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The Merchant Prince Of Saligao

Compiled by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

Among the galaxy of successful businessmen from Saligao, Miguel Rosário D’Souza, who was fondly known as M R, stands as a pioneer who blazed the trail of East Africa for the people of Saligao. He was from the ward of Salmona in Saligao, and in 1884 went to Zanzibar and set up his first business in Mombasa about five years later. The firm was one of the oldest established there, and had a letter of recommendation from Sir Charles Eliot (a former Governor of British East Africa), Lt. Col. J Will, and other noted gentry.

He set foot in Mombasa in those early years, though no one can tell for certain how and why he got there, when Africa was yet a wilderness and the Masai were a warrior tribe roaming the countryside with their spears and shields hunting the numerous lions that inhabited the area.

The British Government, which had taken possession of Kenya and Uganda and later Tanganyika from the Germans, decided to open up the country by building up the East African Railways from Mombasa on the coast to Kisumu on the Lake Victoria Nyanza. In 1896-97 a whole host of English engineers, surveyors, etc. were sent to Mombasa to make a start of the construction.

Shrewd businessman that he was, M R anticipated the needs of these people and carried large stocks of groceries, wines and spirits, soft goods, tobacco, cutlery, stationery, novels, boots and shoes. Tailoring and boot & shoe making was a speciality of the firm.

He flourished and became rich, but as the work was too much for him to handle alone, he had brought his brother-in-law, Vitorino Saldanha, into business as an assistant and followed this up by hiring Agostinho Figueiredo, an experienced businessman from Goa, as a second assistant.

As the railway progressed to Nairobi, M R sent Vitorino Saldanha to open a shop there and later on Agostinho Figueiredo was given the task of setting up shop in Uganda.

The shop in Nairobi was ideally located and showed handsome profits. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, being at a high altitude, enjoyed salubrious climate and became the centre of the government, the seat of the European community who were there as bankers, merchants, businessmen and government servants.

This shop at Nairobi also stocked all the materials required for safaris that the Europeans and their friends often participated in, carrying back with them the skins and antlers of animals that they had shot, to decorate their houses.

M R was also a lover of sports and instituted the M R D’Souza Gold Trophy in Kenya. M R died in Nairobi and was buried in the Old Hill cemetery where on a tomb stone the following words stand inscribed: “M. R. D’Souza, Merchant, died on the 28th of March, 1906, 44 years of age”.

M R’s son Tommy Emar was known to me. I also knew Tommy’s wife Lira from Mudd’davadi and their children Cedric, Blandina and Stephen. Tommy Emar had instituted the Tommy Emar Gold Cup (Hockey) for girls in Bombay. After M R’s, death Vitorino Saldanha was taken into partnership by M R’s wife. His sister and he further expanded the business and opened a new branch at Nakuru, the resort of the British farming community. This branch prospered too in meeting the needs of the farmers and their foreign assistants.

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[Note: C Hubert de Souza gifted his book “Floreat Saligao” (printed and published by F D Dantas at the Printwell Pres, Luis de Menezes Road, Panjim, on 6th May, 1973) to Fr Nascimento. This article is based on an essay from this book, with extracts reused by permission.]

2 comments on The Merchant Prince Of Saligao

  • Jules Fausto Mendonca de Sa

    Dear Fr Nascimento,
    Hope that you are keeping well! Just a quick question! Is the Vitorino Saldanha mentioned here the father of Ursula Saldanha?
    Regards
    Fausto

  • nascimento mascarenhas

    Dear Fausto,
    Thanks for your comments. In various articles on saligaonet and saligaoserenade I have briefly wrote about Mr. Vitorino Francisco saldanha He was a great benefactor of Saligao Church and Saligao Institute and especially Saligao Seminary as well as many other institutes and one of the leading businessmen in East Africa. I knew him since young. Thanks for your concern, still pulling on inspite of ailments not ‘aliment’ which is good.God bless you. Much love, fr. nascimento mascarenhas

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