Tracing roots of illustrious family

Joseph Custodius Fernandez, the first Mangalorean to be appointed as the District and Sessions Judge of Madras State.

Perhaps there is no field in which Mangaloreans have not earned name and fame. You go to any part of the world or any field, there is a possibility that you will find a Mangalorean.

Among the many illustrious personalities of the Port City, Joseph Custodius Fernandez (1864-1929) was one such eminent personality. In fact, he was also the first Mangalorean to obtain BA, BL and ML degree way back in 1891! Besides, he was also the first Mangalorean to be appointed as the District and Sessions Judge of Madras State (Province) comprising Madras (now Chennai), Andhra Pradesh and South Kanara. He also has the distinction of being the first Mangalorean to write a ‘Manual,’ that is, “Guidance of Speical Magistrates” compiled for the Government of Madras in 1921.

What makes the story of the Fernandez family more interesting is that Joseph Custodius Fernandez’ father John Francis Fernandes (1807-83) was the first non-British Deputy Collector (Treasury) of South Kanara while John’s both brothers — Ignatius Louis Fernandes (1814 - 1892) and Joachim Louis Fernandez (1834 - 1904) — too were judges.

While Ignatius retired as a District Judge at Karwar in 1881, Joachim retired as a District Magistrate in Mangalore.

Joseph pursued his early education at Rosario church school, St Aloysius school and Madras Law College. Joseph’s wife too was a daughter of a Judge of Madras High Court.

London connection

Though eminent genealogist Dr Michael Lobo has listed all the achievements of eminent personalities of South Kanara including those mentioned above in his all time favourite book “Distinguished Mangalorean Catholics - 1800-2000,” no one bothered to check whether any of the family members of Fernandez exist in any part of the globe untill London based entrepreneur Denzil Fernandez, the grandson of Joseph Custodius Fernandez,  decided to visit India (Mangalore) in search of roots of his family way back in 1982. (Denzil’s father (Joseph’s son) Herbert lived and died in London). When he visited Rosario Cathedral in Mangalore, he could not meet anybody, but he could get a vital link to his family in the form of Michael Fernandez, his great grandfather’s brother’s great grandson. But to Denzil’s bad luck, Michael’s house near Rosario Cathedral was locked as he was then working as a manager for SBI in Bangalore.

Unable to contact Michael, Denzil returned to London. But the clerk at Rosario church wrote a letter to Michael about Denzil’s visit to Mangalore from London. Later, Michael started writing letters to Denzil in London. The advent of internet brought the families more closer.  However, the moment of joy came when 75-year-old Denzil visited Mangalore again recently. Speaking to City Herald, Denzil Fernandez said that curiosity about his roots made him visit India way back in 1982, but he regretted that he could not meet Michael 30 years ago. “Subsequently he (Michael) contacted me and continued to keep in touch, for nearly 30 years, which is much appreciated,” he said.

Terming his brief visit to Mangalore as a joyous experience, he said meeting Michael and his family, visiting their great grandfather’s house and finding out about the outstanding contribution of the members of the clan over the last 250 years, were some of the memorable experiences.

Quoting his father Herbert, Denzil said that his grandfather Joseph’s decisions in court were never appealed.

Denzil, who served as a lay magistrate for 14 years in Inner London, said that he intends to return to Mangalore, but not for a year or two.

In Mangalore

Michael Leo Fernandez (75) and his wife Marie Louis live in old but elegant house in Pandeshwar (Bolar), close to the ancestral house of his great grandfather John Francis Fernandez and located next to the Rosario Cathedral. He has the credit of being the first Catholic manager to open a branch of State Bank of India in Hampankatta in 1978 and introducing agricultural banking in Mangalore in 1979.

Michael’s grandfather Norbert Patrick Fernandez (Tahsildar, Mangalore, 1853-1921) was Joseph’s brother.

Michael, who has the genealogical records of his family history of 8 generations, with documentary evidence, right from his great great grandfather to his grandchild, can throw light on the life and culture of Mangalore, which is also known as the ‘Rome of the East.’

Judge saga continues

Interestingly, Denzil’s son Dominic Fernandez too is a Barrister in London. Will Dominic’s sons Lewis and Bertie become Barristers or Judges? one has to wait and see as they are too young and studying in school.

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