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The Noronha Sisters

By Anthony Correa

At the outbreak of war in 1941, the local Indian civilian community like the Portuguese community were thrown into disarray. Once hostilities ceased on Christmas Day, the Harilela family needed to find a way to survive. This is where the Noronha sisters entered their lives. Below are extracts from the recently released biography on Hari Harilela, Made in Hong Kong, Vaudine England, 2020.

The Noronha Sisters

In this family we find the “Noronha sisters” mentioned in Hari’s Memoir: Cecilia Maria, the fourth child known as Cissy, ran a hair salon in Hankow Road, behind the Peninsula Hotel. One of the twins Henriette, known as Hetty, helped her, as did Doroteia (Dotty). It was called Cecilia Parlour. Popular with clients from the Peninsula Hotel and elsewhere it was solidly successful. But Cissy had married William Forrest, an Englishman, and they had a son also named William Forrest. In those days, a woman lost her own nationality when she married and so Cissy could not escape to Macao as Portuguese. Instead, she was now deemed British and so, along with her son, she was interned in Stanley Internment Camp during the war.

Hari Harilela recounts:

Dada and I talked about trying to find a way to do something in business as no jobs were available. We thought we should go back to hawking but didn’t know where to hawk. We looked around and at No 1 Hankow Road, there used to be Cecilia Beauty Parlour, which was empty (half the store had been looted). We spoke to the owners, two sisters – Hetty and Dotty Noronha. They were very kind and told us we could use their shop and keep it in good shape . They put a condition that if they needed the shop back again, we must return it to them, and we promised. As a matter of fact, Hetty and Dorothy saw me walking around the Hankow Road and knowing that I was working with Dayaram, they asked me what I was doing walking and looking so depressed. I told them what had happened. They smiled and said they had a shop with no customers, as people did not want to look good during that time. They asked me to make use of half of their shop as they did not pay rent anyway and I also need not pay them anything. I told them to rent out the shop but they said that they did not like Mr Lilaram’s attitude towards me. Somehow they liked me very much.

That changed our destiny because we became independent.

It was almost a miracle. Next day we prayed and went to clean the place and put a plank of wood on a stand and covered it with a sheet. After a few days, I opened my little shop with a wooden bed with the bed sheet cover. I took items from a factory, usual things such as what we used to hawk in the army barracks – singlets, vests, shirts, local made items. It looked like a stall in a shop. We displayed the same items that we had previously been selling to the British Army. We laid our merchandise on the table and on the first day we had customers and, eventually, we had a lot of sailors from the ships who had lined up to buy the essentials and daily items. Sometimes we were so busy we had no time to eat…..

By the time we closed the shop it was almost dark and every night there was a curfew. One evening when we were returning, we got hit in the back with a rifle end. We did not notice the soldier and it was quite dark. From that day we learnt our lesson to just keep on bowing whether we saw someone or not. Just walk and keep on bowing and our apartment was only half a block away.

Many times the Noronha sisters, Dorothy and Hetty, came and helped me with the sales and, when I went out for replenishing the stock, they would mind the store for me. But they also had their work looking after their relatives as they were very hard working girls. They had hearts of gold. After the war the Harilela’s returned the shop to the Noronha sisters and Cecilia Beauty Parlour reopened.

Al Gutteres was able to complete the story of his aunts the twins, Hetty and Mimi and their family below.

About the “Noronha” Twin Sisters

Twins are a rare occurrence in any family, specially in the Noronha family – this occurred thrice according to my knowledge. That was the case of the twins Saturnino António de Noronha (b HK 09-06-1850 d HK 13-03-1871) and Secundino António de Noronha (b HK 09-06-1850 d HK 04-06-1936). They were sons of Delfino Joaquim Noronha (the pioneer of the HK branch, who established a very successful printing company and whose life history is well documented) and his wife Umbelina Maria Basto. Such was also the case of the identical twins Henrietta Maria Pages Noronha and Guilhermina Maria Henriette Pages Noronha, twin daughters of Henrique Delfino Noronha and his French wife Henriette Pagès. The only other set of twins that I am aware are Joshua and Boaz, sons of Jibin Chi and his wife Naomi de Noronha Chi (she is the great-granddaughter of José Leonardo Noronha who was the brother of Henrique Delfino Noronha). Unfortunately, I lost contact with Naomi when the family moved to Sweden.

A little explanation is in order about the Noronha family genealogy in regard to the twins – Henrietta and Guilhermina.

The great-grandfather was Delfino Joaquim de Noronha (b Macau 30-07-1824 d HK 06-02-1900) – well known for his achievements in Hong Kong. The grandfather of the twins was Henrique Lourenço Noronha (1st born son of Delfino – b Macau 09-08-1841 d HK 11-04-1905) . He was invited to take up an appointment as the Superintendent of the Singapore Government Printing Press by Cecil Clementi Smith. H. L. Noronha arrived in Singapore in July 1879 with his family, to take up his appointment. He established residence with his family at Bras Basah Rd. near the Good Shepherd Cathedral, the City Centre and St. Joseph Mission. The home location in keeping with the proximity to church and school was of great importance to the family.

