Macau History

Find below a selection of articles on the history of Macau

The following article was published in the ‘National Library of Australia News’, June 2004, Vol XIV, No. 9

Stuart Braga tells the fascinating story of the world’s most enduring European colony

George Smirnoff [Macau Cathedral], 1944 watercolour

On 20 December 1999 Macau, like Hong Kong, became a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples’ Republic of China. This brought to an end 442 years of unbroken Portuguese rule. No other colony, anywhere in the world, had lasted as long as this. For nearly three centuries, it was the only permanent European presence in what was regarded as the remotest part of the world.

Mr JM Braga and Mrs AI Braga cutting the cake at their Golden Wedding Anniversary, 30 December 1974, San Francisco

José Maria (Jack) Braga (1897–1988) lived in Macau and Hong Kong for most of his life. Aware that the long-established Portuguese colonial culture in which he had grown up was fast vanishing, he began to record it in a large collection that was acquired by the National Library of Australia in 1966.

Early in 2000, the National Library’s Visitors’ Centre hosted a display of some of the material from the J.M. Braga Collection. This display reflected the Library’s focus on documenting the history of European presence in the Far East from the late-fifteenth to the late-twentieth century.

For several years, as a consultant to the Library, Jack Braga gained much pleasure from assisting in the cataloguing and location of his treasures in the various collection areas of the new library building on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. In 1969, he drew upon his own collection and his detailed knowledge to produce a booklet about Vasco da Gama for the Embassy of Portugal. This booklet celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Portuguese navigator, whose epic voyage to India 28 years later led to the European penetration of much of the Far East in the next 20 years.

The 500th anniversary of da Gama’s voyage was commemorated in 1997 and when Macau was returned to China two years later, it marked the end of what has been described as the Vasco da Gama era of European involvement with Asia. In the Far East, it was the Portuguese who first demonstrated the vigorous mercantile entrepreneurship that has marked Western capitalism ever since.

Within 20 years of da Gama’s voyage, Portuguese sailors had reached South China. The first was Jorge Alvares, an adventurer who raised a stone column displaying the arms of the King of Portugal, on Chinese soil in 1515. Along the way the Portuguese had established settlements at Goa on the west coast of India, and in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Malacca and East Timor.

George Smirnoff, ‘Macau 1863’, 1945 watercolour

The natural place from which to open trade with China was the major port of Canton (Guangdong) on the Pearl River in the south. Close to the mouth of the river was a small peninsula which the Portuguese merchants named Macau. It was occupied by the Portuguese from 1557 until 1999. It is not hard to imagine the thrill of seventeenth-century European sailors, going ashore at a European settlement after a long voyage, there to hear familiar voices and to see buildings very similar to those they had left behind up to a year before.
Macau was the gateway through which Europe discovered tea and porcelain (soon to be known simply as ‘china’). Silk, which was far lighter, more costly, and more easily transported, had been exported for centuries along the ‘Silk Road’ through High Asia, but now reached Europe in larger quantities through Macau.

This lucrative trade was vigorously contested by the Dutch, who in June 1622 attacked Macau in strength. The Portuguese defenders of Macau were certain they faced utter destruction as a fleet of 15 Dutch ships bore down upon them.  Two English ships also waited in the background, hoping for some spoils. The little settlement’s defences were incomplete and the garrison was insufficient to withstand a seige or even a sustained attack. Sensing the unpreparedness of the Portuguese, the Dutch fleet sailed straight into what sailors used to term the Macau ‘roads’, the channel leading to Macau from the outer islands. It was a rash, over-confident move and one of their ships was immediately sunk by fire from a shore battery. The remainder withdrew to regroup and an invading force landed a little to the north,  on an undefended shoreline. Only a single gun could be brought to bear on the attacking Dutch; this was under the command of a Jesuit priest, Father Rho, a noted astronomer. With a shot that was either lucky or providential (depending on the point of view), he succeeded in blowing up the Dutch supply of gunpowder, which was being brought up in one cart. Lacking means to pursue attack, the Dutch retired in confusion. The date of the Dutch defeat, 24 June, became a day of celebration, and was ultimately proclaimed Macau Day. As a gesture of thanks for their loyal support, the Portuguese victors set free their Negro slaves, brought from the Portuguese colony of Mozambique on the east coast of Africa. The fortifications of Macau were then swiftly completed. Several forts were built facing the sea to repel the Dutch ad a major fort was located at Guia, on the highest point of Macau facing China, should there be a landing further up river. The little settlement was never attacked again.

Unknown artist, Macao 1830, watercolour

Macau’s golden age was in the late- seventeenth century, the settled early years of the Qing dynasty in China. Other European merchants also began to arrive and their trade flourished. It grew steadily from about 1750 with the arrival of British merchants belonging to the Honourable East India Company. Under Royal Charter, the Company had a monopoly of trade to China until 1813, after which there were scarcely any restrictions from the point of view of the foreigners.Tea was becoming the favoured drink of the growing middle class in Europe, while imports of opium into China were out of control. Macau became the base of operations for an increasingly diverse European community. In addition to the Portuguese, whose total population numbered about 5000, significant numbers of British, French, American and Danish merchants arrived.

For part of the year they were permitted to trade in Canton, retiring in the hotter summer months to the milder climate of Macau. The Portuguese were not party to the growing tensions between British merchants and Chinese officials which led to war in 1839. However, the British victory, in what has since been known as the First Opium War, had a major impact upon Macau.

In the two-and-a-half centuries since the Portuguese occupation, Macau’s harbour had gradually silted up and was no longer able to receive large ships. The British choice of Hong Kong as a port from which to conduct its China trade was based upon the knowledge that it was a capacious and sheltered deep-water port. A British garrison occupied Hong Kong Island in February 1841 and with it came a number of Portuguese settlers from Macau. This was one of several waves of emigration from what had by now become a sleepy backwater with quaint crumbling architecture surmounted, appropriately enough, by the impressive ruins of St Paul’s Church and the still older forts of a bygone age of peril. The coolie trade, an export of human toil not unlike ‘blackbirding’ in the Pacific islands, provided some wealth, but in 1873 this was brought to an end by the British, who viewed it as tantamount to slavery. In August 1874 a great typhoon flattened much of Hong Kong and Macau. Hong Kong recovered, but impoverished Macau did not, and more people left. Even the guns in the Monte Fort, built in the 1620s to repel any future Dutch attack, were sold for scrap by a penurious government desperate to raise some extra money.

Vicente Pacia (1880–1940) [Macau in 1640] 1940, pen and ink drawing

The little settlement remained fossilised well into the twentieth century. It achieved brief significance between 1942 and 1945 following the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941. For the second time, Macau became a place of refuge, and its population tripled to about 600 000. As the Portuguese flag had flown defiantly in the seventeenth century, the only one in the world, so now the Union Jack flew at the British Consulate, the only one north of the Equator between India and the United States. Portugal was neutral during World War II, and the Japanese government was prepared to leave Macau alone, although East Timor, the other Portuguese colony in the Far East, was occupied. The Government of Macau coped admirably with the emergency; all essential services were maintained, and despite the presence of many British civilian refugees, the Japanese were not provoked to action. Following the end of the Pacific War, the population surge moved on, and for another 20 years Macau returned to obscurity.
During the 1980s, after its long period of quiescence, Macau, like Hong Kong, experienced explosive growth. Casinos were developed, providing a sudden and unprecedented cash flow both for the government and for the private economy. Light industry grew where little more than joss sticks were manufactured 50 years before. Diplomatic relationships between Portugal and China had been severed at the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1949. They did not resume until 1979, following which negotiations began concerning the future status of Macau. These gained impetus following the 1984 Accord between China and Great Britain, under which Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty on 30 June 1997. In 1987, an agreement was reached between Portugal and the Peoples’ Republic of China, which recognised that Macau was a Chinese territory, but would be administered by Portugal for a further 12 years.

George Smirnoff [Macao Showing the Praia Grande Bay, looking Southwards] 1944, watercolour

During the 1990s, the Government of Macau worked hard to preserve the heritage of this long Portuguese occupation. Many Portuguese colonial buildings were restored and several museums were built to celebrate both Chinese and Macanese contributions to the culture of this unique place. The Museum of Macau, opened in 1998 inside the Monte Fort, set a new international standard for cultural museums.
What of the Macanese people? Like any isolated community, the Portuguese colonists of Macau developed their own distinct identity. They were there for far longer than European colonists in any other part of the world, and in the course of many generations, a multiracial community developed. It had its own distinct dialect—a patois (patua in Macanese) that was largely old Portuguese but also contained elements of Cantonese and other Chinese dialects.

It developed a superb and distinctive cuisine from much the same elements. It was firmly and conservatively Catholic. This community has now largely scattered worldwide.Many Macanese went to Portugal or to Brazil, the other large Portuguese-speaking country, but others migrated to the Pacific rim countries: the United States of America, Canada and Australia.

Australians, themselves the product of a colonial past, can benefit from an understanding of this rich Portuguese colonial heritage. It is quite different from ours, although it developed over the same period in which Europeans became aware of the existence of our continent.The Portuguese history is firstly one of exploration in the Far East, followed by settlement and eventually the development of a unique community that persisted for several centuries.

It is most fortunate that the National Library of Australia possesses Jack Braga’s major collection devoted to the subject. Braga saw his collection as more than his own life’s work. He intended it to be a tribute to his family, whose roots in the Far East went back to 1712, and to the Macanese people whose history had left such a vibrant cultural legacy. His library is rich not only in printed and manuscript materials covering the whole of the period of Portuguese influence, but also in pictorial material, maps and ephemera.

Braga was well aware that he was recording a unique facet of human civilisation, and he did it as comprehensively as he knew how. He was, moreover, a writer as well as a collector. For many years he was the official historian to the Government of Macau and wrote numerous articles based on his collections. He developed warm relationships with scholars in his field, notably the late Professor Charles Boxer, Austin Coates and Geoffrey Bonsall. Jack Braga’s father, José Pedro Braga, had built up a considerable library in the first 40 years of the twentieth century. This library was lost during World War II, like that of Sir Paul Chater (whose incomparably rich collection is known only by his catalogue and is thought to have disappeared on route from Hong Kong to Japan). Twenty years later, during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s, it appeared that another upheaval might again destroy the fruits of scholarship. Jack Braga determined that his own library would not suffer that fate. Believing that neither Macau nor Hong Kong was sufficiently secure, he decided that his collection should come to Australia where it would be strategically placed to contribute to the culture of another immigrant community.

