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Report on Annual General Meeting and talk by Filipa Lowndes Vicente on ‘English visitors to Goa (1850-1950)’

Almost 50 members attended this event at the Riviera Hotel in Carcavelos on 6 July 2024.


The Annual General Meeting (AGM) was chaired by Filipe Lowndes Marques. After introducing the members of the Council, the Society’s chairman, Edward Godfrey, gave a brief review of the state of the Society’s finances and of the events carried out in 2023. He noted that income and expenditure were broadly balanced and that the condition of the Society’s finances remains good. Expenditure on events rose significantly in 2023, largely as a result of an ambitious trip for Lisbon members to Porto and the Douro. Edward also noted the other events that had been carried out, highlighting, in particular, the many activities that had been organised by the Porto branch under the guidance of Alan Dawber. The AGM then proceeded to approve the Annual Report and Accounts.



(Picture on left: From left to right: Curtis Stewart, Secretary; Mark Crathorne, Vice Chairman and Annual Report editor; Dani Monteiro, Librarian and Membership; Edward Godfrey, Chairman and Treasurer; Andrew Shepherd, Web and Newsletter editor. Picture on right: Edward Godfrey giving the Annual Report)


Filipe Lowndes Marques then took the opportunity to introduce participants to the new searchable web site that provides online access to every issue of the Anglo-Portuguese News (APN) that was published between 1937 and 2004. For much of its life the paper was owned and edited by his grandparents, Luiz Marques and Susan Lowndes Marques. The website will be officially launched on 26 September 2024.


Filipa Lowndes Vicente, another grandchild of Luiz and Susan, then gave a fascinating talk entitled Goa is a place an Englishman ought to visit: British travellers in Goa (1850-1950), based on her book Entre Dois Impérios: Viajantes Britânicos em Goa (1800-1940), which was published in 2015. Writing is very much in the Lowndes family blood. The meeting was told that Filipa is the fifth successive generation of women in her family to have been a published author.


Filipa started by noting that India attracted many women writers, including Isabel Burton and Katherine Guthrie, both of whom wrote about Goa. Isabel Burton was the wife of the explorer and writer, Sir Richard Burton (photos below), who was in India as an Army Captain in the East India Company. Surprisingly, Filipa discovered that Isabel often plagiarised her husband’s writings about India, using his descriptions of thirty years earlier as her up-to-date observations.



By the 19th century Goa was largely ignored by Portugal and had settled into a gentle colonial decline. By contrast, the British Raj was growing in strength and there were even some discussions as to whether Goa should be handed over to the British, this being advocated by Isabel Burton, among others. Filipa argued that the British visiting Goa were often there in order to learn how to avoid making the mistakes made by the Portuguese. It was reported that Goa was in ruins and that “every Englishman should see the decline and fall of Empire”. The traffic was not just in one direction: while the British were trying to learn how not to replicate Goa, the Portuguese and elite Goans were visiting Bombay to see what lessons they could learn there.



Filipa Lowndes Vicente and the publication on which her talk was based


British travel to Goa was encouraged by the brief visit there by the Prince of Wales, during his trip to India in 1875. Another reason for visiting Goa was the occasional opening for public viewing of the coffin of Saint Francis Xavier. He died in China in 1553 but in the same year his body was shipped to Goa, where he had spent much of his life, and was kept in an ornate silver casket in the Bom Jesus basilica.


There was much evidence of British racial prejudice. Relations between Portuguese men and local women, often of low caste, were frowned upon by the British. The resulting miscegenation was seen as one reason for the decline of Goa. Another difference between Goa and British India was that, by and large, the British did not attempt to convert Indians from their religions. Also, local Goans were given Portuguese names, a practice frowned upon by the British


Goa became part of India in 1961. With the notable exception of some restoration work being funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation, Filipa noted that the colonial past is gradually being left to fall into decay.


After Filipa’s presentation and questions, members enjoyed the excellent buffet lunch provided by the Riviera Hotel.