Macau was settled in the middle of the 16th Century when Portugal was a major naval power. It was on a tiny peninsula connected to the mainland by a long, narrow isthmus where there was a barrier erected by China to control movement into and out of Macau. Geographically, it was ideally situated at the mouth of the Pearl River for trade with Canton (Guangzhou) and flourished for centuries.
But by the middle of the 19th Century Portugal's influence was in decline and Macau faced serious problems. China had ceded the island of Hong Kong to Britain in 1842 after the First Opium War. With its silted harbour Macau could only take shallow-drafted vessels. In contrast, Hong Kong had excellent deep and well sheltered waters and posed a serious economic threat to Macau.
But there were also political threats. Although the British Parliament had formally acknowledged Macau to be a Portuguese possession, Hong Kong was antagonistic and the Hong Kong legislature in 1844 even declared Macau to be part of ChiNa1,2 In 1839 the superintendent of British trade in Canton, Captain Elliot3, secretly advocated to the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Lord Palmerston, that Macau be annexed by Britain. And there were always tensions in Macau's dealings with China: the local mandarins exerted influence in Macau's affairs and Portugal's claim over Macau was clouded.
Now Hong Kong thrived economically because it had been made a free port. Observing its rapid growth, the Government in Lisbon decided that Macau should follow suit. Macau's Governor José Gregório Pegado warned that there would be serious consequences: Macau would be deprived of its major source of revenue from its Customs House; that revenue would have to be replaced by taxes which would alienate the general population and especially the alien inhabitants.
Nevertheless, the Portuguese Minister Falcão ignored this advice and on 20 November 1845 declared Macau a free port. Portugal had been trying with out success to wrest greater rights from China without success and now appointed a strong new Governor, Captain João Maria Ferreira do Amaral, with instructions to assert the absolute autonomy of the colony.4 The Macau Senate was opposed to this policy: without additional military and naval forces they saw the Chinese retaliating with food blockades and the inevitable humiliating capitulation by Macau.5
Amaral was a naval hero, tough, blunt and tenacious. While leading a storming party in a battle in Brazil in 1823 as an 18-year-old midshipman, he was badly wounded by a shot in his right arm. Undeterred, he kept going, exclaiming: "Forward, my brave comrades! I have another arm left me still!" 6 In hospital it was considered necessary for the arm to be amputated immediately. The brave young man endured the amputation, in silence without anaesthetic, seated in an armchair chewing his cigar. When he saw his severed arm fall, he rose from his armchair and threw the arm in the air shouting "Viva Portugal!"7
However, his authoritarian style, which might have been appropriate in combat, created problems with the Chinese, the British and civil leaders in Macau. He started off badly.
"Three leading Portuguese merchants [one of them a legal luminary who had acted as a judge] involved in a civil suit due to an opium broker's fraud at Canton, proceeded to Hong Kong where, at Amaral's request for their extradition, and without any prima facie evidence at all, two of them were lodged in gaol and then conveyed to Macao in a British gunboat, handcuffed like convicted criminals, to the indignation of both colonies, and to the prejudice of Amaral's prestige. Tried in Macao, they were all acquitted."8
This was followed by a riot by Chinese over a small duty imposed on Chinese passage-boats.
"On the morning of 8th October 1846, a mob with three guns landed from about forty junks at the inner shore, and advancing from the lane in front of St. Anthony's church, opened fire upon a squad of sepoys, whose musketry failed to produce any impression. Another squad soon reached the scene with two field-pieces, and assisted by armed citizens, succeeded in repelling the rioters, who took to their heels, abandoning the guns, quite a new thing for a Chinese riot there. As they scrambled for the junks, a brisk fire wreaked havoc on them, while the guns of several lorchas (the shallow-bottomed armed boats used to combat piracy) as well as of Monte Fort took charge of such junks as were escaping, many being sunk, and others drifting down the port in flames.
"In retaliation, the Chinese shut up their shops and stopped supplying the market with provisions. Amaral at once proclaimed that if within twenty-four hours the shops did not resume business, the artillery of Monte would raze the whole market-place. This manly attitude had the desired effect. Next morning there was not a single shop closed as Amaral rode past the market-place."9
A major issue in Macau was "ground-rent" which had been paid by Macau to the local mandarins for two centuries. Payment of ground-rent was seen as a weakening of Portugal's claim to the colony and Amaral summarily abolished it, making the point that Macau was not merely a lease-hold.10
Amaral used the same high-handedness in dealing with Chinese mandarins who had long interfered in Macau. He insisted that he had full jurisdiction over all Chinese residents in Macau without the need to consult with any mandarin. He refused to let them bring their armed escorts when entering Macau, and even personally hurled one of them down the steps of Government House when that mandarin called on him to protest at his techniques.
