By John B. Monteiro
Go call a coach, and let the coach be called;
And let the man who calleth be the caller;
And in the calling, let him nothing call,
But coach! Coach! Coach! O for a coach, ye gods.
- Henry Carey, English musician and poet (1700-1743)
Before the advent of automobiles, the horse-drawn coach was the chief means of transport for the aristocracy, including in Mangalore. The Highland Saldanha family was one such, which imported the first car into Mangalore in1906. Apart from, it also imported a driver for it from another province, Bombay, of British India. Luis Williams, the driver, was hired under two contracts written on 8 annas (Rs. 50 paise of today) stamp papers, signed by the driver, with three witnesses to boot.
Both contracts set down similar terms and conditions, except that one signed in Bombay was drawn up by J M Saldanha ( apparently Joseph Manuel Saldanha (1886-1952), son of Stanislaus Saldanha (1817-1888) who lived in Codialbail. A journalist, Joseph was initially on the editorial staff of the Bombay Gazette, and later worked for The Statesman, Calcutta.) who perhaps recruited the driver in Bombay for his daijis in Mangalore and advanced Rs. 20 for rail fare and expenses during the journey and retained with himself the driving licence to make sure that he actually went to Mangalore. The licence might have been sent by post. These documents are carefully conserved by Harry Saldanha, Managing Partner of Highland Coffee Works But, first about the car.
2006 marked 100 years of the first car landing in Mangalore. Imported from Paris, its shell, minus the engine and tyres, occupies a pride of place in Aloyseum, the museum of St. Aloysius College. In 1906, P.F.X. Saldanha, a noted coffee-curing pioneer, received the very first motor car to reach Mangalore. This car was made in France – a De Dion, single cylinder, 8 / 10 horsepower, four-wheel, couch-type vehicle. The arrival of this magnificent, internal combustion-powered, self-propelled, horse-less chariot created a sensation in the then sleepy old town of Mangalore in October 1906. People flocked to Saldanha’s house to have a look at this wonder. When it was driven through the town’s cobbled roads, people rushed out of their homes to catch a glimpse of it.
Although the De Dion was very sturdy and comparatively very fast moving vehicle, having recorded a maximum speed of 19.5 miles per hour, it was not particularly practical as a transport for daily use or for going to distant places. Its use depended on the supple of petrol. It had to be transported in five or ten-gallon cans from over 500 miles distance – either from Bombay or Madras. A special licence had to be obtained for its transport.
About a year after the arrival of this car, Sir Arthur Lawley, Governor of Madras, visited Mangalore. He had brought along his own magnificent, high-powered Daimler Sedan. But, it was hardly big enough to accommodate his family and entourage. Saldanha readily offered the use of the De Dion for the visiting party. The Governor’s official trip to the historic Jain centres, Moodbidri and Karkal, was the first test of the little automobile’s pulling capacity over long distances. It was used by the Governor’s daughters for the trip. It bravely chugged up and down the hills and dales on primitive mud roads, keeping pace with the Governor’s high-powered Daimler. When the De Dion safely deposited the Governor’s daughters, on their return, at the Government Circuit House, Saldanha received profuse thanks from the Governor.
Apparently, for a dozen years or more, the car remained a topless open car. Then, in 1920, a canvas hood was fitted over the open front seat. The rear seat was converted into a dickey seat. After the death of PFX Saldanha in 1935, the car fell into disuse. In 1946, a coffee planter, and a friend of the family, found the car lying unused in the shed. Finding that the engine was still in good condition, he asked for it and his request was granted and it was said to have been used a water pump. For ten years since then the engineless De Dion gathered dust in the shed as a nostalgic reminder of bygone splendour. Then, in 1956, Joseph G X Saldanha, son of the original owner, presented the car to the college museum and now occupies a prominent place in the Aloyseum located on the ground floor of “Red Building”
Following is the text of the driver’s contract signed in Mangalore:
“Agreement executed by Luis Williams alias Luis D’souza son of Bastias D’souza late of Mangalore aged an adult 22 years holder of Motor Vehicle License No. 430 dated 13th June 1907 issued by the Commissioner of Police, Bombay city, now residing at Mangalore favour of Mr. P.F.X. Saldanha, son of A.J. Saldanha, merchant residing at Mangalore this 10th day of September 1907.
That in consideration of an advance of the sum of Rs.30/- thirty paid in cash for me by Mr. J. M. Saldanha at Bombay. I do hereby agree and bind myself to service the said Mr. P.F.X Saldanha as a driver of his motor car for a period of one year from 1st September 1907 to 31st Augaust1908 on a monthly salary of Rs.30 per a month.
That during the said period of service I shall daily look carefully to the washing, cleaning, oiling or otherwise keeping the motor car in perfect order and condition as directed by him to his full satisfaction that I shall drive carefully and with great due attention, not going too fast endangering the life of passengers, animals or causing collusion of whatsoever nature and if any accident has happened through my negligence or my inattention while driving the said car I shall myself be responsible for all the consequences.
My hours of attendance shall be from 7 am to 7 pm with an allowance of two hours at noon for meals. Should he require my services for the motor car before or after the above said time during his working season or any other time I agree to attend at the hours required by him without any extra pay or allowance.
That the money paid to me at Bombay by Mr. J. M. Saldanha Rs16 -0-0(sixteen) for railway fare from Bombay to Mangalore and Rs.4-/- for my luggage, meals etc. total Rs.20-/- shall be chargeable to my account in one year or I shall be dispensed from his services by him at any time before the said period of one year any cause whatsoever.
That in case I leave his services before the said period of one year I bind myself to pay him the said Rs.20-/- and the balance of the amount advanced to me and also pay him three months pay Rs.90/- as damages.
That my monthly pay as said above Rs30/- shall be for days actually worked, and if I absent myself without permission I shall be liable to a fine of Rs.2/- per day.
If at any time he finds me disqualified or he wishes to dispense with my services for whatever cause whatsoever he may dispense with my services at any time without giving notice.
That he shall deduct Rs.10/- monthly out of my pay from the above advance, or any other extra amount I may be paid at any time during the said period of one year.
I witness whereof – I the above said Luis Williams alias Luis D’Souza set my hand and seal this 10th day of September 1907”.
Discerning readers would have noticed that the contract is loaded against the driver. There is no weekly off. Involves 12-hour shift; if required to work longer, he has to do it without extra pay. If employer terminates service, no notice or notice pay provided for; but, if driver leaves service, has to pay damages of three-month salary. If he is absent without permission, salary deducted at Rs.2 per day – double his daily salary. Finally, retaining driver’s licence till he joined duty in Mangalore, under a separate agreement signed in Bombay, anticipates by a century the practice of some Gulf employers retaining passports till the employee works to their satisfaction and for the contracted period.
All said and done PFX Saldanha gave Mangalore its first car and first hired driver. The contract might have been supplied by his Bombay daiji – perhaps copied from a Parsee/Gujarathi car-owner.
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is the editor of his website www.welcometoreasson.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).
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