Baron of Mauá, whose real name was Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, was a prominent figure in 19th-century Brazilian history. He played a significant role in the economic and industrial development of the country. The childhood of Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, better known as Baron of Mauá, is a fascinating and often overlooked chapter in the history of one of Brazil’s most prominent entrepreneurs and visionaries.

Mauá's Childhood: The Shopboy Who Became a Wealthy Entrepreneur

On December 28, 1813, in the small house of the Arroio Grande ranch, the second child of Mariana and João Evangelista de Sousa was born. He was baptized in his grandfather’s chapel and given the name Irineu Evangelista de Sousa. The name, unusual for the region and without any family precedent, had a religious inspiration. It came from Saint Irineu, one of the Holy Innocents, whose feast day coincided with the boy’s birth.

Irineu spent his early childhood nearly confined to home. Isolated on a cattle ranch, he had very little access to the outside world’s novelties. Life there revolved around the cycles of cattle breeding, where the monotony of days was broken only once a year during the roundup.

Leaving the ranch was a dream for the children. Occasionally, on a Sunday or two, they would attend mass at their grandfather’s chapel, which meant riding for a good couple of hours. Every now and then, when the chapel visit coincided with “entrudo,” there was a significant moment of childhood freedom. The entrudo was an ancestor of Carnival. On those days, children were allowed to do everything they couldn’t on other occasions. Their parents provided them with a stock of wax balls filled with water and a bag of flour. Armed with these weapons, they roamed the streets of the small village, attacking any distracted adults they encountered along the way.

These moments were highly valued because they sharply contrasted with the routine of ordinary days. From the moment they could walk, boys began to work. They learned how to maintain tools, plant and harvest, take care of domestic animals, and have their first cautious rides guided by a lead rope.

To sustain the growth of his business, João Evangelista, the father of the future Baron of Mauá, always needed to acquire more cattle. In 1819, he decided to take a risk and venture into the occupied Uruguayan territory to purchase a herd. Despite all the conflict in that region, it remained a place where one could still find cattle at a good price. He took proper precautions for the journey, securing the company of some friends.

However, on the way back, while he was sleeping in a roadside ranch, he was shot and killed. The family heard two versions of the tragedy, both plausible in a place where such accidents were common.

Some said the ranch owner mistook him for a thief, while others claimed it was an accident, and the bullet was intended for someone else. As in many cases in the region, the killers were never found. The unclear accounts were all the family received as consolation and mattered little in the face of reality: at 24 years old, Mariana Batista de Carvalho, Irineu’s mother, was a widow. She had an eight-year-old daughter, a five-year-old son, and a developing ranch to take care of—in a place where the guns that silenced her husband spoke louder every day.

In a world of guns that he didn’t master, Mariana chose to guide young Irineu towards the path of education, which she understood. This choice wasn’t exactly valued in the region; knowing how to write there functioned more as a mark of aristocratic distinction than as a useful activity. Instead of sending Irineu to learn how to handle cattle at a relative’s house until he was ready to take over the ranch, Mariana decided to keep him by her side and teach him how to read and do arithmetic. With his father gone, Irineu’s destiny took a turn.

He stopped accompanying the laborers’ work and began to stay more indoors. He seemed to enjoy the change. He quickly learned to read and soon demonstrated great talent for handling the basics of mathematics. However, some relatives didn’t particularly like this path. For a family shaped by tradition, the idea of a household led by a woman was inconceivable.

Mauá's Childhood: The Shopboy Who Became a Wealthy Entrepreneur
Irineu Evangelista de Sousa.

Three years after the death of João Evangelista, just as Brazil was becoming an independent country, Mariana finally succumbed to family pressures. She accepted the suitor chosen by her relatives, a certain João Jesus e Silva, a man with no notable lineage hailing from the Paraná region but with the appearance of an honest worker. She had to pay a high price to have a new master in the ranch: her husband had no interest in having children from another father in the household. There was no turning back, and the solution came swiftly, in the old-fashioned way.

Even before turning twelve, Guilhermina, Irineu’s sister, was married to José Machado da Silva, an unknown farmer from Arroio Grande. As for the future Baron of Mauá, he could have gone to live with his grandfather if it weren’t for the arrival of a brother of Mariana who bore the same name as his father, José Batista de Carvalho. In that land of farmers, he had taken a peculiar path: he was the captain of a ship belonging to one of Rio de Janeiro’s prominent merchants who bought dried beef in the South.

He came with the idea of taking the boy to work in trade, to lead a life like his. Weighing the pros – a potential career opportunity in a more civilized city than Arroio Grande, where he could progress – and the cons – a definitive separation, leaving the child to his own fate – Mariana ultimately opted for her brother’s proposal. At least Irineu would make his life with what she had taught him, even if it was of little value in that wild land.

Young Irineu Evangelista de Sousa left his home by the creek before his mother’s marriage. He rode through a mountainous region, leaving behind his family and farm memories. Two hours later, he reached Jaguarão, where he left the horses to board a small boat that transported dried beef and wheat to the port of Rio Grande. The boat sailed through the Jaguarão River and into Lake Mirim, from where it continued to Lake dos Patos and the port. This journey marked the beginning of Irineu’s journey into the world of ships and navigation.

