Sunday, 3 March 2013

The strange death of Manuel de Silveria Leek 1836

Manuel Egido da Silveria of Rio da Janeiro disembarked from the Manchester coach a matter of minutes before his death. Mr Brunt the silk manufacturer was worried. The foreign looking gentleman who climbed out of the Manchester coach looked very agitated. It was midday on Tuesday the 7th October 1836 and the mail coach had arrived promptly outside the Red Lion in the Market Square. The arrival and the departure of the mail coach were always noted with interest. Mr Brunt and Mr Alcock, the ostler, returned to the Red Lion and climbed the stairs to an upper room. At the top of the stairs they met Miss James, the niece of Mr Barlow the landlord, and a serving girl Agnes Hambleton having heard what had sounded like a gunshot. The two men entered the room, which was full of smoke and smelt of gunpowder. In a corner of the room was a toilet, which had been locked from the inside. They tried to force the door. They eventually got it open and lying on the toilet floor was the foreign looking gentleman with a pistol in his right hand. Mr Robins a local doctor was called for but it was obvious that the man was beyond hope. He had shot himself in the right ear and blood and brain matter oozed out of large hole in the left side of his head. They laid him on the bed in the room but he died a few moments later without uttering a single  word.

Who was Manuel da Silveria the name of the man who lay dead on a bed in the Red Lion? He was Brazilian and a man of some importance. He was described in the coroner’s report published in the Macclesfield Courier on the 15th October 1836 as being a person who held a commission for the newly independent Brazilian Government for the West African country of Sierra Leone. In other words, Manuel Da Silveria was probably a person of some influence and connections; certainly the name had a long connection with Africa and Portuguese influence. A Silveria was canonised by the Catholic Church following his murder by Muslim Slave Traders in Africa in the 16th century. Several of that name crop up as colonialists running areas of Asia and Africa for the Portuguese Crown in times past. The Brazil that Da Silveria would have known would have been in a state of turmoil during the 1820s and 30s as it sort to free itself of Portuguese rule to eventually proclaim in 1822 the first Brazilian Emperor Pedro 1st to rule an extremely large empire. The Emperor proved autocratic and after an uprising fled to Britain.

One subject that would have linked Brazil and West Africa where Da Silveria worked would have been slavery. The Portuguese had began to take slaves from West Africa in the late 15th century and slaves were forcibly taken in their millions over the next 300 years to North and South America. By the early 19th century a country like Sierra Leone, by then a British possession, would have been in the front line in the attempt by the British to drive slave trading out of the continent. During the period that Da Silveria worked there the British launched military expeditions against slave owning chiefs. Perhaps he was ensuring Brazil’s interests, still slave based, were defended? It took Brazil several years to take the decision to abolish slavery and then only after considerable British pressure.

A clue about the wealth of Da Silveria emerged at the inquest when reference was made to him living at a London address and also a Liverpool one. The London address of Portland Place would have been very fashionable in 1836 as the Adam brothers designed the houses only a few decades before. In the case of the Liverpool address the area around Great Charlotte St was rapidly being developed in Liverpool, a city that had very strong slavery associations.

At the inquest a local doctor, Dr Robins, reported examination of the corpse revealed that the bullet had entered the head of Da Silveria through the right lobe of the ear and had travelled upward causing an inch long exit wound. Mention is also made of an old injury on the back of the head, which he had complained about to Henry Numes, a personal friend of Da Silveria and lived in Liverpool. The doctor also suggested that the dead man’s liver showed signs of damage.

Numes gave a vital clue at the inquest, which confirms Da Silveria involvement in West Africa. He said that Da Silveria had moved to Liverpool only 4 months before he shot himself in Leek. He was on long-term sick leave from the Brazilian Government after falling ill with a fever in West Africa. He told the coroner that his friend was of a depressed state of mind as a consequence of his work in Sierra Leone.

Another possible reason for the action taken by De Silveria was that he was under investigation by the authorities and the police accused of a massive fraud against the Brazilian Government. In fact the Consul General for the Brazilian Government and a man called Ruthven a detective hired by him attended the inquest. The matter led to a great deal of interest in the town with over 200 trying to attend the inquest in the Red Lion