Macao to Hongkong, 27 July 1893

Early in the morning, Macao lay in front of us. We anchored next to a Portuguese warship and surrounded by a forest of junks and numerous other smaller vehicles — with a view on a city whose name forever will carry the glory of having been one of the oldest places of Christian culture in the Far East, a trading place that had had a splendid bloom only to taste its own bitter transience and having to witness the miraculous rise of Hongkong.

The foundation of Macao dates back to the Portuguese people’s age of glory — the city was born as a result of a deed with which the Portuguese earned their merit for the Chinese Canton.  Their participation freed Canton from the hard grip of pirates. The Chinese thank consisted in the permission allegedly in the year 1557 to found an establishment on the peninsula-like protrusion of the island Höng-tschan in the estuary of the Pearl river. Out of the harbor Ngao-Men oder A-Ma-Ngao well known to the Chinese mariners grew Macao or, as the colony’s full name was, „Cidade do Santo nome de Deos de Macao“. In the year 1628 the king of Portugal sent the first governor, Jeronimo de Silveira, to administer the blooming settlement that had grown into an urban community. The sovereign power and others were subsequently exercised by the motherland, but China too insisted successfully on such rights.

The resulting state of constitutional uncertainty has actually never been resolved but the further payment of annual tribute to China of 500 or 501 Taels (1 Hai-kwan Tael = 3373 fl. in our currency) has however been stopped in the year 1848 by the governor Ferreira do Amaral, who declared the full independence of Macao from China. This determination has led to the latter becoming the victim of assassins hired by the governor of Guangdong. The subsequent futile Chinese attempt to take Macao by force gave the small but courageous garrison an opportunity to distinguish itself in bravery. Since then Macao has been accepted as a Portuguese crown colony by all powers with the exception of China.

For a long time Macao held nearly a de facto monopoly of trade with China and prosperity, wealth and an unexpected growth of the colony were the consequence. The complete change that the trade relations took after the foundation of Victoria on Hongkong, the opening of the treaty ports and changes in the way of shipping brought first commercial ruin to Macao and then also a moral one. After the strict stipulations of the Chinese Passengers Act of 1855 the shipping of coolies to foreign countries on English ships stopped to be profitable, Macao became the center for the business of this human trade of the worst kind. The government of Macao proved to be too weak to manage the horrors staining the name of Macao that were connected to this mischief, so that only in 1874 there had been a turn towards improving the situation. Currently the shipping abroad of coolies is in fact governed by laws.

Today Macao has almost totally lost its important as a trading place as shipping is limited to Chinese coastal vessels and some other smaller and a few larger ships that keep up the connection mainly to Hongkong and Canton. The revenues of the colony mainly consist of the lease of gambling halls, of the revenue from monopoly objects, especially opium, of various taxes and other dues. Macao’s financial relations are described as very desolate. The chronic deficit the financial affairs is enduring is in no small part caused by the expenses for Macao’s dependency, namely the Portuguese part of the island of Timor.

The great majority of the population of Macao consists of Chinese, nearly 70.000, and, a few foreigners excepted, partly of full-blooded Portuguese and partly of mixed-bloods between these and the Chinese.

The city presented itself viewed from the harbor as much more advantageous and propitious than I had expected based on so much of what I had heard. Macao had been described to me as nearly a wasteland to which it should have sunk after the dreadful typhoon of 1874 and from whose damages it would have been unable to recover.

Sent by the governor to serve as our guide in the city, first lieutenant Richetti came on board. I was quite a bit astonished when this officer kissed my hand during the introduction probably according to the local customs and also obligation. Showing his respect for my person, the small Portuguese kept on endlessly bowing and curtsying with a Southern vivacity. We only had three hours for the visit of Macao but nevertheless gained a complete overview of the city and its surroundings thanks to Richetti’s guidance and the quick rickshaws that took us to all the interesting points despite the short time frame.

Alongside the Southern harbor which actually is only a gently curving bay of a roadstead lies the European part of the city and continues to the quay, the Praya, in whose Northeast rise the fortress of Säo Francisco and in the South-west the small fort of Bomparto. On the Praya stands a front of densely packed and in part very imposing buildings that are ornamented in vivid colors and in the literal sense produce a picturesque effect. Some gardens with beautiful trees can be seen too. In irregular terraces the houses fill the hill behind the Praya. The sun was burning hotly in the narrow and steep streets which we passed through and that carried proud names — flaunty illusions — such as „dos Embaixadores“, „do Rei“, „do Sol“ etc., while I believe that there will never be Embaixadores who will have strayed into this alley. We arrived here at numerous massive buildings, past monasteries and churches that showed signs of decay and probably revealed the damages of the typhoon. Evidently the means as well as in part the interest to maintain these in part remarkable building in fair conditions are not available.

At a proud height, dominating the city and the colony, towers Fort Säo Paulo do Monte, above of which is still another battery on the Guya heights. Individual fortifications are said to be equipped with Krupp guns but they have no defensive value any more as they have not been replaced despite having already celebrated the 150th anniversary of the original installation. First Lieutenant Richetti assured us, however, that he had been specifically sent b the king to study the fortifications of Macao.

To the West of the European city lies the Chinese part of the settlement which resembles that of Victoria. Offering similar views like it and the streets of Canton, even if at a much more limited scale. There extends the Western harbor with its junks where everything assembles what remains of Macao’s maritime and commercial life. But it seems that even the declaration of Macao as a free-port, a last measure to stop the threatening decay, seems to have contributed little to revive the trade.

Richetti also led us into the officer club whose rooms looked more, in our view, like a staff canteen. A shaky billiard table is living a dust-filled existence. The portraits of some generals with long bodkin beards are hanging askew — voilà tout!

