For centuries, Boxer tells us, Lisbon fretted over the scarcity of European-born Portuguese in its various outposts in the East, particularly in Goa, the jewel of its Indian Ocean trading empire. Malaria and dysentery ravaged European populations there through much of the colony’s Portuguese history, and the white women who accompanied their husbands to India tended to die in childbirth. And so Portugal officially discouraged women from emigrating to Goa. There was one significant exception to this policy.
Orphan girls from orphanages in Lisbon and Porto who reached maturity were embarked on caravels and shipped East at the king’s expense. The white men who agreed to marry them were compensated with an administrative posting. Not all the women, however, were successfully married off. “Some of the women were allegedly too old or too ugly; in other instances the official posts earmarked for prospective husbands were so poorly paid as to constitute no financial attraction.” The practice lasted for about 150 years, until the early 1700s. It is unclear from Boxer’s account if the “Orphans of the King,” as the women were called, consented to the journey.