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A hiccup in Manila, 1762-1764 (1)

Philippine history has been flippantly summarized as our country and people spending “three centuries in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood.” This is not off the mark if you remember the division of time into segments such as: the pre-Spanish or precolonial period (before the 1565 declaration of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi or the 1521 arrival of Ferdinand Magellan); the Spanish period (1565-1898); the American period (1898-1946); the Japanese period (1942-1945); and the postwar period and independence (1946 to the present). But it is not well-known that the centuries of Spanish rule had a small hiccup between 1762 and 1764, when the British invaded and occupied Spanish Manila and Cavite.

Most Filipinos who learn of this for the first time often wonder what we would be like today had the British stayed on. How different would we be as a people if our history was shaped by the British rather than Spain, the United States and Japan? Can it be said of the negative aspects of our culture that we were colonized by the wrong colonizer?

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All these questions came to mind when I last visited the Center for Kapampangan Studies (CKS) at Holy Angel University. The center has a copy of the British newspaper, The General Evening Post, published in London and containing news from April 21-23, 1763, with its front page fully devoted to the British invasion of Manila. The news was prominently displayed because the Spanish moved the seat of government from Manila to Bacolor, Pampanga, during the two-year British Occupation. Furthermore, CKS director Robby Tantingco pointed out, with great local pride, that 10,000 Kapampangan fought on the side of the Spanish. His kabalen were described by the British as “a fierce and barbarous people.”

I took pictures with my iPad and now share this little-known account of 1763 on the “Proceedings of His Majesty’s Forces on the Expedition Against Manila.” Although the text is printed and in English, it was still a challenge to read because of the font that displays “s” differently.

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“The troops allotted for this enterprise were the 79th regiment, and a company of the Royal artillery. The auxiliaries, furnished by the gentlemen at Madras, consisted of 30 of their artillery, 600 Sepoys, a company of Caffres, one of Topazes, and one of pioneers; to which they added the precarious assistance of two companies of Frenchmen, enlisted in their service, with some hundreds of unarmed Lascars for the use of the engineers and park of artillery. As a compensation for this feeble supply of men, they favoured us with some very good officers in every branch of the service. Rear Admiral Cornish reinforced our little army with a fine battalion of 550 seamen and 290 good marines, so that the whole force for the land operations amounted to 2,300 men, who, with the necessary stores, were embarked on board of his Majesty’s squadron, and two India ships employed as transports, with an activity and dispatch that did great honour to all concerned in those arrangements. The preparations were begun, completed and shipped in three weeks; through a raging and perpetual surf, by which some lives were lost.

“As Major General Lawrence was of opinion that the settlements would be in danger if more forces were from from the coast, the two battalions of the Company’s troops, all the cavalry, 6,000 Sepoys, with the part of Colonel Monson’s and the Highlanders, then at Madras, were left for their security. The Medway, York and Chatham, that were hourly expected, had orders left for them to remain for the protection of the trade. We sailed with the Admiral’s division, the 1st of August. The Seahorse, Capt. Grant, was previously dispatched through the Straits of Malacca to the entrance of the China sea, to stop all vessels that might be bound to Manila, or sent from any of our neighboring settlements to give the Spaniards notice of the design. Commodore Tyddyman, with the first division of the fleet and troops under Colonel Monson, sailed two days before us, that our watering might be more speedily completed at Malacca, where we arrived the 19th of August. We then bought up a large quantity of rattans to make gabions, a  good number of which were finished on board the several ships. The 29th we sailed for our second rendezvous off the island of Timon. The necessary signals and instructions were then given for landing on the coast of Luconia (Luzon).

“On the 23rd of September we anchored in Manila Bay and soon found that our visit was unexpected; the Spaniards unprepared. To increase as much as possible the visible confusion and consternation of the enemy, we determined to lose no time in the attack of the port of Cavite that was at first intended, but proceeded directly to the grand object, judging that our conquest there would of course occasion and draw after it the fall of Cavite.”

Because Teodoro Agoncillo declared that there is no such thing as Philippine history before 1872 (the execution of Gomburza), many textbooks do not mention the European war for dominance that raged from 1756 to 1763 between France and England, with Prussia and Portugal siding with the British while France received the alliance of Spain and Austria. So the British East India Company organized a fleet to challenge its rival in Asia—Spain in the Philippines. (To be concluded)

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: British occupation of Manila, England, France, History, Spain
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