Acácio Fernando Sousa


Besides the continuous Dutch threat in the early 1670s, Macao continued to suffer from the effects of two trade embargoes imposed by the greatest powers in the Far East: China and Japan.

Unable to obtain consent for official and permanent trading representations in these two countries, Macao had to opt for commercial alternatives; the most immediate being to exchange goods through non-official channels and to resort to clandestine operations sanctioned by the Japanese and Chinese authorities.

With the end of the official Japan trade in 1639, Macao's economy began to dwindle. In order to survive economically, it became increasingly autonomous from the supremacy of Portuguese India. The first steps towards freeing itself from the authority of Goa had in fact already been taken in 1620, with the fall of Portuguese Malacca [presently Melaka]. Conquered by the Dutch, Macao was forced to seek, at very short notice, alternative trading creditors and markets. New loan sources and merchandise were mainly found in the Indonesian archipelago and in Southern China, in the city of Guangzhou and the province of Guangdong.

Despite the severed trade contacts with Japan imposed by its rulers, the Portuguese made use of Chinese junks and the vessels of other European nations to continue their commerce in the southernmost ports of the Japanese islands. Nonetheless, from 1647 to 1685, Macao's trade with Japan became so hazardous and ridden with difficulties that it was necessary to resort to extraordinary expedients, such as purchasing cargo traded in Japan by British vessels. This seems to confirm that the serious friction which existed between the Macanese and the overpowering British in the 1640s had been overcome. After the official ending of trade with Japan in 1639, further bad news followed: the Portuguese embassy of 1640 was exterminated by the Japanese warlords.

In 1641, relations between Macao and Portuguese India further soured. With the loss of income from Malacca, the latter placed higher financial demands on the Macanese government in exchange for further concessions and prerogatives.

Although in 1645 Macao advised Goa against sending an extraordinary embassy to Macao, by 1647 Macao's economic situation was so extreme that it was decided to send Gonçalo de Sequeira e Souza to Japan as a plenipotentiary envoy. The attempt failed. 1

In order to best protect their interests, the ruling elite of 'homens bons' ('good men') in the small Portuguese 'urban republic' increasingly resorted to empowering the Leal Senado (Senate), of which they were the legal representatives, with a protective prescription of territorial laws and local protective decisions.

These actions gave Macao a self-assumed autonomy from the authorities of Goa and enabled the merchants of the city, no longer able to obtain credit from their precious Japanese trading partners, to increase 'independent' transactions with the Chinese traders of Guangzhou. 2

Thus, the official channels were avoided and, in its place, the Portuguese employed a non-institutional system of direct exchange of goods with the Chinese. The volume of this form of trade and the profits made on it greatly contributed to the economy of Macao.


The internal convulsions which affected China after the overthrow of the Ming dynasty and during the first decades of the Qing affected Macao's precious territorial relationship with the Middle Kingdom, putting in doubt a number of points of Portuguese local policy.

This period of instability saw the proliferation of free enterprise (whether illicit or acknowledged and then covered-up by the local authorities), which logistically and economically supported both the lingering interests of the overthrown dynasty and those of the new government.

If the last Ming Emperors had imposed a ban on all maritime trade, the rising Qing not only reinstated such prohibitions but stepped up their strict implementation.

Despite this, Chinese junks not only continued to trade with Japan, but expanded the maritime network to include the Liuqiu Islands [presently Ryu Kyu] south of Japan and Borneo, Java, Luzon and the Southeast "Asiatic Mediterranean", as it was appropriately termed by Denys Lombard.

The rise of intermediaries prepared to gamble with the high stakes involved in importing pepper, tea, cinnamon and silver from the New World3 benefitted the Chinese freighters, who reaped the rewards which had previously been the exclusive preserve of the Macanese merchants. This change in market forces pushed the Portuguese to search for new sources of trade and the establishment of factories outside the circuits of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC — Dutch East India Company). 4

In order to maximise opportunities for trade and profit, Goa and Macao formally agreed to support the expansion of the British East India Company (EIC). With British support, Macao hoped to stall the rapid growth of the VOC and put an end to Dutch attacks on Portuguese vessels and emporia, while promoting a return to the trade with Japan.

