14 July 2020

The Portuguese de Castro
families who escaped the
Inquisition and lived in Dublin

In the cloisters of the Sé Catedral in Lisbon … Isaac de Castro was burned to death by the Inquisition in Lisbon on 15 December 1647 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The de Castro surname is found among Sephardic families of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian descent. Soon after the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition, members of the family emigrated to Bordeaux, Bayonne, Hamburg, and various cities in the Netherlands.

Their descendants were later found in every continent, and I was interested to come across a de Castro family that prospered in Dublin in the 18th century, and that – like every other de Castro family – has descendants in every part of the world.

Although the name does not indicate Jewish origins, it was adopted by some Portuguese and Spanish Jewish families after the forced conversions introduced by the Inquisition in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Abraham de Castro was master of the mint and farmer of the coinage for Sultan Sulaiman, in Cairo in the 16th century. He secured a firman guaranteeing the liberties of the Jews in Ottoman-ruled Egypt, and is credited with saving them from oppression.

Balthazar (Isaac) Orobio de Castro, a philosopher, physician and apologist, was born in Braganza ca 1620, but was jailed and tortured by the Inquisition in Portugal when he was exposed as a secret Jew. He fled to Amsterdam and died there in 1687.

Earlier, in 1647, the Portuguese Inquisition in Brazil compelled Isaac de Castro to choose between his Judaism and being burned alive. Isaac, who had moved from Amsterdam to Recife at the age of 16 in 1641. He was sent to Lisbon, and at a second trial there he chose his faith and martyrdom on 15 December 1647.

So, I was interested to find a Sephardic de Castro family who had strong business and cultural connections with Ireland over three generations in the 18th century.

The Irish branch of the de Castro family can be traced to his contemporary, Dr David Rodrico Namias, who was born in Lisbon in 1550, managed to flee to Hamburg, and died there in 1627. His grandson, David Namias or de Castro (1651-1702), married Sara Levie-Ximenes (1653-1722) in Amsterdam in 1670. Their eldest son, Salomon David de Castro (1671-1740), who was born in Hamburg in 1671, was the first member of the family to move to Dublin.

In 1710, Salomon or Solomon de Castro married Rachel Bravo, daughter of the poet Abraham Bravo of Bayonne, France, who was also from a Spanish or Portuguese family. The marriage is registered in the Bevis Marks Synagogue, and he settled the sum of £20,000 on his wife when they married.

Solomon and Rachel soon moved to Dublin, and lived in Capel Street, then a fashionable street. They were the parents of at least 11 children, including four who died at birth or in infancy, and seven surviving sons, many of whom were born in Dublin, including Samuel, who was born in 1725 and Daniel, who was born in 1733.

1, David ben Salomon de Castro (1714-1761), born 1714, London, died 4 October 1761, London, aged 41.
2, Jacob ben Salomon de Castro (ca 1717-1779), moved to Amsterdam.
3, Abraham ben Salomon de Castro (1720-1779), born and died in London.
4, Samuel Salomon de Castro (1725-1779), born 17 June 1725, in Capel Street, Saint Mary’s Parish, Dublin, died 18 May 1779, London, aged 53.
5, Isaac ben Salomon de Castro (ca 1726-1779), born Dublin ca 1726, lived in Livorno, Italy, and died in London in 1779.
6, Moses ben de Castro (ca 1729-1761), born ca 1729, Dublin, died 26 March 1761, Curacao, Netherland Antilles, aged about 46.
7, Daniel Salomon de Castro (1733-1790), born 1733 Dublin, died 1 November 1790, London, aged 57 years.

Although Solomon de Castro had moved to London by 1732, his wife may have waited in Dublin to follow him until their youngest son Daniel was born in in 1733 in Dublin.

Solomon de Castro was the secretary of the Portuguese and Spanish or Sephardic Community in London from 1732 until he died in 1740. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Mile End in Stepney.

In his will, written in Portuguese, he asked to be buried near his wife. He left to his son David his Sefer Torah in the Synagogue to his son David, and he appointed this son David and Benjamin Mendes da Costa as guardians of his son youngest living Daniel.

Bevis Marks Synagogue, London … Solomon de Castro and his son Abraham de Castro were secretaries of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community for almost half a century, from 1732 to 1779 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

These seven surviving de Castro brothers worked closely together in business across the world.