The father of the girls, Henrique Delfino de Noronha (b HK 26-11-1866 d HK 01-04-1916) married his French fiancée Henriette Pagès (b Japan? 03-07-1876 d HK 23-09-1959). The marriage took place at the Good Shepherd Cathedral of Singapore (Malacca Diocese) on 08-01-1895. He was employed at the same printing press under his father’s tutelage during his early professional career.

Henrique Lourenço, his wife Esménia Maria, son Henrique Delfino together with his wife and 3 children were to return to HK after April 1899, on the termination of Henrique Lourenço’s 20-year contract with the Singapore Government Printing Press and on his retirement from the Superintendent job.

Henrique Lourenço, as the eldest son, became the patriarch of the Noronha family on his arrival back in Hong Kong (his father’s death occurred soon after) ; he took charge of the Noronha & Co. and was able to secure a junior position for his son Henrique Delfino in the firm Noronha & Co.; however after his death (11-04-1905), his son’s position became untenable.

Fortunately Henrique had joined with Jorge Fernandes to form a new partnership in the printing firm, Fernandes & Noronha, as a supplementary source of income since he had such a large family. Henrique Delfino decided to leave HK in 1906 and be more directly involved with the Canton branch of the firm whilst he also took up employment for a time in the printing & publishing firm Arnold, Karberg & Co. as indicated in the Directory & Chronicle for Asia. He would later start his own successful import and exporter business in Canton.

Henrique Delfino returned to HK at the onset of WWI with his family, which then consisted of 6 girls and 2 boys. They lived at 2 East Terrace, Kowloon until his untimely death in 1916. When Henrique Delfino died, his widow approached all her husband’s friends for repayment of the loans they had been provided in their time of need, but she was told “all loans cease at the death of the lender” – cruel to say the least. She had to return to work as a French teacher. Her eldest son, Ricardo Luís Duarte (Dicky to his friends), forfeiting his university plans, took up a position in a land survey firm – Littlewood & Co. to supplement the family income, since there were still 4 girls and a boy in their teens at home. The eldest daughters Aurea and Beatriz were already married by then, Aurea in Shamian and Beatriz in HK and with their own lives.

Now about the identical twin daughters of Henrique Delfino and Henriette.

Henrietta (Hetty) Maria Pagès Noronha (b HK 10-01-1905 d Manchester, GB ?), was the first twin born. Her whole professional career was in HK, where she joined and worked for the better part of life with the British firm Sun Alliance Life Insurance Co. She was the secretary to the HK bosses and was extremely well liked and successful. She had been engaged to a Canadian pilot Ted …. who was shot down over HK at the early stages of WWII – she never got over that sad event and never considered a partnership or marriage after that.

She liked to dress well, going to parties, dancing and enjoying the live shows and world artists hitting HK. As with all the Noronhas, she was a very good drinker and was proud of being able to drink any man under the table.

She had many good friends among the Portuguese community (her best friend was Marília Vieira Ribeiro), as well as among the British people with whom she had good interaction from all the office Christmas parties held in many of the best restaurants and clubs in HK. In fact she used to accompany her own brother (when his own wife was not keen to attend), at times, to Chinese banquets given by the many builders and contractors who were supervised by Dicky in the construction of many projects.

She was never afraid of a confrontation as proved during a Star Ferry crossing when an English woman hit her with a stick in the leg when passing her into the inner seats. As soon as the woman took her seat, Hetty got to her and slapped her; the woman turned to her male companion for help, but, with Hetty all prepared for anything, the English woman’s male companion just sat there, not ready for any problems.

She took up photography as a hobby about the same time as her sister Mimi did in Portugal; from my memory it was around 1963 and she enjoyed taking scenery photos of HK and Kowloon and of the many parties she attended, particularly of weddings of daughters and sons of old friends.

Hetty left HK with an older sister Cecilia (Cissy) Maria Pagès Noronha Bethell and Cissy’s daughter Christine for Manchester in early 1966. Together they bought a house at 19 Barnfield Crescent, Sale, in Cheshire where they lived modestly compared with their lives in HK. Hetty used to smoke and liked her drinks, but all that was lost when she got to England – she complained bitterly of the cost of living in GB as compared to HK particularly without the luxuries and joys of having servants and the best of club’s life, the many parties, the get-togethers so famous for the FMs, all the others events and the many other facets of life unique to HK.

Hetty continued to have a very close contact with her old firm Sun Alliance and would take the trip to London every year to attend their Christmas parties as one of the most welcome guests, that was how much she was appreciated.