His reforms extended to a campaign against crime. He clamped down on abuse in the operation of lorchas. When an African was convicted of killing a Chinese, the murderer was taken to the place of execution followed by his coffin and summarily shot as an example. A Portuguese soldier who had outraged the wife and daughter of a mandarin was subjected to severe flogging to which the mandarin was invited to send witnesses. A mandarin who was notorious for unlawful extortion from boat people was evicted from Macau and had his house seized.
He also risked further alienation of the Chinese population with a plan to remove 700 graves for development. Austin Coates reports11:
"In recent years, the fields and low hills between the city and the barrier had become so popular with Chinese as a burial place that there was hardly an uncultivated acre that was not littered with tombs. In view of the city's rising population, it was necessary to extend the town beyond the walls, and, to avoid the dangers of disease and fire, clean up the shack area under the walls. Above all, a proper road was required, connecting the city with the barrier gate to improve the absurd position whereby goods had to be borne in along small tracks through a network of smallholdings and tombs. Without fear of Chinese reactions, Amaral ordered the removal of graves as required for these works, offering compensation to poor families.
"Knowing the extreme Chinese anger this would arouse, the Senate secretly petitioned the Minister for the Colonies concerning the danger of this anti-Chinese policy. When he discovered this, Amaral disbanded the Senate, and published the full details in the government bulletin, branding the senators as unpatriotic. Amid growing Chinese discontent and the hostility of his own people, he continued his administration under what amounted to martial law."
But Amaral was on shaky ground. He had the support of only a tiny garrison and conscripts and not a single warship. Portugal was embroiled in civil war and he could never expect military aid from that quarter. As the economic situation worsened because of the free port policy, Macau became entirely dependent on contributions from Macaense merchants, but their support was stretched to the limit, there was resentment because of conscription and morale was low.
The final straw was his closure of the ho-pu (the Chinese Customs House at Praia Grande in Macau, within 100m of the Governor's palace).12 This had been established for nearly 200 years by the mandarins in Macau, ostensibly to prevent smuggling but in practice to collect duties on goods to and from Canton. To the Chinese it served an important function but Amaral saw it as another challenge to Portuguese sovereignty. Amaral argued that, because Macau was now a free port, there was no need for Customs.
Amaral's demise was precipitated by an absurd incident. During the procession with the Host on the feast of Corpus Christi in June 1849, one James Summers, a teacher at the Protestant St Paul's College in Hong Kong, insisted on watching the procession with his hat on. Several of his Protestant companions, knowing that this would cause serious affront, urged him either to withdraw or uncover his head, but he refused. A priest made a polite request that Summers remove his hat, which he again ignored. This was reported to Amaral who sent an orderly with the same request and the same result, whereupon Amaral had Summers imprisoned.
The following day, three British officers, who happened to be in Macau for the regatta, called on Amaral to request Summers' release. They were all from influential military families: Capt the Hon. Henry Keppel of HMS Meander (son of the Earl of Albemarle), army Captain Charles William Dunbar Staveley, Assistant Military Secretary in Hong Kong (son of Lieutenant-General William Staveley, the Lieutenant-Governor of Hong Kong), and Captain Edward Norwich Troubridge of HMS Amazon (son of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Thomas Troubridge and grandson of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge, both of whom had fought in battles with Lord Nelson and had served as Lords of the Admiralty).
They would have seen the issue as just a religious problem.
Amaral pointed out that, besides slighting the religion of the State, Summers had defied his bidding as Governor; but as a compromise, he offered to plead with the judge if the release were requested as a favour. Arrogantly, Keppel retorted that he wanted no favour, but demanded the release by right ... and the interview ended." 13
The next day, while Amaral sailed on a British ship for the regatta, Keppel proposed to Don Sinibaldo de Mas, the Spanish minister to China, that Amaral should be captured and detained, but was dissuaded from doing so.
Keppel instead sent a strong party of marines from his ships to Praia Grande, that landed just in front of Government House. The outnumbered Portuguese sepoy guards there awaited the order to fire, but the dumbfounded officer only looked on. The marines then proceeded to the prison next to the Leal Senado (the Senate House). A young sentry was surprised and overpowered. The marines divided into two: one group of marines entered the Leal Senado, shot dead an unarmed private and wounded three guards. The second group entered the prison, disarmed the sentry and released Summers.