The eldest son, David de Castro, worked from Bury Street in Saint Mary Axe parish, London, shipped coral to his brother Samuel in India. He married his cousin Judith, daughter of David Bravo, and died in London, and their only daughter, Sarah Judith (1752-1824), an artist, married her uncle Daniel de Castro.

The second son Jacob de Castro, lived in Amsterdam, where he was involved in cutting, polishing and selling diamonds imported from India.

The third son, Abraham de Castro, also worked from Bury Street in London, and succeeded his father as the secretary of the Spanish and Portuguese community at Bevis Marks Synagogue from 1740 to 1779. He was also the first secretary of the Deputados, later the Board of Deputies of British Jews. As secretary of the Spanish and Portuguese community, Abraham de Castro was involved in negotiating the purchase of the first Dublin Jewish cemetery at Ballybough in 1746-1748.

The fourth son, Samuel de Castro, was a merchant based in Fort St George in Madras (now Chennai), India, sending uncut diamonds to his brother Jacob in Amsterdam. He was also involved with the East India Company. He died in Islington High Street in 1779. He was the father of two sons, Samuel de Castro (1763-1822) and Daniel de Castro (1775-1840). The younger son, Daniel, married his first cousin, Rebecca Lara Lopez, daughter of Joshua Lara Lopez and Sarah Ximenes. They have descendants in England and New Zealand.

The fifth son, Isaac, moved in 1744 to Livorno (Leghorn) in Italy, a centre of the coral trade, to buy coral and send it to his brother David in London. He was the father of two sons, Solomon and Abraham, and two daughters.

The sixth son, Moses de Castro, worked first in Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, then moved to India, to take over from his brother Daniel. He built a new house for the firm of Daniel and Moses de Castro in Fort St George in 1768.

The seventh and youngest son, Daniel de Castro, moved in 1757 to Fort St George, to learn the family business from his brother Samuel. Daniel returned to London and in 1766 married Sarah Judith de Castro, the 14-year-old daughter of his late brother David.

Samuel returned to London in 1769, and in 1771 he married Sara Lara, whose sister-in-law was an aunt of the future Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

These Castro brothers were first cousins of Jacob de Castro (1758-1824), whose father was the headmaster of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ School in London. Jacob was supposed to join his cousin Moses de Castro at Fort St George, but instead decided to go on the stage in London, and became a comedian and an opera singer who also appeared on the stage in Dublin in various roles between 1793 and 1804.

Another Castro family living in Dublin in the early 19th century may have been of ‘Marrano’ or converso descent. Francis Castro was a grocer in Saint Andrew Street, and Henry Castro was a shoemaker in Aungier Street in 1804. Francis Castro’s daughter married Redmond Harte of Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, that year.

A contemporary of many of these de Castros was Felix de Castro, a Spanish physician who lived in Agramunt in the early 18th century. On 30 November 1725, he was jailed for life by the Inquisition for being a secret Jew. Similar sentences were passed on many other members of de Castro family who were doctors, including: Alvarez de Castro (25) of Pontevedra, 21 September 1722, at Santiago; Joseph de Castro (49) of Madrid and Simon de Castro (25) of Badajoz, 30 November 1722, at Llerena.

The Jewish cemetery at Ballybough, Dublin … Abraham de Castro was involved in negotiating its purchase (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Robert Gair, a racist
from Rathmines who
invented his own clan

George Robert Gair, aka Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg … born in Rathmines, and held preposterous and racist views

Patrick Comerford

I have written in recent weeks about the bogus and competing claims made by Victorian clergy in Ireland to be chiefs of the O’Hanlon Clan and to hold the title of ‘The O’Hanlon.’ I have written about Lady Fitzgerald who lived in Victorian Lichfield, and whose husband and sons used an Irish title of baronet to which they had no legitimate claims.

But the most preposterous charlatan and deceptive and conceited claimant to titles I have come across must be Robert Gair or Gayre (1907-1996), the Rathmines-born son of a pastry baker who went on to claim he was a Scottish clan chief and laird, an anthropologist, an ethnologist and an expert in heraldry.

But he was neither Scottish nor was he a clan chief. He was born in Dublin, was a genealogical charlatan, and was a congenital confidence trickster and cheat who invented a Scottish clan as well as his own genealogical charts and orders of chivalry. He set up and edited his own pseudo-scientific journals, The Armorial and Mankind Quarterly, to advance his own claims in subjects as diverse as heraldry and anthropology.

