Mangalore’s First Car Had Bombay Driver

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 (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).

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Comment on this article

  • Joseph M. Pinto, Mangalore / Pune

    Tue, Jul 13 2010

    Thank you, John.

    Such a pleasure to read about a piece of Mangalorean history. For the Mangalorean Diaspora scattered across India and the world, such items are a way to keep in touch.

    Joseph M. Pinto,
    Pune, India.
    Blog: Against the Tide

  • Jimmy Noronha, Belloor/Lucknow

    Fri, Jul 09 2010

    I read in a flash the lovely write-up by Mr. John Monteiro. If Henry Carey ordered to call a coach and went all for it, why not the Saldanha family of Highland who had the gumption of owning the only car in Mangalore in the year 1906, well before even my father was born. They paid a sumptuous sum to the driver to drive and they paid a royal sum to import the car to Mangalore from France. Who wants to own a car if the car is standing and the driver is absconding and for all that the driver might as well have lived a royal life with a handsome salary to boot. Considering the period, the salary, the reputation of the owner, let me say in all fairness that the contract drawn up had no blemish else why the driver had to make it to Mangalore while all make it the other way about?

  • Gilson, Mangalore

    Thu, Jul 08 2010

    Article is very informative and impressive. I had a feeling that only the colonial rulers possessed these kind of cars in Mangalore those days. It proved not.

    Some vague comments by the reader on the contract does not do justice at all here. Mr Saldhana employed a driver with all the legal formalities which perhaps was needed to defend in case of trouble, during those colonial days. It does not mean that he treated the employee that way. Contract is contract as drafted by the legal houses, and the treatment is personal.

    Moreover, the salary as analyzed by dear Bert Naik, is a high-end scale. Drivers had the same or better status than that of engineers of today, who were skilled to handle the engines/maintenance themselves. Seems Mr Saldhana family was too courteous too as one can see from the code of bonding.

    In today's context, many of the MNCs in india are bonding the employees for a year or two or more. Moreover, the termination notice period of 3 months to 6months is needed for high-end posts. So, talking ill of the bond is meaningless, when compared to the modern HR to Employee agreements of industries of India and abroad. this way, slavery is not abolished, and isn't it a human right violation ?

    Car which is 1906 make and in Mangalore - Woh! Never heard of any surviving Earlier vintage models, and that too with all the valid documentation !!! It is a national heritage

  • Joe Gonsalves, Mangalore - U.S.A.

    Thu, Jul 08 2010

    I have read with great interest a well documented article on The First Motor car which plied in Mangalore and more so was happy to study the contract between P.F.X. Saldanha and the driver D'Souza. The salary of Rupees Thirty may appear to be a small amount but considering the present day inflation it was a good salary for a driver. However the conditions of contract are such that they do not compare favourably with the present day working conditions.

    Obviously Dedion was a sturdy car even though fitted with a single cylinder engine.

    It is said that for no specific reason the engine of this car was dismantled and sold to a planter in Chickmagalur. So what adorns the museum of St. Aloysius College Museum is a car sans engine.

    I am glad to be associated with the Saldanha family as Harry Saldanha whose photograph appears in the account is my son-in-law but is indeed more of a son who the entire family looks upon as a wonderful and caring person.

    J.G. Gonsalves

  • suresh maroli, SHIVABAGH/BAHRAIN

    Thu, Jul 08 2010


  • Bert Naik, Australia

    Thu, Jul 08 2010

    I read the article with great interest. Thank you Mr Monteiro for providing the information on the vehicle that I did not think much of during my younger days!
    Also read a couple of comments on the article expressing that the contract with the driver favoured the employer.

    I wonder how.

    Let us not forget that the salary was Rs 30 per month in 1908.

    In 1920 one rupee could buy two shillings ( In the same year, one fine ounce of gold could be bought at about 128 shillings ( This suggests that the driver could buy almost one fine ounce of gold with just two months salary (untaxed).

    Today one fine ounce of gold is worth about US$1200 (exceeding Rs 50,000). That would mean the driver would have received the equivalent of Rs 25,000 per month in today's currency.

