At age 10, senior Da Rocha who was from the Yoruba sub-group Ilesha was captured and sold into slavery in Brazil in 1840. After gaining his freedom, Esan would return to Nigeria in 1871 when most of the freed slaves in Brazil traced their roots back to the Yoruba tribe Ilesha.
Esan began a business empire upon his return. It’s said he bought two houses in Lagos on his return – the well-known Water House and one other. According to ‘The Torch Bearers or Old Brazilian Colony’ , Esan was a wealthy merchant.
Candido Da Rocha, who was said to be born in Brazil spoke only Portuguese and Ilesha when they returned to Nigeria, and attended CMS Grammar School alongside some famous Nigerians including Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay, who was a Nigerian nationalist, politician, surveyor, engineer, architect, journalist, and musician and is considered by many Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism.
After the death of senior Da Rocha on December 31, 1891, Candido filed for the administration of his father’s estates. That was in 1893 at the age of 25. He expanded his father’s business after assuming control of it into a huge empire, according to reports.
Candido ventured into water business, serving the whole of Lagos in the 20s. The colonial administrators were said to be paying Da Rocha for the supply of water to Lagos state and that his house had the first borehole and also the first water fountain.
Candido made loads of fortune from the water business. However, his first ‘real’ breakthrough came in 1894 when a British gold prospector sold him gold bars for the sum of £6,000. Not having money, he approached First Bank, then the Bank of West Africa for loan which he got to purchase the gold bars.
According to reports, Candido filed the gold bars into gold dust and sold it to the goldsmiths, making a profit of 200%.
He teamed up with J.H. Doherty and Sedu Williams in 1907 to establish Lagos Native Bank. The bank was said to have given other big banks a healthy competition until Candido was duped. He, however, established the Lagos Finance Company which lent out money to people.
Speaking to Punch in 2017, Angelica Oyediran, granddaughter of Candido Da Rocha, said of her grandfather: “Candido Da Rocha was quite close to the British and the western world then. He was highly respected and highly disciplined. He didn’t like dishonesty and lying. I stayed with him in this house for about three years when my mother moved in here to look after him. I was very close to him. He loved me and I was very fond of him. I learned a lot from him. During the Second World War, Da Rocha offered one of his properties, Bonanza Hotel, to the British government to protect some Nigerian students at King’s College, who were initially in a boarding house at Race Course.
“The school was run there until the war was over. Among his close friends was Herbert Macaulay. Da Rocha refused to be a politician. When he was nominated to contest an election and people approached him requesting money to support his electioneering, he said, ‘If you want Da Rocha you vote for him, and if you want Da Rocha’s money don’t vote for me.’ Twice, when Macaulay was arrested by the British colonial government for speaking out against them, Da Rocha paid (a fine) on his behalf to prevent Macaulay from going to jail and warned that he would not come to his rescue the third time. Da Rocha was a staunch catholic. He respected God.
“He was very rich – he was a millionaire in those days and very generous. The elite in those days sent their dirty clothes to Britain for laundry. The Da Rochas, Johnsons, Dohertys and the Olowus, were foremost wealthy people. They didn’t wash their clothes in Nigeria. They sent them abroad for laundry. Some of them had about five dozens shirts, five dozens vests, five dozens pants, and everything they could afford.”
Despite not officially marrying, Candido had three women who had children for him – a son called Alexander and four daughters.
He had a great dispute with Alexander in 1920 and never saw again till his death. Alexander moved to Ghana to be with his mother after the falling, explaining why there is a noticeable presence of the Da Rocha family today in Ghana.
In 1959, the great Lagos businessman passed away and was buried at Ikoyi Cemetery.