Family Networks in Hong Kong

February 22nd, 2014 1 Comment

Author’s Note: This is the third and final installment of the article on Macanese family networks. All roman numerals indicate notes and citations to be used in the published version. —    

As the next destination of Macanese immigration, Hong Kong presented a different set of challenges. Early residency and work restrictions imposed by the colonial government confined the Macanese and other non-British citizens to outlying areas and into lower positions in government agencies and trading houses. Soon divisions within civil society, which mirrored Hong Kong’s developing economy, placed most Macanese immigrants squarely between the British elite and a vast pool of Chinese workers.[i]

The social ordering of Hong Kong was both hierarchical and transparent. All English language newspapers in the 1860’s were staffed by Macanese compositors, but edited by British expatriates. The banks and trading houses were headed by English department heads and staffed by linguists, bookkeepers, and clerks trained in Macau.[ii] Shipping lines, telegraph companies, and the military were similarly stratified. In government offices, “Portuguese” clerks reported to a Head Clerk or a Chief Accountant, often a long time Macanese employee, the highest position to which a worker of his race could aspire. Above the Head Clerk, positions for department heads were reserved for British citizens, many of whom stayed in Hong Kong only a few years. Below Macanese workers were poorly paid Chinese tellers and laborers. Custom, family pressures, and tradition, often based on ethnic stereotypes, prevented Portuguese workers from descending lower in the organization. Colonial policies passed down through London restricted them from moving higher.[iii]

These institutional barriers, however, did not prevent some Macanese from succeeding. In fact, the formation of the community in Hong Kong under the leadership of early families may well have reinvigorated Macanese culture in the 19th century. An example was provided by Leonardo d’Almada y Castro, who had immigrated with the Superintendent of Trade in 1842. During the course of his career in Hong Kong, d’Almada rose quickly from second clerk in Macau, to “Keeper of the Records” (Head Archivist in the Hong Kong Trade office) in 1844, to Chief Clerk for the Colonial Secretary in 1846.[iv]

‘D Almada’s position in the Colonial Secretary’s office technically placed him over all Portuguese workers, and permitted him to purchase land near Hong Kong’s deep water harbour. These lots were highly prized by traders wishing to relocate from Macau and other treaty ports. D’Almada was particularly active in 1860, during which he sold fifteen (15) lots in Showkewan and seven (7) more in Aberdeen in 1861, some with “a detached two story granite godwon” to facilitate access to the docks and shipping.[v]

He later acquired several private residences to accommodate the growing number of Macanese families. Between 1864 through 1866 d’Almada placed advertisements for at least eight different houses he owned. Reflecting the times, ‘d Almada also attempted to rent houses he owned in Macau, but was forced to reduce the rents, suggesting that there was lower demand.[vi]

D’Almada’s personal success allowed his philanthropy to flourish as well. In the 1870s he deeded land and a building on Caine Road to the Italian Canossian sisters for an orphanage and a school. Other members of the family also contributed. His brother, Jose d’Almada y Castro, private secretary to Governor Sir John Pope Hennessey, added to the Canossian’s land in the 1880s, allowing the sisters to maintain a presence in Hong Kong throughout most of the 20th century. Leonardo’s oldest daughter, Ana, even took the veil of the Canossian order in 1878, remaining until her death at age 90 in 1938.[vii]

Delfino Noronha was another Macanese who seemed to defy conventions in Hong Kong. Rather than work as a clerk or bookkeeper, Noronha set up his own printing plant in 1844 at the age of nineteen. By 1849 his firm, Noronha & Co., was granted the contract to print the “Hongkong Government Gazette”, the colony’s official record and its principal means of communication. It was from this position that Noronha became an important leader of the Macanese community.[viii]

The first “Portuguese” to establish a commercial enterprise independent of the British (although they remained clients), Noronha was in a position to hire skilled compositors from his old school, St. Joseph’s in Macau. As the largest employer of Macanese workers in Hong Kong, Noronha and his staff produced finely detailed editions in multiple languages. These attracted the attention of an international audience, including Church leaders, ambassadors, governors, and wealthy merchants, as well as visits from world leaders, including Jose Rizal, a Filipino nationalist. Noronha was held in such high esteem that one Hong Kong governor envisioned Noronha & Co. would remain the colony’s printer “in perpetuum”.

Like ‘d Almada, Noronha also was an early landowner on Hong Kong island, and one of the first investors in Kowloon. In the 1870s he became a partner with another immigrant, Marcus Calisto do Rozário, on ten acres in Tsim Sha Tsui, the first of several attempts to create a Macanese enclave in the “New Territories”. In the process, Noronha built a farm and became a noted horticulturist, experimenting with tropical plants and fruits. During the same period, he operated a steam ship service between Hong Kong and Kowloon, the precursor of the “Star Ferry” that operates over the same route today.

