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José Pedro Braga, 1871 – 1944

By Mr. Ken Chad



Early Years and Education

José Pedro Braga, or JP Braga as he was known, was born in Hong Kong on the 3rd of August 1871. He was the youngest in a family of eight children. His mother, Carolina, was the daughter of Delfino Noronha, who arrived in Hong Kong on the coattails of the British in 1844. JP’s own father, Vincente Emilio Braga, left for Japan in 1870, and his eldest son, JP’s brother later followed him. Vincente never returned to Hong Kong, abandoning his wife Carolina with seven children. Consequently, JP was brought up by his grandfather Delfino, who was a significant influence on his life.





Carolina Maria Braga and her family ca 1878. José Braga is the small boy standing at the left.


JP went to St. Joseph’s College in Hong Kong where he received the Belilios Scholarship. Emanuel Raphael Belilios made his fortune through trading opium, and ultimately became the chairman of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

After St. Joseph’s College JP was sent to Calcutta to study at St. Xavier’s, a school for many of the crème de la crème of the Far East’s British colonial youth. At St. Xavier’s he won the prize for Elocution and Delivery. Interestingly, with two years to go at St. Xavier’s, he moved from the prestigious school to Roberts Memorial College (also in Calcutta). He graduated in 1888, winning the school’s gold medal which was presented to him by Sir Alexander Wilson. (Had JP just crammed what would have been two years at St. Xavier’s into one at Roberts College?) Roberts Memorial College had put 12 boys up to sit the entrance exam for the University of Calcutta that year, and only two were successful. JP was awarded a First Class pass and won the only scholarship available to a European in the Province of Bengal. The University of Calcutta was the first multi-disciplinarian Western style institution in Asia.


Tragedy and Back to Hong Kong

In 1889 JP found himself back in Hong Kong working in his grandfather’s printing business, then named “Noronha & Sons” and based in Zetland Street. You can be sure that this wasn’t his dream job! He aspired to be a barrister. So what had happened? Why this change of trajectory?


He was back in Hong Kong because his family desperately needed him. There was a smallpox epidemic that was ravaging Hong Kong at the time and tragically, it had taken the lives of three of his older brothers in 1887 and 1888. So, at his mother’s request, he dutifully returned to work and help in his grandfather’s business.


It must have been a lonely and heartbreaking time for him. Losing his older brothers, cutting short his trajectory to becoming a barrister, returning to Hong Kong in a deadly pandemic, and the drudgery of what must have seemed to him a dead-end career in printing.

Well he may have been down but wasn’t out for long. He did something extraordinary and quite risky, and his grandfather must have given him permission to do it too. He printed something that was to change the course of his future.


The Rights of Aliens in Hongkong

A controversy had arisen in Hong Kong involving the Post Office, and it was buried in the 1894 Annual Report of the Post Master General which included the following paragraph:

“I regret to state that during the year it was found that more than 50 registered letters…had been during the previous year lost or misappropriated in transit through this Office. No prosecution was instituted, and the greater part of the indemnities claimed by the senders was paid…”


This led to a stormy debate in the daily press, kicked off by an anonymous letter from “Another Victim” to the Editor of the Hongkong Telegraph printed on 27 August, 1895. The letter, apart from criticism of the Portuguese, called for the substitution of Portuguese clerks with billeted and higher paid Englishmen. This then triggered the debate that played out through the pages of the popular press of the time.


At the age of 24 and with the benefit of his excellent education, JP rose above the muck and took this opportunity to address deeper issues coursing through Hong Kong society. He explained his thinking on the subject in a document that he printed at his grandfather’s printshop, then named Noronha & Co, in 1895. The document was called “The Rights of Aliens in Hongkong” and it caught people’s attention. It carefully, tactfully, and eloquently reminded everyone that while there was immense respect for the British standard of fairness and justice, the intention of the Crown was that there was only room for one standard.


It was a courageous move on the part of young JP (and his grandfather) to put it out there in Hong Kong given the racially charged socioeconomic environment of the time, as well as the risk to the Noronha & Co printing business (which had the Government printing contract). It didn’t go unnoticed, and one person that sent JP a note congratulating him on his publication was the owner of the Hongkong Telegraph, J.J. Francis.


On a lighter note in May 1897, he wrote and published “Odds and Ends”, a booklet on things about Hong Kong or that interested him. He only published five editions.




