By Chris Hieatt, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL Gamboa, along with Santo Cristo and Saúde, is one of the oldest boroughs of Rio. It was originally settled by the aristocracy, due to the attractive position on the shores of Guanabara Bay, but lost its glamour when the docks were built. Along with this history, the area also hosts The English Cemetery at Gamboa, one of the oldest British institutions in Rio.

The English Cemetery at Gamboa is one of the oldest British institutions in Rio, Brazil News
The English Cemetery at Gamboa is one of the oldest British institutions in Rio, photo by Chris Hieatt.

In 1809 Dom João VI ceded to the British two and a half acres of farmland along the shore of the bay. Lord Strangford, British Ambassador to the Emperor’s court, founded the cemetery, and the first burial took place in 1811.

The cemetery administration (the British Burial Fund) makes a point of obeying the local law, which forbids the trading of graves. In 2011 a family took the BBF to court in an attempt to sell a grave, and lost.

This is a serious issue, as emphasized by an August 2011 article in O Globo with the headline “Six feet under costs more than a view of the sea”, followed by “Price per square meter of graves, the commerce of which is forbidden, can reach double that of deluxe real estate on the beach-front”.

It goes on to describe the buying and selling of graves that takes place in Rio’s public cemeteries, and quotes prices in Caju of from R$40,000 to R$150,000 for a grave.

Not so in the “Cemitério dos Inglezes” – as the sign says on the gate to this beautiful private cemetery in the borough of Gamboa. The buying of a plot and the building of a grave is not cheap, but nothing like the prices quoted above.

The Cemitério dos Inglezes, can be reached from the Avenida Rodrigues Alves, along the docks, or through the Gamboa tunnel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The Cemitério dos Inglezes, can be reached from the Avenida Rodrigues Alves, along the docks, or through the Gamboa tunnel, photo by Chris Hieatt.

Maria Graham, artist and writer, said of the Gamboa cemetery: “One of the most pleasant places I have ever seen, with wonderful views in every direction, and some magnificent trees…”

It is still a beautiful place, though the views are now a mixture of “Samba City” and “favela”. The cemetery is listed under the city’s Cultural Heritage as an historic site.

The cemetery nestles on the side of the hill known as the Morro da Providência, which is otherwise occupied by the Favela da Providência, the first favela in Rio. It was originally occupied by soldiers returning from the Canudos war (1893-1897), who were allowed to camp there as they had nowhere else to go.

The word ‘favela’ was also coined by these settlers, in memory of a hill they defended in Bahia, where a certain plant called ‘Favela’ (Cnidoscolus quercifolius) grew.

The cemetery is reached either from the Avenida Rodrigues Alves, along the docks, or through the Gamboa tunnel – the first urban tunnel in Rio – from the Avenida Presidente Vargas and the Central railway station. The district is about to take a leap into the future, with the city’s plans for revitalization of Rio’s docks and surrounding area.

Chris Hieatt has been in Brazil for 57 years, works as a translator/narrator (since retiring) and is a long-time member of The British & Commonwealth Society of Rio de Janeiro and Contributing Editor of The Umbrella Magazine.


  1. Can you help me? I am trying to locate the grave of an English Sea captain who was buried in this cemetry back in 1887. His name is Alfred Ormston, I was wondering if his grave is still there? I know his family at that time paid for a grave and headstone and now his Great, Great nephew is wanting any information on this.
    I am working in Brazil and might have a chance to visit Rio in a couple of weeks time. If I do I would like to find the cemetery and take a picture of the grave for his family back in my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne, in England. Any information or help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks and kind regards
    Paul Thomas.

  2. There is no Ormston buried in the English cemetery in Rio de Janeiro. The link above from Russell Bond is from the Santa Fé cemetery in Rosario, Argentina, and the name there is Fredrick Ornston.
    We have a Robert Ovenston, but he was buried in 1814. The family contacted us in 2011 and as the grave no longer exists we placed a plaque on the wall of the Garden of Remembrance.
    If you are still in Brazil Paul Thomas, you are welcome to visit the cemetery at Gamboa.
    Chris Hieatt
    Hon Treasurer, British Burial Fund

  3. My grandfather’s grandfather, sea captain Samuel Samuelsson Bergman from the south coast of Finland, died on April 9. 1851 from the yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro. He was buried in the English cemetery, the number of his grave was 816. His brother, who sailed as first mate on the same ship,died a few days earlier from the same disease, and is buried close to him in grave no. 660.
    I was happy to find this site, since my son-in-law is in Rio de Janeiro at the moment for the Finnish Olympic Committee, and will be back in Rio in August for the games. We would be interested in knowing if the graves still exist. If they do, he’ll visit the cemetery and the graves of his daughters’ ancestors. Is it possible to find this kind of information anywhere? I would be extremely grateful for any pieces of information!

  4. I understand my great grandfather, James Lloyd Phillips aged 37 and sea captain on the Laura, is buried in the cemetery. His death was registered on 28th September 1878. Is there anyway of finding the grave? My brother in law is coming to Rio de Janeiro later this year.

  5. Dear Chris,
    I have been working on my family tree for some time, and frequently come across notes that deceased members are buried in the ‘Gamboa cemetery’ in RJ. As my family has been in Brazil for generations, I would imagine there are many resting there. Do you know if there is any register that can be verified (maybe online)? The families are all long-time Rio and Niteroi British community members: Pullen, Harper, Freeland, Cordery and Chadwick. Thanks and cheers!

  6. I don’t know how old this is but I ask if anyone can assist. I am looking for a Seaman that died at Sea in 1960 apparently aboard the Ship Huntsmore or fell over the side,anyway it is believed that he was Buried at Rosario Rio in the same Year of 1960
    His name is William Joseph Gray
    I cannot find any record of that Burial,but the Ships Log has it as such
    Thank you for nay assistance


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