Document of the Month, August 2016: Journal of James Paroissien

Katharine Schofield shares with us an extract from the journal of James Paroissien, July – August 1808 (D/DOb F1/3)

As Team GB prepare for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, James Paroissien’s journal contains a fascinating insight into the country more than 200 years ago.

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James Paroissien was baptised in St. Margaret’s Church, Barking on Christmas Day 1784.  He studied medicine and in 1806 he left England to practise as a surgeon in Montevideo, Argentina.  Once there he switched to trading as a merchant but left after the British invading forces were defeated in 1806-1807 and went to Rio de Janeiro.

The journal records his impressions of Brazil, although much of his account relates to hunting.  On 2 August he recorded that the weather was ‘exceedingly hot muggy and rainy … accompanied with violent gusts of wind’.  On Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 August they set off towards the Taghuihi river killing plover and other ‘fine’ birds, parakeets and even a sloth at the top of a high tree which ‘stuck so fast‘ that somebody had to climb up to retrieve the body.  On 7 August he described the river as being extremely beautiful with the banks imprinted with the marks of the capybara, which were described as being very numerous.  Continuing from the river they shot more birds and two golden monkeys, two toucans and a squirrel.

After his stay in Rio, Paroissien returned to Argentina before joining the army to fight for the liberation of Chile and Peru from the Spanish.  He served as surgeon-general and later as aide-de-camp to the commander José de San Martin, returning to England in 1821 to seek diplomatic recognition for the newly liberated Peru.  The mission failed and in 1825 he returned to South America as agent for the Bolivian Mining Company.  An economic crash in Britain left Paroissien ruined and he died after ill health prevented his return to Britain to clear his name in September 1827.

His diary will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout August 2016.