Young Irineu Evangelista de Sousa embarked on a brig loaded with dried beef, wheat flour, and hides when he was just nine years old. He witnessed the complexity of navigation around the Rio Grande bar, known for its treacherous waters. After overcoming the initial challenges, the brig set sail for Rio de Janeiro. The journey took about a month, during which Irineu had to grow up quickly, preparing to survive in the unfamiliar city he was heading to. He was aware that his destiny was now in his own hands and that he would have to face the challenges of adulthood with determination and courage.

Irineu Evangelista de Sousa arrived in Rio de Janeiro and was mesmerized by the landscape unfolding before his eyes. As the ship approached the coast, he saw the majestic mountains dominating the entrance to Guanabara Bay. For a boy accustomed to endless pampas, this scenery was impressive. When crossing the channel between Sugarloaf Mountain and the fortresses of São João and Santa Cruz, he had his first view of the great city. As the ship advanced, he saw neighborhoods like Botafogo, Catete, and Glória, each with its own atmosphere and characteristics. Finally, he reached the city center, where houses clustered together, and the streets were bustling with people. Irineu noticed the bustling port, with hundreds of ships and vessels of all sizes.

He disembarked in a small boat that took him to the heart of the city, where urban life was thriving. The scene was full of activity and movement, an impressive introduction to his new life in Rio de Janeiro.

Irineu Evangelista de Sousa explored the streets of Rio de Janeiro after disembarking and experienced an entirely new scene. He turned right onto the street between the cathedral and the hotel building, entering Rua Direita. This street was narrow, just over five meters wide, and surrounded by large three-story wattle-and-daub houses. Rua Direita was so named because it was one of the city’s first straight streets, connecting the palace to the São Bento monastery atop the hill in front. It was an important street for merchants, running parallel to the beach where ships docked.

Mauá's Childhood The Shopboy Who Became a Wealthy Entrepreneur
Irineu Evangelista de Sousa.

On this street, commercial activity was intense, with large warehouses in almost every house, stocked with foreign goods and local products ready for shipment. The street space was also used for displaying merchandise, including recently arrived African slaves, who were chained to shop doors while awaiting buyers.

The street was a bustling place, with groups of slaves working under the supervision of overseers armed with whips, carrying sacks and barrels. Merchants, clerks, and customers circulated on the street in search of products and business opportunities. It was a lively and diverse view of Rio de Janeiro at that time.

Irineu Evangelista de Sousa was brought by his uncle to house number 155, where João Rodrigues Pereira de Almeida’s business was located. This warehouse would become his home for the next few years, and the merchant would be like a father and master to him. As he tried to adapt to the merchandise-filled environment, Irineu met his new coworkers, who welcomed him without surprise. At that time, the arrival of nine-year-old boys to work in the Rio de Janeiro trade was not uncommon. Irineu was fortunate to have a secured job, as his uncle brought him and ensured his place in the store.

During that time, it was common for children to start working at a young age and take on responsibilities similar to those of adults. Irineu was handed over to the merchant by his uncle and embarked on a journey of learning, following the instructions of the more experienced individuals. He began by performing simple tasks such as organizing merchandise and cleaning the floor. As he became familiar with the store and its staff, he began to encounter his initial challenges. His notable difference was not his age but his background, as few native Brazilians worked in commerce at the time.

Irineu advanced in his career at the company and specialized in accounting, becoming responsible for meticulously recording the company’s financial transactions. He detailed commercial transactions, loans, profits, and other operations, associating individuals with cash movements. Irineu didn’t limit himself to calculations; he realized that to fully understand the company’s workings, it was essential to know the people behind each transaction. This led him to understand that while mathematics was important, there were fundamental human and strategic aspects to maximize business profits.

With the books and his work, Irineu had managed to build, in four years of work, a static portrait of a large company. He could account for any transaction, knew its significance. By the time he turned fourteen, he was already an experienced employee in the office.

Irineu managed to negotiate his continued employment with Carruthers’ company when Pereira de Almeida’s business was liquidated. He became part of the assets handed over as payment for debts. In 1829, at the age of fifteen, Irineu moved to a new address on the same Rua Direita, number 84. Despite being an experienced clerk and knowledgeable about the secrets of trade in Brazil, he was about to embark on a new phase in his life because everything he had learned up to that point held no value for his new employer. This change would mark a significant new stage in his journey.

Irineu quickly stood out in Carruthers’ new company due to his resilience and ability to endure the tropical conditions better than many Englishmen. Most employees working for British merchants at the time came from England, but not all of them adapted well to the tropical climate. Clerks often lacked the resources required to participate in the European-style miniature version of large merchants.

Irineu took advantage of his work experience at Carruthers’ new company, where the pace was slower compared to his previous commercial houses, to dedicate himself to studies. He quickly learned the English language and mastered the calculation of compound interest in pounds sterling. His insatiable desire for reading led him to request more books from his employer, including works on business. Carruthers, recognizing Irineu’s interest, provided him with access to his personal library, which contained special books on business. This new perspective on how the British conducted business contrasted with the traditional teachings received by Brazilian clerks.