STUART BRAGA, nephew of Jack Braga, is a retired teacher and writer of military history, notably Anzac Doctor: The Life of Sir Neville Howse, Australia’s First Victoria Cross Winner.

 

The following is a transcript of the paper given by Frederic A (Jim) Silva at the Macau Encontro, 3 December 2004.

We Macanese

Whoever said “East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet” had obviously never met a Macanese. In the Macanese there has been the perfect blending of East and West.

 

What then is a Macanese ?

A short answer is that a Macanese is someone from Macau or else a descendant of someone from Macau. Another accepted definition is that a Macanese is a Eurasian of Portuguese and Asian blood. Portuguese and, say Chinese, Goan, Malay or Japanese ancestry – perhaps more than one of these. 

What do we look like ?
My wife tells me that my particular brand of good looks can come from anywhere East of Suez.

On the way to the last Encontro I travelled with a group of delegates to Macau via Seoul, Korea. We met up with a group of Casa de Macau members from Vancouver to make our joint way flying across the Pacific. We had a great re-union on board. On this same flight were a group of American service wives returning to their husbands in Korea. They were intrigued with our chatter and looks and finally asked – “Excuse me – but who are you ? We replied “Guess”. They consulted and pondered and finally decided – “You are a group of Hawaiians.”

Truly, our Macanese looks defy description. Some of us look absolutely European and some look 100% oriental, with most of us somewhere in between. Because of our tangled roots we are a cocktail mix. Even within the same family there are darker skinned children amidst lighter skinned brothers and sisters. Our European, Goan and Chinese background adds to the mix.

Over time there has been more interesting intermarrying with other non Portuguese Europeans, especially in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong we had large Macanese clans bearing the names of Hyndman, Osmund, Brown, Gardner, Yvanovich, Demee and Danenberg.

In Shanghai there was a Macanese family with the name Lubeck. From Goa two family names came to Hong Kong and are the Alvarez and Figuereido clans. They are all said to be descendants of young Goan men who settled in Macau many years ago and intermarried with Macanese women.

We have Spanish blood too with Macanese families bearing names like Gutierrez, Alarcoun and Alonco. Then there is that large Castro clan. The story is that three Spanish brothers settled in Hong Kong and Shanghai and intermarried with Macanese women producing numerous offspring.

All this goes to show that the racial component for this mix was established earlier and this mixing of mixtures continued on and on.

There is a further complication which is peculiar to Macau only, and not seen in Hong Kong or Shanghai. This has to do with the racially pure Chinese adopting the Catholic faith and then taking a Christian first name on baptism – as in say – Carlos Chan. He can then even adopt a Portuguese last name as well – perhaps the last name of his godfather and become say, Carlos Pereira. This was a common practice in other Portuguese colonial territories of Goa, Africa and Ceylon.

By changing his birth name, of say, Chan Kwok Hung to Carlos Pereira on baptism would indicate that the person readily accepted the language, religion and culture of Portugal and may at the same time have some social and economic advantages on reaching adulthood – both by employment opportunities and quicker social integration. These converts would seamlessly intergrate and intermarry with others of similar background or within the larger Macanese Eurasian community. Thus the mix continues.

When one considers that this and other mixes have continued for over 400 years one can appreciate the diversity. 

 

Where did the Macanese live?

We lived in Macau, Hong Kong and Shanghai – but we always considered Macau as our roots. After 1841 when the British took over Hong Kong in the wake of the Opium war against China – the Macanese immediately followed. They sought jobs with the British Government, trading houses and Banks. Employment was never plentiful in Macau and Macanese youth only aspired to clerical white collar jobs. Educated Macanese youths speaking some English and Chinese were among the pioneers of Hong Kong and readily found employment in the newly established business houses and banks.

Later they moved further North to Shanghai as it opened up to trade and settlement. The flow from Macau never stopped. As recently as the 1960s there were vacancies for Portuguese bank clerks at the HSBC. These vacancies could then not be readily filled with Hong Kong Macanese youth. They were then leaving to migrate to the USA, Canada and Australia. Bank officials had then to recruit Portuguese youth directly from Macau. More and more Macau Macanese men and women continued the pattern of leaving home for working Hong Kong.

 

Where and how did we live?

In Macau life was lived around the various parishes. Macanese lived in the Christian city along the rim of the outer harbor, leaving the Chinese along the Porto Interior. The Macanese then were a somewhat insular and socially stratified group – depending on economic circumstances and family connections.

The genealogist Dr. Forjaz was commissioned by the Fundacao Oriente to draw up a genealogy of Macanese everywhere. He arrived in Macau and informed an establishment matron of what he was trying to do. He was told “Why bother – in Macau only six families are worth tracing – others do not matter”. 

In Macau some 80% of the Macanese worked for the Government – the police, fire brigade, treasury, public works, hospitals, post office etc. There were only a few family commercial firms such as Rodrigues and H. Nolasco & Co. There were the utilities – the electric company and waterworks. There was only one foreign bank – the BNU. Employment opportunities were thus very limited and migrating to Hong Kong was the only other option. Macanese never considereed working with their hands at trades such as cooks, bakers, carpenters and electricians and only white collar desk jobs were sought. 

The steady flow of Macanese from Macau to Hong Kong never stopped. Initially all lived in a self imposed ghetto know as “Mata Moro” in the mid levels of Hong Kong island. This was an area around a Moslem Mosque on Mosque Junction, Mosque St. Caine, Rd., Shelly St. It was a convenient area. Arrivals came from Macau by steamboat and moved right into this area.

Rents were reasonable. The working men could get to their central business offices easily. School children could get to St. Joseph’s College and the Canossian school for their education and families considered the nearby Roman Catholic Cathedral their parish. It was a comfortable cosy area. Everyone knew everyone else and also their business. My mother was born in this district. She tells of a lady with a large family being always hard up as her husband was a habitual drunk who could not hold on to a job. To augment family income she had a small business making and selling a delicious curry to other Macanese households in the area. Her husband considered this demeaning and a slur on himself. To ruin her business he would – when drunk – run around the streets of Mata Moro and shout – “Nunca Bom comprar Caril de Bina – usar tudo galinha morto suh”.

The Macanese of Mata Moro considered themselves a cut above another group of Macanese living along the city’s waterfront in the lower rent area of Wanchai. These were Macanese of more modest means and were referred to as “Wanchairada” or “Cachivachi de Wanchai”.

Macanese women in Wanchai often intermarried with Englishmen of a lower economic order – say low ranking soldiers or security guards. Mata Moro Macanese referred to these unions as “Casar con Ingles Sujo”.

Somewhat later – say the 1910s and 1920s there was a movement away from Mata Moro to cross the harbour to Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a quiet peaceful area and a homeowners purchase scheme there met with some success. Macanese now lived on the little avenues to the East of Nathan Road with two storied houses and little gardens. Granville Road, Austin Avenue, Humphrey’s Avenue, Cameron Road were all Macanese areas. Later Macanese moved further inland to form small communities in Ho Mun Tin and the Tung Cheong Bldgs. Again there was a tendency to live around Catholic Church parishes and schools – Rosary Church and St. Theresa’s Church.

 

Where did Macanese work?

Perhaps as many as 60% were bank clerks with the rest working for big British “Hongs” (Trading conglomerates) such as Jardines, Dodwells, Shewan Tomes, Gibb Livingstone, Gilmans etc. Employment opportunities were limited to the mid-level range as higher executive positions were reserved for the expatriate British. Some Macanese were a little better off working for American firms – Banks and the Oil companies. There were few Macanese businesses – some were Botelho Bros. (tung oil exporters,) Cruz, Basto & Co. (rice and general merchants) and Colonial Trading Co. Best off were the few Macanese who were doctors and lawyers – most of whom did quite well.

There existed at the time a somewhat secretive and small British organisation called the “Employer’s Federation”. This was a union of large employing firms that agreed among themselves on how to regulate and limit employment opportunities and salaries of local employees. Females were not much in the work force until the 1930s when young Macanese ladies entered the work force too with shorthand and typing.

In Shanghai life and working conditions were much like HongKong. If anything it was less restricted by British colonial stuffiness. Shanghai was more international in outlook as other national business – French, American, Japanese and Chinese were more prominent.

Shanghai Macanese lived I the International Settlement and the French Town. They had their own Lusitano Club and had a somewhat broader general outlook.

 

Much has been said about our Macanese Patua…

May I add my bit? If you were in downtown Lisbon today and said to a native “Azinha tomar Mezinha” – he would surely not understand you. Yet these two words “Azinha” and “Mezinha” are genuine Portuguese words. The only trouble is that they are three hundred years old and no longer used in modern Portugal – they can only be found in Macau’s patua now. Some words of this archaic Portuguese can still be found – much as if one were to speak Elizabethan English today.

Other linguistic streams also come into our patua. For instance there are words we use from the Malay of Malacca – Choler; Chipi; Chubi; Chuchu; Gungdoong; Booyao; Sayao; Balichao. English and Chinese words also have a tendency to creep in. It is a colourful language with no discernable grammar and no plurals. It is a great tongue for satire and slang-for making fun of others and ourselves.

If you spoke the patua and came to this Encontro and met an old friend – this is what you must not say:-
“Ay Jose – nunca olhar voce vente for a anos. Cusa ja sosede ? Ja fica assim velho. Onde ja vai tudo cabello? Onde ja vai tudo dente? Cara pindurado; Andar vagar vagar-cote-cote. Costa-bonco-bonco. Qui ramede”.

Another bit of patua. A lady wanted to learn some Portuguese. She said that in English one replies “Don’t mention it” or “you are welcome” when someone says “Thank You”. In America a reply to a “Thank You” can sometimes be “You Bet”. In Portuguese how does one reply to “Obrigado” ? The answer was that is someone said “Obrigado” the proper reply would be “Ay Numseeza meh”.

Fortunately there have been persons who have studied and passed on our patua. The late Dr. Graciete Batalha took a scholarly approach and methodically recorded pronunciation and etymology for so many words. The late Ade Fereira – a great humorist – took a lighter approach with verses and plays. He was a great asset to preserve some of the old speech. Today’s Miguel Senna Fernandes also makes a study of the patua as he fills the gaps of his predecessors. We own them our thanks.

 

Is there such a thing as a Macanese accent when speaking English?