Through schemes and agreements with the new Chinese maritime merchants and the British, the Macanese attempted a positive settlement for external trade with Japan. 5

Portuguese traders not only attempted to return to trading with Japan by rounding the shores of its southern islands aboard Chinese junks and in British vessels, but also made use of independent freighters and Spanish ships which, under the pretence of having run offcourse, landed on the coasts of Japan's southernmost islands. 6

Despite the atrocities to which they knew they would be subjected if found, these eventual trips to Japan supported the missionary activities of the Portuguese Jesuits, who were heavily dependent on the nation's trading activities in the China Seas. When a Japanese trawler was shipwrecked off the Island of Taipa in 1685, it gave rise to the opportunity of sending a new embassy to Japan under the pretext of transporting the unfortunate Japanese sailors home. The embassy was received with deference, but the official re-opening of Portuguese-Japanese relations was not acheived. 7

Prior to 1639, Macao's maritime trade was mainly centred on Guangzhou, Manila and Nagasaki. From 1639 onwards and shortly after 1640 — when the Portuguese effectively regained independence from the Spanish —the peaceful entente between the two countries boosted Macanese trade with Manila. However, as this commerce was affected by the decreasing quality of the silver brought from Japan by the Chinese traders from Guangzhou, the Macanese traders sought Chinese financial support to explore and develop new mercantile routes further afield, to the more remote islands of the Filipino Archipelago and Indonesia. This expansionist approach was to suffer a serious set back in 1660, however, when the Portuguese were openly accused of affecting a slave trade in Chinese children. The Chinese government's suspicions of the Portuguese were heightened by the insistent and successive Dutch offers to the Chinese high officials in Guangzhou, against which the approaches of the Macao Portuguese to the local delegates of the Kangxi Emperor were of no avail.

To make matters worse, at the óutset of the new Manchu dynasty, piracy on the South China Sea, particularly along the coasts of the Fujian and Guangdong provinces, became one of China's greatest sources of internal threat.

The raids of Zheng Chekong· (Port.: Coxinga), one of the most feared sea pirates of the time, led to the promulgation of an Imperial Edict forbidding all sea navigation along the whole coast of China, including Macao. The Portuguese embassy of 1670, led by Manuel Saldanha, was well received at the Court in Beijing but did not succeed in lifting the maritime embargo, merely achieving the guarantee that all foreign trade was the exclusive preserve of the Portuguese.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government officer responsible for overseeing the Macao trade, who resided at the White House [not far from the Portuguese territory], was under strict orders from the Governor of Guangzhou, and remained inflexible regarding the landing of Chinese river embarkations in Macao's harbour. Unable to load and unload while under the protection of Macao's coastal artillery, these boats were easy prey for local Chinese pirates and Dutch vessels. 8


While the Dutch representatives had been attempting to obtain a diplomatic advantage from the Viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi, they came to understand that the Chinese had been supporting the Portuguese economically following the end of official contacts with Japan, thus enabling the Macanese merchants to overcome their worst difficulties. In 1673, Macao's economic situation was so desperate that the local inhabitants faced an imminent crisis. In an attempt to resolve the issue of the dwindling sea trade, much affected by the lack of effective protection at Macao's nearest permitted anchorage site, south of the Island of Taipa, it was proposed that Miguel Grimaldo, a man of great diplomatic skill, should be sent to Guangzhou.

If local sea traders no longer dared to anchor south of the Island of Taipa for fear of the pirates or the Dutch, Macao could not, in such precarious circumstances, lose the chance to gain from the eventual arrival of trading vessels with goods from Japan. 9

Within this framework, it is interesting to refer to the arrival in Macao, in September 1673, of a British vessel from Japan commanded by a certain Simon del Boe, with the intention of trading "fazenda grossa"("important cargo"). This event seems to prove three things:

1 That Macao's trade with Japan, even if via a third party, still existed;

2. That despite all Namban (Portuguese Japanese) having been expelled from Japan with the Portuguese in 1639, some still managed to trade with Japan, by keeping a low non-official profile and dealing in less important goods and smaller volumes of merchandise; and

3. That the British vessel was most probably not a ship from the East India Company (EIC) but belonged to an independent freighter willing to trade a wider variety of goods that were easier to sell in Far Eastern city ports in the vicinity of the original loading port.

Upon its arrival near Macao, on the 22nd of September, the captain sent word of the provisions he was carrying and the need of lodgings for his crew. Conscious of the dangers that the mooring of a British vessel could cause to the city and fearful of an antagonistic attitude from the local Chinese authorities, the Vereadores (Council Members) and the Ouvidores (Tellers) of the Senate met at the residence of the Capitão Geral (Captain-Major), António Barbosa Lobo. There, they deliberated on the precautions to be taken in order to guarantee the safety of the British vessel and its crew as well as the smooth trading of the ship's cargo without arousing the discontentment or incurring the retaliation of the Chinese.

