In a previous blog posting I explored the history of Hong Kong’s Indian communities. This week I turn my attention to the Portuguese, a community whose presence in Asia since the 16th century helped shape both Macau and Hong Kong as we know them today.
For a comprehensive reading list on Macau’s history, check out this bibliography.
In 1557 the Ming government allowed the Portuguese to establish a settlement and trading post in Macau. Although overseas trade was banned, Macau soon became the centre of a ‘hemispheric exchange of commodities’ and a base for the introduction of Christianity and Western learning to China due to the efforts of European missionaries. The Portuguese began to arrive in Hong Kong following its cession to the British and an economic downturn in Macau. More would follow in light of the murder of the Governor of Macau, Joao Maria Ferreira do Amaral in 1849 and the destruction wrought by the devastating typhoon of 1874. Portuguese migration was such that eventually they numbered second only to the British among Westerners in the territory.
With education in the English language provided mainly by Catholic mission schools, many Portuguese in Hong Kong worked as clerks, accountants and interpreters for large trading firms such as Jardine, Matheson & Co. or merchant banks such as the The Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation. Others set up on their own account, starting businesses in printing, the mercantile goods trade or as stock brokers. Catholicism played a major role in the everyday lives of many Portuguese families and for a time the Catholic population of Hong Kong exceeded the number of Protestants. Macanese children almost always went to Portuguese schools in Kowloon or Hong Kong, mainly organised by Catholic missionary orders such as the French Lasallian Brothers and the Italian Canossian Sisters. Later, the Jesuits were to make their mark. By the 1860s, the Portuguese were numerous and wealthy enough to open the Club Lusitano (December 1866) with a grand ball. The club boasted the best theatre in the territory and was used by drama groups and touring opera companies for many years to come. Other Portuguese clubs were to follow including the Club de Recreio, established as a recreation and sports centre, and the Little Flower Club which focused on charitable initiatives. The Kowloon location of many of these early clubs reflects the early Portuguese settlement of Kowloon following the launch of the Star Ferry service, with many living in the peninsula’s picturesque villas and garden cities developed in the 1920s and 1930s. Especially popular was Soares Avenue in Ho Man Tin, developed by a Portuguese businessman named Francisco Paulo Vasconcelos Soares.
The Braga Family were amongst the earliest and most prominent of the old Portuguese families to settle in Hong Kong. Perhaps most renowned amongst them was Jose Pedro Braga (J.P. Braga), born in Hong Kong in 1871. His forefathers included Manuel Vicente Rosa who came to Macau from Portugal as a judge in 1708, later establishing himself as a merchant known in local mythology as the richest and most hated man in Macau, and Delfino Noronha, the Government Printer for Hong Kong. Working within the context of a deeply stratified colonial society, J.P. Braga was an early advocate of Portuguese rights and championed the development of the Kowloon peninsula and New Territories via his business interests, notably CLP and the Hongkong Engineering and Construction Company (HKECC), on which he worked closely with the Kadoorie family. Seen by his family as a promising young man, Braga was sent to Calcutta for his education. He then worked for some years in his grandfather’s printing firm and later as a teacher and manager of the Hongkong Telegraph, steadily gaining prominence in the Hong Kong Portuguese community. Arguably his greatest achievement for himself and the wider community came later, with his appointment as the first Portuguese member of the Legislative Council in 1929. He took an active interest in the problems of New Territories farmers and spoke out on behalf of junior civil servants and rickshaw drivers. During his time on the Legislative Council Braga also established the British Empire Trade Fair in a bid to boost local commerce following the Great Depression. These fairs were held in the early 1930s on Empire Day (24 May) and were hosted in the lobby of the newly opened Peninsula Hotel, the only venue large enough to house them. Although commerce in Hong Kong remained depressed in the years to come, the fairs were successful in boosting morale in Hong Kong during an economically bleak period.
As a close associate and friend of Robert Shewan, the Scottish founder of CLP, Braga was invited onto the Board of CLP in 1928 (the same year as Elly Kadoorie) and appointed Chairman in 1934 and again in 1938. It was Braga who helped persuade Kadoorie of the limitless possibilities of the New Territories. In the year following their appointment to the Board and despite fierce opposition, Kadoorie and Braga worked together to win the contract for the supply of electricity to the New Territories. They submitted CLP’s plan to Governor Sir Cecil Clementi and the historic agreement was signed on 30 November 1929 with the Director of Public Works. Braga was also a keen supporter of agriculture in the New Territories, an area of land that had been newly leased to the British in 1898. Working alongside Sir Robert Ho Tung, the Eurasian businessman, Braga supported the establishment of a New Territories Agricultural Association. He opened the inaugural show in 1934 and remarked: ‘the day will come when the inhabitants of Hong Kong will look upon the farmers of the New Territories as a very important asset of the Colony’.
In the early 1930s Braga was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of HKECC, a once struggling construction company that went on to acquire one of the last remaining plots for development within Boundary Street (the dependency of old Kowloon as distinct from new Kowloon). Acting as the company’s new Chairman in 1930, Braga persuaded Elly Kadoorie to step in to provide financial backing for a proposed HKECC housing project in Kowloon Tsai. In due course the housing project was successfully completed and recognised as one of the largest property undertakings in the history of Hong Kong. The two principal movers behind the scheme were rewarded with the commemorative street names ‘Kadoorie Avenue’ and ‘Braga Circuit’ in the prestigious development today known as The Kadoorie Estate.