Well, Yes and No. When Macau people speak English they have their own Portuguese accent. When Shanghai Macanese speak there is hardly any discernable accent. Bu when HongKong Macanese speak they can come up with a whining, sing song accent which is so typical. When I first heard a recording of my own voice I could not believe it was really me. That accent was there.

Try saying this with a HongKong Macanese accent:-
a) “Wear boyscout hat want to be Cowboy-say”
b) In one short sentence use 3 languages: – “Eat Ramata the Soong Yuh”.
c) “All the American in the Bank say I speak with Breeteesh accet-say”.

Even names said with the proper Macanese accent can immediately identify a person. Say “Julio Lima”, “Gussy Lus”, “Carlos Soares”, “Ange Vas”.

Where and how did this accent come about ?
I say St. Mary’s School of Kowloon. My theory is that the accent came to be when shiploads of Italian nuns fresh off the boat from Italy arrived in HongKong to teach English to Macanese girls. This could lead to weird results.

Let me now say something about our food. Food is an integral part of our Macanese culture. Fortunately we have inherited this Far Eastern concept of eating “Rice and Soong” like the Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Malays.

We eat our white rice and accompany it with a delicious array of dishes which have evolved from all over – Portugal, China, Goa, Malacca. We adapt, blend, and modify dishes from other parts and make it our own. For instance the Portuguese Cozido has been added to with some trotters, dried pork rind (pele), Chinese sausage and balichao to become our own tacho.

At the risk of making mouths water I list:-
Diabo, chourico vinho alho, chourico sutate, porco balicahao tarmarinho, Ade capidella, Capella, Chau chau chilli, Miso Cristao, Harmonica, and to quote the illustrious bard “Nobody don’t like Minchy”.

We have fabulous desserts. Many derived from Malacca Nhonya food. Glutinous rice, glutinous rice flour, eggs and coconut and brown palm sugar. Alua, bajee, moochy, ladoo, bebinca leite. All rich and hearty and guaranteed to cure any cholesterol deficiencies we may have had.

 

Now for some Macau history…

Having been established in 1557 there are nearly 450 years behind this settlement. Little has been written on early origins because there never was a treaty or anything in writing to record events. There are actually two versions on beginnings. The Portuguese version was that they were invited to settle and trade in Macau out of gratitude for the fact that they cleared the whole area of pirates. The Chinese version was that Chinese merchants and Portuguese traders bribed the Canton mandarins to allow for a settlement. No approval was ever given by the Emperor in Peking. A Chinese custom post was to be established on Praia Grande and an annual rental payment to the Chinese was required. This certainly did not indicate any change of sovereignty.

The truth probably lay somewhere between the two versions. In any case the loose arrangements appealed to both sides and there were enough subsequent profits arising which helped to seal things. A permanent city soon grew on this little peninsula.

Another historical incident in Macau’s past was the Dutch invasion of 1620. This was during a period when the Spanish crown rled over Portugal. The Dutch hated the Spaniards and coveted Macau as a trading post. They wanted a footholdin China to take over the lucrative China/Japan trade. A fleet of 17 warships appeared off Macau– two were from the non-combatant English. The 15 Dutch ships landed 800 men on Cacilhas beach near Porto Cerco and started to march to the city around Guia. The Portuguese were at a great disadvantage as a small Portuguese garrison was away on expedition in China. Only 300 defenders could be found. Women, slaves, Macanese and metropolitans all got together to put up a spirited defence. The defence plan was to retreat and ambush. A Jesuit priest manned a canon on Monte Fort and luckily made a direct hit on the Dutch gunpowder carriage – blowing it up. This demoralised the invaders who now lacked gunpowder and faced a fierce charge of Portuguese defenders. The disorganised invaders were thrown back on to the beach where many were drowned as they fled. It was a great Portuguese victory. Moreover the battle impressed the onlooking Chinese as an example of Portuguese valor.

Another great event in Macau history was the defence of the city in 1849 when Chinese soldiers threatened the city with a blockade. Just outside of Macau and beyond Porta Cerco was a Chinese fort with 500 men who manned the heights of a hill called Pak Shan Lan (Passaleao). The guns of the fort threatened the Portuguese garrison at Porta Cerco and prevented the movement of goods, people and food. Macau was under threat and siege and would soon be starved out. A young Macanese Lieutenant – Nicolau Vicente Mesquita volunteered to attack the fort and lift the siege.

Calling for 36 volunteers he fired his one canon into the heart of the fort and then mounted a charge against a confused and demoralised enemy. Fortunately the Chinese canons on the fort could not be made to fire down the hill at the attacking 36 soldiers. By evening the fort was captured. The threatening guns were spiked and a great victory was proclaimed.

In the 1930s the Portuguese communities of Macau, HongKong and Shanghai contributed to the erection of a great bronze statue of Mesquita in his full uniform. This was placed on the Leal Senado Square as a symbol of victory and patriotism.

A symbol of victory for one side can also be a symbol of defeat for the others…A follow up on this statue’s story was the 1966 destruction of this symbol by rampaging Red Guards who toppled it (a la Sadam Hussein) during a city rio. The city later replaced the statue with the present fountain.

In 1960 Macau entered into a period of long lasting depression. Three events occurred that caused this. Firstly – the Portuguese sister colony of Malacca fell to the Dutch. Malacca was then lost as a trading partner, and moreover, the seas around that area were henceforth threated by Dutch ships. Secondly, Portugal regained her independence from the Spanish crown. Spanish trading connections – Manila and Acapulco could no longer be used by the Portuguese. Thirdly and most importantly – Japan expelled all Portuguese traders and missionaries. The lucrative China (silk) to Japan (silver) trade ceased. Catholics were expelled to Macau and the profitable Japan connection was over.

Let us come back to the present. Where are the Macanese now ? There has been this diaspora to all over the world but there are still many Macanese in Macau and HongKong.

Portuguese speaking Macanese have settled back in Portugal and Brazil. English speaking Macanese have gone on to the USA, Canada and Australia. Nearly all over the world there are now are some Macanese.

 

Will these Macanese groups continue as a distinct community?

Well, Yes and No. For the short term they will surely survive. For the longer term it is questionable. Let us examine how some other small ethnic groups have done around the world. The Armenians of Singapore are no more. All the exists is an old Armenian church. The burgers of Ceylon – a mixture of Dutch and Ceylonese Eurasians have dissipated as they migrated to Australia. Only the old Portuguese settlement of Malacca still exists after 500 years as an identifiable group with customs, culture and religion much intact.

For most Macanese there has been this great dispersal and intermarrying outside the group. Leaders of these dispersed communities try to encourage a Macanese consciousness with Clubs and Casas.

We have a unique culture and an interesting heritage and we are now brought together by this Enonctro. We are not just here to see old friends and to overeat – but we are here to celebrate our historical background – thanks to the Macau Government and the people of APIM).

Casa de Macau Committee wish to acknowledge John (Bosco) Correa with gratitude for the provision of the following piece.

To break the Portuguese influence in their lucrative trade with China and Japan through Macau the Dutch decided to attack and occupy the Portuguese Colony in 1622. They sent a large invasion fleet of thirteen warships with 1,300 men under the command of Admiral Cornelius Reijersen. Facing this mighty assault force was some hundred Portuguese regular soldiers and a similar amount of Macaenses volunteers, in total no more than 300 men led by Captain-Major Lopo Sarmento de Carvalho.

The Dutch made their landing at dawn on June 24th the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist (São João) at Calcilhas beach. Opposing a landing force of 800 Dutch troops there was a group of Portuguese musketeers commanded by Antonio Rodriguez Cavalinho.

In the ensuing skirmish a Portuguese musket shot hit Admiral Reijersen in the stomach compelling him to retire to his flagship. His command was taken over by Captain Hans Ruffijn. Although taking casualties the Dutch pressed on with their attack forcing Cavalinho and his musketeers to fall back to a position within artillery range of the city.

The invaders then came under fire from a heavy cannon manned by the Jesuit soldier-priests on the half-finished fortress of Sao Paulo de Monte. A well placed shot by Jesuit Padre Giacomo Rho blew up a wagonload of gunpowder in the midst of the Dutch formation with devastating results. Other guns from Monte opened fire causing further casualties amongst the Dutch and demoralising the invaders.

Commander Sarmento de Carvalho seizing the opportunity gave the order for a counter attack and shouting the Portuguese battle-cry “Sao Tiago” (Saint James) led his eager men who hurled themselves at the Dutch.They were soon joined by Macaenses citizens, their African slaves and armed Jesuits and Friars.

The Dutch on seeing their commander Captain Ruffijn killed by a musket ball and terrified by the furious onslaught of the defenders turned and bolted. The Dutch sailors manning the longboats took fright and put to sea leaving the troops either to the cold steel of the Portuguese and their African slaves or to a watery grave.

It was a total victory for the Portuguese and this was attributed to the intervention of “São João” who’s Feast Day it was. “Dia de São João” the 24th of June has since been celebrated in Macau with a special Mass at Se Cathedral.

In the past we celebrated this feast day by partaking of our Macenese desserts and sweets and all varieties of tropical fruits. This was one night in the year according to folklore that we need not be concerned about getting a bad case of stomach upset – as the legend goes that St. João was looking after us, as he did on that fateful day back in 1622.

 

This article was prepared principally from transcripts made in 1952 by Jack Braga of the despatches of Richard, Marquess Wellesley, in the British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 13,710. The transcripts are now in the J.M.Braga collection, National Library of Australia, MS4480 and MS 4300, series 12.
It appeared in the March 2008 “Casa de Macau Australia Newsletter”.

‘Surrender or we’ll flatten Macau’
Stuart Braga

A little over two centuries ago, little Macau, remote and isolated from world affairs, narrowly escaped being caught up in the worldwide struggle between Britain and France under Napoleon. Fearing that the French might get there first, the British Governor-General of Bengal was on the point in 1802, of sending troops to Macau with instructions to force the Governor to surrender. Portugal might never have got it back.

It all started with a stalemate between France and Britain, who had been at war with each other several times during the 18th century, and went to war again in 1793. Neither side could land a knockout blow on the other, with the French victorious on land, and the British unchallengeable at sea. Britain’s prosperity depended on trade, which was protected by the watchful presence of the Royal Navy.

Picture reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Australia.

