Print History: Goan historians & printing in Goa - The Gracias Brothers

While European historians were excavating the building blocks necessary to write the history of early printing in India from the final decades of the nineteenth century, historians from Goa did not lag far behind, as demonstrated by the careers of the Gracias brothers

31 Mar 2023 | By Murali Ranganathan

António Ribeiro dos Santos (1745–1818)

For most of the nineteenth century, the city of Bombay was the focus of Portuguese journalism in western India. The unsettled political conditions in Goa during the 1830s led to political exiles seeking refuge in Bombay where they founded Portuguese journals to broadcast their points of view. The O Mensageiro Bombayense [The Bombay Messenger] was the first Portuguese language newspaper to be published in Bombay. First issued on 17 March 1831, it was a weekly. Though it could not survive for more than a year, the Bombay printing fraternity was impressed by its choice of types and elegant layout. After the coup in early 1835 which led to the deposition of the only Indian governor in the history of Portuguese Goa and his subsequent retreat to Bombay, and later Daman, a number of Portuguese newspapers were started to support the rival factions. While O Investigador Portuguez em Bombaim [Bombay Portuguese Examiner] was founded in August 1835 to support the exiled governor, O Proteiro da Liberdade [The Protector of Liberty] was the mouthpiece of the rebels. While this crisis blew over in a few years, it had laid the foundations of an active Portuguese press in Bombay. In the 1840s, journals such as O Indio Imperial and O Observador were in existence.

As an increasing number of Goans began to reside in Bombay, a number of monthly and weekly journals began to be published for that audience from the 1870s. Many of them were bilingual periodicals, printing in either Portuguese and Konkani or Portuguese and English. Some of them printed in all three languages. Konkani itself could be printed in either Devanagari or Roman types or both scripts in the same newspaper. For example, O Anglo Lusitano was a weekly newspaper from the 1880s which carried both Portuguese and English matter while O Bombaense: semenario litterario e noticioso (1901–1907) was published in three languages.

Given this affinity towards print, it was not surprising that a few Goans began to get interested in the history of printing in Goa in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The subject was shrouded in haze even though most history aficionados knew that printing reached Goa in the sixteenth century. One of the earliest forays in this subject was made by the Bombay Portuguese weekly newspaper, A India Catholica which had been founded in 1874 by Bishop Leo Meurin, the Vicar-Apostolic of Bombay.

In March 1878, A India Catholica published an article on the origin and establishment of the printing press in Goa, and by extension, India. It had been extracted from a memoir on Portuguese printing in the sixteenth century written as far back as 1812 by António Ribeiro dos Santos (1745–1818), the founder director of Real Biblioteca Pública da Corte [Public Library of the Royal Court] which would later become the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. This extract turned out to be an eye-opener for many of the readers of A India Catholica who had perhaps not realised that the advent of print in Goa could be traced back to the 1550s. Riberio dos Santos surveys all the printing sites of the Portuguese empire and takes stock of the imprints and their printers. A large part of the essay is devoted to printing within Portugal, especially in the cities of Lisbon, Evora and Coimbra. He then charts the spread of printing to all corners of the Portuguese empire, going as far east as Canton and Japan. He ascribes the arrival of printing in Goa to the industry of two printers working under the auspices of the Society of Jesus. He lists six Goan imprints from the sixteenth century, the earliest from 1561: Compendio Espiritual da vida Christãa.

The elder Gracias
The brief article on the print history of Goa written by António Ribeiro dos Santos in 1812 caught the attention of a young Goan man who had just turned twenty. José António Ismael Gracias (1857–1919) belonged to a well-established Goan family and was the eldest of nearly a dozen siblings. Born at Curtorim in South Goa, Ismael Gracias seems to have received an education which fitted him up for a career in Portuguese colonial bureaucracy. How he acquired a taste for print history so early in life is not known, but by 1878, he seems to have been able to correct and add to the Santos essay. He provided additional material on the subject which were published in subsequent issues of A India Catholica. As they “were received with the most flattering appreciation,” Ismael Gracias was motivated to compile his notes into a book, perhaps the first to be written exclusively on early printing in India.

Titled A imprensa em Goa nos seculos XVI, XVII, XVIII: apontamentos histórico-bibliográficos [The printing press in Goa in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries: historical-bibliographic notes], it was published in Goa in 1880. Where Santos devoted a mere two pages to Goan printing in his memoir and listed only six Goan imprints from the sixteenth century, Ismael Gracias identifies nine imprints from this period. Unlike Riberio dos Santos, who based his history by examining the books in the Royal Library, Ismael Gracias accessed earlier writings on Portuguese affairs in India, especially Oriente Conquistada by Francisco de Souza, first published in 1710. He was thus able to identify imprints which may not have survived. The earliest imprint he refers to is form 1557, a catechism composed by St Francis Xavier.

Ismael Gracias discusses each imprint in chronologically arranged notes and provides contextual information on the author and the text wherever he could. For example, the entry for the 1563 landmark book, Colloquios dos simples e drogas medicinaes, by Garcia da Orta extends to five pages. However, Ismael Gracias made no attempt to write a connected historical narrative. Many of the materials which would aid the construction of this narrative were still being wrought into existence.

José António Ismael Gracias went on to have a successful career in the Governo do Estado da Índia Portuguesa [Government of the state of Portuguese India]. In the 1880s, he was the Private Secretary to successive Governors-General: Augusto César Cardoso de Carvalho (1886–89) and Vasco Guedes de Carvalho e Meneses (1889–1891). By the early 1900s, he had risen to become the chief secretary of the General Secretariat of the Portuguese government. He had also been appointed as a professor in the Lyceu Nacional de Goa.