The armory did not live up to its name due to its glaring emptiness. Some bayonets and revolvers constituted to whole stock of weapons. Otherwise there were but empty stacks. Richetti excused this state of affairs in most vivid terms with the mention of the recently started great war in Timor — I and probably the greater part of humanity have never heard about this important event — which made the removal of all weapons from the armory necessary. In fact Richetti felt continuously obliged to excuse the state of the colony due to this or that reason. He would have preferred in his patriotic fervor to show it in the most bright light. Where our guide was no longer able to embellish things, he promised future corrections without end.

A pretty spot on earth, an equally great ornament for the pleasantness of Macao is the large garden that used to be owned by the Marques family and then became government property. With a true artistic sense, the complex unites her the magic of splendid vegetation that fully justifies the reputation that this garden has. A special dedication however has been given to this place because Portugal’s great son Camoens  who was born in Lisbon in 1524 and had been banned from Goa due to the publication of a satyrical poem, has spent five years here in Macao and is said to have written his famous epos „Os Lusiada“ here in a rock grotto, It remains for posterity to present the laurels to the poet that his contemporaries refused. Only after Camoens had expired in a hospital, has he been given the merited admiration for his poetic glorification of the Portuguese nation. In Macao, the place of the poetic activity was marked forever with some kind of temple that had been built into the rock grotto and contains a statue of the poet cast in ore.

Not without difficulties one arrives to the grotto as the paths are steep and tiled with smooth bricks so that the small Portuguese fell to the ground due to his vivacity which made him apologise endlessly.

The view from the top of the garden over both parts of the city and the Chinese hinterland, of the roadstead and the harbor, of the animated islands, of the endless ocean of a clear green and sky blue color during the day to which the Pearl river was continuously pushes new masses of water is truly fascinating. Automatically the thoughts direct themselves to a distant past due to a place that serves as a marker connecting Portugal’s boom period to the present day. A past where the Portuguese ships drove audaciously and proudly across the wide seas, discovering new sea passages and creating a colonial empire for the small home country. History has moved on from what the audacious entrepreneurial spirit of that time had created and Portugal rests but the memory of its former power. Without evidence the events have passed the eternally young nature which knew to maintain its charms during the times of change and thus is the reconciliatory, the uplifting element in the never-ending change of things — here too in Macao.

At the entrance to the barracks I was received by the colonel of the infantry regiment and the officer corps. He also kissed me on the hand, a sign of honor that astonished me again even though I had been prepared about this custom by Richetti’s enactment of it. The music beat a festive march to whose sounds I entered the barracks, first to visit the soldiers‘ quarters which are airy and spacious and have good beds. The appearance of the soldiers left much to be desired as they were meager and sickly as was their dress. The uniform which we had encountered in various variants of the individual wearers is not beautiful and reminds of those of country firemen. The officer corps too did not make a very warlike impression. In one battalion of the regiment I met a good acquaintance from Austria, namely the Kropatschek repeating rifle. The other battalions, however, were still equipped with old Snider rifles.

While the music kept, without break, playing the most fiery pieces with commendable alacrity, I had also a look into the kitchen and warehouses of the barracks and then said good-bye to the colonel who again kissed my hand, and then we refreshed us with a glass of bear in the already visited officer club, where our talkative friend Richetti offered with great eagerness the strangest revelations about the military and other relations of his country.

The municipality’s building offered not much to see. More interest generated the steam operated silk spinning works where I had the opportunity to admire the skill of the girls employed here in lacing the cocoon thread. Everything moves at an astonishing speed and in just a moment, a whole bundle of cocoons had been unspooled and threaded, then turned into silk and delivered to a warehouse.

At the harbor I was expected by an English customs official who, it seemed to me, was very full of his own self-importance and spoke to me very condescendingly and announced „une petite visite“ on board. But I made do without this pleasure  and  said good-bye to Richetti with his outstanding vivacity and warm temperament. Taking leave he still offered the most beautiful bows and compliments. Then we hoisted the anchor. I left Macao with the consideration which we show all locations with an interesting historic development and changing fate but also with a sentiment of regret that wells up faced with an ageing and ailing once proud beauty. Will the city enjoy a second flowering even if it is only a second bloom ( Johannistrieb) of the former splendor? The closeness of Hongkong will always be fateful for Macao.

Towards 3 o’clock in the afternoon we entered the harbor of Hongkong. The sea was as smooth as glass, the weather splendid, and like a flower crest all the small islands that then had been covered in fog during our first arrival lay in front of us. I now fully understand why this harbor can be placed among the most beautiful sea havens.

On board of „Elisabeth“ it was time to say good-bye to our dear travel companions who had offered us so much entertainment, that is from our monkeys that were to be shipped on a LLoyd’s steamer to Trieste in order to reach their future destination of Schönbrunn from there. Fips made a rather sad face and Mucki too was not in the usual mood. It nearly seemed as if the animals had noticed that the hour of separation from the ship, the location of their merry pranks, had come.

In the evening I drove again to Victoria Peak accompanied by consul general Haas and his wife as well as our commander and enjoyed this time the full and incomparably beautiful view to all directions of the island so that we stayed for a long time on the platform at the signal station. Our „Tschuen-tiao“ we could see as a small point steering towards the Northern bays according to its purpose as a customs steam boat. In time dusk arrived, the moon sent down its magical light over the mountains, islands, the city and the sea and the temperature became so agreeable that we decided to make our way back to the city on foot. Long serpentines lead down from the Peak. Despite their steepness, this refreshing evening walk provided still incomparable pleasure.

Links

  • Location: Macao
  • ANNO – on 27.07.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing a ballet „Rouge et Noir“ and more.

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