The situation became far more serious for the British when a successful general, Napoleon Bonaparte, seized control of the French government in 1799, eventually proclaiming himself Emperor of the French. Napoleon reasoned that to defeat the British, he would use his control over most of Europe to stifle British trade. That would lead to the collapse of the British economy. Even Portugal, on the southwest corner of Europe, had to dance to Napoleon’s tune, or risk invasion. That eventually did happen, and when it did, British forces, based at Lisbon, began the long fight back that ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

In response, the British took drastic steps to safeguard their important worldwide trade especially with India and China. Cape Colony (now South Africa), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Malacca were seized from the Dutch. Many years earlier, the Dutch had pushed the Portuguese out of Ceylon and Malacca. Now they were sent packing too. The Portuguese territories around the African coast – Guinea, São Tomé e Principe, Angola and Mozambique – were not considered strategically important and were left alone.
However, the British seized Mauritius, the French island in the Indian Ocean. In India, Goa, with its small outposts Damão and Diu were possible targets for a swift French strike.

In the Far East, Macau, already occupied by Portugal for nearly 250 years, was the gateway to trade with China. The China trade became enormously important to Britain during the 18th century, and it would hurt Britain severely if it were to be interdicted. If Macau was left in Portuguese hands, it might well be the weakest link in the British strategic chain. So Macau and the Portuguese Indian territories were next on the British list to be occupied and fortified.

British policy in India was administered, not from London, but by the Governor-General of Bengal. He was appointed, not by the British government, but by the Honourable East India Company, an immensely powerful trading company which since 1603 had held a monopoly over British trade in the East. Gradually, the company extended its influence throughout Bengal and southern India until by the 1790s it controlled an empire of tens of millions of people.

Two remarkable brothers played a significant part in the rapid expansion of British influence at the beginning of the 19th century. They were Richard and Arthur Wellesley. Richard, who became the Marquess of Wellesley, was a very able administrator, and was appointed Governor-General of Bengal in 1797. Arthur, his younger brother, was an up-and-coming army officer of exceptional capability. Within twenty years, he would defeat Napoleon and become Duke of Wellington. In India, the able governor and the brilliant soldier swept all before them.

The policy of British expansion in India was continued even more aggressively by the Wellesleys, partly because the French were giving military assistance to various princes who stood in the way of British ambitions. The French might well have seized Goa as part of this life-and-death struggle to obtain a useful port.

The Marquess of Wellesley moved first. Two forts at the entrance to Goa harbour, at Aguada and Cabo Raj Bhawan, had been occupied by a British force since 1797. Now, in a letter dated 20 November 1801, Wellesley courteously requested the Governor-General of Goa, Francisco Antonio da Veiga Cabral, to accept a strong force of British soldiers to reinforce his small garrison and make the port impregnable.
A similar dispatch was sent to José Manuel Pinto, the Governor of Macau, then under the jurisdiction of Goa. Cabral and Pinto were reminded that Britain and Portugal were old allies, and that their cooperation was expected. However, within a few weeks, the situation suddenly became much more precarious. Wellesley heard that Portugal had signed a treaty with France agreeing to close all her ports to trade with Britain. There was no time to lose; Goa and Macau must be occupied at once.

On 17 January 1802, Wellesley sent off a flurry of letters. Sir William Clarke, the commander of the British forces at the entrance to Goa harbour, was ordered to occupy Goa, to place the Governor under house arrest but to treat him with dignity, and to offer the Portuguese troops there service under the British flag. They would become prisoners of war if they refused. Clarke was instructed to prepare a detailed Intelligence report on the government, economy and social fabric of Goa. A second letter went to Governor Cabral. It demanded the immediate and unconditional surrender of Goa and its dependencies to Clarke’s forces. That of course included Macau. A third letter was sent to Richard Wall in Canton, the President and Commissioner of British Supercargoes (i.e. merchants). He was informed that troops on their way to Macau would be ordered to require its surrender. “In the event of opposition on the part of the Governor of Macao”, Wellesley ordered “the reduction of the settlement by force of arms.” Wellesley was shrewd as well as forceful. Wall was instructed to let the Chinese authorities know that a French takeover of Macau would be bad for business. A British takeover would be good for business. However, Wellesley realised that he had to tread warily in relation to the Chinese authorities. Wall’s instructions were soon watered down with what for Wellesley was a rare piece of diplomacy. “Your knowledge of the disposition of the Chinese government will enable you to determine upon the expediency of proceeding to the occupation of Macau without previously obtaining the acquiescence of the government.”

If that left Wall in an awkward position, not quite knowing what to do, Governor Pinto in Macau was in a most unenviable position. Wellesley’s fourth letter was a blunt demand for his abject surrender. “I have directed the Officer in Command of the British Armament … to propose to your Excellency terms for the peaceable surrender of the Settlement of Macao and its dependencies. Your Excellency’s wisdom and discernment will suggest to you the inutility [uselessness] of opposing any resistance to the accomplishment of this measure; your Excellency’s justice and humanity will not permit you to expose the lives and property of the inhabitants of Macao to the danger of an unavailing contest with the superior power of the British arms.” In simple language, Pinto was told, ‘surrender or we’ll flatten Macau’.

What happened? Cabral knew that he could do nothing to stand in the way of this Englishman who hated Napoleon, but like the French ruler was ruthless and tyrannical. For the next 12 years, British forces occupied Goa. The old Portuguese territory was virtually a British protectorate, but Portuguese civil authority was allowed to continue, despite Clarke’s concern about the way the Portuguese civil service operated there. ‘Conditions amount to extortion’, he reported. Arthur, the younger Wellesley brother, fresh from a stunning victory at Assaye over an Indian army with French advisers, was even more forceful than his brother. He told Clarke to lay it on the line with the Portuguese governor. Clarke was instructed to point out to Cabral, “it is positively determined that the French shall not have Goa; that by a good understanding with the British government he may certainly secure the Possession for the Crown of Portugal, otherwise it may be lost entirely.”

However, Goa did go back to Portugal in 1813 for another 150 years. Had the Wellesley brothers still been in India, it would surely have remained British. Both of them were determined to increase British power, and neither would not let anything or anyone stand in his way. However both men returned to England in 1807, there to make their mark on world history. Portugal soon shook off the treaty with France, and joined forces with Britain. Major-General Arthur Wellesley went to Portugal’s rescue and soon earned fame, promotion, titles and riches.

And Macau? Nothing happened. Pinto remained undisturbed as Governor until August 1803 when he was replaced by Caetano de Sousa Pereira. The British, needing all their troops in Europe, could spare none for an expedition to the ends of civilisation. Moreover, French naval power in the Indian and Pacific oceans was at an end already. So too therefore was the French threat to Macau. However, its slow decline continued as, less than 40 years later the British found a far better place for their commercial and naval activities in the Far East – Hong Kong.

The following has been reproduced from articles appearing in the ‘Casa de Macau Australia Newsletter’, September 2007 and January 2008 issues.

‘An unexampled calamity’ – The Hong Kong Plague of 1894
Stuart Braga

‘Without exaggeration I may assert that so far as trade and commerce are concerned the plague has assumed the importance of an unexampled calamity.’ So stated the dispatch of the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir William Robinson, to the Secretary of State for Colonies in London on 20 June 1894 . He meant that there was no other example of so great a calamity. The calamity was a serious outbreak of bubonic plague, which brought Hong Kong to its knees. Strangely, although it also devastated Canton, it left Macau largely intact. Sir William might have added that it was a vast human tragedy as well, for several thousand people, mostly poor Chinese, died, and more than 100,000 fled in panic to their home villages.

An officer of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry supervises troops cleaning the streets in Tai-Ping Station

Before the disease reached Hong Kong it appears that it broke out in Canton in January that year, and by June it had accounted for some 80,000 deaths. Rapidly moving down-river, it first appeared in the Tai Ping Shan district in the early months of 1894.
At that time, Tai Ping Shan, high above Kennedy Town to the west of Hong Kong’s built up area, was a crowded squalid settlement of Chinese workers. There was no water supply or sanitation, and living conditions were utterly filthy.

In Tai Ping Shan there was panic and hysteria, for once contracted the outcome in the great majority of cases was an agonising death after three days of suffering. A graphic description of the symptoms of bubonic plague was given by M. Wilm in his Report of Plague in Hong Kong compiled in 1896. Wilm observed that ‘at the outset of the disease the tongue usually became swollen, bright red at the tip and edges and was covered with a greyish white fur. Usually, on the second or third day of the disease, the fur became brownish or black, and dried in a crust. The tongue becomes cracked and fissured …The lips soon became dry and often fissured, the mucous membrane of the mouth and the pharynx was usually bright red. The appetite disappeared. There was frequently uncontrollable vomiting and great thirst.’ He goes on, but the details are too distressing to relate here.

On 10th May 1894 Hong Kong was declared an infected port and within the space of a few weeks the administration was faced with an epidemic of great magnitude. By July there had been 2442 deaths. Hospitals were quickly established on board the naval ship, Hygeia, at Kennedy Town Police Station and at the Kennedy Town glass works. The first two were run by European staff whilst the third was manned by Chinese personnel of the Tung Wah hospital. The Governor told his superior in London that ‘it was deemed advisable to give the Chinese doctors a free hand at first. In any case, it is difficult to persuade the Chinese to report cases of sickness and their foolish and violent prejudice against Western medical men is quite sufficient to induce them, as they certainly did for the first fortnight or three weeks of the existence of the plague, not only to secrete their sick but often to desert their plague-stricken friends and relations after death.’

The Government’s means of dealing with the crisis was severe. No-one then knew how plague was transmitted. The only certain thing was that it spread rapidly. Insanitary conditions were thought to be the cause, so 7000 people were evicted from their homes. 350 houses were condemned and sealed off and several boatloads of patients were sent to Canton.

Soldiers of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry supervises the removal of a coffin of a plague victim, carried on a pole by coolies.

The army was sent in to cleanse and disinfect the fetid slums and to collect the dead. The 1st Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry was stationed in Hong Kong at the time, and when the plague broke out, volunteers were called for to work on plague relief. About 600 of the 1,000 men did so. The unit history tells us that ‘the work was unpleasant in the extreme – searching narrow backstreets and overcrowded houses for plague victims, tending the sick in makeshift isolation hospitals and disinfecting the houses and streets with chloride of lime and whitewash.

One of the most unpleasant tasks faced by the volunteers was the location and removal of the dead, searching dark houses and carrying away the bodies to be buried in mass graves.The volunteers of the KSLI lived in quarantine in separate tented camps and were given extra rum rations to help them cope with the work. Remarkably, only one officer and nine men of the regiment fell ill and only two actually died of the plague.’