Despite these successes, most Macanese could expect long years of work and social isolation in Hong Kong’s structured society. One of the few shelters from this imposed “order” were their large extended families. Macanese women, with few exceptions, left the monotony of the workplace to their fathers, uncles, brothers, and husbands.[ix] Many accepted roles as wives, mothers, and as managers of large households. The pattern was a carryover from traditions begun in Goa and Macau. Many early families, including the Noronhas, the Alvares, and the Xaviers, supported households of more than ten children, and others like the Gosanos had eighteen members, not including servants and their families.[x]

Most households also were part of a larger community that remained connected to the Church in Hong Kong, but was culturally separate from other groups. As a Chinese observer in the 1920s wrote:

“… , there was quite a large Portuguese Community living near the vicinity of the Cathedral, … spreading from 2-14 Caine Road … upwards, including the St. Joseph’s Terrace …, St Joseph’s Building, 4 – 10 Robinson Road, the Belilios Terrace (now 5-25 Robinson Road), the entire length of Mosque Street, and part of Mosque Junction. The Portuguese Community formed the bulk of the Catholic Community in the Cathedral Parish.” [xi]

A description of another Kowloon neighborhood suggests a similar pattern in the 1930s:

“We lived on Soares Avenue, Homantin, where there were quite a few Portuguese people who bought the houses around us. … The house … was two-storied. It was attached to number 9 Soares Avenue, which was occupied by … the Sequeiras. Next door to us, Number 13, was occupied by another Portuguese family called the Barros. In between this house and the next was one … occupied by a Portuguese family called Guterres. Next door to the Guterres’s was where the Yvanovichs lived …” [xii]

Much like their families and neighborhoods, Macanese social life in Hong Kong was also cloistered. Macanese children usually only attended Catholic schools in Kowloon or Hong Kong that were organized by the Jesuits, Christian Brothers, Franciscans or the Canossian Sisters. In some cases, children were sent back to Macau to learn the Portuguese language and customs, or to Shanghai where another Macanese community had grown to be tutored in French, Spanish, or other languages.[xiii] In other cases, Macanese families attached to merchant firms in Canton or Japan educated their children in religious schools there, but by the early 20th century many gravitated back to Hong Kong.[xiv] As more families returned, education in the British colony became the accepted practice.

The isolation of the Macanese community also was evident from its organizations, an extension of family relations. While institutions in Macau, such as the Santa Casa da Misericórdia (Holy House of Mercy) and schools attached to the Church were centers of the community, the most popular organizations in Hong Kong were social clubs independent of the Church. Each was established to serve a growing Macanese middle class.

The most important was the Club Lusitano, founded in 1865 by a group of Macanese businessmen, which included J.A. Barretto, whose family was mentioned earlier, and Delfino Nornoha,.[xv] After inaugurating its first building in 1886, the club offered “rooms” for bachelors and widowers, provided venues to entertain friends and family, and sponsored community events. Membership in 1904 expanded to include over 200 members. By 1922 Lusitano acquired a new building on Ice House Street near the stock exchange with a bar and larger reception area. Three generations had already joined, following their fathers, uncles, brothers and cousins through positions in banks, merchant houses, and government.[xvi]

Club Lusitano members were also involved in other organizations. The owner of the Hong Kong Printing Press, Lisbello de Jesus Xavier, a Lusitano member since 1888, provided funds for the Clube de Recreio in 1903 to build recreational facilities and organize sports leagues. Other members started the Socorros Mútuos Association, which aided indigent Macanese with health care and even helped pay for Catholic burials. The wives and mothers of Lusitano members were also active. One group founded the “Little Flower Club” in 1906 to welcome new families and to raise funds for local charities.

By the turn of the 20th century, Hong Kong had entered its own “Golden Age” of commercial prosperity. The next generation of Macanese shared in that success, some becoming British citizens, and most families enjoyed a relatively comfortably life style attached to men in the middle ranks of government, finance, and trade. Several Macanese owned businesses of their own, many employing relatives and others in the community. They included A.Botelho and F.D. Barretto, a relative of the same Goan family, who in 1895 were flour merchants and shipping agents; Luis M. Alvares, the youngest son of the Macau family, who in 1896 was an exporter of ginger, ginseng, and ornamental feathers; A.M. da Cruz and J.M. F. Basto, importers of Australian flour, butter, and dairy products in 1897; and F.J.V Jorge, a produce and ginseng merchant in 1901.[xvii]

Jose Pedro Braga, the grandson of Delfino Noronha, eventually succeeded him as the most prominent Macanese of his time. In 1895 Braga published his first book criticizing attitudes toward non-British workers, then managed an English language newspaper, the Hong Kong Daily Telegraph, from 1902 to 1909. He was later a correspondent for the Reuters News Service and the Associated Press, and elected the first Macanese member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in 1929.[xviii]

But Hong Kong soon began a slow decline, marked by the fall of the Chinese empire in 1911, the decline of British trade after the end of World War I, the rise of Japanese militarism, and the invasion of Manchuria in 1931.  A period of malaise was followed by the invasion of Hong Kong in December 1941, and for the Macanese, evacuation as neutral “Third Nationals” back to Macau during the war years.[xix]

The temporary settlement reunited many Macanese from former Portuguese trading ports.[i] While suffering the loss of property and separation from loved ones, most families remained intact in war-time Macau due to the kindness of relatives and the organization of refugee centers, schools, and social activities by the neutral government and the Church. After the hostilities ended, most Macanese returned to Hong Kong to rebuild, but many began to consider resettlement in other countries.

Beginning in 1984 several hundred Macanese immigrants began returning to Macau every three years during “Encontros” (meetings) organized by Macau’s government.[xx) Some younger members now use the meetings to establish social, commercial, and political contacts that can be sustained through new technology and international travel. Despite inter-marriage outside the community, many Macanese descendants now seem to recognize the value of their origins to gain insights into 21st century China.[xx1]


The published version of the entire article: Family Networks, Diasporas, and the Origins of the Macanese in Asia, will be available shortly.

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