The articles deliberated were basically the following:

1. The vessel's crew were to refrain from leaving their allocated lodgings and behave with the greatest discretion;

2. The purchase of the goods would be affected by a tax levied by the city of Macao, equal in amount to that which would be paid by a Portuguese merchant;

3. The captain of the vessel was to pay to the Chinese government officer stationed at the White House the sum of two hundred taels as a landing duty;

4. The city of Macao would take no responsibility for any eventual problems raised by the Chinese authorities regarding the vessel's crew;

5. All risks and the safekeeping of the vessel and its goods was the exclusive responsibility of the vessel's captain; and

6. All goods not sold were to be re-shipped.

It is thought that the unloading of the cargo and the finding of accommodation for the crew might have caused problems not originally foreseen; two months after their arrival, the British captain threatened the Portuguese authorities with leaving if trading impeachments did not improve. According to the contents of an Assento (Record) of the Senate of Macao, for which no registered reference could be found, he did not receive a positive reply from the Portuguese government.. No further reference pertaining to a similar situation could be found in any of the works of authors and researchers on Macao history. 10

This Record was preserved by an unknown person, who, in the last century, copied a number of documents which ran the risk of being "[...] irretrievably lost [...]", amongst which were a number of "[...] old documents from the Macao Senate [...]" dating from the end of the sixteenth century onwards.

Sources of these documents still exist in the Arquivo Histórico de Macau (Macao Historical Archive), while others are now nonexistent both here and in other important archives containing original sources on the history of Macao. There is no reason to doubt the intentions of the copyist and the meticulous precision of the transcriptions for which the originals still existing might be sufficient to require the name of their author. It should be noted that these copies, which presently belong to the estate of João Feliciano Marques Pereira, are deposited at the Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa (Lisbon National Library). [sic]Finally, it is of interest that the erudite copyist of the aforementioned text annotated in the margin of the transcribed document the fact that the British vessel came from Japan. This seems to indicate that he also thought this information to be historically relevant. Below follows a Portuguese transcription and an English translation of the said document:


327 [1] Por convir ao serviço de S. [ua] A. [lteza] e conservação desta sua cidade se tem assentado pelo Sr. Capitão Geral... e Ouvidor de S. A. e por... que o vereador Miguel Grimaldo vá à náo Inglesa que agora chegou à vista desta cidade, em companhia de hum Inglez que dezembarcou a pedir piloto para entrar neste porto, e manifeste ao Capitão da dita náo e aos mais que nella vêm em como neste porto não entra navio nenhum nosso, ha annos a esta parte, pela prohibição que tem posto o Imperador da China e mal pode entrar o seo e muito menos fazer veniaga e mercancia, porque tudo nos tem prohibido o China. E fora deste porto nas ilhas de fora tãi bem correm risco ainda onde estão os nossos navios, porquanto all nos inquietarão a nos por amor delles, estão afastados desta cidade 6 ou 7 legoas oito naos Olandezes e por não estar debaixo da nossa artilharia, o podem vir tomar e brigar coim elles. e nós por termos pazes com ambas as nações, não podermos nem nos convir inclinar-nos a sua parte e fora esta e outras muitas razões que temos, todas em bem e conservação do dito... + e de sua náo, que por papel se não podem dizer pelo que o dito Miguel Grimaldo lhe diga, que se necessita de mantimentos de outra couza semilhante, lhe mandaremos dar, e com brevidade se pode hir para Sião ou para onde lhe parecer, antes que o China nos aperte e o Olandez a ele [2] 23 de Setembro 1673.

