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Christie Affair

Christie Affair

Christie Affair, a series of reprisals taken by the British Navy against Brazilian merchantmen from December 1862 to 5 January 1863. Named for William Christie, the British ambassador to Brazil at the time, it brought to a head thirty-five years of growing animosity between the two governments concerning slavery in Brazil. In 1861, the British ship Prince of Wales sank off the coast of Brazil. The British suspected foul play because the Brazilian government would not, or could not, produce the bodies of any of the last crewmen or any of the ship's cargo, which had been stolen by local inhabitants. A year later, three out-of-uniform British sailors were arrested in Brazil for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The British government viewed these arrests as deliberate provocation and demanded an apology for the arrests and immediate restitution for the Prince of Wales. It authorized Christie to use reprisals if these demands were not met. Christie subsequently ordered British naval vessels to blockade Rio de Janeiro harbor; during a six-day blockade the British seized five Brazilian ships. Thereupon, the Brazilian government agreed to pay for the Prince of Wales and put the matter of the sailors' arrests to an arbitrator.

The arbitrator decided in favor of Brazil, ruling that no insult to Great Britain had been intended. Brazil then demanded restitution for its five ships. The British refused, and the Brazilians severed diplomatic relations with Great Britain. Although the British never paid for the seized Brazilian ships, Brazil restored diplomatic relations five years later for economic reasons.

Since William Christie and the British government were keenly interested in the abolition of slavery in Brazil, this affair was seen in Brazil as a warning that Britain was willing to use force, if needed, to push Brazil toward the abolition of slavery.

See alsoBritish-Latin American Relations .


Richard Graham, "Causes for the Abolition of Negro Slavery in Brazil: An Interpetive Essay," HAHR 46, no. 2 (1966): 123-137, and Britain and the Onset of Modernization in Brazil, 1850–1914 (1968), pp. 169-183.

Bradford E. Burns, Nationalism in Brazil: A Historical Survey (1968).

Additional Bibliography

Bethell, Leslie. The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade; Britain, Brazil and the Slave Trade Question, 1807–1869. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Florentino, Manolo. Tráfico, cativeiro e liberdade: Rio de Janeiro, séculos XVII-XIX. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2005.

Rivière, Peter. Absent-Minded Imperialism: Britain and the Expansion of Empire in Nineteenth-Century Brazil. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1995.

                                      Michael J. Broyles

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