The soldiers found unimaginable horrors. They were on one occasion accompanied by a 28-year-old Scottish doctor, James Lowson, Acting Superintendent of the Civil Hospital. He wrote, ‘On a miserable sodden matting soaked with abominations there were four forms stretched out. One was dead, the tongue black and protruding. The next had the muscular twitchings and semicomatose condition heralding dissolution. Another sufferer, a female child about ten years old, lay in accumulated filth of apparently two or three days. The fourth was wildly delirious.’

The newly completed Kennedy Town Glass Works was requisitioned as a plague hospital. This looks primitive, but was far better than conditions in the slums of Tai-Ping.

When the disinfection of houses was undertaken it was the usual practice for the occupants to be issued with new clothes. Their own clothes, bedding, curtains and carpets were sent to a steam disinfecting station. The premises were then thoroughly cleaned by spraying the walls with a solution of perchloride of mercury; alternatively, rooms were fumigated with free chlorine obtained by the addition of diluted sulphuric acid to chlorinated lime. Finally, the floors and furniture were scrubbed with Jeyes fluid, a well-known disinfectant, and the walls were lime-washed. During these operations the occupants were given temporary accommodation on Chinese marriage boats anchored off Stonecutters Island. Other measures taken included the burial of the dead in a plague cemetery at Kennedy Town and the regular disinfecting of all public latrines with chlorinated lime.

The soldiers who carried out these draconian measures were resisted fiercely, and the papers spoke of ‘plague riots’. Violent mobs prevented the removal of patients with plague from the Tung Wah Hospital to a special plague hospital, doctors had to carry pistols, and a gunboat was needed to restore order. Placards were posted in Hong Kong and Canton accusing the English doctors of cutting open pregnant women and scooping out the eyes of children in order to make medicines for the treatment of plague victims. Race relations in Hong Kong plunged to a new low; this was a crisis of public health, public order and soon, an economic crisis as well, as ships stopped entering a port that relied on trade for its existence.

At the centre of the events during the Hong Kong epidemic was Dr Lowson. A copy of his diary is in the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences. Hastily written entries tell a terrible story, both of suffering and lack of communication between Western and Chinese doctors. On 10 May at the Tung Wah Hospital Lowson ‘found approximately 20 people lying there affected with the plague – all in an advanced stage of the disease’. Most came from Tai Ping Shan. The hospital used only Chinese traditional medicine and was blamed by Lowson for failing to diagnose plague cases earlier. ‘I cannot denounce this hotbed of medical and sanitary vice in sufficiently strong terms… a Disgrace and Danger to the Public Health of Hong Kong’.

The Sanitary Board met often and Lowson’s diary reveals that tensions were high. At one meeting, he told two Board members ‘they were both damned cowards as they were afraid to go to the plague areas’. He comments ‘Lockhart [the Registrar General] and Governor are now making themselves obnoxious – Bl [bloody] fools. They are walking into the mire properly.’ His report was later described as ‘an egotistical and garrulous document’, written by someone who ‘evidently wants to make a name for himself’.

In autumn, the plague subsided, and things calmed down for a time, but for several years it became an almost annual occurrence usually making its appearance in February or March reaching a peak by July and then virtually disappearing during the autumn and winter. Over the period 1894-1901 some 8,600 persons succumbed to the disease and this represented a mortality rate of about 95 per cent.

Whole blocks of Tai Ping Sham were torn down and rebuilt with proper drainage & better ventilation. This picture was taken in 1898, 4 years after the plague attack.

During these later years of the plague, house to house searches were made to detect afflicted premises but this also proved difficult. Often, bodies were thrown out at night by the other occupants of infected houses so as to avoid detection and the subsequent disinfection of the premises. In 1900, for example, 412 dead bodies were dumped in the harbour.

The soldiers of the KSLI earned the gratitude and respect of the Hong Kong government for their work, and a special medal was struck to honour these men who had risked their lives fighting an unseen and very terrible enemy.

There was only one good outcome of the Great Plague of Hong Kong. It is that, after so many centuries of terror and bewilderment, an answer was finally found, in Hong Kong, to the mystery of what caused the plague and how it spread. Working independently, Alexandre Yersin, a Russian microbiologist, and Kitasato Shibasaburo, a Japanese bacteriologist, identified both the plague bacillus and discovered that it was spread by fleas that use both black rats and humans as hosts. Even here, there was controversy and dissension for decades, that only ended with the name ‘pestis Yersinia’ being given to the bacillus that had brought so much death and devastation.

This article appeared in the October 2005 “Casa de Macau Australia Newsletter”.

‘We have come here as conquerors – You will do as we say’
Stuart Braga

Lieutenant G. Albert meets a Japanese envoy on the quarterdeck of HMS Swiftsure in Hong Kong Harbour, 30th August 1945

By flickering candlelight in the early evening of Christmas Day 1941, in the darkened Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon, Sir Mark Young, KCMG, Governor of Hong Kong, became the first British colonial governor to surrender to one of His Majesty’s enemies, the victorious Imperial Japanese Army. It had taken less than three weeks for the British garrison to be overwhelmed following the Japanese attack on 8th December.

St Stephen’s College, Stanley, Hong Kong. Some 2,300 civilian internees were crowded into this boys’ school and its surrounding buildings from
1942 to 1945.

There followed forty-four months of severe hardship for the population, most of whom were Chinese, with a small elite group of British administrators and business people. More fortunate were 3,474 British women and children evacuated to Australia in July 1940 following the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China. Many, including the present writer, made their homes permanently here. Another large group of people escaped the prisoner-of-war and internment camps that awaited British soldiers and civilians. This was the sizeable Portuguese community. They or their forebears had left the old Portuguese colony of Macau only 60 km away for the greater opportunities offered by the stronger economy of the nearby British colony.

In the early months of 1942, most of them returned to Macau, which remained precariously neutral throughout the war. In addition, there were almost 10,000 British subjects, 1,000 American citizens and smaller numbers of other Europeans. Despite economic stagnation caused by the war, they were at least safe, even if hungry and under-employed. There were also several hundred thousand Chinese refugees, whose sufferings were pitiful and many starved to death. However, essential services never failed, and no-one suffered at the hands of a cruel invader. Remaining in Hong Kong were 7,000 British prisoners of war, crammed into an army barracks in Kowloon, while another 2,300 British civilian internees were crowded uncomfortably into a boys’ school at Stanley on Hong Kong Island. Internees found three things hardest: the lack of food, the lack of news and the lack of privacy.

 

The unluckiest prisoner at Stanley was Hong Kong’s Colonial Secretary, Franklin Gimson, who took up office only the day before the Japanese attack. Gimson felt the wrath of other internees, who blamed the government for many shortcomings in Hong Kong’s civil defence. No matter that he had not been there; as head of the Civil Service, he had to take the blame, though the ‘colonial lethargy’ that marked British behaviour in pre-war Hong Kong had more to do with it. It took Gimson much of the next three years to establish his authority as he and other senior officials began to plan for the day when war ended. They did not doubt that Hong Kong would return to its pre-war status as a British colony, although they expected that there would be constitutional reforms giving the vast Chinese majority some role in public affairs.

Jack Braga 1936

In Macau the administration of Commander Gabriel Teixeira trod a delicate path. Portugal was neutral in this war, though its other Far Eastern possession, East Timor, was occupied by the Japanese. In Macau, the British consul, J.P. Reeves, kept the flag flying. It was the only Union Jack between India and Hawaii apart from that at the British embassy at Chungking. Reeves gave tacit consent to a well-developed underground resistance movement, the British Army Aid Group, led by an Australian, Lindsay Ride, Professor of Physiology at Hong Kong University. He was supported by anglophile members of the Portuguese community. Prominent among them was J.M. (Jack) Braga, who had already begun to collect a significant library on the activities of the Portuguese in the Far East. The war put a stop to his acquisition of books, but instead he began to record the life of the large English-speaking community in its efforts in these extraordinary conditions to maintain a vibrant cultural life.

By mid-1945 it was obvious to local people that the war was coming to an end as the growing number of air raids told of increasing American air supremacy.

Renascimento, 11th August 1945. Japanese surrender was imminent.

Braga began to collect newspapers, including the English edition of Renascimento which, by mid-1945, was able to give accurate information about the collapse of Nazi Germany. Now in the National Library of Australia, these papers tell a dramatic story of rapidly growing excitement.

Nevertheless, the collapse of Japan came with bewildering suddenness. The Emperor’s rescript announcing the surrender was broadcast on 15th August and read to a stunned Japanese garrison in Hong Kong next day. At Stanley there was an immediate and dramatic improvement in the attitude of the guards. Franklin Gimson sought an interview with the prison governor, who confirmed the news, ending simply, ‘You’ve won; we’ve lost.’ Who would control Hong Kong now?

Vice Admiral Ruitako Fujita, commander of the Japanese South China Fleet, arrives at Government House, Hong Kong, for the surrender ceremony, 12th September 1945.

No-one in Hong Kong or Macau knew that the world had been divided into combat theatres. The South-West Pacific Area was commanded by an American, General Douglas MacArthur, and extended from Australia to the coast of China. The China Command was held by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and included Hong Kong. Naturally, the Chinese government wanted it back. Just as naturally, the British, ingloriously defeated and humiliated in 1941, wanted to return with a show of as much strength as they could muster. That required the consent of America, because the British Pacific Fleet, stationed in Sydney, came under MacArthur’s command. The issue had to be resolved at top level and went to the desk of the new US President, Harry S Truman.

President Roosevelt, who died in April, believed that Hong Kong should revert to China but, by August 1945, Truman had lost confidence in Chiang. Busy with the occupation of Germany and Japan, Truman left it for the British and Chinese to work it out.

With a large British fleet under Rear Admiral Cyril Harcourt steaming from Sydney, Chiang backed down. He, too, had higher priorities: the re-occupation of Manchuria and the cities of Peking, Shanghai, Nanking and Canton. Hong Kong would have to wait, but to save Chinese ‘face’, it was arranged that Harcourt would accept the Japanese surrender on behalf of both Britain and China.

Meanwhile, Gimson had taken matters into his own hands. He told the Japanese authorities to give him a bus, drove into the city with a busload of senior officers, and had the Chief Justice, also an internee, swear him in as Acting Governor. He set up a token administration in a building near the headquarters of the Japanese. They were in the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building, the largest and most prestigious in the colony, but Japanese officials, still the de facto rulers of Hong Kong, had to walk up a pathway to see Gimson. Although this was a symbolic humiliation, his was literally a skeleton government, with a handful of emaciated and ragged British officials in bare offices trying to restore a semblance of the old colonial government.

