The Philippines as a British colony? – The Manila Times

Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
WITH the recent death of Queen Elizabeth 2nd at the age of 96, I saw a few scattered social media posts discussing the brief “British Interlude in Manila” from 1762 to 1765. Of these, I encountered a few that imagined how the archipelago would have turned out had the British booted the Spanish out of the colony for good. Even as a counterfactual, this daydream would not pass.

The Attack of Manila, October 1762 FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Attack of Manila, October 1762 FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

One thing needs to be emphasized, based on the studies of scholars on the subject: the British had no intention of seizing and taking the Philippines away from Spain.
Historian Nicholas Tracy is quick to clarify that “British interest in the Philippines was a result of frustrations associated with the development of trade with China.” To summarize, Britain wanted greater involvement in the lucrative Chinese trade, which the Spanish dominated early through the Galleon Trade. The East India Company was limited in its commerce to the southern Chinese port of Canton and had to pay for the goods using silver which could be obtained from the Spanish in Manila. Moreover, they could not deal directly with Manila and had to use Indian middlemen to transact with Chinese merchants outside of Manila.
Even then the Spanish authorities were fearful of growing Chinese influence in the Philippines and were seeking to curb their growing numbers in the colony through various means.
An audacious alternative to the troublesome situation was hatched by Alexander Dalrymple in 1759 when he forged commercial relations with the Sultanate of Sulu. According to Tracy:
“Dalrymple hoped to establish an entrepôt in Sulu where northern Chinese merchants could bring their silks and chinaware, thereby circumventing the restrictions on foreign trade at Canton, and replacing Spanish silver with English manufactures as the means of financing the trade. A colony of Chinese would also be planted to produce Suluan goods for the English market.”
However, the political situation in the Muslim south was extremely fluid during this time. According to Cesar Adib Majul, the “Moro Wars” between the Muslims and the Spaniards had reached a fifth stage beginning after the Iberians returned to refortify Zamboanga in 1718. Spanish-Muslim relations were quite complicated at that stage. Both sides expressed interest in peace but were eager to exploit any weaknesses on the other side. Conflict often erupted between the parties, such as the infamous siege on the Zamboanga fort in 1721. The Muslims were also eager to involve the Dutch in Batavia (Jakarta) against the Spaniards. Internal conflict among the Muslims, usually stemming from succession issues, also contributed to the instability.
The situation of Sulu Sultan Azim-ud-Din (Alim-ud-Din in other sources) typified this predicament: in 1742 he asked for Spanish assistance to fend off the challenge coming from his relatives. In exchange for Spanish support, Azim-ud-Din acceded to the presence of Christian missionaries in his domain as well as commercial and security agreements with the Spaniards. He was baptized as a Christian on April 28, 1750. Yet when Spanish Governor Francisco Jose de Ovando asked him in 1751 to write a letter to his supporters, instructing them to accept the Christian missionaries and release their Christian captives, Azim-ud-Din wrote a secret letter to Maguindanao Sultan Amir-ud-Din Hamza intimating that the letter was written under duress. Azim-ud-Din was arrested and imprisoned for many years because of that letter and was only released by the British in 1762.
Dalrymple secured a provisional treaty with the Sulu sultan in 1761 and was advancing his agenda when news of Spanish involvement in the Seven Years' War broke. (King Charles 3rd of Spain entered into the so-called Family Compact with fellow Bourbon monarch Louis 15th of France in the war against the British).
Col. William Draper enthusiastically pushed for taking over Manila as an entrepot for British trade in Asia using the war as a pretext. Draper pitched his plan to Lord Egremont, the Secretary of State for the Southern Department and Admiral Anson, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Anson himself hatched a similar plan to attack Havana (Cuba). He approached Laurance Sullivan, chairman of the East India Company, to endorse Draper's proposed expedition. (British presence in India and elsewhere in Asia was through the auspices of the East India Company.) Egremont officially introduced the Draper plan and the court of the East India Company gave its assent.
It is hard to imagine the Philippines being a British colony in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War that led to a brief occupation of Manila in 1762. The British were not interested in occupying the entire archipelago. They were drawn only because of Manila's central role in the Chinese trade. Seizing a colony was completely unnecessary. Besides, the Galleon Trade ceased to operate by 1815 after the Europeans (including the British) landed commercial bases in China itself, finally bypassing entrepots like Manila.


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