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The Nigerian millionaire who was the son of a returnee slave

Candido Da Rocha was one of the most successful merchants of his time.

Regarded as the first Nigerian millionaire Candido Da Rocha, was the son of Joao Esan Da Rocha, a former slave who returned from Brazil to start a business empire.

At the age of 10,  Joao Esan Da Rocha who was from Ilesha was captured as a slave and taken to Brazil in 1840. Candido was born in Brazil. His mother was Angelica Josephina da Rocha.

Joao Esan Da Rocha would later regain his freedom and return to Ilesha years later. This was circa 1871 when a lot of Brazilians traced their roots back to the Yoruba tribe and came back home. These families were Agustos, Pedros, Pereiras, Lopezes, da Silvas, Gomezes, Domingos, Evaristos, Dacostas, Cardosos,Sho-Silvas etc. You can still meet people with these surnames till today in Lagos.

Upon his return, Joao Esan Da Rocha, bought two houses for himself, the famous Water House at Kakawa Street and  another one on 4, Tinubu Street, Lagos Island.

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Esan Da Rocha was successful in business. "Senior Joao Esan Rocha (was) a prosperous merchant perhaps the richest of his time…" according to  "The Torch Bearers or Old Brazilian Colony" found on The Yoruba.

His son Candido Da Rocha who could only speak Portuguese and Ilesha upon his return attended CMS Grammar School alongside some famous people such as Herbert Macaulay where he was the Head Boy.

His brother was Moses Da Rocha, a famous Nigerian doctor. It was said that he loved reading books and had a well-stocked library including books written in Portuguese. History has it that Candido always came first in class.

Joao Esan Da Rocha died on December 31, 1891 at Water House. In 1893, at the age of 25, Candido filed for administration of his father's estate. When he took over the reigns of his father's business he expanded it into a huge empire.

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To show his foresight, at the age of 16 he decided to take an internship at a German company on Lagos Island that dealt with the importation and exportation of goods instead of being a clerk which was the norm back then. This helped him sharpen his business acumen.

His first bit of fortune came in 1894 when a British gold prospector sold him gold bars for the sum of £6,000. The young Da Rocha did not have all the money so he took a loan from Bank of West-Africa which we now all know as First Bank. He later filed the gold bars into gold dust and sold it to gold smiths. By doing so he made 200% profit. This kind of money was unheard of back then for a Nigerian trader.

In 1907, Da Rocha teamed up with  J.H. Doherty and Sedu Williams to establish the Lagos Native Bank. The bank gave other big banks a run for its money until Da Rocha was swindled. He later opened Lagos Finance Company which lent out money to people.

A lover of horses and horse racing, Da Rocha became one of the founding members of Lagos Race Club in 1891. He participated in many tournaments at the Race Course in Lagos and won a lot of trophies too. His champion horse Vampa won a lot of tournaments.

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Candido Da Rocha had a lot of properties in Lagos which he gave Brazilian names. One of his most famous properties was the Ilojo Bar which he bought when he was 34. Ilojo Bar was unfortunately demolished in 2016.

His country home and hunting ground was 55 hectares of land in Agege. He was also a founding member of Anti Slavery and Aborigines Right Society.

Candido Da Rocha's personal life was a bit strange for the times. It's on record that he never officially got married even though he was a strong Catholic. Three women had children for him. His first child and only son was Alexander who he had a great falling with in 1920 and never saw again till his death. He also had four daughters. Alexander moved to Ghana to be with his mother after the falling and that is why there is a noticeable presence of the Da Rocha family today in Ghana.

Candido Da Rocha's grandson Dr. Oladele da Rocha – Afodu admitted that his grandfather "was a very difficult man to live with."

In 1959, the great Lagos businessman passed away and was buried at Ikoyi Cemetery.

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Additional source material from Island News.

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