Marriage

On the 5th of May 1895 he married Olive Pauline Pollard in Hong Kong at the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Olive was an Australian and a later became a Protestant. She had first met JP when he was studying in Calcutta. A child prodigy, she was a gifted violinist and had been on tour with her musical family when she met JP. Together they ended up having a large family, nine boys and four girls. All nine sons were educated at St Joseph’s College. All but one of the children became Protestants, J.M. Braga (“Jack”) ultimately remained a Catholic with his father.


By all accounts it was a tough life for Olive as she didn’t speak Portuguese and didn’t share the same religion as those she lived amongst. She was ostracized for being a Protestant and her lack of

the language made her an outsider by the Portuguese community. She was shunned by the British for having married a Portuguese. Olive had malmost no help at home to look after the thirteen children, just one amah to help with washing the “mountains” of clothes. Still, she would give free violin lessons and her children revered her and loved their father, known affectionately to them as “the General.”


Mr. and Mrs. J.P Braga on the day of their marriage.


Olive Braga with her children Caroline Braga, Tony Braga and Paul Braga outside now “The Verandah” at Repulse Bay in 1946.


JP exits Noronha & Co

In February 1900 JP’s grandfather, Delfino Noronha, died at the age of 76. Delfino Noronha was considered the consummate gentleman by his community, a family patriarch and at one point the largest employer of Portuguese in Hong Kong. He was also one of the founders of Club Lusitano. He had come to Hong Kong from Macau in 1844, one of the very first Portuguese families to make the bold move across the Pearl River.


Delfino had built up a significant business when JP dutifully returned to help his grandfather. When the old man passed JP was then the manager of the business having already been made a partner of Noronha & Co in December 1898.


The Noronha & Co printing business was to continue and retained the government contract. However, Delfino’s sons took over the business and sold it in 1901. It was still run by family members for several generations but JP, whilst “joint manager” with his uncles, was excluded.


So, after twelve years at Noronha & Co, with little to fall back on financially and a growing family to feed but no work in Hong Kong, he went to Macau in 1900. In Macau he taught English language at the Commercial Institute for two years.


What he did gain from his time working at Noronha & Co was an intricate knowledge of how the Government operated from all that government printing he oversaw. Clearly, he wasn’t just printing it,

22 Mr. and Mrs. J.P Braga on the day of their marriage. Olive Braga with her children Caroline Braga, Tony Braga and Paul Braga outside now “The Verandah” at Repulse Bay in 1946. He was educating himself and it would prove to be very useful later in life. He also had the experience of managing and maintaining an existing successful and not insignificant business. More so he’d started to build a reputation as a man of the common people with his letters to the press and the printing of his booklet "The Rights of Aliens in Hongkong".


Back in Hong Kong and Journalism

In 1902 Sir Robert Ho Tung (then Mr.), a man who would remain a lifelong friend to JP, sent him a letter asking him to return to Hong Kong and become the manager of the Hongkong Telegraph. Sir Robert was a major investor in a Chinese syndicate that had invested in the paper. The paper did not have a great reputation in the lead-up to when JP joined, but together with an experienced editor, A.W. Brebner who was appointed in 1906, they turned the paper’s fortunes and reputation around. It had been owned by J.J. Francis, acquired by him some seven years earlier in 1895. J.J. Francis was Irish, a devout Catholic and Senior Counsel in the Colony. Interestingly he was also the first elected member of the oddly named Sanitary Board and a co-founder of the Sette of the Hong Kong Odd Volumes Society.


JP was to stay with the Hongkong Telegraph for eight years before leaving and starting his own printing business. He left the Hongkong Telegraph under a cloud, although publicly this was not obvious.


Brebner had previously written about the Portuguese Republic, as well as the negotiations between the Chinese and the Portuguese regarding the Macau border limitations. JP was very interested in things Portuguese, particularly as they related to the Far East. He was part of the Comissão Portuguesa de Delimiticão de Macau set up in 1909 to resolve the border issue, and he naturally sided with the Portuguese. JP’s sympathies, reflected in the paper, offended the proprietors and JP “excused” himself. The paper was later sold in 1916 and absorbed into the South China Morning Post.


Meanwhile in 1906 JP was appointed the Hong Kong correspondent for Reuters, then the leading international news agency, and he remained their Hong Kong correspondent for 25 years.


