Macao in 1853

The Howlands were in Macao

from August 1 to September 5, 1853.

We know what life was like here in the mid-1800’s based on the accounts of three women who lived in Macao.

HARRIET LOW 1829-1834

Harriet was a 20 year old girl from Salem, Mass. who came to Macao to keep her aunt company while her uncle was in Canton on business.  Although homesick, she led a full social life in order to combat boredom and the “blues”. Her time was filled with visits, walks, teas and balls. She read, took Spanish lessons, and practiced drawing with the famous painter George Chinnery, who painted her portrait. She wrote about her experiences in a journal, which her daughter published in a book; My Mother’s Journal: A Young Lady’s Diary of Five Years Spent in Manila, Macao, and the Cape of Good Hope from 1829-1834.


Rebecca Chase Kinsman left Salem, Massachusetts on July 5th, 1843 for Macao and Canton, with her husband, Nathaniel Kinsman and two children, Nattie and Ecca. She wrote many letters to her husband and others about life at that time. A Quaker, she was surprised by the lavish lifestyle in Macao. Unfortunately, she lost both her daughter and husband to illness and returned home alone.



Sarah is sailing the world on a clipper ship with her husband, Captain Williams Howland and their 2-year old son, Willie. They are in Macao for a month while Williams conducts business in the area. They are swept up in the social events of walks, teas and dinner parties.



Macao is located on the coast of Southeast China facing the South China Sea,

with the Pearl River Delta nearby.

The territory consists of Macao Peninsula and 2 islands: Taipa and Coloane.




Ilha Verde (Green Island)

D. Maria II Hill

Kun Iam Temple



Casa Garden

Camoes Grotto

Morrison Chapel

Old Protestant Cemetery



Guia Hill

Jesuit Cathedral Ruins

Fort and Lighthouse





Mount Hill

Hospital Area 




Barra Hill

Penha Hill

Praia Grande



Macao became the first European colony in East Asia

when Portugal leased it from China in 1557.

It thrived as a port for many years.

Ships from Portugal and Spain traded Chinese silks and teas, Japanese crafts, Indian spices, African ivory and Brazlian gold.



The Jesuits and Dominicans arrived in the mid 1500’s.

They converted many Chinese and Japanese to Christianity here, building several churches.

The Jesuits built the Jesuit Cathedral of St. Paul and St. Paul’s College which trained missionaries for the entire area.

The Jesuits were expelled from the Portuguese Empire in 1759.

The buildings were destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835, but the façade of the church remains.

 It is richly carved with Jesuit images with Oriental themes by the Japanese Catholics and local craftsmen from 1620-1627.

Rebecca describes the burnt facade


In 1807 the first Protestant missionary Robert Morrison came to the area.

Morrison learned Chinese, translated the Bible into Chinese and created the first Chinese-English dictionary.

Sarah attended services at the church
Rebecca describes the Protestant Cemetery where her husband will later be buried

A navy chaplain once remarked:

It makes you feel that if you were to die abroad you would choose to be placed in such a spot.

The Macao Protestant Chapel is also called Morrison Chapel.

It is in located in Luis de Camoes Square.

Prior to 1821, only Roman Catholics could be buried within Macao walls.

When Robert Morrison’s wife Mary died of cholera at age 29, he was unable to bury her properly.

Robert Morrison’s words

The East India Company took pity on him and worked with the Macao Governor and the owner of the land to purchase the burial ground for the Old Protestant Cemetery.

George Chinnery (artist), Robert Morrison (missionary) are buried there as well as those from the East India Company who died on Macao.


Missionaries who also brought medical knowledge were welcomed.

Dr. Thomas Richardson Colledge was the first Western medical man to practice in China.

He set up an ophthalmology clinic in 1827 in Macao and helped over 4000 patients.

The artist George Chinnery captured this dramatic moment.

Peter Parker used his model to continue his medical and missionary work in Canton.

He also worked with the artist Lam Qua who painted an extraordinary series of over 100 portraits of Chinese suffering from different kinds of tumors, in order to document Parker’s cases.


In the 1600’s forts were built to ward off the Dutch who began to attack Macao.

In 1637 Japan became suspicious of the missionaries and began a period of isolationism that lasted until the Perry expedition of 1853-4.

They ceased trade except for the port of Nagasaki.

In 1685  Portugal’s trade monopoly with China ended when China opened trade with all foreign countries.


At first there was an equal balance of trade between China and Europe,

but eventually China did not have a need for imports from Britain.

British wanted tea, silks and porcelain, but China only wanted silver.

To obtain silver, the British East India company grew opium in Bengal and sold it to Chinese smugglers for sale in China.

This led to an addiction problem in China which concerned the Chinese authorities.

The First Opium War developed when China tried to halt the opium trade.

The British used their naval power to defeat the Chinese, forcing them to sign the Treaty of Nanking.

In addition to other concessions, Hong Kong was ceded to the British in 1842.

Hong Kong became the major trading post, since it had a deeper port than Macao.

Macao became a quiet port town where many of the merchants lived with their families while the trade occurred in Hong Kong and Canton.

Sarah describes the house in which they are staying

The United States and France signed similar treaties.

