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Created on Aug 02, 1995; last modified Jul 06, 2000.

The Sixteenth Century

The rule of the Sultans of Gujarat over the archipelago of Bombay came to an end with the arrival of the Portuguese. In 1508 the first Portuguese ship, captained by Francis Almeida sailed into Bombay harbour. The Portuguese were already at war all along the coast of India. In 1534, with just 21 ships, they managed to defeat the kingdom of Gujarat, and extracted, among many concessions, rights to the islands of Bombay.

India was not a priority for the Portuguese. Francis Almeida had been sent to the east to secure the spice trade for his country. The most lucrative part of this trade lay further east. Bombay and the Arabian sea was important only as a staging post to Malacca. Almeida's successor, Albuquerque, consolidated their position by taking control of Goa in 1510, Malacca in 1511 and Hormuz in 1515.

The northern parts of the Portuguese holdings in India, mainly on the coast of Gujarat, were defended out of their fort in Bassein, present day Vasai, on the mainland north of the islands, and stronghouses were built in Bandra, Mahim, and the harbour of Versova. Control over Bombay was exerted indirectly, through vazadors who rented the islands.

The vazador of Bombay was a certain Garcia da Orta. He built a manor house on the island in 1554. On his death in Goa, in 1570, the island was passed on to his sons. During this time Bombay's main trade was in coconuts and coir. The island of Salsette also exported rice.

The Portuguese encouraged intermarriage with the local population, and strongly supported the Catholic church; going to the extent of starting the Inquisition in India in the year 1560. The result was a growing mixed population which supported the Portuguese in times of strife. However, their intolerance of other religions, seen in the forcible conversion to Christianity of the local Koli population in Bombay, Mahim, Worli and Bassein, had the effect of alienating the local population.

Land in Bandra, Parel, Vadala and Sion was given to the Jesuits. Records speak of two churches built in Girgaum, a Jesuit church in Bandra in 1570 and a fort in Mahim. Of these, only St. Andrew's Church in Bandra can still be seen.

With the annexation of Portugal by Spain in 1580, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British eight years later, the way was open for other European powers to follow the spice routes to India and further East. The Dutch arrived first, closely followed by the British. An account of the Portuguese towns in India, in the year 1583, has been left by a member of the first band of English merchants who tried to reach India.