Irineu absorbed this new business philosophy and grew closer to Carruthers, turning him from an employer into a teacher and later into a debate partner as they explored these new principles together.

In his quest for knowledge, Irineu absorbed the business ideas from the books he read and demonstrated a deeper enthusiasm and understanding than many Englishmen in the colony. His radical interpretation of these business principles contrasted with the limited understanding of many of his fellow Brazilians on the subject. Irineu seemed to embrace and adopt English business ideas more convincingly than many colony natives.

During his study of Adam Smith’s works, Irineu made some unique adaptations and interpretations of the author’s ideas. While many Brazilians struggled to fully grasp the logic of Smith’s ideas, Irineu, by studying “The Wealth of Nations” in the original English and discussing the text with an Englishman who seemed to personify the book, had surprising revelations. Instead of the economist who extolled the pleasures of the masters, Irineu discovered a new worldview.

He came to believe in the free market as the epicenter of social life, adopting the ideas of Adam Smith and later those of David Ricardo as his favorites.

Mauá's Childhood The Shopboy Who Became a Wealthy Entrepreneur
Irineu Evangelista de Sousa.

Irineu, after extensive study and hard work, became an expert in his field, mastering all the secrets of trade. He had evolved from a lonely teenager into an expert in his field, surpassing even his old boss, Carruthers, who was struggling to teach him anything new. Irineu had quickly absorbed all the details of the company’s operation, but now, no longer a child, he was beginning to desire to explore opportunities on his own. As his academic journey came to an end, he graduated with honors.

When Irineu was accepted into the Masonic Lodge, he gained a new dimension in Carruthers’ eyes. His dedication and professional growth over the years had made him more than just an employee. Their relationship now involved affection and consideration, and it was time to blend English solutions with Brazilian adaptations for business.

Irineu’s employer, Carruthers, announced his retirement at the end of 1835 and chose Irineu as his successor to continue the company’s business. Carruthers praised Irineu’s preparation and capability, despite his lack of personal capital. Irineu received a stake in the company’s capital and a power of attorney to manage it from January 1st of the following year when he was 22 years old and had thirteen years of experience in trade, although he faced a new challenge ahead.

On October 25, 1837, Irineu Evangelista de Sousa purchased a country house with a home on the Santa Teresa hill, marking his first property. Owning a home allowed Irineu to expand his social circle and entertain people outside of the business environment. He quickly took advantage of this opportunity.

At the age of 26, Irineu Evangelista de Sousa embarked on a journey to Europe with a mix of disillusionment and anticipation. His quest for financial independence had cost him years of hard work, and now he was determined to confront the reality of his liberal ideas. He longed to see England, which he had only known in his imagination until then, and to test whether his ideas about the country as a paradise of prosperity were true or not. The trip would be an opportunity to experience firsthand everything he had previously discussed only in intellectual conversations.

After exploring London, visiting museums, and the city’s financial district, Irineu headed north towards Scotland, where he had a friend and business partner to visit. This wouldn’t be just an affectionate meeting, but an opportunity to share ideas and business plans. Irineu was brimming with new ideas and perspectives, and as soon as he met his friend at his unique riverside house by the River Eden, they began to debate and plan. Carruthers, with his patience and realism, helped separate reasonable ideas from uncertain ones, and there was no shortage of topics to discuss.

Carruthers, temporarily interrupting his peaceful retirement, accompanied Irineu to Manchester to make the necessary arrangements to adapt their Brazilian businesses to a potential change in the country. The new plan involved the inclusion of Reynell de Castro as a new partner.

After several discussions involving all three parties, everything was agreed upon. Carruthers & Co., based in Rio de Janeiro, would continue to exist, but a new company, Carruthers, De Castro & Co., would be established, primarily as a source of capital for new ventures in Brazil. In this new company, Irineu would also have a stake, and it would be responsible for raising funds in English markets and deploying them in Brazil under the management of the local partner.

The days of youth were slipping away, and a mature man needed to think about the future. At that moment, the future he imagined was tucked away in a small box, carefully placed in his luggage. Rocked by the waves of the Atlantic, Irineu pondered and reconsidered how he would go about revealing its contents.

From there, young Irineu would become a Baron and Viscount, bringing development to Brazil through his companies such as the Amazon Steam Navigation Company, Dom Pedro II Railway Company, Rio de Janeiro Gas Lighting Company, presiding over and reforming the Bank of Brazil. In addition to creating other businesses, Irineu lent money to Uruguay and opened a branch of Banco Mauá in the country. Unfortunately, his end was not as grand as his empire.

Reference: CALDEIRA, Jorge. Mauá: Empresário do Império. Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 1995.

Matheus Araújo - Brazilian History
Matheus Araújo
Founder and Editor at Brazilian History | Website

Matheus is an entrepreneur at Araujo Media, where he serves as CEO and Creative Director. He shares analyses on his personal blog "" and is currently pursuing a degree in Advertising and Propaganda. Moreover, he has a passion for history, particularly that of Brazil, which led him to become the founder and editor of the Brazilian History portal.