When he learned of this, Amaral was furious and was only just dissuaded from firing on the British ships. He censured and removed the officer at Government House from his post and made a point of personally acting as pall-bearer for the murdered soldier.
There followed a formal protest from Portugal to Britain and eventually an apology from Lord Palmerston, a censure for Keppel and a pension for the family of the murdered soldier. The Economist (London) remarked on 25 August 1849 that14
"It was one of those cases which made foreigners reproach British naval commanders with arrogance and wilfulness, and look on England's naval supremacy more like a tyranny than a friendly guardianship of the highway of nations."
This ridiculous incident, apart from galling and humiliating Portugal, Macau and Amaral in particular, had more serious consequences: it exposed publicly a rift between Hong Kong and Macau and between British and Portuguese military forces. Those who had been restrained from acting against Macau, for fear of intervention by British naval forces, were given new heart.
Placards, posted in Canton with tacit approval from Chinese authorities, offered rewards for Amaral's head. Feelings rose so strongly and obviously that Amaral himself foretold his demise to Don Sinibaldo de Mas.
Two days later, on 22nd August 1849, one of Amaral's Chinese servants warned him of danger on his customary evening ride, which he undertook anyway accompanied by Lt Jerónimo Pereira LeiteClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (31712) to be taken to his page his aide-de-camp. A friendly beggar they encountered repeated the warning. As they approached Porta do Cêrco, the barrier at the border with China, a Chinese boy shied the horses with a stick and seven Chinese ambushed them with short swords. Holding his reins with his teeth, Amaral fought with his only arm but was hacked at and dismounted. Amaral was beheaded and had his only hand severed15. His aide, slightly wounded in the leg, fled the scene to seek help. The assassins escaped through the barrier gate leaving a blood-stained jacket there.
At this atrocity the colony was convulsed and the Portuguese garrison looked for revenge. Chinese troops and artillery massed at the border and an invasion appeared imminent. Many of the Chinese inhabitants of Macau were suspected of being in league with the expected invaders. The Governor's Council,16 who assumed command, appealed to the representatives of foreign powers for support. The Americans gave help: the brig USS Dolphin (with two 9-pounder cannon and 8 24-pounder carronades) guarded the inland waterway (the Porto Interior) and the sloop-of-war USS Plymouth (with four 8-inch shell guns and eighteen 32-pounder guns) was ordered to Macau from Whampoa (Huangpo) near Canton to Macau. The British sent from Hong Kong HMS Amazon (44 guns) and HMS Meander (24 guns).17.
Three days after the assassination, on the morning of 25 August, the Chinese at Fort Pak Shan Lan (which the Portuguese called Passaleão) with twenty 18-pounder guns, opened fire on Porta do Cêrco a mile to the south. Porta do Cêrco was defended by 120 Portuguese troops, an armed cutter and a lorcha.18 Montalto de Jesus writes that they faced some 500 Chinese at the fort and 1,500 others with artillery in the surrounding hills, with more reinforcements pouring in.19 The Portuguese guns did not have the range to retaliate.
There was widespread confusion and despair in the populace. In response to a distress signal (the Portuguese flag flown upside down from São Francisco Fort) a party of British marines (presumably a small detachment from Amazon and Meander) was sent in; they did not march to the front but were stationed outside Government House at Praia Grande.
At Porta do Cêrco the garrison's position soon became untenable. Retreat from the barrier would have invited invasion and a sortie appeared suicidal. The foreign ministers, who attended a meeting of the Council, advised against any aggressive act. At this point, a young Macaense artillery officer, Second-Lieutenant Vicente Nicolau de MesquitaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (18430) to be taken to his page, who was serving as aide-de-camp to the Council, urged action, volunteering to lead an attack himself. The Council granted permission and gave him leave to act independently of Captain Ricardo de Melo SampaioClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (19666) to be taken to his page, the officer in command at Porta do Cêrco.
With 16 hand-picked men and a howitzer that a French naval officer had given to Amaral, Mesquita rushed to the barrier and handed Sampaio an order from the Council to move his troops forward as far as the paddy-fields beyond the barrier. Mesquita brought the howitzer to within range of Pak Shan Lan, loaded and trained the howitzer himself and fired a ingle shell that exploded over the fort. This caused a large number of deaths and demoralised the Chinese troops. But the recoil of the howitzer broke one of its wheels so that weapon played no further part in that skirmish.
Mesquita then returned to the barrier and handed Sampaio a note from the Council that gave him leave to storm the fort and called for volunteers. He moved the 20 men from the garrison and his 16 chosen men in single file towards Pak Shan Lan. The fort opened fire and Sampaio ordered a retreat to be sounded but on hearing this Mesquita ordered his own bugler to sound the advance. A shot smashed the bugle but the advance continued.
