Who are the true citizens?

Extract from Hong Kong by Harold Ingrams, Hong Kong

London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1952, pp 249-251

We cannot however look in these communities for 100% citizens of Hong Kong, nor shall we find them among the British expatriates. There are some British families settled in Hong Kong, but Britain is still home to them. As one of them said to me, 'We should certainly fight to keep Hong Kong because we feel that it belongs to us. It is a British possession'. But they do not feel that they belong to it. Clear and sure from the Portuguese and from the Eurasians comes the claim, 'We are the true citizens of Hong Kong'.

A leading member of the Portuguese community said to me, 'Our love of things British is only exceeded by our veneration for things Portuguese'. It is not such the Portugal of today which draws their affection as the historic Portugal in which their own roots are embedded. 'Portugal is like a pleasant dream of an age that's past', my friend went on. 'Our only link with it is Macau.'

So far we have seen Macau as the little Portuguese settlement in which British merchants of the 18th and 19th centuries were permitted to live and to be buried, but to find the roots of the Portuguese in Hong Kong we may often have to go back a century or two to Portugal's own heroic age, a period of which Camoens could write, 'if there had been more of the world they would have reached it'. Of the toughness of those who sailed under Vasco da Gama and his successors there is no need to dilate; those are the people who settled and held Macau on tenuous terms.

In 1823 the Portuguese frigate Salamander arrived at Macau and on board was Dom Joaquim d'Eça Telles d'Almada e Castro, Lieutenant in the Batalhão Principe Regente. He served 20 years in Macau and died at Malacca on his way back to Portugal on his retirement. He had two sons, Leonardo and José Maria, who went to Hong Kong when the staff of the Superintendent of Trade was transferred from Macau to the new Colony in 1842. Leonardo became clerk of the Executive and Legislative Councils and some years later the Secretary of State directed the Governor to appoint him Colonial Secretary. The appointment was apparently not carried out on the grounds that he was not a British subject, but plainly he was considered suitable for the post of head of the civil service in the Colony. He died in 1875. His brother, José Maria, became private secretary to Sir John Pope Hennessy, and was chief clerk in the Secretariat and clerk of council when he died in 1881. His eldest son entered government service; the second became chief clerk in the Hong Kong office of the International Banking Corporation, and the other two sons, Francisco Xavier and Leonardo became successful solicitors. The daughters married and their children include a solicitor, Government officials and merchants. The law has in fact claimed most of the family. One son of Leonardo the solicitor is Mr Leo d'Almada e Castro, K.C., a member of the Executive Council since 1949 and of the Legislative Council since 1937. The other is Mr C.P. d'Almada e Castro, who became Assistant Crown Solicitor in 1941 and is now Registrar of the Supreme Court. Several members of the family took a leading part during the British Military Administration after the reoccupation.

This record of one Portuguese family is by no means unique, and many Portuguese are to be found in responsible positions in Hong Kong, as doctors, lawyers, merchant, clerks and so on. With the first coming of the Portuguese to the colony there came, of course, Roman Catholicism, and the history of the growth of Catholicism in Hong Kong is bound up largely in the history of the Portuguese community. As the community grew the need for a social centre was felt and the Club Lusitano had its first premises in 1865. There is an air of Victorian grace, culture and prosperity about the coloured pictures of the theatre and the ballroom of the old club in Shelly Street which hang in the new building in Icehouse Street. The Club has 450 members and during the Japanese occupation it was a haven of refuge for the community generally, and no fewer than 383 persons sheltered in it at one time. For its services the Government of Portugal conferred on it the Military Order of Christ. Its president, Dom Basto*, was decapitated by the Japanese as an alleged leader of a spy ring. During the war the Portuguese were to be found in large numbers in the Volunteers, the Police Reserve, A.R.P., A.N.S., and other organisations, and a number of them gave their lives in the defence of the Colony. The community numbers in all about 3000, of whom 80% are British subjects. It is important that we should not be unaware of or neglectful of a community to which the Empire owes so much. Yet by the very fact of their loyalty and the identification of their interests with ours, they are easily overlooked in the problem of the Chinese millions.

*    Bosco Correa recalls that Dom Basto is Carlos Henrique Basto, who was an avid Bridge player; the Japanese claimed that the notes he jotted down on the games he played was a secret code for messages which he supposedly sent on to British Army Aid Group HQ in Free China, and beheaded him. He is mentioned in the BAAG Roll of Honour. His gravestone in the British Military Cemetary in Stanley Peninsula on HK Island bears the badge of the BAAG.