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Henrique Lourenço de Noronha-Singapore’s Government Printer By Alberto Guterres

Henrique Lourenço de Noronha was born in Macau on 9 August 1841, the eldest son of Delfino Joaquim and his wife Umbelina Maria Basto.

He was sent to Singapore for his education as the availability of the schooling there at the time was superior to Hong Kong. His early years in Singapore were to serve him well in the later years of his life, particularly after his family secured the printing contract with the Singapore Government. After schooling, he returned to Hong Kong to become the right-hand man in his father’s business.

He was a beneficiary of his father’s company’s success and business acumen. Noronha & Co were the printers to the Government of Hong Kong. It was Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, the then Governor of the Colony (1866-1872) who, in appreciation of the services of the firm Noronha & Co stated, “so long as the firm should continue to give satisfaction, they would remain the printers of the Government in perpetuum”. Both his parents excelled in the printing business, with his mother considered a woman pioneer in the printing, by helping her husband with inking, and composition. Henrique learned well the art of printing from both his parents.

His father Delfino used to mix with a great number of dignitaries, public servants and world leaders (including the early Filipino patriot, then later President José Rizal). One of the persons, who was regularly invited to his dinner parties was Cecil Clementi Smith. Cecil was firstly a Registrar of Chinese Affairs (1864-1874) and then the Government Treasurer (1874-1878) in Hong Kong. In 1878, he left Hong Kong to take up his appointment as Colonial Secretary of Straits Settlements (1878-1887) and as understudy to the then Governor Frederick Wells. His knowledge of the Chinese language was to stand him in good stead, particularly with the leaders of the growing Singaporean Chinese population. He was later appointed the Governor of the Strait Settlements and the High Commissioner for Malaya (1887-1893).

When Cecil Clementi Smith first arrived in Singapore in September 1878, he became aware of the appalling publications carried out by the appointed printing press and immediately contacted his friend

Delfino for his assistance. Henrique Lourenço, was considered the most suitable candidate to help, due

to his Singapore upbringing, printing press experience and as the eldest son. He took up the post of Superintendent of the Singapore Printing Press, after Noronha & Co was awarded a 20-year contract (1879-1899).

Henrique Lourenço moved to Singapore in July 1879 with his wife Esménia Maria and their young children: Elísia Maria Leonor (17 years), Josefina Maria Leonor (14), Henrique Delfino (12) and José Leonardo (9). (note that both Jorge Forjaz in his compilation of “Famílias Macaenses” and Fr. Manuel Teixeira on his book “The Portuguese Missions in Malacca and Singapore” provided different dates of his arrival).

Prior to 1879, “the Singapore Directory for the Straits Settlements” had been printed at the offices of T.J. Keaughran in High Street, not far from the Padang. Keaughran was the Superintendent of Printing Office up to 1879, (above), then was succeeded by Henrique Lourenço as Superintendent from 1880.

When Henrique Lourenço Noronha took over from Keaughran, he decided to relocate the printing of all government documents, including the Straits’ Directory to the “Mission Press” (refer to Directory 1880 front page below for this new address of the Singapore Printing Press). He also renamed the government gazette “the Singapore and Straits Directory”.

The following year the Mission Press (then part of the Portuguese Catholic Mission, founded by Fr. Francisco da Silva Pinto Maia) became the Singapore Printing Office under the supervision of Henrique Lourenço. The printing offices moved several times, firstly from Beach Road to 15 Battery Road in 1887, to 35 Serangoon Road in 1898 and finally to 135 Thompson Road in 1899, just before Henrique Lourenço retired.

The early Portuguese took up residency in areas such as Selegie Road, Mount Sophia, Bain Road, Cashin Street, Kirk Terrace, Wilkie Road, Waterloo Street, Bras Basah Road and Queen Street. Some were employed by Henrique Lourenço as trusted foremen, compositors, and apprentices in the printing


Henrique Lourenço decided to make his first residence in Bras Basah Road, close to the St. Joseph Church, St. Joseph’s Institute (established in 1852 for boys) and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (also established in 1852 for girls). His 3 younger children would have studied in these schools that remain to this day. He and his wife Umbelina and family would return several times to Hong Kong for their vacations as indicated on several of the Strait Times newspapers. The family trips were to visit family members, particularly with the patriarch Delfino himself, and to discuss updates of newly available equipment and printing processes.

Henrique Lourenço’s success as the Supervisor of the Singapore Government Printing Press and his community leadership can be measured by the fond farewell party at his residence on the completion of his contract. (refer to Straits Telegraph, 10 April 1899) By the time of his retirement he was one of the leading Portuguese in Singapore and took a role in many local institutions.

He was to return to Hong Kong, where he became one of the two partners (his other partner was his brother-in-law José Maria de Castro Basto) of the firm of Noronha & Sons, taking over from his ailing father Delfino Joaquim, who was to die some months later in 1900. He assumed the management of the firm for some 5 years until his own death on 11 April 1905. The Strait Times reprinted details his obituary that appeared in the Hong Kong Telegraph paper, also confirming that he was a board member of Club Lusitano and re-elected the day before his death. In addition, the Straits Times gave prominence to some of career achievements in Singapore which included his appointment to the Board of Examiners of the Straits Government and his compilation of the “Analytical Index of the Bankruptcy Laws”.