In parallel to his official career, Ismael Gracias continued to develop his interest in history and archaeology. He was a part of the founding editorial board of O Oriente Portuguêz, a quarterly journal of history, literature and archaeology published under the auspices of the Archaelogical Commission for Portuguese India from January 1904. From the fifth volume (1908), he was its editor. Ismael Gracias was also a frequent contributor to the journal, often contributing two of the five articles in a single issue. He continued writing and editing the O Oriente Portuguêz until a few months before his death in 1919. His interests ranged from the history of the Portuguese in India to the study of Christian religious institutions and beyond. Some of his important writings include ‘Os ultimo cinco generales do Norte’ [The Last Five Generals of the North] (1906/7) and ‘Os sobrevivos de Bacaim’ [The Survivors of Vasai] (1908). However, after having published a book on the history of Goan printing in 1880, he does not seem to have written anything else on the subject in his long career extending to four decades. Neither did anyone else in Goa work on in this area for many years.


José António Ismael Gracias (1857–1919)

A revival of print history
The political circumstances of Goa and the aftermath of the First World War led to the closure of O Oriente Portuguêz soon after Ismael Gracias’ death. It was only a few years later that scholarship in Goa got a new lease of life. The Instituto Vasco da Gama, an organization founded in 1871 to study and promote Portuguese history and culture that had become moribund, was revived in 1924. It also started a journal devoted to literature and history titled Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama. This journal provided a forum for print historians to publish their research. The first person to engage with this subject after over half a century was Leão Crisostomo Fernandes whose essay ‘O livro e o jornal em Goa’ [The Book and the Newspaper in Goa] appeared in four instalments over 1935–37. He was the first to discuss the 1556 imprint – Conclusiones Philosophicas – the earliest Indian imprint to be discovered. Another Goan scholar, Mariano Saldanha (1878–1975), published extensive additions and emendations to the Fernandes article in the same journal in 1936.

 Instituto Vasco da Gama, Panaji, Goa

The younger Gracias
Nearly six decades after Ismael Gracias published his book on early printing in Goa and two decades after his death, and after numerous bibliographies, annals and histories of the Society of Jesus had been published, yet another Goan attempted a review of this subject. His name was Joao Batista Amancio Gracias (1872–1950), a younger brother of Ismael Gracias. His article in Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama (1938), ‘Os portugueses e o estabelecimento da imprensa na india’ [The Portuguese and the establishment of the printing press in India], was the first attempt at writing a connected history of print in sixteenth century India while also exploring the development of print in Portugal prior to that period.

While their siblings went on to explore the medical and ecclesiastical fields, it seems that Ismael Gracias took Amancio Gracias, fifteen years his junior, under his wing. And the latter was happy to walk in his brother’s footsteps. Not only did he seek a career in the Portuguese bureaucracy like his brother, he began exploring history and writing at a young age. Soon after O Oriente Portuguêz was founded in 1904, Amancio Gracias began contributing articles to its columns under the editorship of Ismael Gracias. So prolific were the Gracias brothers that they could, on occasion, fill up an entire issue by themselves. His early essays included ‘Viajantes Europeus na India’ [European travelers in India] (1909–10) and ‘Documentas da Arquivo da Fazenda’ [Documents from the Fazenda Archive] (1915–16). When the Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama was started in 1926, Amancio Gracias was on its editorial board. After his retirement in 1933 from an international administrative career which had taken him to far-flung Portuguese colonies like Angola and Mozambique, Amancio Gracias focussed on his writing career. Besides writing on contemporary subjects like the future of Portuguese Goa in a federal India, he continued to explore the early centuries of Portuguese rule in India.

In his essay on printing, Amancio Gracias takes a broader view than his predecessors and discusses printing in non-Portuguese languages elsewhere in India. He also accesses a much wider range of sources, especially the new series of volumes which the Society of Jesus had begun publishing.

 Joao Batista Amancio Gracias (1872–1950)

The quatercentenary of printing in Goa
The year 1956 marked the four hundredth anniversary of the advent of print in Goa. The Instituto Vasco da Gama did not let go of the opportunity to commemorate this occasion by publishing a special volume of its journal. The issue contained articles from international print historians; besides, Goan historians including Mariano Saldanha and Panduronga Pissurlencar also covered fresh ground. While Saldanha wrote about the first printing press in Goa, Pissuerlencar explored the history of Marathi printing in Goa and documented the arrival of Devanagari types in Goa in 1853. The publication of The Printing Press in India (1958) by Anant Kakba Priolkar, yet another Goan historian, can be seen as the culmination of a process of enquiry initiated by José António Ismael Gracias in 1878.


  • Fernandes, Leão Crisostomo. ‘O livro e o jornal em Goa’ [The Book and the Newspaper in Goa] Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama (1935/36)
  • Gracias, Joao Batista Amancio. ‘Os portugueses e o estabelecimento da imprensa na india.’ Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama (1938).
  • Gracias, José António Ismael. A imprensa em Goa nos seculos XVI, XVII, XVIII : apontamentos histórico-bibliográficos. Nova-Goa: Imprensa Nacional, 1880.
  • Ribeiro dos Santos, António. ‘Memoria para a historia da typografia Portugueza do seculo XVI.’ Memorias de Litterature Portugueza. Vol. 8, 1812. pp. 77–147.