Defences of Macau, The
Forts, Ships and Weapons over 450 years
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU
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Today Macau is teeming with tourists who come to gamble at the glittering casinos that have made the city the Las Vegas of the East. Twenty years ago the Portuguese territory was a quiet, peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. Neither of these images hints at Macau’s tumultuous past. Established by the Portuguese as the first European enclave in China, Macau has seen spectacular battles with the Dutch who coveted it, the pirates who ruled the...
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News of the Orient and its fabled riches inspired Europeans to explore the possibility of reaching it by ship. Towards the end of the fifteenth century Portuguese sailors rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1510 they established themselves at Goa. The following year they captured Malacca, from where, in 1516, Rafael Perestrello, one of their more adventurous members, took passage...
2. Seventeenth-Century Defences
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At first there were no fortifications in Macau. As mentioned previously, the Chinese were suspicious of Portuguese intentions and were careful to prevent them becoming too strong, and a part of this was their objection to the building of forts. The Portuguese controlled the seas and, whether or not they had colonising intentions, they came to realise that direct conflict with the Chinese was not...
3. The First Phase of Fort Building
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The methods of construction followed the indigenous practice of Southern China.1 The main building materials were the local stone, granite, and the local earth, which is a sandy material formed by the decomposition of the granite over the millennium. This decomposed granite is partly self-cementing but with the addition of lime and chopped straw becomes a splendid building material known as chunambo, or...
4. The Years of Peace
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The first phase of Macau’s fortifications had been built in the boom years when the Portuguese were enjoying good trade with both Japan and China and profits were high. The Dutch had been the first to threaten their monopoly, but the British soon followed them. Captain John Weddell visited peacefully in 1637, anchoring at Macau with a mission to open up trade links with China. The French also wanted to...
5. Nineteenth-Century Defences
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The event that shook the region in the nineteenth century was the Opium War. It started in 1839 and ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. Although this was a confrontation between the Chinese and the British, it inevitably had an effect on Macau. The Chinese authorities had for some years declared the sale of opium illegal, but the local Mandarins had been bribed to turn a blind eye to the trade which...
6. The Second Phase of Fort Building
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The building material that predominated in the nineteenth century was granite. The use of chunam seems to have been abandoned, possibly due to a shortage of the lime or decomposed granite that were its main ingredients. Brickwork was extensively used for internal structures and concrete also made an appearance. The design of the forts was quite simple. Clearly they were not designed to resist...
7. Twentieth-Century Defences
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The start of the twentieth century saw the Portuguese continuing to try to expand their Macau territory. It already included Green Island (linked by a causeway to the main peninsula in 1889) as well as the islands of Taipa and Coloane. However, they also wanted to annex Montanha and Dom Jo
8. The Defensive Role of the Navy
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The Portuguese were the great European navigators of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but, in the East, they had been preceded by the Chinese. Admiral Zheng He had led a number of extensive expeditions that showed that they were capable of sailing the world. However his journeys ceased, probably because the cost was found to be too great. Also many people at the Court were uncomfortable with looking...
9. Artillery in Macau
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The Chinese are famous for having discovered gunpowder. This probably happened as early as the ninth century, but it took them two or three hundred years to refine it sufficiently to use it in firearms. Gunpowder was first used as an incendiary device and there are reports of various bombs and grenades that could be thrown at the enemy. The next step appears to have been fire lances, which were bamboo...
10. Portuguese Small Arms
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The term “small arms” covers all weapons of individual soldiers, but it is often applied to hand firearms only and that is how it is used here. As described in the previous chapter “hand cannon” originated in China and spread to Europe. Hand cannon were fairly crude weapons with a pole-like stock that was either rested on top of the shoulder or tucked under the arm. One hand steadied the gun and...
Appendix I - Account of the Circumstances of the Campaign Against Pirates in 1810
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Appendix II - Gunpowder Production
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Appendix III - Lists of Cannon Existing in Macau at Various Times
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Appendix IV - Small Arms Displayed at the Macau Security Forces' Museum in the S
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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 213 b/w and color photos
Publication Year: 2010