Gunboat diplomacy in Goa | The Navhind Times


Luis Dias

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article titled ‘A General’s Daughter Remembers’, the reminiscences of my great-aunt Áurea who had grown up in the same house I also grew up and reside in, Casa da Moeda, Panaji.

Tia Áurea, as we knew her, had contributed an article (‘Beautiful Panjim’) to a Canadian publication (JE ME SOUVIENS [I REMEMBER]: A Collection of Writings from Persons Originating in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) in 1983, which I thought should be shared more widely as it gives a first-hand account of the Panjim and Goa of over a century ago. (She left Goa in 1935).

I was particularly intrigued by her vivid recollection of the sight of the Canhoeira (Gunboat) Rio Sado, “a warship anchored just opposite our house, in the river Mandovi. It was all decorated with flags and festoons and colorful lights so that it looked like something out of the “Mil e uma noites” (1001 Nights) book. They were giving a ball in honor of the Viceroy of India, Lord Minto. From our verandah we could see the guests arriving: the ladies in their beautiful Victorian dresses with trains and their long mittens, escorted by their husbands in splendid uniforms.”

It took some researching to learn more about the NRP (Navio da República Portuguesa, or ‘Ship of the Portuguese Republic’) Rio Sado. The reference to the visit of Lord Minto (17th Viceroy of India, Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound (Lord Minto-II), 4th Earl of Minto) helped narrow things down, as he was Viceroy of British India from 1905-1910.

Fátima da Silva Gracias in her book ‘Health and Hygiene in Colonial Goa 1510-1961’ (1994) writes that “many cases of beriberi [thiamine deficiency] occurred in 1908 among soldiers of a Portuguese ship Rio Sado anchored at Panjim.” So this could actually pinpoint the year of the sighting that so impressed my great-aunt.

The gunboat got its name from the River Sado, in southern Portugal. It apparently weighed 645 tons, was manufactured by Cammell Laird and was in service from 1875 to 1921. She had a maximum capacity of 100, was 45.4 meters in length and could achieve a speed of 10 knots.

I found information on the vessel specific to Goa on the Momentos de História website.

The NRP Rio Sado (seen in the background in the accompanying picture) was assigned to the Estado da Índia Portuguesa (Goa, Daman and Diu) from December 1905, tasked with “policing and inspecting the three territories,” with the occasional trips to Bombay (British India) as well.

The website makes no bones about the dip in the colony’s fortunes: “The economic prosperity of the Estado da India Portuguesa had long since ended, the last blow having been dealt a century earlier, when the territorial occupation by the British took place, between 1803 and 1813, a period in which natural resources were looted, destruction of the Daman forest and economic paralysis, a situation that did not recover.”

The NRP Rio Sado was “armed with two 105mm Krupp-Bange pieces (mounted during a “modernisation” in 1890), 2 65mm Hotchkiss pieces, 1 37mm Hotchkiss piece and 1 6.5mm Nordenfelt machine gun, and also had a TSF post. Its garrison consisted of four officers, six sergeants and 30 soldiers.”

(Incidentally, excessive alcohol consumption is a prominent cause of beriberi, as also high levels of stress and physical activity, so we can only guess at what life was like for that garrison of four-score aboard the
vessel!)

During the years of the First World War (WWI, 1914-1918), the NRP Rio Sado was based in the port of Mormugão, under the command (1914 to February 1915) of First Lieutenant António de Macedo Ramalho Ortigão and thereafter to Second Lieutenant Augusto de Paiva Bobela Mota.

There are interesting notes about the defences of Goa at the time, which was “maintained by forces of the Colonial Army, approximately 1800 men, composed of locals and the 14th Expeditionary Company of Mozambique, 150 Landins, (which was in Goa since 1912 and only returned to Mozambique in 1919). Infantry was stationed at Aguada Fort and Bicholim barracks, and the Artillery at Panjim (barracks).”

With the outbreak of WWI, German and Austro-Hungarian ships sought shelter in neutral ports, to avoid being captured by British and French forces. Accordingly, five such ships sought refuge in Mormugão.

However the following year, (following Decree No Series, No 43 of March 6, 1916), they were requisitioned by the Portuguese government.

The five ships were: Brisbane (5,668T) which belonged to the Deutsche-Australische Dampfschiffs-Gesselschaft Company, Hamburg (renamed Damão); Kommodore (6.064T) which belonged to the Deutsche Ost-Afrika-Linie Company (renamed Mormugão ); Lichtenfels (5.606T) which belonged to the Deutsche Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft “Hansa” Company (renamed Goa); Marienfels (5.556T) which also belonged to the Deutsche Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft “Hansa” Company (renamed Diu); and Numantia (5.503T) which belonged to the Hamburg-American Line Company (renamed Pangim). A sixth was requisitioned a few months later that same year, the Vorwaertz (5,990T) which belonged to the Austrian Lloyd Company based in Trieste (renamed India). Perhaps it’s just as well that more ships weren’t requisitioned, as the Portuguese creativity in renaming vessels seems to have been stretched to the limit.

Internment camps were set up in Panjim, Aguada, and Bicholim for the crew of the requisitioned ships for the duration of the war, and about a year thereafter, as the defeated countries were too impoverished to afford their repatriation!

As part of war-time preparedness, the NRP Rio Sado was outfitted with mine-laying equipment, and could lay 180 mines in an hour over a distance of 4.5 miles, 400 meters apart. There is no mention I could find, whether this was actually done.

After WWI, the NRP Rio Sado was transferred to the Merchant Navy, and seems to have sailed quietly out of the historical records.

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