Esta náo vinha do Japão: Capitão-Mor Simão del Boe, o qual propôs 7 artigos e sobre elles se resolveo [3] que pode trazer a sua náo para a enseada falça, aonde depois de lhe meterem guardas por ordem deste governo, poderá... mandar descarregar todas as fazendas grossas e finas de qualquer genero, para a terra, sendo primeiro... registadas e inventariadas que antes disso não poderão dezembarcar nada, sob pena de não se dar cumprimento a benevolencia e favor que se lhes pertende dar, que se alugarião cazas bastantes para meter as fazendas e nellas poderião assistir o Capitão com 6 pessoas de sua companhia e se lhe porião 5 soldados de sentinela de dia e de noite para os chinas o não inquietarem, nem receberem como costumão... [4] E considerando as moléstias... despezas e inquietação que esta cidade tem por vezes repetidamente padecido cõ este barbaro e tirano governo Tartaro, com outras embarcações Inglezas, que a este porto vierão, além de que novamente se tem prohibido o trato da mercancia assim aos moradores desta cidade como a todas as mais Nações, convem que o dito Capitão-Mor, nem as 6 pessoas que com ele assistirem, em nenhüa + forma não sahião das ditas casa, nem passem pelas ruas, por não ser publica aos chinas sua assistencia nesta cidade [5] que não venderião senão o que precisamente lhes fosse necessario para ops seos gastos e despezas [6] e isto por ordem deste governo e do que pelas ditas ordens vender pagara os percentos... como os Portugueses res, e outro... sera o dito Capitão-Mor obrigado a pagar por ancoragê da dita náo ao Mandarim da Caza Branca duzentos taes, que he o mesmo que por cada navio nosso lhe pagamos [7] que seria por sua conta que chegada a ocazião da sua hida levará os generos de fazendas que não vender. A 24 de Setembro e a 26 se determinou que assistisse à descarga hum dos 2 Juízes e que se tratassem os Inglezes com o decoro e cortezia conveniente, pois vinhão pessoas de autoridade. A 5 de Novembro pedirão os Inglezes se lhes desse larga, retirassem os soldados e deixassem vender a sua vontade. Respondeo-se-lhes com inteireza que estivessem pelo que tinhão ajustado.

[1] Náo Ingleza q. [ue] queria entrar no porto. Continuava a prohibição da navegação e comércio.

[2] Os navios Portugueses estavão em hum lugar fora. 8 naos Olandezas em pouca distancia

[3] A náo vinha do Japão, propôs o Cap. [itão] 7 artigos e se lhe concede q. [ue] possa entrar na enseada falsa, debaixo da humas tantas condiçòes.

[4] Inquietação por causa de outros navios Ingleses.

[5] An. [o] 1673.

[6] Pagavão entre 200 taes de ancoragê ao mandarim da Caza Branca.

[7] Desgostão-se os Ingleses de tanto aperto, e pedem largas, responde-se-lhes com inteireza.


327 [1] Because it is convenient to the service of Y. [Your] H. [Highness] and the maintenance of this city of His, it was determined by the Captain-Major... and Teller of Y. H. and by... that Council Member Miguel Grimaldo go aboard the English vessel, which has presently been sighted from this town, accompanied by an Englishman who came ashore to request a pilot to take the boat [safely] into harbour, to inform the Captain of the said vessel, and all those who may be on it, that we have been prohibited for some years already from giving berth to any of our ships by order of the Emperor of China, and that very few [Chinese vessels are able to do so], trade and commerce having been forbidden by [the Emperor of] China.

Outside this harbour and the outer islands where our vessels lay there is also danger, causing great unrest, for some 6 or 7 leagues distant from this city stand eight Dutch vessels. Because our artillery cannot reach [your ship], they [the Dutch] can seize it and attack them [the British crew]. As we are at peace with both nations [China and Britain], it would be inconvenient for us to favour either party. Beyond this, we also have many other reasons, all stemming from the best of intentions, and, in [an attempt] to maintain what has just been stated... + and your ship, which cannot be said in writing, but which the said Mogul Grimaldo will convey, if [The English vessel] should need provisions or have other similar needs, we will provide them, so that you may shortly leave for Siam or any such other place before the Chinese put pressure on us and the Dutch on you. [2] 23rd of September 1673.

This vessel arrived from Japan: Captain-Major Simão del Boe, who proposed 7 articles, from which it was resolved [3] to bring his vessel to the artificial mooring where sentinels would be posted, will be permitted... to unload all heavy and light cargo of all kinds upon their first being... listed and itemised, the penalty for not doing so being the withdrawal of the assistance it is our intention to provide; that enough houses will be made available to store the cargo and that the [English] captain may be present with 6 of his men and that they [the houses] would be guarded by 5 sentries, night and day, so that the Chinese would not molest him [the English captain] nor trouble him in the way they usually [trouble us] [4] And, bearing in mind all the worry... expense and trouble to which this city has been repeatedly subject by the tyrannous and barbaric Tartar government with regard to other English vessels which have entered this harbour, and besides the prohibition on not only the residents of this town but those of all other Nations from engaging in trading, it would be deemed proper if the said Captain-Major and the 6 other members of his party, should refrain from leaving their residences under any pretext +, or travelling in the streets, in order not to make their presence public to the Chinese [5], that they would only see that which was necessary to satisfy their needs and expenses [6], this by order of this government, and that, according to its instructions, they [the English] will pay a percentage of what they might sell... in common with all others, Portuguese residents included... the said [English] Captain-Major will be obliged to pay the Mandarin of the White House two hundred taels anchorage fees, the same as that paid by each of our [Portuguese] vessels [7], that it will be upon him to reload such goods as should not have been sold when the time should come for him to depart. It was determined that, on 24th and 26th September, one of the 2 judges should be present at the unloading and that the English were to be treated with all due decorum and courtesy, owing to their importance. On 5th November, the English requested they be left alone and that the soldiers be withdrawn, so they could be allowed to trade freely. It was answered, with reason, that they should abide by what had been agreed."*

