Jorge Álvares

Summary

Jorge Álvares (Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Kingdom of Portugal, ? – Tamão, Middle Kingdom, (China), July 8, 1521) was a Portuguese explorer, the first European to land in China by sea and, in 1513, to visit the territory that is now Hong Kong .

He was one of the Portuguese who, from Malacca, headed to China, being the first to arrive in China, in 1513, in the southern region, at the behest of the Portuguese Captain or Governor of Malacca, Jorge de Albuquerque, nephew of the conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque.

This visit was followed by the establishment of some Portuguese trading posts in the province of Canton, where the trading post of Macau would later be established. According to available records, he was the first European to reach and visit the territory that is now Hong Kong.

It seems to have landed on the island of Tamão, located in Chu-Kiang (across the Pearl River, which passes in Canton, which the English call Pearls River), in the district of Rio de Este. Castanheda says that this island was 3 leagues off the coast of China; Damião de Góis, 3 leagues from Nanto, and Gaspar Correia, 18 to 20 leagues from Canton. In view of this, the Macanese historian José Maria Braga identified Tamão as the island of Lin-tin.

He owned a junk with which he traded between Malacca and Canton, together with Simão de Andrade and Rafael Perestrelo, pioneers of this trade, considered illegal by the Chinese.

He took part in a war against the sultan of Bintão, captaining a galley in the Portuguese Armada. With the approach of Tamang (Canton), despite the opposition of the “Itau” (local mandarin), he managed to settle on a beach on the island of Sanchoão, where he erected a hut that served as a refuge for clandestine merchants and where, in order to find himself as if on Portuguese land, he had a pattern laid.

He was thus considered to be the Portuguese feitor of Tamang, and continued, in his junk, to sail the Moluccas. In these waters he was attacked by the Ternate natives and seriously wounded. He died in his cabin, requesting that he be buried next to the standard that he had erected.

Jorge Álvares, in Tamão, is said to have erected the first Portuguese Monument in China; next to this Monument he buried his son in 1514. On July 8, 1521, his own body went there to join the ashes of this young man, who had died six years before his father.

He would have died in the arms of his friend Duarte Coelho, the famous captain of the East Seas, who would have buried him. Our great chronicler João de Barros says

That land of idolatry may eat his body, but since for the honor of his Fatherland at the ends of the earth he has set that standard of his findings, he will not eat the memory of his grave, while this deed of ours lasts.

There is information about another Jorge Álvares, a wealthy Portuguese merchant who, in 1544, went to Japan with Fernão Mendes Pinto and who wrote “Information from Japan”, at the request of Saint Francis Xavier. He also helped this religious man by leading, from China, his Japanese convert named Anger. In 1552 the religious arrived in Sanchoão Island seriously ill and was welcomed by Jorge Álvares in his cabin. The care he provided him, however, was in vain, and the future saint died.

Sources

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