In 1844 the United States signed the Treaty of Wanghia –

The Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce between China and the United States –

in the Kun Iam Temple in Macao.

The first Sino-American Treaty was signed at a stone table located in the gardens of the temple on July 3, 1844

by the Vicery of Liangguang Keying and the  Minister Plenipotentiary Caleb Cushing.

Missionary Peter Parker served as Cushing’s Chinese interpreter.

Sarah describes her visit to the temple


The situation in Macao and Canton was not terribly stable when Sarah arrived in 1853.

Assassination of Macao’s Governor Amaral

Portugal tried to regain control of Macao by abolishing the Chinese customs houses in 1849 and claiming “independence”.

The Chinese rebelled and assassinated the Portuguese governor Ferreira do Amaral.

His death provoked horror and sympathy among the foreign community and increased the efforts to end Chinese interference in Macao.

The Taiping Rebellion 1850-1864

A group of cult-like followers of Hong Xiuquan, a self-proclaimed prophet, fought against the Qing Dynasty and took over Nanking for over a decade. They eventually lost, but over 20 million people died.

Sarah refers to the rebellion in her Journal


By the mid 1800’s Macao was a mixture of East and West

with churches, hilltop fortresses, temples, pagodas, Chinese architecture and grand Western-like homes.

Harriet writes of the beauty of Macao

This is the home where Rebecca Kinsman stayed.

Rebecca’s description of the house and veranda

It was also a mixture of people – primarily Chinese, but also Dutch, Spanish, French,

British, American and Parsee merchants and sailors.


Little ‘cockle shell’ boats greet the ships in the harbor, offering to bring them ashore.

They are manned by the “Tanka Girls” who cry out to earn their business.

Sarah describes the Tanka Girls
Rebecca paints the scene to her father


Sedan Chairs were a common means of transportation in Macao.

Some newer models seem to have a covering overhead.

I soon left my chair and walked by Mrs. Nye’s side. The kind of chair she uses, and used by many other of the ladies, is something entirely new since I was at Macao two years ago. Generally, they are a large bamboo chair made for this purpose and entirely open – can only be used late in the afternoon when there is no sun. They are fastened as the other chairs to two long poles. I rode one afternoon in Mrs. Nye’s – found it a very delightful way of traveling.

Some people had carriages; or went on horseback.


For the merchants and their wives, life was very social and quite extravagant.

They passed the time with formal visits, tea parties and balls.

The food was extravagant, there was music and dancing, and everyone wore the latest styles.

Harriet Low attended many of these events, describing them in detail.

Tea Parties
Opulent Dinner Parties

Sarah attended several dinner parties at the home of Gideon Nye.


Lavish Dinner Party
And another in honor of Commodore Perry

But Sarah and Rebecca both acknowledged that there was a good deal of gossip in Macao!

Sarah’s Observation


Macao was known for its beautiful gardens.

This was a favorite spot.

The garden unfolds on various levels to Camões Grotto,

where the 16th century Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camoes wrote part of his most famous work.

Camoes led an adventurous life.

He was exiled from his native country three times due to his passion for the wife of a nobleman, and eventually landed in Macao, where he is said to have lived in this grotto.

He wrote Os Lusiads, an epic poem celebrating the discovery of a sea route to India by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.

Published in 1572, it is regarded as the finest work of Portuguese literature.

In the afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Munroe, Miss Nye, Mr. Perdie, Williams and self visited the Casa Garden. I had visited it several times before and was most anxious to go again. It is indeed a lovely spot – abundance of fine trees shading the beautiful winding walks and one is constantly meeting with immense rocks, sometimes single, at others piled one upon another. The cave of Camoes, the Portuguese poet, is a place of great attraction. It is a curious place, composed of three immense rocks – two standing upright several feet apart, the third resting immediately over the aperture, forming a cool and sheltered room open at either end. Here the poet had his table, desk and chair and committed to paper his inspirations. Truly it is a place to awaken all poetical feelings. I gathered some leaves from the rock so that I might press and carry them along with me. I looked for a singular tree I had seen there some two years before. I was successful in finding it. It is called the Jack fruit tree. The fruit is large, resembling in shape a watermelon, and grows on off the trunk branches of the tree. The tree is a very large one and presents a singular appearance with this large fruit clustering around it.


Walks were a daily ritual.

The view from Penha Hill was spectacular.

But Sarah preferred the view from the ruins of St. Paul.

These look down on the beautiful beach area of

Praia Grande.

At the usual walking hour we all went our various ways. Mr. Nye offered his carriage to Williams and me and we gladly accepted. I took my chair as far as the Praia as the streets are too narrow for a carriage. We took quite a long and pleasant ride, met several parties on horseback and two or three other carriages. We passed some beautiful soiled looking spots – high banks or hills rising directly from the roads covered in a most picturesque manner by huge rocks and overhanging trees. Part of our ride was by the side of the beach – the air from the water was delightfully cool. And there wherever you look, be it over land or water, you see picturesque looking hills – many topped by old Chinese forts.


Macao from MIT Visualizing Cultures
Hong Kong vs Macao vs Canton