PoWI Archives - Milne - Note for the Quincentenary

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by Anthony Milne
Sunday Express
Sunday May 24, 1992
p. 4, 22
used with permission

Richard Hakluyt (1551-1616), the English geographer and preacher, claims in his Voyages and Discoveries that an Englishman, Macham, was the first to set foot on the island of Madeira - "standing in 32 degrees" - in 1344.

Madeira is the largest of a group of volcanic islands in the Atlantic, 400 miles west of Morocco. The island is 35 miles long and 300 square miles in extent, with peaks rising to 6,000 feet. The smaller islands, including Porto Santo, together comprise only 15 square miles.

Hakluyt says that, sailing from England to Spain "with a woman that he had stolen," Macham was blown off course by a storm to Madeira where he found shelter. Because the woman was seasick, Macham went ashore with her with a few of his crew. While they were ashore the ship sailed away.

During their involuntary sojourn in Madeira, the woman died and Macham built a chapel to her memory. He and his men then cut down one of the large trees on the island, made a rough boat and set out for the coast of Africa. When they landed there the Moors, full of wonder, took them to their King, who sent them on to the King of Castille.

In the 1400s the Portuguese began their grat voyages of discovery - under the influence of Prince Henry the Navigator, and a series of rulers including Pedro, Alfonso V, John II, Manuel I, and John III - led by Bartolomeu Dias, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488; Vasco da Gama, who opened the route to India via the Cape in 1498; and Pedro Alvarez Cabral. (Fernao Magalhães, known as Magellan, who first circumnavigated the world, was Portuguese, in the service of Spain. Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian who explored the coast of South America, was in the service of Portugal.)

Assisted by English, Flemish and German men of the Crusades, Catholic Portugal got rid of the Islamic Moors in 1415, well before Spain did, when John I's army took Ceuta, near Gibraltar. It had some time been the plan to carry the crusade against the Moors into Africa, and the capture of Ceuta marked the start of Portugal's expansion overseas.

Prince Henry mounted numerous expeditions into the Atlantic and down the coast of Africa, for trade and conquest and in the hope of finding and forming an alliance against the Moors with the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John.

Portuguese sailors first saw Madeira in 1419, and the Azores shortly afterwards. Settlement of Madeira began a few years later under Prince Henry. In time the islands became a political district of Portugal known as Funchal. War with France in the 17th century left Portugal in desperate economic straits which extended to Madeira. Encouragement for the island's inhabitants to come to West Indies as contracted agricultural labourers therefore found favour.

Writing in 1945, Charles Reis, a Trinidad barrister, says Portuguese were enticed to leave Madeira as early as 1836. Ten years later, there were already more than 10,000 Portuguese from Madeira settled in the West Indies, with 9,800 in Guyana, 807 in St. Vincent, 120 in Grenada, and 30 in St. Kitts. Portuguese also went to Antigua.

Reis's book, now rare, which contains the story of Portuguese arrival in Trinidad, is principally a history of the Portuguese Association (Associação Portugueza Primeiro de Dezembro), written for the Association's 40th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese in Trinidad.

"The first organised batch to arrive in Trinidad landed here on May 9, 1846, by the barque Senator," says Reis. The group, totalling 219, comprised 109 men, 91 women, and 19 children. "They were all in excellent health and evidently hardy people accustomed to agricultural pursuits." The immigrants were offered regular work at prevailing rates of pay, housing accommodation, a small piece of land to plant provisions, and were to live in communities of not less than 30 on each estate.

Another group of 197 from Madeira arrived in Trinidad on the ship William, on September 16, 1846. This group was different. They were Protestant refugees fleeing persecution at home. They had been converted from Catholicism by Dr. Robert Reid Kalley, a Scottish medical missionary who went to Madeira.

"The crossing of the Atlantic, in squalid quarters and congested decks on sailing boats so small that they were exposed to daily risk, was a dreadful experience - the dimensions of which need an effort of the imagination to realise today - which these emigrants and refugees from Madeira bravely endured for the hope of bettering their position," Reis says.

They arrived destitute and it was difficult to find jobs for them. Most of them were accommodated by the Scottish Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, attached to Greyfriars church in Frederick Street. Consequently, a close relationship developed between these Portuguese refugees and the Scottish community in Trinidad. In 1849, most of these refugees, numbering about 1,000, went to the United States, specifically to Springfield and Jacksonville, Illinois.

The few hundred left in Trinidad placed themselves under the leadership of a fellow-refugee, Henrique Vieira, a Presbyterian minister. In 1854 Vieira and his followers built the St. Ann's Presbyterian Church at the corner of Oxford and Charlotte Streets, known for a long time afterwards as the "Portuguese Church."

Gradually the enmity between Catholic and Presbyterian Portuguese here diminished. The emigrants began leaving Port of Spain, moving south and inland and to the farthest corners of the island.

"By their industry, prudence and thrift," says Reis, "in the course of time both emigrants and refugees were able to branch out on their own in small business." They became the shopkeepers of Trinidad, often in remote areas. They worked long hours and often lived in the buildings housing their shops. Some of them prospered, becoming proprietors of large commercial firms. Occasionally new immigrants came to join those already here.

Some, especially those of the first generation and their children, married fellow-Portuguese, but many began to mix, marrying into other racial groups. Reis, writing in 1945, says "racial intermixture of the creole of Portuguese descent has been so widespread and so long continued that he and his offspring have acquired an individuality and a personality of a blended culture - a new race homogeneity" - a new Trinidadian.


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