British Interlude-Part 1


The key to Spanish control in the Philippines was the close re-lationship between state and church. Spain wanted to convert the peoples of the Philippines for the glory of God. Priests from Spanish orders were sent by the state to the country-side where they proselytised the faith to save souls on God’s behalf and, at the same time, established the presence of the colonial state.

Indeed, the friars were the state outside Manila, controlling large tracts of land, which they developed into plantations. As such, they exercised consi-derable temporal powers. Under this colonial agenda, the people in the northern and cen-tral islands of the Philippines were gradually converted to Roman Catholicism. 


From the late 18th century through to the early 20th century, social and economic struc-tures in the Philippines were transformed. The Philippines, along with the rest of South-east Asia, was drawn into the world trading system. Ironically, the catalyst was Britain’s occupation of Manila in 1762. 

In August 1759, Charles III ascended the Spanish throne. It was a time where Britain and France were at war, in what was later called the Seven Years War. France successfully negotiated a treaty with Spain known as the Family Compact which was signed on 15 August 1761. By an ancillary secret convention, Spain was committed to making preparations for war against Britain. 

Nothing escapes the eyes and ears of spies especially if you have them in the right places. In Britain’s bid to have God save their King (George III), it declared war against Spain on 4 January 1762. Two days later, the British Cabinet led by its then Prime Minister and fa-vourite of George III, John Stuart the Third Earl of Bute, hatched a plan to attack the Spanish Colony of Cuba in the West Indies.

Their plan also approved Colonel William Draper’s scheme for taking Spanish Manila with troops that were already stationed in the East Indies. 

Draper was commanding officer of the 79th Regiment of Foot stationed in Madras, India. As tensions heightened, Spain issued its own declaration of war against Britain on 18 January 1762 and three days later George III signed instructions to Draper to implement his East Indies scheme, emphasizing that by taking advantage of the ‘existing war with Spain’ Britain might be able to assure her post-war mercantile expansion. There was also the expectation that the commerce of Spain would suffer a ‘crippling blow’. Draper was forthwith promoted to the rank of brigadier general as he sallied forth to Madras, India to rally the troops. 


Britain occupied Manila in order to prevent a French threat to its own agenda for establishing trade with China. 

Establishing and nurturing that trade had much to do with Britain’s eventual acquisition of the island of Singapore in 1819. Singapore was located at the foot of the Malay Peninsu-la and separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of shallow water. It is the pivotal island in the Straits of Melaka.

Singapore’s strategic location obviously held tremendous commercial benefit for the British who then began to develop it as a Crown Colony and a naval base for its Pacific Fleet. It is because of this colonial possession that Britain eventually extended and consolidated its empire in Southeast Asia to include large swaths of real estate that included Burma, the Malayan Peninsular states, the Northern Borneo territories of Sarawak and Sabah and its other crown jewel at the foot of China, Hong Kong. 

So it was that on 24 September 1762, a small but tech-nically-proficient force of British Army regulars and British East India Company soldiers, supported by the ships and men of the East Indies Squadron of the Brit-ish Royal Navy and led by Brigadier General William Draper and Rear-Admiral Samuel Cornish, sailed into Manila Bay from Madras and captured the greatest Spaish fortress in the western Pacific – Manila. 

The early success of the British in Manila did not enable them to expand their control over all parts of the Spanish Philippines and actually thwarted their attempts to establish free trade with China. This was largely because they were severely undermanned and under-armed. The lack of military manpower allowed Draper to take control only of Manila and the Naval Yard of Cavite at the mouth of Manila Bay. Nevertheless, Manila was the capital and administrative centre of Spanish Philippines. With that firmly in hand, the British accepted the written surrender of the Spanish government in the Philippines from Archbishop Rojo and the Real Audiencia on 30 October 1762. 


The Spanish defeat was not really surprising.

To begin with, why did Spain have a man of the cloth defend against attack and then negotiate the surrender? There were three reasons, or cracks on the fort’s wall if you will, that contributed to Britain’s victory in the fall of Manila.

Firstly, the Royal Governor of the Philippines – Don Pedro Manuel de Arandia, had died in 1759. His replacement, Brig-adier Don Francisco de la Torre, had not arrived because of the British attack on Havana, Cuba. 

Secondly, Spanish policy was for the Archbishop of Manila to also be its Lieutenant Governor. That man was the Archbishop Don Manuel Rojo del Rio y Vieyra. So, instead of having a military expert on hand to handle a situation which may have resulted in a different outcome many blunders were made by the Spanish forces under Rojo’s command, some of whom were only armed with bows and arrows. 

Lastly, under Spanish rule at the time, the Philippines never paid its own way, but survived on an annual subsidy paid by the Spanish Crown. As a cost-saving measure, and because Spanish authorities never really contemplated a serious expedition against Manila by another European power, the 200 year old fortifications in Manila had not been improved much since first built by the Spanish.

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