The “Passinhas do Algarve” in the drought of 1875, or the social and economic portrait of the region – Castro Marim and what lessons were drawn?

Castro Marim was the last council visited by the civil governor José de Beires, returning to Faro on June 10th. […]

Castro Marim was the last council visited by the civil governor José de Beires, returning to Faro on June 10th. As we have been recalling, that magistrate traveled throughout the Algarve, in compliance with a government order, which aimed to observe and evaluate on-site visit the consequences arising from a long drought in the region, which began in 1874 and lasted through 1875.

Located between Vila Real and Alcoutim, Castro Marim, despite some losses, was not one of the municipalities most affected by the drought. Guided by José de Beires' pen, let's observe the main damages in each parish.

About Odeleite wrote:
“Its main crop is cereals. Mostly the production will be one seed, the rest of 7 or 8. The average for the entire parish will be 3 seeds. It does not exceed 5 y of a regular year. The little olive oil it has is suffering. Outside the village there is a shortage of drinking water.”

As to holm oak:
“It has little trees, in addition to an important orchard of orange trees, which has not suffered from the drought. It also has few vines, and these are spoiled. Its main crop is corn, and these will give an average production of 2 seeds, which in a regular year is 5 or 6. This result is mainly due to the fact that the main lands that are the lowlands of the bush have been invaded by salt water. They could only produce, if copious rains had fallen, to sweeten them.”
The unique existence of an orange orchard in this parish.

Finally, the parish of the village, Castro Marim:
“It is this parish that is in the best conditions, in terms of crops and vines, its main crop. Crops in a regular year produce an average of 8 seeds; n'este anno 4 to 5. The carob trees also promise good news. It is the olive, fig and late seeding trees that are in bad condition.”


In general terms, the civil governor classified the state of the district as "bad". After all, on his trip he had seen “many fig trees completely dried out, and almond trees with lost fruit; and the carob trees themselves, of wild and wild nature, with their leaves withered and falling, and with their fruit stunted and with little growth due to lack of humidity”.

The municipalities of Portimão, Albufeira, Lagoa and Faro they were the most affected, although in most of the parishes of the coast and barrocal there were great damages and water shortages.

Even so, in all municipalities, production was falling, although in some parishes, such as São Marcos da Serra, Ameixial, Cachopo or Giões, harvests were normal or even higher.

José de Beires recalled that if the rain fell, the damage would be minimized, but this was impossible to predict, and if the drought persisted, the loss of a large part of the fig trees would be inevitable and then the crisis would be “extensive and terrifying”.

Note that the fig was then the basis of the regional economy, or was it not the main exported product. Also of prime importance were the almond tree, olive tree, cereals (mainly wheat) and vines.


As for the population, the governor subdivided the Algarve into seafarers, landowners and proletarians or newsboys.

The former, who considered the most miserable, suffered nothing, given that "the fishery product has been very abundant", while the latter were little affected by the diversity of public and private works that were taking place, as well as by the low prices of foodstuffs. .

The same fate, however, did not have the small owners, because, in addition to not having seeds to cast on the land, they were selling their cattle at a loss, for lack of fodder to feed them. Some had even migrated to Lisbon in search of work.

Accompanying the extensive report, completed on June 17, was a vast array of suggestions that he had collected throughout the region, accompanied by his opinion. These included the opening of the railway works, the construction of the road from Lagos to Cabo de São Vicente, or the route from Alcoutim to Martim Longo and from there to Tavira, as well as the loan of cereals to farmers.


José de Beires thus concluded his difficult and painful mission. The long exposure, detailed and rich in details, not only about the drought, but about the entire regional economy and even society, also has the particularity of being limited to 18 days, constituting a remarkable radiograph of the Algarve and its municipalities in that region. era.

Government measures did not wait. On July 1st, a decree determined the opening of the railway works between Faro and São Bartolomeu de Messines, providing for this purpose a budget of 200 contos de reis, starting work 19 days later.

With regard to the highway, among others, maximum development was given to the works on the road from Faro to Boliqueime and São Bartolomeu de Messines, from Torrinha to Monchique and from São Bartolomeu de Messines to Santo Estêvão, with a subsidy being granted for the route from Lagos to Bensafrim.

Municipalities also received a subsidy for the construction of several municipal roads.