J.P Braga when he was the manager of the Hongkong Telegraph in 1908


Desperate times, struggles and tragedy

After leaving the Hongkong Telegraph he started his own printing business, but it wasn’t’ a great success and he got out of it after some years. So, with a family numbering 13 children, desperate for income, he approached the Macau Government to auction off a stub of 131 kilograms of prepared opium, which had remained unsold at the end of a 1917 concession. Under an Anglo-Portuguese treaty

signed in 1913 the trade of opium was not illegal in Hong Kong, if sold for local consumption. Likely he later felt fortunate his bid to do the trade failed as he wrote in 1943 “...sad to relate, Portuguese merchants at Macao were not above trafficking in the “black mud” of such evil repute.”


Then tragedy when JP’s son Delfino (Chappie) died on 14 October 1917 from an abscess on the liver, following a bout of dysentery. He was only 17 years old. And in 1919 there were further family difficulties when another son got into trouble with the law.


During this difficult time JP continued to take an interest in Hong Kong affairs and wrote many letters that were published in the popular press. Interestingly and unlike most, he always signed his letters J.P Braga when he was the manager of the Hongkong Telegraph in 1908 rather than using a non de plume. While he struggled financially, his reputation continued to build as an articulate spokesperson for “common rights”.


On the 25th of April 1919 he was the second Portuguese in Hong Kong to be appointed a justice of the

peace (JP), the first being Eduardo Jose Noronha. Eduardo was the son of JP’s uncle Leonardo Noronha, who had been the proprietor of Noronha & Co since 1910.


China Light

Shortly after the First World War ended in 1918, JP was invited to join the Board of Directors of China Light by it’s founder Robert Sherwan, a Scottish businessman who was also his friend. This led to a complete restructuring of the company, and the incorporation of a new freshly capitalised entity on the 28th of December 1918, called China Light & Power Company (1918) Limited. The financing came from Sir Elly Kadoorie who JP had brought into the business.


Sir Elly Kadoorie’s son Sir Lawrence Kadoorie’s address to staff on 8 March 1977 given at The Peninsula Hotel, included an acknowledgement of the contributions made in that period: "I cannot let this occasion pass without paying tribute not only to Mr. Robert Sherwan, the father of the Company, but also to such pioneers as my late father, Sir Elly Kadoorie, K.B.E., Com.Leg.Hon., and the late Hon. J.P. Braga, O.B.E. But for their courage and faith in the future and their policy of development in anticipation of increased demands for electricity, the phenomenal growth, and unparalleled rates of expansion of Hong Kong’s industry would never have been possible."


JP remained on the board of China Light for many years. The Kadoorie family joined the board in 1930, and JP was Chairman in 1934 and 1938.

China Light’s Hok Un Power Station, Kowloon, Hong Kong, circa 1925


Construction Co.

JP was a director of a number of other public companies in Hong Kong, one of which was Hong Kong Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd, known as the “Construction Co.”. This was a company in which Sir Robert Ho Tung had an interest. Like many companies, it had been badly affected by the 1925 strike. JP himself lost most of the small fortune he’d built up at the time, as he was heavily leveraged in the stock market when it crashed in 1925 (due to the strike), and financially he never fully recovered.


In February 1930 Sir Robert made JP Managing Director and Chairman of the Board of the Construction Co. and he remained in that position until 1941. JP later said that Ho Tung had given him six months to turn the business around. Hugh Braga, an engineer and one of JP’s son’s was working at the firm at the time.


Taking a leaf out of Frank Soares’ playbook, Hugh came up with the idea of creating a Garden Estate. (Frank Soares, a successful businessman and prominent member of the China Light’s Hok Un Power Station, Kowloon, Hong Kong, circa 1925 J.P. Braga making a speech at a ceremony to mark the commencement of construction 20 January 1932 Portuguese community had already developed Ho Man Tin into a Garden City). In November 1931 the Construction Co, with the backing of Sir Elly Kadoorie, purchased for HKD 326,000 a 1,330,000 square foot area in Kowloon. The site was eventually developed into a residential area and the Government rewarded the prime movers by naming two roads running through the suburb Kadoorie Avenue and Braga Circuit.


Meanwhile, Club de Recreio opened it’s new club house on Kowloon side in February 1928. Soon after JP was elected President of Club Lusitano on the 8th of March 1929 for a short period. JP helped arrange support for Club Lusitano to strengthen it’s finances and put it on a course to a stronger future.

