Madeira-Mamoré Expeditions Collection
Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Rio Madeira is a major tributary of the Amazon. It is formed by the junction of the Mamoré and Beni rivers at Villa Bella, Bolivia, and flows northward forming the border between Bolivia and Brazil for approximately 60 miles. The Madeira-Mamoré Railway (or the Estrada de Ferro Madeira-Mamoré) has its main railway station on the banks of the Rio Madeira at Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil. The line was built between 1872 and 1912 by U.S. and British engineers under license from the Brazilian government to aid the extraction of Bolivian rubber. At that time Bolivia was land-locked with no access to the Pacific Ocean and two hundred miles of waterfalls on the Mamoré and Madeira rivers. The solution was to build a railway alongside the two rivers which would connect Bolivia to the quieter reaches of the Madeira and beyond to the Amazon and the Atlantic. Workers came from many countries, including the U.S.A., England, Scotland, Denmark, Germany, and China. The first and second expeditions in the 1870s, undertaken by the American George E. Church, were defeated by the heat, the difficulty of the terrain, and the loss of life from fever. The third contract was won by another American, Percival Farquhar. Construction began in August 1907 and was completed on July 15, 1912. The project cost $33,000,000 and at least 3,600 men died building the 367-kilometer track. The Madeira-Mamoré Railway had about a year of full operation before the combination of the collapse of rubber prices, the opening of a railway from Bolivia to the Pacific via Chile, and the creation of the Panama Canal rendered it uneconomical.
Robert Hopewell Hepburn, engineer, graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1871. He was one of the American engineers who went on the 1878 Madeira-Mamoré Railway expedition, and wrote an unpublished account of it, "The Disastrous American Expedition of 1878," dated 1927-1937. His son, George, went on the second expedition (1907-1912), together with Edgar A. Smith, the American who ran the Madeira-Mamoré Survivors Association in the U.S.
Dana B. Merrill was the official photographer employed by the railway to document the construction. He put together a bound volume, Views of the Estrada de Ferro Madeira e Mamoré́, Amazonas & Matto Grosso, Brazil. S.A. (created 1909-1912), containing sixteen poems written by workers and photographs taken by him on the expedition.
In June 1867, Franz Keller, an engineer, and his father were commissioned by the Minister of Public Works at Rio de Janeiro to explore the Madeira River and project a railroad along its bank, where rapids made navigation impossible. Keller wrote the book The Amazon and Madeira Rivers, Sketches and Descriptions from the Note-book of an Explorer, in which he summarized the most important hydrographic results of the voyage and included his remarks and observations on the inhabitants, the vegetation, the products, and other topics of interest. The illustrations that were supplementary to the description of scenes are from sketches taken on the spot, drawn on the woodblocks by Keller himself; and engraved by Adolf Closs and Wilhelm Niedermann.
The collection consists of postcards, photographs, wood engravings, memorabilia, printed material, and newspaper and magazine clippings collected by Hepburn regarding the expeditions commissioned by the Brazilian government to build a railroad along the banks of the Madeira River. The postcards consist chiefly of cards sent to Robert or Mrs. Hepburn from their son, George, while he was on expedition to build the Madeira-Mamoré Railway. They were sent from Amazonas State in Brazil, from Bolivia, or from La Paz in Peru. One photo-postcard was sent to Edgar A. Smith in Bristol, P.A., from Porto Velho, Rio Madeira, Brazil, and dated Nov. 30, 1910, with the inscription "A Merry X-mas from dad." There are twenty-eight photographs, which include three albumen prints of the Madeira river, a tree, and the expedition headquarters at Porto Velho, all inscribed and dated Jan. 4, 1908, and nineteen gelatin silver prints of the landscape, the engineers, and their quarters, various phases of construction of the railroad, native Indians, exotic animals, and the rivers and rapids, most of which were taken by Dana B. Merrill, and most are numbered on the negative. A photograph of a monkey (Merrill no. 527) bears the inscription "To Robert H. Hepburn from E. A. Smith, with your son on the expedition of 1908," and there is one posed formal portrait by F. A. Fidanza of Pará, Brazil, inscribed in Hepburn's hand "Frederick-Lawford-Hunt." In addition, there are three photographs of the ships that were used to carry equipment in Pará, Brazil, two of which, the JUNO and the BRAZIL, are hand-painted in sepia colors, one tintype inscribed in Robert H. Hepburn's hand "1879, self / Geo. M. Kearberg (?), right hand man on Madeira exp.,"and one photo-lithograph of one of Merrill's photographs, which he originally numbered 795 and labeled "Caripuna Indians on the Rio Murum Parana."
Most of the wood engravings are taken from Franz Keller's book. They include illustrations of scenery, of native Indians, rubber collectors, and wild life in the Madeira region. Also included is a lithograph map of the Madeira-Mamoré Railway and its connections. The memorabilia includes a list of the members of the Madeira and Mamoré Association, dated January 1908, menus for different annual dinners of the Association, a note in the hand of R. H. Hepburn, and a small souvenir label with the logo and dates of the expedition, "1878-1907-1912," bearing on the verso the inscription "To Robert H. Hepburn of 1878 Expedition, from Edgar A. Smith of 1907-1912 Expedition." The clippings include pictures of native Indians, exotic animals, such as anteaters, tapirs, and piranhas, and streets and buildings in Brazil and Bolivia.
Arranged by accession number
The collection was formed as a result of a Departmental practice of combining into one collection material of various accessions relating to a particular person, family, or subject.
Items were a gift of Robert Hopewell Hepburn.
This collection was processed by Dina Britain on June 23, 2006. Finding aid written by Tenley Eakin on July 5, 2006. Folder inventory added by James Clark '14 in 2012.
No appraisal information is available.
- Engineers--Brazil--20th century--Correspondence
- Indians of South America--Amazon River Valley--Pictorial works
- Railroads--Bolivia--Design and construction--Photographs
- Railroads--Brazil--Design and construction--Photographs
- Rubber--Amazon River Valley--History--Sources
- Manuscripts Division
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.