IVS volunteer Josef Butler is from London and is a graduate of History and Politics from the University of Leicester. He is currently living in Funchal and volunteering with AAUMa as part of the History Tellers programme. So far, Josef has written two articles about his time in Madeira.

British Experiences of Iberia

Comparing my first experiences of Iberian life to the British soldiers who arrived in 1807

Upon arriving in Madeira, I read The British Soldier in the Peninsular War (G. Daly, Hobart, 2013) in order to learn more about the history of the island. I have compared my experiences to the soldiers who occupied Madeira from 1807.

The first thing that struck me upon arrival was the temperate weather and dramatic terrain. Lieutenant Sherer of the Cumberland Regiment was similarly taken, describing the wooded mountains of Portugal as ‘enchanting’. However, upon entering the cities, the initial optimism of the soldiers turned to revulsion; John Douglas wrote home complaining of poor hygiene and disease in Lisbon. While I have not been to Lisbon, this is untrue of Madeira in 2017. I have never been to a city with less litter.

British soldiers did not have a positive view of Portuguese cities and they were similarly disappointed by the food. They were frustrated by the absence of roast beef and complained that too much garlic, vinegar and sardines were served. While I am disappointed too by the absence of roast beef, I will not complain as I have discovered bolo do caco and pastel de nata, which are delicious.

Regarding the people, the most important aspect of any country, the British soldiers had a very positive view of the Portuguese. Lieutenant Sherer wrote warmly of the great hospitality of the Portuguese, a quality I recognise already having only been in Madeira for three weeks. The positivity shown towards the people of Portugal is in contrast to the Spanish, whom William Coles of the 40th Regiment referred to as ‘cold’ and ‘haughty’. Again I will have to strongly disagree with my predecessors, as my Spanish colleagues within AAUMa have been some of the most friendly and welcoming.

While much has changed since 1807, not least the reasons for the British coming to Madeira, the beauty of the island and the warmth of the locals seems to remain intact from the 19th century.