J.P. Braga making a speech at a ceremony to mark the commencement of construction 20 January 1932


The Sanitary Board

In 1926 JP was invited to become a temporary member of the Sanitary Board (which later became the Urban Council). He was filling in for the government appointee, Dr W V M Kock, who was on a year’s ‘home leave’. Subsequently JP was nominated to become a permanent member of the Sanitary Board on the 8th of December 1927 by the Governor and was elected (unopposed) in 1930. Membership to the board was coveted and it was the only element of self-elected government in the colony. Consequently, JP’s appointment to the Sanitary Board was widely celebrated by the Portuguese community.


Finally, a person from the Portuguese community was in an official position that gave some voice. JP was perfectly placed. He was articulate, capable and willing to address the issues affecting not just the Portuguese but the common man in Hong Kong. He was a very vocal member and wasted no time pushing the board to deal with health issues designed to prevent a typhoid epidemic.


In 1929 he was made a Comendador da Ordem de Cristo by the Portuguese Government for his role in discussions relating to the Macau Boarder with China.


Appointment to the Legislative Council and O.B.E.

The pinnacle of his career in public service came in 1929, when he was appointed to the Legislative Council as one of two new members for Kowloon. He served two terms, retiring in 1937. Although not the first to be nominated (Januario A. Calvalho, a mentor of JP, was nominated in 1878), JP was the first of the Hong Kong Portuguese community to become a member of the Legislative Council.


JP was enormously enthusiastic about the potential for Kowloon. The population of Kowloon had increased from 80,000 in 1918 to 250,000 in 1928. He was already resident there himself. He was involved with major business enterprises relating to Kowloon, namely China Light and the Construction Co.’s major property development. And his involvement was to continue with other initiatives for Kowloon. It was natural for him to become the member for Kowloon, particularly as many Portuguese residents from Hong Kong were the first to have emigrated from Hong Kong side to

Kowloon.

J.P. Braga at Club Lusitano being recognised for his appointment to the Legislative Council.


Now he also represented a constituent group. JP’s appointment meant that the Portuguese community in Hong Kong were finally and properly being acknowledged, and had a voice in the running of Hong Kong affairs. When he joined, Sir Cecil Clementi, then Governor of Hong Kong, welcomed the new members of the Council, saying:

“In the Honourable Mr. Braga I welcome the first representative of the Portuguese community to sit in the Council. (Applause.) We all of us appreciate the value of the Portuguese community here resident, and it is a pleasure to us that Mr. Braga, who in a very literal sense is a son of Hongkong, should inaugurate the representation of that community in the Legislative Council.”


Like his time at the Sanitary Board, he was a vocal member of the Council, often pointing out defects in the administration, particularly on finance.


He also made constructive suggestions for the improvement of business, such as his proposal during the Great Depression, for a British Trade Fair to be held in Hong Kong, which was voted on and accepted. He was subsequently appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935, being the first member of the Portuguese community to receive an O.B.E.. It was bestowed upon him for his work regarding the British Empire Trade Fairs (held in Kowloon opposite the Peninsula Hotel) in 1932 and 1933, of which he was Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively.


The Second World War and death

When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong, JP and his family were living in their home in Kowloon. It was a terrible time for many, but luckily for JP and some of his family members, his friend Frank Soares most likely saved their lives. Frank was at that time Chancellor of the Consulate of Portugal in Hong Kong and he provided many people, including JP and family, the necessary documentation to safely travel to Macau.


JP’s health was already in decline at the time, it got worse when he was in Macau and on the 12th of February 1944 he died of a heart attack. He is buried in Macau at the S. Miguel Cemetery.


He loved his community and was involved in many activities, committees and societies. He was a founder of St. Joseph’s College Old Boys Association, and a Patron of the Hong Kong Troop (St. Joseph’s College) Boy Scouts. He was an appointed Member of the Court of the University of Hong Kong. He was involved with charity and was Vice President of the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children. He was appointed by the Governor to the Water Emergency Committee, Stamp Duty Commission, Public Playing Fields Committee, the Hong Kong Broadcasting Committee,

Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps Advisory Committee and several Royal reception committees. He was also on the committee of an interesting little organisation called the Odd Volumes Society.


He loved going to the races at Happy Valley and on one occasion was reported in the press for having his pocket picked at the races, sadly at the beginning of the meet!

