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Book: Translocal Lives and Religion

Chapter: 4. The Curious Case of the Drs. D’Abreu: Catholicism, Migration and a Kanara Catholic Family in the Heart of the Empire, 1890-1950

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.31741


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several Catholics from South Kanara in British India, whether as British subjects or Indo-Portuguese Catholics, journeyed across the wider British, Portuguese and Catholic worlds. Wherever they travelled or settled, they often strategically deployed their Catholicism (more precisely, Roman Catholicism), distinctive Anglo-Luso-Brahmin culture and ambiguities about their racial heritage to overcome structural barriers to the mobility and assimilation of South Asians. Catholicism, with its numerous institutions, lay and clerical transnational networks, and doctrinal emphasis on universalism emerged as a particularly valuable tool that some could deploy for the purpose of assimilation. Catholicism would not only facilitate intermarriages with Catholics of other ethnicities, but also enable racial “passing” and other forms of strategic ethnic reidentification. By focusing on the d’Abreu family from Mangalore, members of which journeyed to the British Isles since 1890, this study shall uncover the forgotten history of an Indo-Portuguese Catholic family that embedded itself within the heart of British society. It shall explore how, by strategically emphasizing the Catholic and Portuguese markers of their multifaceted identities and connecting to Catholic institutions and networks, the pioneering d’Abreu immigrant could embed himself within local Catholic society in Birmingham as a successful, presumably Portuguese, medical doctor, while his sons could acquire an education at Stonyhurst, become prominent surgeons, and marry into the British gentry and aristocracy. It shall explore both the transnational practices and networks of Catholicism and investigate the extent to which Catholicism could facilitate migration and aid assimilation.

Chapter Contributors

  • Dwayne Menezes ( - dmenezes) 'University of Cambridge'