South China Morning Post 7th September 1945. Japanese Military Yen was still the only currency in circulation. Internees were desperate to get out of Stanley camp. A Medical Officer had the impression that ‘the people are better than we expected, but not as well as they think they are.’

On 28th August Gimson announced on Radio Hong Kong that an interim British administration had been installed. Two days later the British fleet sailed slowly into the harbour, preceded by six Australian minesweepers which happened to be already in the Philippines, and joined Harcourt’s fleet. Harcourt wanted no repetition of the Dardanelles debacle in 1915. Over the next days and weeks, British military administrators took command and business slowly resumed. The first was the South China Morning Post, the major English-language newspaper. Jack Braga, still in Macau, collected a copy of each issue. They tell a remarkable story of how power was transferred to British control.

It was two weeks before British forces could take over from the Japanese regime. Admiral Harcourt took the Japanese surrender on 12th September at Government House on Hong Kong Island. Some days later, Captain J. Eccles of HMS Indomitable, sat in the Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon, where Sir Mark Young had surrendered in 1941, to accept the Japanese surrender on the mainland, but the Japanese officers were late, and the ceremony was postponed. Next day they were punctual, but an annoyed Eccles told them firmly, ‘We have come here as conquerors. You will do as we say.’

The evacuation of Stanley camp also took several weeks. The South China Morning Post, initially printed in a very small edition, and still paid for in Japanese Military Yen, was produced chiefly for this community. They had been ordered to remain there, because there was nowhere else to go. The newspaper recorded the frustration of people desperate to get away. In Macau, too, the British refugee population, much larger than that of Stanley camp, was told to stay put by the British consul through announcements in Renascimento. Not until the troopship Empress of Australia arrived in mid-September with 3,000 troops could most of them get away.

In the next few months, a new set of colonial administrators came to replace those whose vitality never returned following their long internment. Political and constitutional reform, much spoken of during the war, never eventuated. Eccles’ admonition to the Japanese, ‘You will do as we say’, was applied to the Chinese population as well. Yet within forty years, in 1984, the British Government was obliged to reach agreement with the Chinese Government to return Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. In 1945, Franklin Gimson won the race to fill the immediate power vacuum but, in the long run, the Chinese claim for legitimacy was to prevail.

This article appeared in the June 2007 “Casa de Macau Australia Newsletter”.

‘He kept the Union Jack flying in the Far East’
Stuart Braga

This was the headline of an article by the British war correspondent, David Divine, in the London Daily Sketch about the work of the British Consul in wartime Macau. Appointed as vice-consul in what was for the British Foreign office a remote and insignificant outpost, the young diplomat, John Reeves, became a key man between 1942 and 1945, when thousands of refugees poured into the little Portuguese colony from Hong Kong.

British civilians were interned at Stanley, and prisoners of war, including members of the Hong Kong volunteers, were crammed into an army camp at Shumshuipo, Kowloon. Hong Kong’s Portuguese population fled by the thousands to Macau, and almost ten thousand of them were able to claim British nationality. Most were destitute and almost starving. It was John Reeves’ responsibility to care for them as best he could. Reeves had been sent to Macau shortly before the outbreak of war for a ‘rest cure’ from Mukden, in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, a forbidding place at the best of times. Some rest cure!

This lapel badge bears the inscription ‘H.B.M. Consulate, Macao’ (His Britannic Majesty’s Consulate, Macao). It was worn issued to the people employed by John Reeves as staff members and guards.

At the British consulate in Macau, flew the Union Jack, the only Allied flag between India and Alaska, apart from the Allied embassies in Chungking. It was a beacon of hope for desperate people. David Divine, writing on 29th September, 1945, six weeks after the Japanese surrender, concluded his article by saying the ‘the Union Jack of Macao should be given an honoured place among the treasures of the Foreign Office.’As well as distributing the pitifully small British government subsidy, Reeves hired some of the younger men as consulate guards. He was a tacit supporter of the Resistance, though he had to be very circumspect. On 16th January, 1944, despite the straitened circumstances of those desperate times, members of the Portuguese community, led by Jack Braga, tendered him a Testimonial Dinner in gratitude for what he had done.

David Divine’s article almost certainly stemmed from four lengthy cables sent to Reuter’s News Agency by its Macau representative, Jack Braga, on 24th September. He wanted the story to be told and remembered. The press telegrams of that era were written in a language of their own, with words run together and Latin prefixes added to save money. What do you make of this?
‘englishlanguage newspaper parrefugeesreceived wholehearted encouragement thereby maintaining British etallied viewpoints during omniphases conflict’.

Edited, Jack Braga’s telegrams read, in part: ‘Bespectacled, wiry-looking John Pownall Reeves will remain in the memory of Macao’s wartime history as a figure representing unflinching confidence in the final outcome of Allied victory.’ His dynamic, democratic attitude enabled him to transmit inspiring encouragement to all Allied subjects and Portuguese citizens, all of whom were Allied supporters, especially during the early phase of the war when the Japanese were triumphant.

He maintained morale at all times, despite his wife being marooned in Hongkong and his only child sick. After the Japanese occupation of Hongkong, numerous Allied subjects seeking shelter in Macao approached Reeves, whose Union Jack was the solitary symbol of the Allied cause. They received generous assistance and words of consolation. Meanwhile, Reeves obtained stories of Japanese atrocities and excesses which the British Foreign Secretary transmitted to Parliament, causing worldwide indignation.

Reeves successfully solicited the British Government to give consideration to the necessity of granting relief subsidies, owing to the impossibility of diminutive, unproductive Macao providing employment. The number of refugees who were British subjects at the conclusion of the war was nearly ten thousand, and there were a thousand American citizens. Reeves also acted on behalf of the American government in promoting their welfare.

A large proportion of those reaching Macao in the early months of 1942 suffered the effects of malnutrition, causing the Portuguese government to promote health measures as far as circumstances permitted, while Reeves established medical dispensaries catering for the needs of British subjects.

Notice of Dinner to be held in honour of David Reeves.

Collaborating with Portuguese authorities, Reeves helped to subsidise British subjects of Portuguese extraction. This did much to alleviate hardship. However, owing to the exorbitant prices of foodstuffs, the British government’s remittances were hardly sufficient for the barest necessities, causing Reeves and his wife, who meanwhile had been released by the Japanese, to collaborate with leading Portuguese and Chinese citizens in promoting public charities. When conditions made it desirable to increase the Macao police force, Reeves encouraged British subjects to join. Many distinguished themselves alongside other members of the police in the execution of their duties.

 

With English education languishing, Reeves sought the establishment of English-language primary schools to supplement Portuguese schools. When a technical school for adults was set up in 1945, it too received subsidies from the British consul. There were other marks of his solicitude for the activities of the refugees, while promotion of sports received the most active support and generous contributions, enabling all classes to participate in games, Reeves himself playing hockey, while his constant presence at every social activity contributed greatly to the maintenance of high morale. He gave wholehearted encouragement to an English language edition of the newspaper enascimento for refugees. This paper maintained British and Allied viewpoints during all phases of the conflict. Despite Japanese protestations, the Portuguese authorities gave friendly recognition to the paper.

Throughout the war, Reeves and his wife, despite their daughter’s serious illness, gave continuous personal attention to the affairs of almost every individual, applying advice throughout the day and often late at night, displaying fatherly interest in every phase of the life of refugees. In cases of distress, he sought to alleviate their afflictions, and endeavoured to distribute as equitably as possible the generous though never sufficient remittances from the British government.’

Upon the conclusion of the war, Reeves was enthusiastically feted publicly at a dinner given on 3rd November, 1945, by the Hong Kong Portuguese community. Within a few months, most had returned to Hong Kong to get on with their lives, so cruelly interrupted by war.

The press cuttings illustrated here and the text of he telegrams sent to Reuter’s are all from the wonderful J.M. Braga collection in the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

 

Casa Down Under extends our sincere thanks to Lusitano Club of SFO and Margie Rozario for allowing us to print this article.
Thanks also to Stuart Braga of Sydney who sent reproductions of Lieut. A. V. Skvorzov’s out-of-print and rare, “Chinese Ink & Brush Sketches of Prisoner of War Camp Life in Hong Kong, 1941-45 which featured in the original article, some of which are reproduced here.
This article also appeared in the ‘Casa de Macau Australia Newsletter’, July 2006.

‘Memoirs’ – Cicero Rozario’s P. O. W. Memoirs
Experiences at Shamshuipo & Sendai Camps

Though previously published in Voz de Macaenses de Vancouver in November, 2001, Mrs. Margaret Rozario offered her late husband’s memoirs to us together with dozens of her late husband’s sketches drawn in camp, so that our younger generations can know what their forbears went through fighting for their homes in Hong Kong, and 44 months being incarcerated in camp during World War II.

Shamshuipo Camp

Drawings by Cicero Rozario and A V Skvorzov, Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force

(After Hong Kong’s surrender on December 25, 1941), it took us twelve hours to reach Shamsuipo Prisoner-of-War Camp as there were over 10,000 men and only two ferries, so we had to walk all the way from Star Ferry, a distance of about two miles, lugging all our belongings.

We were put in Quonset huts with about 50 men in each hut. No. 6 Company personnel had their own hut, and No. 5 Company and Field Ambulance of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force were next to us. In fact, the Volunteers were all in a row as we were under the command of the same sergeant major.

Besides the Volunteers, there was the Royal Scots and Middlesex Regiments, one Indian artillery regiment, one Chinese Field Ambulance Section, and the two Canadian Regiments—the Royal Rifles of Canada, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers. After the Chinese and Indians were later released, there was a rumour that we (the Portuguese) would also be released, but this never happened.

It was winter and very cold, and the windows and the doors of the huts had all been looted so we had to go scrounging (a polite word for stealing) for pieces of wood and corrugated metal sheets to fabricate our own with the help of the Royal Engineers.

POWs allowed to send only one letter a month

We were allowed to write one letter a month which was only sent out after being censored by the Japanese. What you could say: “Dear Mom, How are you? I’m well. Your loving son.”

