Th e memory does not make me fearful
Nor does crying make me feel sympathy:
I’ll send you to Fernando de Noronha
I’ll shove you into that depraved prison
If you grumble, you get clapped in fetters.
If you cry, you get fl ogged.
— severino perigo (“severino danger,” c.1870–1930),
a pop u lar black brazilian singer
Severino Perigo depicts the agricultural penal colony on the island
of Fernando de Noronha as a place of suff ering where prisoners were
shackled, whipped, and subject to debauchery. Th e colony held the
largest concentration of convicts from across the Brazilian Empire
(1822–1889), and Perigo’s imagery of it mirrors accounts of France’s
Dev il’s Island, Britain’s Tasmania, Argentina’s Ushaia, or Rus sia’s
Sakhalin. Other voices, however, countered this image of an Atlan-
tic hell some two hundred miles from Brazil’s northeastern shores.
In 1884, the American novelist and geographer Frank de Yeaux Car-
penter, a member of Brazil’s Geological Commission, described the
colony as an “ocean resort” for criminals who lived the Life of Riley
under rustling palms, ringed by golden beaches and azure waters.1
Carpenter echoed Brazilian mainlanders who felt that convicts there
enjoyed a leisurely life that was exasperating, especially in the case of
slave convicts. Similar idyllic portrayals of Tasmania, Dev il’s Island,
Ushaia, or Sakhalin are rare.2 What do these confl icting images tell
Fernando de Noronha Island: Foil, Paradox, Paradise, or Inferno?