Their elder daughter, Elísia Maria Leonor was born in Hong Kong 16 December 1862, died in Singapore on 23 October 1893. She was already 17 years old when she arrived in Singapore with her father, and had completed her schooling, so she helped her mother with caring for her young siblings. She had been courted by Claúdio António da Silva in Hong Kong. Claúdio followed the family in 1884, after securing a position as manager of the revived Singapore Free Press. He resumed his courtship of Elísia and the couple married in Singapore at St. Joseph’s Church on 18 January 1886.

The story of their son Claúdio Henrique da Silva is remarkable for his life achievements: Born in Sandakan, British North Borneo (now part of Sabah East Malaysia) in 1891, and popularly known as “Toto”, he was an old boy of the St. Joseph Institution and a Queen’s Scholar at Cambridge, before pursuing law in London. He returned to Singapore in 1912 and became a partner of Battenberg and da Silva. His most remarkable professional success occurred in the defense of the Sepoy mutiny soldiers in 1915 for which he was well remembered many years afterwards. He was much involved in the public institutions of the city, serving in the Legislative Council, a board director of King Edward VI School of Medicine and as Municipal Commissioner. He was also involved in the social life of Singapore and particularly involved in the Eurasian Society of the time, being its founding member and president.

Unfortunately, not much is known about Henrique Lourenço’s second daughter Josefina Maria Leonor, except that she was also born in Hong Kong on 10 April 1865, studied at the CHIJS and probably died in Singapore. The two sons Henrique Delfino (b Hong Kong 26 November 1866, d Hong Kong 1 April 1916) and José Leonardo (b Hong Kong 18 January 1869 d Singapore 3 October 1899), were both students at the St. Joseph Institute.

Henrique Delfino worked with his father at the Singapore Printing Office and was to return to Hong Kong together with his parents and his own young family in 1899. He had been a notable playboy in his young years, according to the family and did not marry and settle down until he was already 29 years of age, quite an old age at the time (in fact his younger brother married before him). He married a young 18-year-old French woman by the name of Henriette Pagès at the Cathedral of the Good Shepard in Singapore on 8 January 1895. This church was probably chosen for the wedding due to its French connections. Good Shepard partially funded by the French and opened in 1847 by French Catholic missionary Fr. Jean-Marie Beurel.

He initially pursued a career in printing, returning with his father to Hong Kong in 1899, then moving to Canton to work as a partner of Fernandes, Noronha & Co. before joining the firm of Arnold Karberg & Co. Leaving Arnold Karberg, he was to form his own successful import & export business in Canton, before returning to Hong Kong at the onset of WWI.

José Leonardo took up a career in accountancy and was employed as a senior clerk in the bankruptcy office of The Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China in its Singapore Branch. This is where he met his future wife, Constance Mitchell. Apparently when he told his father on his intention to marry an Anglican lady, his staunch Catholic father did not approve (in fact in the words of his grandson Eric - the wedding was condemned by the Catholic clan of the family). Thus, he decided to ask for a transfer to the Surabaya branch of his employer and together with his bride settled in this Dutch colonial city, where they married.

According to his grandson, when José and Constance had their first child, a son Eric Henry James (b Surabaya 12 March 1895), in own words confirmed: “my own grandfather - José returned to Singapore on request of his own father Henrique Lourenço for reconciliation and acceptance of his marriage and eager to see his own grandchild Eric” (see letter right, received from the grandson Eric Richard Iwan Cedric dated 18 June 2000). He was not pleased with the move and already in poor health, as I was told, he died soon after. (I am still in contact with Ramon, his grandson who lives in


José Leonardo and his wife Constance would have 4 more children, namely Sydney Henri, Ronald Lawrence, Rita Lotte Esmenia and Mercia Deedre Constança. The last child was born after the death of her own father. As a consequence of José Leonardo early death, he was only 30 years of age, Constance was left alone in Singapore with her four young children and without any family support. She decided to return to Surabaya, where she had the support of her younger sister who was married to a senior Dutch Government Officer.

Recently I received a detailed document in Dutch related to Eric Henri James (first son of José Leonardo and wife Constance). The document (below) indicates that both José Leonardo and wife Constance held Dutch citizenship - could these have been requested when they first moved to Surabaya when family ties were strained? We will never be able to find out, unfortunately.

Most of the members of this branch of the José Leonardo Noronha family would ultimately migrate to The Netherlands, as a direct consequence of the Dutch/Indonesian War in 1945-1949. There are still members of the family in Indonesia whilst others of the same family have made their home in the USA. This branch had converted to Islam, after one of the Noronha members married an Indian gentleman - surnamed Vijsma. A sad event in the Noronha family of Surabaya occurred on the 16 November 1945, during the Dutch/Indonesian War when 3 members of Eric Henri’s family, namely his daughter Johanna Henriette Eleanore, and sons Henri Johan Otto and James Ernst José were murdered in their home by a mob of looters as detailed by his son Eric Richard himself in an attachment to his letter to me dated 18 May 2000.

Much more can be said about the descendants of the sons of Henrique Lourenço, namely Henrique Delfino and José Leonardo but then you need a book to encompass all of their history. This article was compiled by Alberto Guterres after extensive family research including a visit to the Singapore National Archives in 2022.


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