By Selma Carvalho
Pacing his office, badly served by his predecessor and left in a ‘chaotic condition,’ Lieutenant-Colonel Bremner knew nothing good would come of his posting to Goa. Outside lay a land shorn of adventure, a land whose weather he found to be ‘unbearably sultry,’ whose Southern European colonisers spent their time in ‘cheery inebriation,’ militarily emasculated, administratively inefficient and civilisationally inferior to the Northern European nation of Britain.
He wore his bigotries like a tightly-knit vest and exercised them frequently in the course of his duties. He epitomised the last of his tribe, the diehard loyalist, who believed firmly in the moral rectitude of the Empire, and as the newly appointed Majesty’s Consul for the Portuguese Possession in India, he shouldered bravely the white man’s burden of keeping order in the world. It was November 1940, and Bremner was 49 years old.
Bremner: ‘Sound Frontier Officer’
Claude Edward Urquhart Bremner5 was born on 30 August, 1891, the son of Henry John Bremner and Edith Charlotte Graham. His father had served as a colonel in India, where Bremner and his sister Morgan were born but then Edith had returned to England with her two children.6 It was customary to ‘ship’ wives back for the children’s schooling. The family belonged to the St. Peter’s Parish in Bedford, where Bremner spent his early years. Possibly, Bremner knew from a young age that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. He attended Bedford Grammar, a school inclined to preparing young men for the army. There he showed an aptitude for languages winning a prize in French. He qualified for Woolwich (Royal Military Academy) but opted instead to go to Sandhurst (Royal Military College) from whose ranks were drawn the bulk of the Indian Staff Corps. Here, he further honed his language skills becoming conversant in Urdu, Pashto, and Punjabi. Shortly after, in 1911, aged just twenty, he was commissioned into the army and arrived at Quetta.
This building has been identified as the Palacio Grande Hotel in Vasco where the Bremners initially stayed before moving to Panjim. Photo courtesy Patrick Lucas. b) During Bremner’s time in Goa, he met Archbishop D. José da Costa Nunes who he described as a ‘Portuguese gentleman of culture and great personal charm.’ Photo courtesy ‘Indo-Portuguese History Forum.’
Read the full essay in the print anthology The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018. To order click here.
Selma Carvalho is an O Heraldo Goa columnist and author of non-fiction books Into the Diaspora Wilderness (Goa 1556, 2010), A Railway Runs Through: Goans of British East Africa (2014) and Baker Butcher, Doctor Diplomat: Goan Pioneers of East Africa (2016). Between 2011 and 2014, she led the Oral Histories of British-Goans Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund UK.