Manila Ransomed:
The British Assault on Manila in the Seven Years War

Nicholas Tracy

University of Exeter Press 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006
The British had conceived a bold plan to attack Manila even before Spain's entry into the Seven Years war in January 1762. Their execution of that demonstrated their naval ascendancy and military prowess, but the aftermath highlighted the problems inherent in government through the East India Company.

The inspiration for the attack was as much dreams of loot as plans for commercial advantage or geopolitical advantage, and the expedition received limited support from the East India Company. But General William Draper and Vice Admiral Samuel Cornish managed to assemble in Madras a force of around 1750 soldiers (the 79th regiment, sepoys, and French deserters and other assorted troops), eight ships of the line, three frigates, and four store ships. Despite problems with elderly ships and the dangers of largely uncharted waters, all but two store ships arrived in Manila Bay on 23rd September 1762.

An immediate attack was a success. A landing south of Manila was followed by a bombardment and an assault, leading to a capitulation by October 7th. Acting governor Archbishop Antonio Rojo provided uninspiring leadership and surrendered the citadel and the port of Cavite as soon as the city fell.

The occupation was far less successful. Captain General Don Simon Anda mobilised resistance and prevented the British establishing more than temporary control outside Manila, the attempt to seize the silver galleon from Mexico failed, and commercial prospects proved illusory. Severe disagreements between autocratic East India Company governor Dawsonne Drake and the military commanders who replaced Draper and Cornish prevented either negotiations with Anda or effective military action. Dramatic conflicts within the British leadership continued even after the arrival of details of the Peace of Paris and orders to withdraw, and the successful evacuation to Madras and Batavia was an epic in its own right.

Tracy covers these events from a British perspective, with Spanish sources really only used for their information about the British leaders and their actions. So those primarily interested in Philippine history may find Manila Ransomed frustrating. It is a fascinating story, however, and it illustrates the professionalism and experience of the British military (a tendency for naval commanders to trade in opium on the side notwithstanding) and the problems of colonial government.

A final chapter follows the aftermath of the attack in Britain. Draper was knighted and Cornish received a baronetcy, while Drake was censured by the Company, and there was the usual squabbling over the distribution of prize money. British claims for payment of a ransom promised when Manila capitulated persisted for years and played a role in Anglo-Spanish relations; this linked the conquest of Manila to conflicts over the Falkland Islands and British expansion into the Pacific.

June 2006

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%T Manila Ransomed
%S The British Assault on Manila in the Seven Years War
%A Tracy, Nicholas
%I University of Exeter Press
%D 1995
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0859894266
%P 158pp