Those at the Monte Fort – including the foreign ministers – witnessed the action clearly. Mesquita's small group negotiated its way to Pak Shan Lan through cannon fire without loss until they were under the coverage arc of the guns; at this point they came under fire from jingals (heavy muskets on supports) but these proved ineffective.
The Macanese opened fire with their rifles as they mounted the slope to the battlements. Their fire was apparently very effective but would not alone have explained the rout that followed. Quite likely, the majority of the Chinese troops were badly trained and undisciplined.
Teixeira writes that the first two to scale the walls of the fort were Pedro Paulo do RosárioClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (31818) to be taken to his page, an African and the barber of the Battalion, and Vitorino do Rosário. On seeing a black on the wall the Chinese soldiers bolted in terror, believing it was the devil.20
Exhausted, the attackers entered the fort just in time to stop a soldier from lighting a fuse with a flint to explode its magazine. A solitary mandarin "stretched over an embrasure" (wounded?) offered resistance but was killed and, in an act of barbarity, had his head and hand cut off and brought back to Macau on spears.
In the silence that followed the engagement, the populace in Macau feared the worst until they saw the Portuguese flag hoisted over Pak Shan Lan. When a messenger on horseback finally brought the news to Praia Grande, there was euphoria.
Before withdrawing, the attackers spiked the fort's guns and blew up its magazine. Only one of the party was wounded. Chinese losses were unknown because they carried away both the wounded and the dead.
The following day, the foreign powers made a point by sending British marines to the scene of the action at Pak Shan Lan. British and US warships remained at Macau and the French landed a strong detachment from the corvette La Bayonnaise (32 guns). Don Sinibaldo de Mas asked for gunboats from Manila, reinforcements were sent from Goa and Lisbon and Portuguese volunteers came from Hong Kong.
Montalto de Jesus reports21 that thereafter the mandarins had no power in Macau and Portuguese sovereignty was never again challenged (although not formally accepted by China until 1887). The barrier guardroom and barracks were dismantled and replaced by a Portuguese post, and defence was strengthened by forts of Mong-Ha and Dona Maria on nearby hills.
One of the assassins, Sen Chi Leong, was captured on September 12th at the village of Shon Tak. He confessed, was promptly tried and was executed three days later. On October 14th Su, the Chinese Viceroy in Canton, reported the fate of others involved in the assassination: one was wounded and captured; another wounded and drowned; a third who had turned pirate confessed that two others, also pirates, had been killed by the British in Hong Kong.
The confessions gave details of the assassination: Sen Chi Leong had approached Amaral with a petition; as Amaral stretched out his hand to receive it, Sen Chi Leong produced a sword hidden in a closed umbrella to attack his only good arm. The severed head and arm were buried near Shon Tak.
However there were other reports: that Kam Tong, their leader, had dealt the death blow, had taken the head and hand to Canton and had been rewarded there with a decoration.
Three Chinese soldiers at the barrier gate were detained by the Portuguese and held as ransom for the return of Amaral's head and hand. After prolonged negotiations these were delivered to the Council in Macau. Amaral's body was taken to Portugal and buried with honours in Lisbon.
Mesquita was honoured as a national hero22 but he was only rewarded slowly: by promotion to 1st Lieutenant in 1850, Major in 1863, Lt Colonel in 1867 and on retirement in 1873 to Colonel.
He was appointed Knight in the Order of Na Sra da Conceição da Vila Viçosa in 1855, Knight (1857) and then Commander (1869) in the Military Order of Aviz, and received the silver military medal of valour and the silver military medal of exemplary conduct.
However, his fate was tragic. He suffered for many years with severe depression which affected both his private and professional life. He finally became deranged in 1880 when a daughter was seduced by a scoundrel. In a fit of madness he killed that daughter and his second wife and wounded another daughter and son and committed suicide by hurling himself down a well in his backyard.
Because of his acts of murder and suicide, the Bishop ruled that he could not be buried in hallowed ground and, on directive from the Governor, there were no military honours at his funeral. It was not until 1910 that another bishop gave permission for his body to be interred in the Cemetery of S. Miguel in Macau.
Two impressive and handsome statues, designed by Maximiliano Alves in Lisbon, were erected nearly a century later to honour Amaral and Mesquita: the former positioned near the present Hotel Lisboa and the second in front of Leal Senado. For years they added to the ambience of Macau and attracted tourists.