JP Braga’s bust in San Miguel cemetery, Macau sculpted by the Italian sculptor, Oseo Acconci


Legacy

While he claimed not to be a hero to the Portuguese and Macanese community in Hong Kong, he was indeed one of their heroes. He gave a voice to the community at a time of great change in Hong Kong. Even while he was hammered by the storms of life, he relentlessly kept pushing forward. He saw unlimited possibilities for Hong Kong during his time and his optimism was prescient.


J.P. Braga with grandchildren Sheila Braga and Maurice Braga, ca, May 1937


More than anything he gave his people hope. His community, his family and friends from all walks of life in Hong Kong knew of his many struggles and storms. They knew the man and he shared their struggles. He was an example of what was possible at a time of so many difficulties for so many. Much has changed since that time, but the example that he set holds true today: standing for fairness and justice for all, and having hope and enthusiasm for a positive Hong Kong future, despite the storms of life.


I would like to leave it here now, and borrow some of the words from my great uncle and JP’s son Jack Braga, who ultimately became Portugal’s preeminent historian on the Far East, by saying thank you. Thank you for allowing me to share this “...shall we say, fascinating story, involving not only a

people but the family of [which] I have the honour to be.”


Thanks also to Stuart Braga for his in-depth research and writings on the family, and for helping me along the way in producing this article. I couldn’t have done it without you.


Dr. Stuart Braga’s book “Making Impressions: A Portuguese family in Macau and Hong Kong, 1700 –

1945” was a source of a great deal of the information for this article. His work was primarily based on

research of ‘The Braga Collection’.


From the article’s author :- My great grandfather was The Hon. J.P. Braga, ComC, O.B.E., J.P. and a former President of Club Lusitano. This is my imperfect effort to tell his story, in my own words, of his travels through the storms of life, and in spite of them, his survival and achievements. In writing this, I hope to provide an understanding of not just his accomplishments, but of the true man he was. Ken Chad, Club Lusitano member, October 2021.


The Braga Collection

The Braga Collection was purchased from José Maria Braga (“Jack” Braga) by the National Library of Australia, Canberra. He immigrated in 1966 and held a fellowship at the library from 1968 to 1971. Before his departure, he donated further books, manuscripts, pictorial works and personal papers.


Jack Braga was José Pedro Braga’s eldest son and lived in Macau from 1922. He taught for 13 years at St Joseph’s Seminary and later at the Liceu de Macau. He played a major part in establishing in 1925 the first Macau daily newspaper, Diario de Macau. He was the Reuters representative in Macau

(1932–45) and the English language editor of the Macao Review (1929–30), as well as being a contributor to other papers such as A Patria, A Voz de Macao and Macao Tribune. From 1936 to 1946 he was the general manager of the Macao Water Company. In 1946 he returned to Hong Kong where he established an import–export business, Braga & Co., mainly dealing with the United States and Thailand.


Soon after moving to Macau in 1922, Braga set about collecting and recording the history of the colony since the Portuguese arrival in the sixteenth century. He built up a large library and created a series of files and chronological lists of officials, missionaries and events. He wrote numerous short historical articles, in both English and Portuguese, mainly for local newspapers and in 1937 began to collaborate with the English soldier and historian C.R. Boxer. From 1941 to 1945 he collected intensively the printed record of wartime Macau and Hong Kong. After the war, he moved away from journalism and wrote several scholarly papers, notably The Beginnings of Printing in Macao (1963). He also compiled extensive bibliographies for the Hong Kong annual report. His passion for collecting and historical scholarship increasingly overshadowed his business activities. In 1952 he visited Portugal and secured transcripts of many manuscripts, notably the ‘Jesuitas na Asia’ manuscripts in the Ajuda Library.


The Braga Collection at the National Library of Australia contains 7,400 books and pamphlets, nearly all of them written in English or Portuguese. The collection consists predominantly of historical works and in particular histories of Portugal, the Portuguese colonies, China and Japan. More specifically, there are books on European history, English literature, Portuguese literature, Luis de Camões, Portuguese maritime exploration, European travellers in India and the Far East, Roman Catholic missions in China and Japan, Chinese art, international relations, shipping, Macau, Hong Kong, Timor, Goa, Brazil, South-East Asia, biography, library catalogues, dictionaries and encyclopaedias. While the bulk of the collection dates from the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, there are about 50 pre-1800 titles, with the earliest dating from 1489.


The National Library of Australia


Jack Braga, aged twenty

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