To this day, he is still remembered in academic anthropological circles as a racist with Nazi sympathies who promoted eugenics.

Robert Gayre was actually born George Robert Gair on 6 August 1907 at 4 Woodland Villas, Rathmines. His father, Robert William Gair (1875-1957), and his mother, Clara (née Hart), had been married at the Methodist Church in Clonliffe, Dublin, on 28 July 1906.

Robert Gair, the father, was born in Glasgow on 9 December 1875, and he began his working life as a pastry baker in Belfast. At his wedding, the groom said he was a confectioner, living at 50 Shelbourne Road, Dublin, and a son of Robert Gair, ‘deceased.’ The bride was a daughter of David Hart of 68 Serpentine Avenue. Later, the family also lived at 20 Sandymount Green (1909 and 1911).

However, the future Robert Gayre later invented pedigrees claiming that his father Robert William Gair (1875-1957) was ‘born abroad’ in 1875, and the son not of Robert Gair, as he said at his wedding in Dublin in 1906, but the son of William Gillies Gair (1842-1906), a portrait painter from Greenock in Scotland.

In fact, both accounts are deceptive. The painter William Gillies Gair never married and Robert Gair, the pretender’s father, was an illegitimate son of the painter’s sister, Jessie Gair (died 1897). Two years after the child’s birth, she became the second wife of William Sutherland (1835/6-1881), a recently-widowed plasterer who lived in Glasgow and who may have been the pretender’s real grandfather. Indeed, the child who was Robert William Gair was known as Robert William Sutherland for much of his childhood, and had older two stepbrothers who may have been his half-brothers: William Sutherland and David Sutherland.

Robert Gair or Gayre, who was born in Dublin in 1907, would spend decades embellishing his pedigree and acquiring heraldic accessories. He concocted colourful but bogus pedigrees and genealogical claims that found their way into the records of the Genealogical Office in Dublin, the College of Arms in London and the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, as well as appearing in a number of publications by Burke’s Peerage.

Robert Gair graduated with an MA in geography from the University of Edinburgh, and then studied anthropology at Exeter College in Oxford, although there is no record that he received any degree at Oxford. Later, he claimed three doctorates from three different Italian universities, all dating from 1943-1944, at a time when Britain was at war with Fascist Italy.

During World War II, he was an army reservist in the Royal Artillery and was with the British expeditionary force in France. He also claimed that after World War II he worked in Italy and was involved in setting up the Italo-Indian Institute in India.

However, I now have to question even these claims to military rank, and the only supporting footnotes and references to his military career in his biographical entry in Wikipedia are to his own, self-published books. After World War II, he may have held the rank of a reservist captain, but he described himself as a ‘lieutenant-colonel’ – perhaps because he was once made an honorary lieutenant-colonel in the Alabama State Militia.

After his war-time experiences, Gair devoted considerable energy to claims that his surname should be considered among the authentic clans of Scotland and that he was the heir to the head of the Clan Gayre.

In 1947, he self-published Gayre’s Booke: Being a History of the Family of Gayre. There, without any reference to his illegitimate descent, he set out an ancestry that he claimed established his claim to be the chieftain of the Clan of Gayre. However, no clan or sept by that name is mentioned in any record prior to Gayre’s use of it in the second quarter of the 20th century.

Gair’s father died at Sprotborough near Doncaster on 13 March 1957, and at the age of 50 Gair legally changed his surname from Gair to ‘Gayre of Gayre and Nigg.’ Around the same time, he bought Minard Castle on the banks of Loch Fyne, and assumed the fraudulent and ficticious feudal title of Baron of Lochoreshyre.

He claimed knighthoods, roles, medals and gongs in a diverse range of chivalric orders with differing grades of legitimacy and credibility, including the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, the Order of Lippe, the Order of the Crown of Italy, the Military Constantinian Order of Saint George of Naples, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

To bolster the pretensions of his own invented orders of chivalry he founded the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (ICOC) in 1964.

But there was more going on in the background. Along with his interest in heraldry and genealogy, he had extreme views that amounted to undisguised racism. In claiming ‘scientific’ support for his racist views, he divided humans into species and subspecies based on brain sizes.