    In fact even more so, because my numbers show the situation in 1920, and not in 1908 when the contract was signed.

    Quite rightly so, as not many people at that time would have known how to drive a car.

  • Henry , Mangalore

    Thu, Jul 08 2010

    Contracts are still there in Mangalore. One Hospital on Falnir Road , where I went for an interview hardly 2 years back for Accountants post was saying the same thing. If you absent for a day 2 days salary will be cut. If u want a leave inform 15 days in advance. First Two months Salary will be held as a security. I said Madam , just give me back my CV I don't want to waste 50np on your firm.

  • Harris Madani, Bajpe M'lore

    Thu, Jul 08 2010

    Unbelievable.. but believe it,

  • Abraham Coutinho, Mundkur/Bombay

    Wed, Jul 07 2010

    I had seen this car in the Aloysius Musium 40 years back in my youth and thought it is just a discarded car without engine and tyres. Now I know the full story. Good article.

    About the Driver's Agreement - It looks like one sided. But may not be. Such a Rich, respectable Mr. Saldanha if had said " I hereby appoint you as my Driver", those words were enough. But then what more, perhaps, needed here was by the Driver - his job security for shifting from Bombay to Mangalore though he shifted at onwer's cost. So the agreement was made with only some essential conditions but also mentioning consequences for Driver's negligence,failure, ommissions and commissions in duty. Late Mr. Saldanha's Daiji in Bombay did not feel it right to humiliate the Car Owner by adding in the agreement that " I will provide you accommodation for which I will not charge you. I will also not charge you for the nasta, lunch and dinner and also not charge you for the Uniform/dress I give you"

    These are unwritten things but provided?. Putting Certain things in writing does not look nice for such a Rich man, the only one car owner in South Kanara then. His Bombay Daiji also did not write in the agreement that the Driver will be sacked for misbehavior, insubordination, drunk driving etc. It would have scared the Driver. 3 salaries fine for leaving the job without notice is ok for it is his monopoly. Managalore had no
    Drivers then. Drafting Rich man's agreement is different than normal one.

  • amrit, KSA

    Wed, Jul 07 2010

    Nice information. COntract is so similar to the ones in circulation in Arab countries where human rights violations are the worst.At least the poor man had a contract, scores of workers here in the middle east do not even have one.

  • Sudhir Bhandarkar, Mangalore

    Wed, Jul 07 2010

    Very good information there Mr Monteiro, thanks a ton for sharing it for the benefit of auto enthusiasts such as myself. Great to know that the first car that Mangalore saw is preserved at St Aloysius...
    Unfortunately, many of the vintage vehicles that once ruled the streets of this district have ended as rusty pieces of junk.
    Of late, it is heartening to see some enthusiasts in Mangalore undertaking an initiative to resurrect these pieces of history.

  • Pavan, Karkala

    Wed, Jul 07 2010

    Dear John Monteiro

    Thank you for the wonderful article on the vintage heritage of a Mangalorean Saldhana family.

    Glad to know that the car is well preserved in the SAC museum, eager to visit the museum soon. I always thought that the oldest car of our region can only be seen in Dharmasthala museum. Hard to imagine about the survival of this car for over 100 over years and that too it stood firm with a stiff resistance to the temptation of scrapping it.

    Having owned a family inherited Philips bicycle of late 30s whcih is intact and in good working condition, I know how painful it is to preserve these kind of heritage items.

    Good article.

    BTW, could you pleae tell me the meaning of the word "Daijis" that
    you used inthe article ? Does it mean the relatives ? Interesting that the same word finds its place in the "Daijiword" title as well.

  • Abdulla Madumoole, Abu Dhabi

    Wed, Jul 07 2010

    A nice piece of information. Interesting to go through the contract but vey painful to note the one sided terms of employment.Probably this contract reflects the autocratic British mentality those days. Even for a drivers job they needed a contract, a contract heavily favoring the employer.I wish I was there to raise against the British brutality.
    Thanks Daiji for a wonderful piece of history.

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