Brazil: Percy Farquhar

From Brazil, David Fleischer has kindly sent me some long articles (in Portuguese) from the Estado de Sao Paulo (3/6/05). One is titled "In the south of the country, another Mad Maria", that being the way Americans referred to the Madeira-Mamoré railroad, one of Percy Farquhar's enterprises. A map shows the second example of his "entrepreneurial delirium", a railroad from Tres Barras to  Marcelino Ramos, in the south of Brazil.  A photograph shows the station at  Tres Barras, which has been  turned into a museum.Midway is Caçador, where the principal monument is a Baldwin Mogul locomotive built in the US in 1907, A photograph shows the locomotive with two cars. The retired engineer stands on the front of the engine, waving happily. An accompanying article is an interview with him.  The railroad was supposed to link Sao Paulo with Rio Grande do Sul, but it was never completed. One problem was that the area it crosses is often flooded.  There was also a train robbery.  Farquhar had plans to colonize the area, but this gave rise to a war between  the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina in which more than 10,000 people were killed between 1912 and 1916.  Another article is titled "50 million trees for railroad cars". The biggest saw mill in South America cut down a large part of the araucaria forests.  In other words, Americans are responsible for the deforestation of Brazil.  There are photographs of the mill.

That the important newspaper, the Estado de Sao Pailo, would devote two whole pages to Farquhar shows the interest aroused by the TV series about him.  The series depicts hin as a villain. A general article about him describes him as a big operator who speculated with capital mainly from Europe.  He had railroads and mines in Russia and dealt with Lenin.  This negative picture of him is in sharp contrast wit the eulogy of him by my former student Charles Gauld, whose monumental book on Farquhar, The Last Titan, is being translated into Portuguese by Eliana Vale.  Here we have an excellent case for our "Learning History" project.  For Americans, Farquhar is a remarkable titan, while the Brazilians seem to be making a deliberate attempt to vilify him, possibly as part of a campaign to discredit American capitalists in general.  Who is right?

I contrasted the current depiction in Brazil of Percival Faquhar as a capitalist American villain with the respectful description of him given in Charles Gauld's monumemtal biography of him, which Eliana Vale is translating into Portuguese.. She writes: To answer your question on: “who really Farquhar was?”, first of all one must devoid him/herself of all prejudice and passionate feelings.  I am reading carefully as I translate Gauld, and value the fact that he substantiates his text with exhaustive bibliography and many documents concerning the subject.  I certainly do not discard the fact that Gauld probably became fascinated with the personality of Farquhar, which often happens between biographer and his object of study.  This may have prevented him on being more objective in his judgments. The fact that both Gauld and Farquhar were Quakers may have played a role, too.  Besides, as a psychologist and psychoanalyst used to listening to different members from the same family on an issue, I know truth is not a one-sided affair.  Anyway, I am reading on a subject I didn’t know before, and will try to listen to Gauld’s book with an attentive, unprejudiced ear.
I had an interesting experience while writing my book on history of psychoanalysis in Brazil.  At one point, while interviewing somebody, I quoted a document on a Society’s foundation document.  The person refuted what I said.  I replied that it was written in the document.  She said to me:  but I was there, and [someone] was there. [The document didn’t mention this someone].  If this happened with people who were still alive at the time, imagine when one tries to figure out the truth based only in texts?

RH: This raises a basic question about the writing of history.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 13, 2005