Father Green tended to our spiritual needs, saying mass every morning in one of the huts. Leonel Silva was his aide. (Leonel’s father, Nado, was also in the camp). The Engineers built us a brick altar to give us quite a chapel. Father Green was badly beaten up by the Japanese one day, but I never found out why. [In his memoirs published here in Spring 1998 Luigi Ribeiro, who was also a POW, wrote:

“Fr. Green had reason to believe that the camp authorities had not spent all the money received from the Vatican. He had the brazen audacity of going to the Japanese to ask for an explanation in connection with the disbursement of the Vatican funds.

For his impudence, Fr. Green was given such a battering that he passed out completely and had to be revived by throwing water over his face.” (Ed.)]

We had a hospital and a mortuary, both of which had no proper windows or doors, so when we walked by these places we could watch the doctors and staff going about their business.

We also had a chicken farm, a pig farm and a football field, a garden full of tomatoes, melons and lots of greens, but they were only for hospital patients so there was no chance of scrounging, as there were guards all over the place—Japanese, and our own men.

The pigs in the farm were huge, like cows, which the Engineers killed by hitting them over the head with a wooden mallet. We once sat on the side of the field and watched this pig chanse the Engineers. More Engineers had to come out to help them.
POWs forced labour at Kai Tak, Aberdeen and Lai Chi-kok

We were put to work in Kai Tak Airflield, cleaning nullahs (large, open boxed culverts) and shovelling down a whole hill (quite a mountain) to enlarge the airport. A few soldiers died because of landslides, despite our futile efforts to dig them out.

We had a first-aid station under a tree and the sick could go there to rest and recuperate. On the first day, there were two or three of us. The next day, there were ten. Then everybody got into the act until the Japanese sentries chased us away with fixed bayonets. Then it was back to normal, with two or three genuine patients, for the others preferred not to get “sick”. Anyway, at Kai Tak, the grass was so long that you could go to sleep and the guards couldn’t see you.

We also had to shift bombs from one godown to the other stacking and unstacking the 500 and 1,000 pound bombs.

The other big job was at Aberdeen. We had to take oil and kerosene drums down to the pier and then later load them on to a barge to be taken to Lai Chi-kok Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) Installation. There were so many drums that it took us six months to clear the godowns.

We got up at 5:00 a.m., had breakfast, and waited on the parade ground to be counted. Then we were put on a barge which took over an hour to reach Aberdeen. Most of us slept on the barge and others chatted and read books. The Japanese brought in a lot of books giving us quite a good library. (The books were looted from private libraries in the Colony—Ed.)

Allies bomb targets in Hong Kong

While we were working on the drums, an Allied spotter plane flew over us every morning. The air-raid siren went and the Japanese guards ran up the hills, far away from the drums. We sat on the drums, and as we had our own spies, we knew the same spotter plane came over every morning. The American bombers never bombed the prison camp as if they knew where we worked.

When all the drums were taken to Lai Chi -Kok, the spotter plane still came around as usual, and the siren went and everyone looked towards Lai Chi-Kok. On September 2, 1942, a heavy droning sound led us to believe that this was it. The huge tanks went up in a black mushroom cloud, and we could see the drums going up through the smoke followed by many fighter planes strafing the godowns until there was nothing left.

The fire in Lai Chi-Kok burned for a week. Every day, we took our bowl of rice at dinner time to the field and watched the huge fire, singing, “Over there, everywhere, the Yanks are coming”. By the third day, the Japanese guards were also singing with us. If they found out what we were singing they would have set on us with bayonets.

The Americans also bombed Kai Tak and some shipping in the harbour. But they were gone by the time the air-raid sirens sounded the warning for the planes had glided in low over their targets, escaping early detection.

Later we went to Lai Chi-Kok to clean up and it was like No-Man’s-Land, no trees, everything black for about a mile. The godown was all smashed up. We had to take the drums to our prison camp for storage. Each drum was riddled with over a hundred bullet holes.

We had other jobs besides, which was against the Geneva Convention (which Japan did not sign). One of the interpreters, who told this to the Japanese, was badly beaten up.

The ones who didn’t go outside on forced labour had to remain and clean up the camp, do the gardening, and even tailoring. We also had to unload rice from the trucks when they came in. In those days, I could carry 250 lb. Bags; now, I can’t even lift a 20 lb. bag of manure.

In the beginning, the cook house was staffed by the Royal Engineers, but later on, it was mostly ‘our boys’, so we had to do the firewood, chopping up whole trees which were wet and knotty. Every time you took a chop at it, the axe would fly out and you were left with the handle. The Japanese gave us pick axes instead but the same thing happened. We dreaded this chopping business. Every hut had to have a man at the door doing guard duty in case the Japanese ever wanted to know how many people were inside. Everyone took turns for a two-hour guard duty and I always chose the 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. shift. At 4:00 a.m., someone would wake me up, and I’d say, “OK,” and go back to sleep. I was never caught.

When we were doing guard duty at the doors of the hut, we sometimes got together for a chat to while away the time. One day, one of the kwai-lohs (British) tied a long string to a black piece of paper and dragged it behind him. Thinking it to be a little rat, we stamped on it. He turned round and laughed. He did this every day fooling a lot of people.

One day, while he as walking his ‘little rat’, a Japanese guard rounded the corner behind him. Thinking it to be a rat, he also stamped on it. The kwai-loh turned round, and his laughter froze when the guard didn’t think it was funny. You can guess what happened next. We didn’t see the ‘little rat’ any more.

You could be called on at any time to do some work, and while playing cards one day, we heard the sergeant-major call, “Sergeant, I need five men.” All of us promptly jumped out of the window of the hut, so that when the sergeant looked in, he saw an empty hut. He then went to the waterfront, and collared those who were enjoying the walks and sightseeing. But when the sergeant came back, he was surprised to find a hut full of men.

But woe to you if you ever were assigned to do a hospital job. It was dysentery time and you had to wash the bed-pans. The moment you brought one in, they would give you another one until you hoped that they would all die.

Health problems

In a primitive operating theatre, British Army doctors fought to save lives. Their instruments were razor blades and knifes; the drugs, salt and peanut oil. Even those were precious and zealously guarded. The Japanese had taken over enormous stores of medical supplies which they used only for their soldiery. Later, by bribing sentries, essential drugs were secured in minute quantities.To obtain money for this, men sold to the sentries, all they had including gold teeth. (A V Skvorzov)

Some men did die of dysentery. When my uncle had it, he weighed only 40 lbs. I could have carried him on his stretcher by myself. The Japanese sent him to Queen Mary Hospital, and after three months, he returned. When I saw him, I said, “Uncle, I thought you were dead.” He chased me around the room.

When there was an infestation of bugs, flies and rats during the dysentery outbreak, the Japanese offered a packet of cigarettes for every 100 flies caught. Some of the prisoners went around with their drinking mugs to catch flies. If they caught a big fly they would break it in two; that way, they would earn their pack of cigarettes anyway as the Japanese didn’t bother to count the pests.

Being afflicted with scabies was like having boils all over one’s body. The treatment was having the patient hold on to a bar in front of him while the medic helper scrubbed his back with a brush with long bristles. This treatment would cause his back to bleed, and was so painful that he would faint after the second pass. This treatment would go on until the patient was cured, but that was impossible given the poor food we were getting.

When cases of diphtheria occurred soldiers were dying like flies because there was no serum for its treatment. Those who went into hospital, would die on the third day. Each time someone died, the bugler would blow his horn, but after ten men died in one day, the Japanese stopped this practice.

In the hospital, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) tended to the sick and dying, but tended towards the dying for they were suspected of grabbing a patient’s belongings when he eventually called it quits. The kwai-lohs cynically told us that RAMC also meant “Rob All My Comrades”.

We had a Canadian dentist who was very thin and weak from malnutrition. When I had a toothache and couldn’t eat I joined in the queue to see him. I told him, “I’m going to scream, but don’t mind me, and keep pulling.” He did just that, but he was so weak he literally had a foot on my chest, believe it or not, as he tugged. I screamed louder when he broke my tooth into three pieces, and then he had to do this all over again two more times.

After a month or so, I had another bad tooth. This time, he got me out of the queue and said, “You first.” He tugged and once again I screamed, only the screaming was no acting as my tooth was being pulled without any painkillers—we didn’t have any.

After all that screaming, the guys in the queue ran away. That’s why I was always first whenever the dentist saw me. I had six more teeth extracted in the camp, and shuddered each time. I was a brave man then. Not any more. After the war I had all my teeth pulled out (with injections of anaesthetic course). Now I have two sets of pearly white teeth and no more toothache. When I was sent to Japan, a friend told me that the dentist had died in camp.
Everything was tasteless. As it was, most of the time we just had half a mess tin of rice, and a bowl of hot water, twice a day. Sometimes we had vegetables. The same stuff for six months—chrysanthemum leaves, chili water, etc. The English engineers threw out the pei-tan (preserved black eggs) because they looked “rotten”.

Fights

Most of the guys in the camp were already not-tempered, and as we were given chili water many fights occurred among us. I remember one fight where one of our boys was beating up this other guy, and he turned to us and said in Macanese, “Stop the fight. I’m out of breath.” We stopped the fight and called it a draw to save face for the kwai-loh.

One of the prisoners was a bully who kept picking on small and sickly people. One time, he picked on a tall American seaman who also happened to be a boxer. They sparred until the American hit the bully on the mouth knocking out his false teeth, stopping the fight. Everyone helped look for his teeth, and when these were found, the fight continued. But eventually we had to stop it as it was too one-sided. After that the bully was very careful who he picked on.

With outside help there were a few escapes from the camp. Whenever there was an escape the whole camp had to parade on the football field as punishment for as long as twelve hours, and sometimes in the rain. We would have to miss a meal. Eventually barbed wire was placed in the nullahs (open drainage channels) to deter escapes. The Japanese also made us sign a paper saying we would not escape.

The Japanese would search the huts and confiscate a cart full of electric wires, and stamp flat all our frying pans. You had to pay three cigarettes for another frying pan. These were made by the engineers by welding a handle to a sweet (candy) or biscuit tin. The engineers also made clogs when your shoes wore out. They made a lot of cigarettes as the shoe straps would get old, and would snap when wet. You felt like a woman walking around with a shoe with a broken high heel.

Whenever something the Japanese considered negative happened in camp, such as an escape or a prohibited radio found, visitors from outside would know because the POWs had to squat and wait for hours until the Japanese would come, and tell them “No parcels today.”

