better remain where she is and not venture to England, where she will be hanged.

To beguile the tedium of our enforced stay in the River Plate, we had recourse to fishing – not without success. There were only two kinds of fish which we caught, one called by our sailors the Cat Fish, and the other no one knew the name. Both were excellent eating, the latter being preferred as it [was] not so fat as the other – & was of the size of a moderate cod, with thick scales. The Cat fish was very peculiar. It[s] mouth was rounded not sharp and pointed. From the upper part of the head (if I remember aright) on each side of it were two long pliant excrescences of the size of whip cord, while below were two smaller ones, making up I think in all six of these feelers. These look very much like the whiskers of a cat and I wonder much what purpose they are destined to serve. The fish is likewise furnished with two lateral and one dorsal fin and each fin is furnished with a sharp bony substance, which Providence has intended for the protection of the possessor. When touched or irritated, it immediately struggles and its fins, thus armed are projected out to their greatest extent. If you are not aware of this peculiarity and incautiously seize it, the pain which follows will doubtless startle you & teach you a less[on] of caution in future. Several instances have occurred where amputation of the fingers and even the arm have been obliged to be resorted to in order to save the life – tetanus or Lock Jaw have also been the result of a wound from these strange Cats. The method then of securing yourself from them while you are engaged in extracting the hook, is to irritate them and cause them to raise their fins, and then to get these fins between your fingers and thereby confine them. I never saw such fish before and we have found it only in the River Plate.

Another peculiarity in it is that when caught it utters a loud, distinct cry, apparently expressive of pain or grief.

The wished for day of our departure at length arrived, and the Consul, despairing of the speedy arrival of the next Packet, for which he had detained us, resolved to dispatch us. Accordingly, having received the Mail on board, at 3 A.M. on Sunday 6th March we left Buenos Ayres for Monte Video.

The weather during the day was beautiful, and I enjoyed greatly our sail down the magnificent River Plate. The wind was light and favourable. Our old Pilot a M.r Watts who had taken us up also piloted us back, having been on board of us all the time we lay at Buenos Ayres.

Read on … Monte Video