Guilhermina (Mimi) Maria Henriette Pagès Noronha (b HK 10-01-1905 d Lisbon, Port. ?-10-1992), was second born, but identical and extremely difficult to be properly differentiated from her twin.

She met her husband Dr. António Telmo Augusto Corrêa when he was on R/R in HK in early 1929 from the Portuguese Navy battleship “Pátria – NRP”. They fell in love and were married by the ship’s captain, and then officially at Rosary Church, Kowloon – HK on 22-03-1929. She was to leave her family and join her husband in Lisbon, where their only son Telmo Guilherme Hermínio Cardoso de Noronha Corrêa was born on 21-11-1930.

They rented an apartment at Av. Ressano Garcia no. 16 in the Parish of S. Sebastião. Dr. António Telmo Corrêa studied Medicine at the University of Porto and later when to Berlin, Germany prior to WWII, specialising in radiology. During his time in Berlin, he helped a number of his Jewish colleagues to escape from the Nazi threat and before he was expelled from that country. He was one of the earliest, if not the first, radiologists in Portugal with his own practice/consultation. He was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Portuguese Navy and was the doctor attending to the then Presidents of the Republic of Portugal, Marechal António, Fragoso Carmona, and Américo Tomás; he was also the doctor to the famous Calouste Gulbenkian. He became the organiser and director of Hospital da Marinha (Navy) as well as director of Hospital da CUF (Companhia União Fabril); Rear-Admiral Dr. António Telmo Corrêa was awarded the title of Comendador da Ordem de Avis on 18-12-1948 among many other awards. He had lost his elder brother Dr. José Hermínio (died whilst treating patients for the Spanish Flu) and other members of the family for the same reason.

Mimi’s son Telmo Guilherme also became a doctor and was to take over the practice from his father and replaced him as director in the CUF hospital. He was also a radiologist director of the Hospital Central de Lisboa – S. José.

Mimi’s grandson, Telmo Augusto was not eager to take up Medicine (as had his father and grandfather, and even his mother). He opted instead to complete a Law Degree at Lisbon U. against the will of the family. He was always involved in politics from his university days (as President of the Association of Law Students), and is now is the President of the CDS Party, a long standing MP of the present Portuguese Parliament and is also the present Parliamentary Leader. Mimi had immense importance in his youth, when his parents were away in Timor during his father’s compulsory army duty tour; Telmo recalls fondly those years whilst he lived with his grandparents and has never forgotten the love and immense care received.

Mimi was extremely fond of operas and used to attend the gala openings of all operas taking place at the D. Maria II National Theatre in downtown Rossio in the company of friends – Mimi enjoyed her home and used to have a very large collection of opera records. She was never too fond of Joan Sutherland yet adored the singing of Maria Callas.

Mimi adapted herself (only to a degree) to the reality of the conservative way of the Portuguese society. However, like her sister, she was still quite a trend setter by wearing slacks and smoking. These were somewhat accepted, as she was very much taken as a “foreigner” in her attitude and style of living. She enjoyed photography and took many slides and 8mm films of events, including folklore festivals, & processions of religious events; she also loved her outings (she used to swim long distances at Estoril Beach), taking her grandson to rock concerts and even going to the bullfights in Lisbon’s Arena. Mimi made sure of practising her English by assisting the Dominican Fathers in their English mass services and by entertaining her English-speaking friends at home. She also enjoyed her mahjong with friends in her home. She was extremely dedicated and attached to her family and in particular her grandson Telmo Augusto.

The twins were so much alike and in tune that they each used to study half of a book, and were able to complete the exams in complete unison. They were both very good looking, with green eyes and above average height for girls.

There are two events that clearly confirm their unique likeness – one time a Chinese carpenter was engaged to demolish a rotten old staircase leading from the ground to the mezzanine floor and rebuilt it anew. The carpenter told the girl on the ground floor to go away for a few hours until he was able to complete the stair replacement. When this was completed he found the same girl (so he thought) at the mezzanine. He swore black and blue in Chinese f… it, how did you get up here?

The other time was during Hetty’s visit to Portugal, when her nephew Telmo G. decided to show her his town and to take out to restaurants and nightclubs – to give her a good time. The society were appalled that a mother and son could go out dancing and enjoying themselves, and rumours had it that Mimi’s marriage was on the rocks, until one day the twins appeared together. The society were ashamed of their assumptions & shut up at once, I was told.

To conclude, although the twins were both immensely jovial and outgoing, they were both affected by the time and place where they lived. However they still had, probably a 6th sense of each other’s likes and dislikes and somehow had the same hobbies and health problems nearly at the same time, believe it or not.

Our thanks to Alberto Guterres and his relatives in Portugal for their contributions to this remarkable story of the lives of the Noronha sisters.


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