After some prisoners had escaped, the barbed wire fence around the camp was electrified, and turned on at night. In the morning, the guards would switch off the electricity. One morning they forgot. A prisoner who was sweeping the ground near the fence, accidentally touched it and was electrocuted. The people working with him, seeing what had happened, ran to the guard house to tell the guards to switch off the current, but when they returned, the poor blighter was already dead. I forget his name, although he was a good friend. I think he worked with Alex Azedo in Optorg & Co.

In camp, we learned to make our own beds. There was Japanese inspection every morning. We cooked a lot of stuff but mostly with oil and soy sauce in our chow-fan (fried rice). We hammered nails to hold our clog straps, and we darned socks, and sewed on buttons. The smart woman will marry an ex-prisoner-of-war. (With servants, my wife had nothing to do; so she learned to play mahjong, and now she is fully occupied).

Whenever we washed our clothes, we hung them on the wire, got a chair and a good book, and waited until they dried. If not, someone might come knocking, trying to sell you your own pair of pants or shirt that you had just washed! If your clothes were too old for them to steal to sell, the advice was to wait for rain and hang them on the line. Later the sun would come out and dry them.

The latrine was about half a mile away from the huts and we complained to the authorities about the long walk at night and especially in the winter. For once, the Japanese understood, and allowed us to each have a tin. We would pass water, put the tin under our tatami, and then take them to the latrine in the morning. Like hell we did. We emptied them out the window.

One night, one of the POWs filled his tin and threw it out of his neighbour’s window. But the window was closed and the urine splashed over this neighbour. The perpetrator pretended to be asleep when he heard his neighbour mutter, “My, it’s raining. Funny, the windows are closed—the ceiling must be leaking.” The neighbour put a bucket next to his head and went back to sleep.

The Japanese brought in a lot of sports equipment for the prisoners to use in their spare time. We played baseball, soccer, hockey, tennis, volleyball and even lawn-bowls, but the bowls didn’t last very long as we were playing on sand. The little grass was reserved for smokers who weren’t to know until two decades later that they were also smoking grass. We were just prisoners. Some of the boys also learned bridge and chess.

One day, the Japanese challenged us to play baseball. We fielded a good team. When a certain Japanese came up to bat, a lot of voices shouted, “Come on, get this guy.” He put down the bat and asked, “Who said that?” Nobody answered. But we struck him out.

This guy’s nickname was “Slap-Happy”. A Japanese-Canadian, he who went about slapping people for no reason at all. He was hanged after the war, and was very arrogant at the trial, but he was no match for Marcus da Silva who was the prosecutor.

In those days almost everyone smoked. “No Smoking” signs were rare. Cigarettes such as Camels, Lucky Strikes, Capstan, etc., were popular. But as the war progressed these imported smokes were increasingly rare in camp and were prized. Cigarettes were bartered for other desired commodities. In fact any cigarette we smoked pine needles, tea leaves, grass—you name it.

We also had Japanese cigarettes which were very strong. One puff got you dizzy. We called them “killers” and “cow dung”. In offering someone one of these Japanese cigarettes, we would say, “Here have a cow dung.”

One of the kwai-lohs in the camp would often come up to you when you were smoking and say, “Give us a light, chum.” Then you’d see your cigarette getting shorter and shorter. This guy had a hollow piece of paper and was smoking your cigarette. We got mad but also wise to this trick.

Nanelli Baptista, an artist and chain-smoker at Christmas, would make a greeting card for three cigarettes. (I traded a pair of knitted gloves for five cigarettes). Nanelli had so many orders that I had to help him, and almost became a chain -smoker myself.

Every Christmas, we wished each other and hoped to see everyone outside by the following Christmas. As two more Christmases in camp went, our hopes waned.

Trading outside the camp fence

Despite the grimness of camp life, there were lighter moments. We used to buy some provisions from outside. In the beginning, we were buying Chinese cakes for a dollar, but later the cakes shrank from a five inch diameter to one inch so that they could fit through the fence when only a few guards were around. You would take the cake in a “one-two-three” grab as the seller outside would take the money simultaneously.

Once a POW tore a dollar bill in half and bought a bag of sugar this way. The prisoner had the sugar and the Chinese outside the fence got cheated with half a dollar. The POW had a good laugh. The next day he went hunting again with the other half of his dollar. But this time the Chinese seller with the sugar was disguised, and when “one-two’three” was called, they grabbed simultaneously. The seller now had the other half of his dollar, but the POW got his comeuppance with only a packet of sand!

One day my Mom sent me a papaya and since the following day was Sunday I saved it for a Sunday treat with a few friends. Fearing foraging rats, I tied the ends of the papaya with a long string to nailes on both sides of the room, dangling it in the middle of the room. How could I have guessed that this little (or big) rat was a wire-walker. In the morning, I found a neat hole bitten through the papaya. No matter. I cut around the hole and shared the dessert with others.

In our hut, for a while, there was this chomp-chomp sound on the roof every night. It didn’t bother us, but this particular mama’s boy complained to the padre that he thought the hut was haunted, so the padre brought in some holy water, and blessed the hut. But the chomp-chomp continued. One night, there was the usual noise, and bingo, a huge rat fell out from a hole in the ceiling, but it ran out of the hut, too fast for us to catch it.

The married and older POWs constantly worried about their wives and children on the outside. We, the younger people between 20 years and 30 years old, did our best to help these married people, joking and telling them funny stories. Thank heavens they listened and joined in.

Morale boosters

Morale of the man in camp was boosted by music and stage shows produced by the camp inmates. The late Johnny Fonseca who was very popular in camp, and well known even to the English and Canadian POWs, did a lot for our boys with his guitar. He accompanied us while we sang with some kwai-lohs joining in.

We also had concerts for which full credit must be given to Nanelli Baptista, his helpers and the Royal Engineers crew for the stage setting, to Eli Alves, Reinaldo Gutierrez and Alarcon for their very sweet violin music; to the “girls” – Sonny Castro (who dressed as Carmen Miranda), Eddie and Gussy Noronha, Robert Pereira and a few more. (You couldn’t say they were not girls unless you disrobed them!)

The Japanese camp commandant, his entourage, and some outside friends usually came to these events, occupying the first three rows in the improvised theatre, arriving in limousines, while we looked at them the way movie fans ogle the stars when they arrive for the Oscar awards in Hollywood.

Before I say something about George Ainslie, a good friend who at 18 or 19 was our youngest POW at Shamshuipo, I must digress: He and I (and others) used to dive together at the old Victoria Recreation Club (V.R.C.) on the Hong Kong waterfront. At first, we were diving from the lower one-metre board, then the three-metre board, and then from the verandah into the pool. We couldn’t go any higher so we dove from the window in the clubhouse into the sea. Finally, we ended up on the roof of the building, and looked down. All we could say was, “Jeepers”, so we climbed down, but one of the guys slipped and fell into the sea. It was then that we saw the hugs crowd on the waterfront having a free show. But the show must go on.

The height was scary; about seven storeys high, and to add to the danger, the water below was relatively shallow, being at low tide. Our hearts must have stopped as we took the plunge which, seemingly took a long time to reach the water. But all of us: Eddie (Monkey) Roza, Lionel Roza-Pereira, Peter Rull, Manaelly Roza, Hugo Ribeiro and a guy called Pullen, took the plunge. I had a stiff neck for a week. Now back to Shamshuipo camp.

George Ainslie died of diphtheria in the prison camp and Pullen died in the war. David Hutchinson was the fellow with the scabies, and fainted when they scrubbed his back. He was very friendly with our boys as he was a member of the V.R.C. and the Colony’s 100-yard swimming champion. (After the war, he went to Australia, married an Australian Catholic girl, became a Catholic himself, and went to mass every day. I’m quite sure a lot of us don’t go to mass every day—not yours truly anyway—but if you say there is a mahjong came at 6.00 a.m. I bet a lot of us will get up at 5.00 am).

Our sincere thanks to Theresa M. da Luz, San Francisco, California, who wrote the following article for the Lusitano Club of San Francisco some 10 years ago.
The article also appeared in the ‘Casa de Macau Australia Newsletter’, April 2006 issue.

‘The Ladies of Little Flower Club’
Theresa M. da Luz

Rummaging around old photos, Virgie McDougall discovered the photograph below. It was taken on the grounds of Little Flower Club in Kowloon. We had a great time identifying all the ladies present. I was quite suprised that I was able to remember the names of 95% of the ladies – quite a few of them were my aunts and cousins or related by marriage to the vast Yvanovich clan, lovingly called “Outsiders” by my Uncle Vicente. I am guessing that the occasion was farewell luncheon for the Menezes sisters, Celeste Menezes Ribeiro and Marie Menezes.They immigrated to Australia sometime in the 1950s.

The Little Flower Club’s founding members were Hedewiges da Silva, Bertha Vaz Barretto, Aurea Baptista and Dona Reca (the lady who taught Portuguese to many of the Canossian Institute students). The Club was primarily a Catholic Action Ladies Club. At first, they woud meet in a little room in the rectory of the Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral and as they recruited more members, they moved to rented quarters in Jordan Road, Kowloon, and eventually to their permanent location at Kings’ Park, right next door to Club Recreio. The Macao Catholic Action Ladies were invited to join the Club. Aurea Baptista formed a band called “Lira Das Florinhas” and they performed in many of the Macanese functions.

World War II put a stop to all this; the ladies had to take care of their families on their own, as many of their husbands were interned as Prisoners of War. Everything in Hong Kong cam to a standstill during the occupation. There was no way of earning a living in Hong Kong, all assets were frozen or could only be converted to worthless Japanese script. Many left for Macau with their children to wait out the war.

The Macau Government generously provided for all those who wished to accept food and lodging. While in Macau, those who had husbands and sons in POW camps received a subsidy from the British Governent through the British Consul. Many of the younger men who were not in camp were hired by the British Consul as guards.

However, a few of the ladies opted to stay behind in Hong Kong, some because they had homes which could not be abandoned for fear of complete destruction by looters. By selling some of their precious possessions, some were able to hang on and provide their husbands in camp with food parcels. In 1943, the Red Cross opened a shelter for POW families at Rosary Hill and many of the ladies moved up to the Hill. The Club was abandoned and the looters did their work well.

When World War II ended and we were allowed to return to Hong Kong and life normalised, all that remained of the Club house were the 4 walls. Bishop Valtorta asked Rita Xavier to help him rebuild the Club. Through her connections in the building trade, Rita was able to bring the Club house back to its pre-war state. Rita was President of the Club for 10 years in those early post war days. I understand Betty Baptista is presently running the Club.