In an early book, Teuton and Slav on the Polish Frontier (1944), while World War II was still being fought, Gayre called for redrawing Germany’s boundaries in order to ‘improve the racial homogeneity’ of Germany, so that ‘Germany would become considerably more Nordic.’

As early as 1945, the New Statesman questioned Gair’s suitability to have a role in army education in France. Gair sued for libel, but without success.

Graham Richards, in Race, Racism and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History goes even further and describes Gair as a ‘self-professed Nazi.’ He was a champion of apartheid and claimed white people ‘excelled in intellectual skills.’

In 1960, Gayre founded and became the self-appointed editor of the Mankind Quarterly, later described as ‘a notorious journal of “racial history” founded, and funded, by men who believe in the genetic superiority of the white race.’

In one edition, he published a photograph of an elderly Zulu with a nose ‘which is distinctly Jewish’ (The Mankind Quarterly, 1962, p 112). Other papers included attributed quotations from the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

Gayre’s links with British fascists came to light when five members of the Racial Preservation Society, affiliated with the National Front, were prosecuted in 1968 under the Race Relations Act for publishing racist material. The defendants included Alan Hancock, a former member of Mosley’s Union Movement, the openly Nazi Colin Jordan and Martin Webster of the National Front.

When Gayre was called as an ‘expert witness’ for the defence, he described black people as ‘feckless,’ claiming they ‘prefer their leisure to the dynamism which the white and yellow races show.’ The other ‘expert witnesses’ included Dr John Mitchell, who was court-martialled during World War II for his pro-Mosley and pro-fascist sympathies, and Joy Page, who was involved with racist organisations such as the Immigration Control Association.

Gayre was an open advocate of apartheid, regularly visited South Africa and Rhodesia, contributed to the Afrikaans Journal of Racial Affairs, and claimed there was a ‘Jewish world conspiracy.’ Indeed, his views were extreme even by South African standards at the time and the Mankind Quarterly regularly published articles defending apartheid.

He failed in a libel against the Sunday Times in 1973. Glasgow University was shamed into returning £96,000 he donated to fund a chair of Scottish literature after he was exposed as a far-right racist.

Gayre founded his International Commission for Orders of Chivalry 1960, with Gayre as its chair, but claiming the patronage of heads of formerly sovereign families and of individuals of doubtful identity and claims.

Many viewed the commission as a ploy by Gayre to boost the legitimacy of the Order of Saint Lazarus, then the object of hostile attention from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Members arrived at meetings with ‘their suitcases full of mantles and medals’ as they prepared to recruit and swear-in new members, lecturing Eastern Patriarchs and ticking off deposed heads of former royal houses for their supposed lapses of protocol, and hearing petitions for recognition by self-styled chivalric bodies, each more bizarre and preposterous than the next.

Those involved in this Ruritanian intrigue included pretenders to the throne of France, the would-be head of the House of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, and the deposed King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was living beyond his means in Paris, Cannes and Chicago, with a reputation for bouncing cheques.

Gayre’s later genealogical claims, although they were accepted by many legitimate authorities, were fraudulent.

The Glasgow Herald wrote in 1975, ‘Robert Gayre, of Gayre and Nigg, is singular among genealogists, dynasts and the like, if only for the reason that, alone among them, he has been able to create a Scottish clan from scratch, providing it with traditions, rituals, precedences and privileges ...’ The ‘clan’ even added its own tartan.

But the scope and magnitude of his fraudulent claims did not come to light until after his death.

Gayre was a close associate of the bogus Gaelic chief, Terence MacCarthy ‘Mór,’ who convinced many he was the ‘Prince of Desmond,’ and who sold off bogus titles and membership of a chivalric order of his own invention.

MacCarthy effectively took over from Gayre at the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry and existence and reactivated it after Gayre died on 10 February 1996.

However, the recognition of Terence McCarthy as The MacCarthy Mor in 1992 had been based on a series of audacious falsehoods. The pedigree he registered with the Genealogical Office in Dublin in 1980 was decreed to be ‘without genealogical integrity.’ He resigned as president of the ICOC in 1999.

Gayre’s own bogus pedigree, also registered in Ireland, did not come under scrutiny at this point. Nevertheless, in 2003 the Genealogical Office in Dublin ended the practice of granting courtesy recognition to chiefs.

The coat-of-arms used by George Robert Gair after he changed his name to Robert Gayre or Gayre and Nigg