The British in Manila

Lieutenant Colonel William Draper, an officer of the 79th Foot (one of the regular regiments that had fought at the Battle of Wandiwash), had been on leave in England in the winter of 1761–62 when he suggested an expedition against the Philippines to Anson and Ligonier. Reasons similar to those that had made them choose Havana as a target disposed them to listen to Draper’s proposal. Manila was the center of trade and administration for the Spanish Philippines and perhaps even more important in the Pacific than Havana in the Atlantic. Nor was conquest an impossible goal, for although the Spanish had built the fort of Cavite to protect the harbor and had enclosed the city’s core within a bastioned wall, they had clearly believed that Manila’s best source of security was its remoteness. That the Philippines took six to eight months to reach from Europe, in fact, only made the expedition more attractive to Ligonier and Anson, for Draper assured them that all the troops he would need were already in India, just six or eight weeks’ sail from the archipelago. Since Spain communicated with the colony via Mexico on the Manila galleon, there was good reason to hope that the invaders might arrive before the garrison even knew that Spain and Great Britain were at war.

Soon after the declaration of war, therefore, the ministers decided in favor of the venture. In February, Draper left Britain with a temporary commission as brigadier general and authority to raise an expeditionary force of two regular battalions and five hundred East India Company troops. By the end of June he had reached Madras. Once there, however, nothing went as planned, and the would-be conqueror of Manila found that the local authorities were willing to release only one redcoat regiment (his own 79th Foot), and a company of Royal Artillery. Draper therefore recruited what men he could—two companies of French deserters and several hundred Asian recruits (“such a Banditti,” he grumbled, as had “never assembled since the time of Spartacus”)—and sailed from Madras at the end of July.

When Draper’s little flotilla of warships and transports entered Manila Bay on September 22, the Manila galleon had yet to arrive. Thus the British sailed unchallenged past the guns of Cavite, landed near Manila, and attacked the city on the twenty-sixth, before the Spanish commander had heard that a state of war existed between their monarch and his own. Despite the tiny number of troops Draper had at his disposal (only about two thousand, including a battalion of sailors pressed into service), and despite the onset of the monsoon, which repeatedly held up siege operations, the British managed to breach the wall and storm the city on October 5. Manila surrendered later that day. Five days later the fort of Cavite capitulated, and on October 30 Spanish authorities throughout the archipelago made their formal submission. The booty captured exceeded $4,000,000—more than £1,300,000 sterling—in value.

There could have been no more conclusive demonstration of the global reach that the army and navy had acquired during the Seven Years’ War. In the whole military history of Europe nothing quite compared to it. Even as the government faced unprecedented postwar challenges—as Wilkes railed against the ministers and the London crowds roared back their approval—the conquest seemed to affirm Britain’s essential invincibility. Even more than Havana, Draper’s feat was the crowning accomplishment of Britain’s most glorious war, and in it the British people for one last shining moment saw reflected all their nation’s glory. What they did not see (and perhaps would not have understood if they had) was the significance of what happened once the conquerors ran the Union Jack up Manila’s flagstaff.

Unlike Canada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Havana, the people of the Philippines did not turn out en masse to trade with the British. Instead the East India Company, to which Draper turned over the task of governing in November 1762, never did establish control over the archipelago, or indeed over any territory outside the immediate vicinity of Manila itself. Don Simón de Anda, a junior judge of the royal Audencia (supreme court), managed to slip out of the city during the siege and escape to the province of Pampanga, on the north shore of Manila Bay. There, in the town of Bacolor, thirty-five miles from Manila, he established a provisional government and began to organize an army. The highest officers of the Spanish colonial administration hesitated to join him, but thousands of Filipinos did not. Soon Anda’s guerrilla army mustered ten thousand men, and even though more than seven thousand of them lacked arms more formidable than bows and arrows, they still denied the British control over anything outside of Manila and Cavite. Despite news that a treaty had been signed, Anda refused to agree to a truce until orders arrived from London in March 1764, restoring the archipelago to Spanish control. Even then he would not order his men to lay down their arms until the new Spanish governor arrived. On the last day of May 1764, Anda led a column of native soldiers into Manila to receive the city from its British rulers. Any casual bystander would have concluded that he was witnessing a British surrender.

Administering Manila from November 2, 1762, to May 31, 1764, cost the East India Company over £200,000 sterling above its (modest) share of the booty and its (negligible) profits on trade. The conquest of Manila differed from other British overseas victories, therefore, insofar as the occupants of the colony refused to be subdued either by force or by commerce. Anyone paying attention to the history of Great Britain’s occupation of the Philippines at the moment it ended might well have pondered its implied lessons in the relationship between arms and trade, loyalty and empire. In the Philippine episode more than any other of the Seven Years’ War, the principles of imperial dominion stood out with unmistakable clarity. Military power—particularly naval power—could gain an empire, but force alone could never control colonial dependencies. Only the voluntary allegiance, or at least the acquiescence, of the colonists could do that. Flags and governors and even garrisons were, in the end, only the empire’s symbols. Trade and loyalty were its integuments, and when colonial populations that refused their allegiance also declined to trade, the empire’s dominion extended not a yard beyond the range of its cannons.


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