Four pumps were also handed over to the governor for researching water, in places where water was scarce.


The drought worsened in the following months, although in June it rained in some parts of the district.

In the issue of 14/07/1875, the newspaper “Gazeta do Algarve” mentioned “there is no memory of such a disaster”, reporting the almost total loss of the fig, as well as the withering to exhaustion of wells and fountains, such as the one in Paderne , causing changes in public order. In September, the same weekly classified 1875 as a “year of hunger”.

In the following month and until January 1876, the region received several boats from other ports in the country with cereals, mainly wheat, barley and broad beans and more modest amounts of chickpeas, upland corn, rye, oats and beans, which were given to farmers for sowing. Cereals that were computed in cash (including acquisition, transport, storage and delivery costs) in the next six years.

On 22/10/1875, the Chamber of Silves decided to consign in the minutes a vote of praise to the government, for the “very useful improvements and development of works in this province, which, due to the unfortunate food crisis that this District is going through, are the only ones resources for the means of subsistence of less wealthy workers and farmers”.

Towards the end of autumn, the rain arrived, so in December it rained profusely. The Algarvians had overcome the drought with the help of the government, it is true, but the hard battle had been won.


For “Gazeta do Algarve”, the crisis had been a great lesson for the region: “I hope we learn from it the proper teaching”.

It recalled that the majority of the population was engaged in agriculture, simultaneously with other professions, which, according to that periodical, prevented concentration, due to lack of time, and the consequent modernization of these activities.

He considered that "the coexistence in the same individual of the agricultural industry with any of the other industries is a real enemy of our prosperity", so he defended the exclusivity in the profession, as well as the economic diversity of the Algarve, with a commitment to trade and industry and not only based on agriculture and mainly on the cultivation of fig trees, as was the case.

So in agriculture, today in tourism, monoculture has always prevailed in the region.

However, there was not much time for reflection. In October 1876, it began to rain, first normally and then copiously, so that, on December 7, a flood on the Guadiana River reached proportions beyond memory, submerging riverside towns and villages, destroying houses and claiming lives.

The following January, it was the Arade that invaded downtown Silves, causing the collapse of several buildings, which collapsed like “loaf bread”.

After the drought, the flood was inevitable and, with it, misery once again approached the Algarve.


But the dramatic 1870s held another surprise for the region: drought again. In January 1878, in Silves Chamber, the “extreme drought of the present time” was lamented and, in the following June, he appealed for government intervention to “open the railway works, as the only refuge where they will be able to shelter the unfortunate children of the Algarve, haunted by the greatest adversity of which there is no memory”.

But these were other events, other setbacks that are not part of the scope of this work.

Let us return, therefore, to the report by the civil governor José de Beires, which we have been publishing in recent weeks, whose content soon deserved the recognition of the Ministry of Public Works, stating that it demonstrated the “intelligence and praiseworthy zeal with which that magistrate performed the important commission he had been entrusted with”.

In fact, the report was a basic document to prepare the measures that allowed to mitigate the terrible effects of the drought (which would eventually have antagonistic consequences, due to the extraordinary increase that all public works experienced in those years, although they soon ceased when it started to rain) .

It is an essential document for today, we add, for the economic and social history of the Algarve in the second half of the XNUMXth century.


Part I - The “Passinhas do Algarve” in the drought of 1875 or the social and economic portrait of the region
Part II – The “Passinhas do Algarve” during the drought of 1875 or the social and economic portrait of the region – Lagos, Monchique and Portimão
Part III -The “Passinhas do Algarve” in the drought of 1875, or the social and economic portrait of the region – Lagoa, Silves and Albufeira
Part IV - The “Passinhas do Algarve” in the drought of 1875, or the social and economic portrait of the region – Loulé and Tavira
Part V - The “Passinhas do Algarve” in the drought of 1875, or the social and economic portrait of the region – Olhão, Faro, Vila Real de Santo António and Alcoutim



Note 1: The images used are merely illustrative. They correspond to illustrated postcards from the first half of the XNUMXth century.
Note 2: In the quotes from the newspaper «Gazeta do Algarve», it was decided to keep the spelling and the period.


Author Aurélio Nuno Cabrita, environmental engineer and researcher of local and regional history, regular collaborator of the Sul Informação