Amaral and Mesquita were heroes to the Portuguese23 but villains to the Chinese to whom these statues were a constant reminder of humiliation. Mesquita's statue was demolished during riots in 1966 and, succumbing to Chinese demands, Portugal removed Amaral's statue in 1993.
The removal of these statues symbolised the departure of the Portuguese presence in Asia.
Acknowledgements: I am indebted to Stuart BragaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (14522) to be taken to his page for his constructive comments on this article and for finding the old map of Macau, and to J Bosco CorreaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (38206) to be taken to his page for the photos of the statues Amaral and Mesquita and for his supplementary data.
Henry d'AssumpçãoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (1) to be taken to his page
1 C. Montalto de Jesus Historic Macao p313
2 The first draft of the Hong Kong ordinance was tactless, stating that Macao was 'deemed and taken to be within the dominions of the emperor of China'. (A Macau Narrative p88)
3 Capt Elliot had a talent as an artist – click to see a painting of his.
4 Historic Macao p318
5 A Macau Narrative p89
6 Historic Macao p319
7 Toponímia de Macau Vol II p36
8 Historic Macao p320
9 ibid, p322
10 Toponímia de Macau Vol II p39
11 A Macau Narrative p90
12 Historic Macao pp125, 326-331. The Governor's order was transmitted in Chinese by his friend João Francisco Rodrigues Gonçalves (Famílias Macaenses Vol II p682)
13 ibid, p335
14 ibid, p339
15 There is an unsubstantiated family legend, recounted by Bernardino de Senna Fernandes "Riri" d'AssumpçãoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (3) to be taken to his page in his unpublished anecdotes, that his maternal grandfather, Count Bernardino de Senna FernandesClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (635) to be taken to his page, led a search party to try to recover the head. Senna Fernandes was 32 years old at the time, and First Sergeant of the Provincial Battalion of Macau.
16 The Council comprised the Judge, senior military officer, Treasurer, President of the Senate and Procurator, and was chaired by the Bishop.
17 Historic Macao p342
18 The lorcha of citizen António Ferreira BatalhaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (36861) to be taken to his page was positioned in the middle of the river protecting Mesquita's advance on Passaleão and responded with heavy fire on the guns of Passaleão; this lorcha remained in its position above Ilha Verde throughout that day and the night of the 25th hindering the passage of hostile vessels and compelling the registration of others. (Ref Galeria Macaenses Ilustres do Seculo XIX) – J Bosco CorreaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (38206) to be taken to his page
19 ibid, p342. Vicente Nicolau de Mesquita gives the number at the Pak Shan Lan as 400. While there is no doubt that the Portuguese were heavily outnumbered, these figures were not substantiated and could well have been over-estimated.
20 Toponímia de Macau Vol II p322
21 Historic Macao, pp347-348
To honour Mesquita for his heroic deed the small, hardworking Portuguese community in the newly established British colony of Hong Kong raised funds amongst themselves via a circular dated 3rd September, 1849, and commissioned a special ceremonial sword from Lisbon which was presented to Mesquita on 1st September, 1850 by a small delegation from Hong Kong led by Francisco Cândido Pereira de SilveiraClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (9083) to be taken to his page The sword is described the sword as being of splendid workmanship, with letters engraved in the blade and inlaid with gold. The inscription reads: "Ao valor intrepido do Tenente de Artilheria Vicente Nicolao de Mesquita – Seus patrícios os macaenses em Hongkong, em memória da acção de 25 de Agosto de 1849 – Esta espada dedicam." (To the intrepid valour of Lieutenant of the Artillery Vicente Nicolao de Mesquita, his fellow countrymen, the Macaenses in Hongkong, in memory of the feat of the 25th August, 1849, dedicate this sword.) (Ref The Portuguese in Hong Kong and China)
The memory of Mesquita was so revered that when the Portuguese Company of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps was formed by members of the Portuguese community there in January 1910 they proudly named their unit in his honour (Companhia Portuguesa do Coronel Mesquita). (Ref Galeria de Macaenses Ilustres do Seculo XIX p236)
A contingent of seven members from this unit went from Shanghai to Macau specially to attend the ceremonial religious service and burial of Mesquita on 25 June 1910 upon his spiritual rehabilitation by the Bishop of Macau Dom João Paulino de Azevedo e Castro. It is worthy of note that Emilio E. da EncarnaçãoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (3019) to be taken to his page organised the band of that Company (Ref.Familías Macaenses Vol I, p1040). Toponímia de Macau pp514-516
J Bosco Correa
23 Amaral's only son, Francisco Joaquim Ferreira do Amaral, had a distinguished career: he was an admiral, Governor of several colonies and President of Portugal.