Translated from the Portuguese by: Carlos Pimentel

HO SANG WONG 黄豪生. Historical Heritage V. Photograph 1998


[1] "The English vessel w. [hich] wanted to moor in the harbour.

The prohibition on navigation and trade was still enforced."

[2] "The Portuguese vessels were berthed offshore. 8 Dutch vessels close by."

[3] "The vessel came from Japan; its Cap. [tain] proposed 7 articles which were granted so that he might [bring his vessel] to the artificial mooring, according to the stipulated conditions."

[4] "Concerns had with other English vessels."

[5] "Yr. 1673"

[6] "They paid 200 taels to the Mandarin of the White House in anchorage fees."

[7] "The English resented the many restrictions and requested they be left alone. They were answered with reason."

* Author's note: Owing to the difficulty of transcribing a number of words in the original manuscript due to its bad state of conservation, the copyist codified a few words "[...] whose meanings could not be completely ascertained, whether due to bad spelling or the effect of termites [...]", to which he added the sign (+). Others, which in the original manuscript were totally illegible, are represented by (...).

1 Several authors were involved in researching this matter. The idea of sending a new embassy to Japan was initially dismissed for "[...] mui justas causas [...]"considering a member of important issues and having in mind the disastrous end met by the "[...] martyred embassy [...]."

An Assento (Report) from the Leal Senado (Senate) describes the scope of this embassy.

2 SOUZA, Bryan de, A sobrevivência do império: Os Portugueses na China (1630-1754), Lisboa,). D. Quixote, 1991, chap.9.

This work by an author belonging to the younger generation of researchers dealing with Portuguese expansion in the Orient was used as a major reference source in the elaboration of this short article. Bryan de Souza makes reference to the "quevees"(chandlers) of Guangzhou as the alternative financiers of the Macanese merchants. These "quevees"acting as alternative independent investors enabled the Portuguese to bypass the official Chinese network.

3 Ibidem., chap.6.

4 Ibidem., p.254.

5 Our Lady of Penha de França, St. Catherine of Sena and St. Francis Xavier are all patron saints of Macao. See: SOUSA, Acácio Fernando de, Do Japão à Sra. do Loreto: a padroeira desconhecida, in "MacaU", Macau, series 2 (18) Outubro [October] 1993, pp.59-64

6 SOUZA, Bryan de, op. cit., p.259.

Also Records of the Senate dated 1650 mention attempts to reach Japan in Chinese junks.

7 SILVA, Beatriz Basto da, Cronologia da História de Macau: Vol.1 - Séculos XVI-XVII, 4 vols, Macau, Direcção dos Serviços de Educação e Juventude, 1992-1998, 1992, vol.1 — The author is one of the very few researchers who mentions the 1685 embassy.

See: AHM: Cods. AH/LS/529, AH/LS/530 — For a full description of events from beginning to end.

Also see: Arquivos de Macau, Macau, Imprensa Nacional, 1929, series 1 — For a full transcription of the codices AH/LS/529 and AH/LS/530.

8 BRAZÃO, Eduardo, Subsídios para a História das Relações Diplomáticas de Portugal com a China, Macau, Imprensa Nacional, 1948, pp.11-12.

9 SOUSA, Bryan de, op. cit., p.258 — The author mentions that only at a later date did the Dutch realize who was subsidising Macanese trade.

An Assento (Report) from the Leal Senado (Senate) describes the events mentioned in this paragraph.

10 With the exception of Bryan de Souza, who mentions the possibility of the survival of Macanese commerce with Japan, no author dealing with this topic of research and the history of Portuguese-Japanese relations refers to this event.

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