The house of Fonseca traces its origins to the early nineteenth century. The first evidence of the firm trading in Port is an entry dated 8th April, 1815, in the ledgers of the Real Companhia Velha, the royal monopoly company. This records the purchase of 32 pipes of Port by the firm’s founder, João dos Santos Fonseca. His first documented sale occurred on 14th September, 1815, followed in 1816 by his first overseas shipment. In the period that followed, João dos Santos Fonseca’s business prospered. By 1820 he had become a substantial Port shipper and had established a partnership with Francisco José Gomes Monteiro, member of a prominent merchant family, forming abnew company known as Fonseca & Monteiro. The additional capital brought into the business by Monteiro enabled it to embark on further growth and by 1821 the company had increased its annual purchases to 1,139 pipes.
The following year marked a decisive turning point in the fortunes of the company. In June 1822, an energetic young member of the company, Manoel Pedro Guimaraens, set sail for England aged 27. He was to have a pivotal role in the history of the firm. Manoel Pedro is believed to have been engaged by João dos Santos Fonseca in 1818, prior to the establishment of the partnership with the Monteiro family. He was born on 6th June, 1795, at São Romão da Ucha, between the prosperous northern Portuguese cities of Braga and Barcelos and close to the birthplace of Francisco José Gomes Monteiro. Of liberal political convictions, he was an active and outspoken supporter of the Portuguese constitutionalist movement. By departing for England, Manoel Pedro hoped to escape persecution as a supporter of the liberal cause. However there was also a commercial motive. A receipt signed by the master of the appropriately named brig ‘Enterprise’ on which he travelled to London shows that his passage was paid for by Fonseca & Monteiro. An agreement had evidently been made whereby Fonseca & Monteiro would continue to purchase and ship Port. Manoel Pedro, after establishing himself as a wine merchant in London, would be responsible for selling it.
In 1823 Manoel Pedro Guimaraens opened his first premises in Tokenhouse Yard, Lothbury, in the City of London, moving two years later to 35 Abchurch Lane, off Lombard Street.
He was at pains to ensure that the Fonseca brand, as well as his own name, became well established. In the years that followed he traded simultaneously under his own name and several commercial names incorporating the word Fonseca with Monteiro, Guimaraens or both. The association between Fonseca & Monteiro in Oporto and Manoel Pedro Guimaraens in London was a productive one. The Real Companhia ledgers for 1822 and 1823 show a sudden increase in Fonseca & Monteiro’s exports and the following years saw sales continue to grow.
Manoel Pedro combined his successful business in England as a wine merchant with continued support for the constitutionalist movement. The conflict between the liberal supporters of Queen Maria II, whose army was led by her father Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil, and the absolutist followers of Dom Miguel led to a bloody civil war that lasted until 1834 and the restoration of Queen Maria II to the throne. During this period many Portuguese liberals were exiled in London where Manoel Pedro provided them with hospitality and financial support. On her accession, Queen Maria bestowed on him the title of Knight, and later Knight Commander, of the Order of Christ in recognition of his support for the liberal cause. In 1834 Manoel Pedro married Georgiana Frances Pearson, a solicitor’s daughter. In September, 1836 she gave birth to their first child, Manoel Fonseca Guimaraens. Their second son, Pedro Gonçalves Guimaraens, was born two years later in 1838 and their third, Frederico Alexandre, in 1841. Among Manoel Pedro’s interests was botany, particularly the cultivation of pelargoniums, and he was an early member of the Royal Botanic Society.