In the early 1970s, soon after my family relocated from Germany to Goa, my father had the presence of mind to shift a basalt stone plaque from the south side of our house (where it was then obscured) to a more visible place. The inscription on it said “CAZA DA MOEDA 1834”. I clearly remember the shifting of the plaque, and the excitement my brother and I experienced on learning that our house was once a mint. We scoured the place all over, hoping to find coins, but found as they say “not a single fotto poiso.”

I took a serious interest in the history of our house as Casa da Moeda when, in a case of history repeating itself, I too relocated back to Goa from England in 2008. My wife drew my attention to the fact that 2009 would mark 175 years since the house had been a mint, and we ought to celebrate the milestone. It took a fresh pair of eyes to appreciate what had been before mine all through my growing years. And so the first Casa da Moeda festival was held that November, and in its preparation I did some in-depth reading on the subject, and even undertook a trip to Lisbon to meet with Casa da Moeda officials there.

Somehow the date 1834 was intriguing. The move of the capital of Estado da Índia from Velha Goa (Old Goa) to Nova Goa (Pangim, today Panaji) had begun several decades before. Was there some significance to the year the Mint was shifted? The answer is still out there. But what I did learn was that 1834 was a cataclysmic year in Portugal’s history, a gripping tale of a War of Succession, whose ripples were felt all the way to this colonial outpost, even to the very walls of our house. I revisited this story again when invited to speak at the Numismatic Conference & Festival at Instituto Menezes Braganza between 7-10 December 2014 and preparing my presentation for it.

The Anglo-Portuguese alliance goes back to 1373, and is still the oldest one in force in the world. During the Napoleonic wars, Portugal refused to be part of Napoleon’s Continental Blockade against Great Britain. As an interesting aside, both countries had monarchs (King George III of the United Kingdom 1760-1820 and Dona Maria I of Portugal 1777-1816) afflicted by ‘madness’ at around the same time, and both probably attributed to porphyria. They were even both treated by the same physician, Francis Willis.

And so it was that when Napoleon’s armies invaded Portugal in 1807, the country was being ruled by the son of Maria I, João (who would later become Dom João VI) as Prince Regent on account of her incapacity due to her illness. When Lisbon was overrun, the royal Braganza family had to flee to Brazil under British escort, to set up a Cortes-in-exile, the only instance in world history where a colony became the seat of government to her own mother country. Napoleon’s victory was short-lived however, because British forces led by Lord Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) landed a British army in Lisbon, starting the Peninsular War. This drained the French forces, especially when they were required at the Russian front too. It culminated in British victory at the Battle of Vitoria (1813) in Spain.

Meanwhile, João VI was ruler of the “United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve”. Interesting how their holdings in Africa and India were left out of the title. Maria I died in Brazil in 1816. After the French were driven out of Portugal, the country was rent asunder by two irreconcilable camps: the conservatives, made up of the landed gentry and the church; and the liberals who wanted a new social, political and economic order. João VI needed to return to Portugal to maintain monarchical rule, so in April 1821 he appointed his son Pedro as Prince Regent of Brazil, and set sail for Lisbon. At his father’s behest, Pedro declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal and became its first Emperor (Pedro I of Brazil), thus ensuring the Braganza family ruled here as well.

When João VI died in 1826, the question of his succession arose. His eldest son was Pedro but neither Brazil nor Portugal wanted the two recently-separated dominions joined together again. So Pedro I of Brazil returned to Portugal to temporarily be Pedro IV of Portugal, but only to draw up a new constitution for Portugal, which would allow him to abdicate the Portuguese throne in favour of his daughter Maria Gloria. As she was just seven years old in 1826, Pedro appointed his younger brother Miguel as regent to rule on her behalf.

The conservatives however now saw Pedro and his heir as Brazilian, and Miguel as ‘true’ Portuguese, and they backed the latter as the true successor. The stage was set for a civil war, with the liberals loyal to Pedro.

Pedro had to act. He hastily abdicated his throne in Brazil, installing his son as Pedro II there, and set sail for England to gather support, and thence to the Azores which were still in liberal hands. Between 1831 and 1834, a civil war raged, with Great Britain and Spain supporting Pedro. He emerged victorious in May 1834. Miguel was banished from Portuguese territory, and fifteen-year-old Maria Gloria (now Dona Maria II) ascended the Portuguese throne. Pedro died in September 1834, months after he wrested the throne back from his brother. Maria II ruled until her death in 1853, incidentally in childbirth, while giving birth to her eleventh child. She ignored advice from doctors to pay heed to the manner in which her own mother had died of obstetric complications. “If I die, I die at my post” was her reply. She is remembered today as “The Good Mother”, Boa Mãe.

Back here in Goa, the conservatives held sway during the civil war of succession. The backlash on the conservatives and their supporters was swift. Those religious orders that had sided with Miguel (now termed “the Pretender” or “the Impostor”) had their silverware and gold confiscated, even the silverware used in celebrating the Eucharist.

Maria II pardao obverseMaria II pardao reverse

So the silver coin you see in obverse and reverse was probably struck from silver procured from confiscated metalware from a church in Old Goa, and it was certainly struck in the building Casa da Moeda Nova Goa that is today our house.

It has D. Maria II in profile, and scarcely does her justice. The reverse has oak and laurel leaves flanking the Portuguese coat-of-arms, a large crowned shield within which are five smaller shields in the shape of a cross, and surrounded by seven castles in the periphery.

Pardau was a monetary unit, and it is confusing to establish the hierarchy, but my reading suggests the following in the 1800s upto 1871: one rupia=2 xerafins=10 tangas=20 pardaus=750 bazarucos-600 réis. I would be interesting to know how one would make a purchase and get change at the market in 1840.

It took a while for coins bearing the figure of Miguel to be removed from circulation and overstruck with that of Maria II. Could the shifting of the Mint to Nova Goa in 1834 had something to do with this war of succession, and not merely to “improve upon the minting process which had deteriorated”, according to the edict (Portaria) of 1834? There is a story waiting to be told.

(An edited version of this article was published on 7 December 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)