Chapter 8b

The Galleon Trade

by Lieutenant John White

The people of Manila have long enjoyed the privilege of sending 2 annual ships to Acapulco called Galleons, Navios, or Register-Ships. These carry the produce of:

  • the Philippines
  • China
  • other parts of Asia

In return, they receive various South American products. The principal of which are:

  • cochineal
  • various European merchandise
  • silver in Spanish dollars and ingots

These imports are around 3.5m Spanish dollars annually.

A large proportion of this property belongs to the convents in Manila. Their great revenues:

  • enable them to engage in extensive mercantile operations
  • lend considerable sums to the merchants on bottomry.

For the indulgence in this trade, the proprietors pay a large sum of money to the crown.

These ships were from 1200-1500 tons, and were numerously manned and well appointed for defense; but of late years, since the revolt of the Spanish colonies, which has rendered the navigation of the intermediate seas dangerous to these enterprises, the trade has been greatly interrupted, and instead of risking it in large bodies, private ships of smaller burden have been hired for the purpose of dividing the risk; some of these have been put under foreign colors, though formerly the galleons wore, by instruction, the royal flag, their officers were commissioned and uniformed like the officers of the navy, and the ships were under the same regulations and discipline.

The object, however, of the trade in smaller ships has not been obtained; for so great are the fears of the owners and agents of their being captured, and so many restrictions laid upon the commanders that they lie in port the principal part of the time; so that in September, 1819, the ships of the preceding year had not arrived at Manila; neither had any been dispatched from the latter place for Acapulco during that time.

These interruptions, and in fact, the virtual suspension of this commerce, will undoubtedly, if a liberal and enlightened policy is pursued, result greatly to the advantage of these islands and the mother country. Already since the establishment of the cortes, permitting foreigners to settle permanently at Manila, great improvements have been made in the productions of the island, and important additions to the revenue.

The failure of the annual remittance of dollars from South America to defray the expenses of the colonial government, of which their revenues from the islands were not adequate to meet one half, has been severely felt, and has stimulated them to make some very unusual exertions.

Foreign commerce has been more countenanced in consequence of this state of things, and greater encouragement has been given to the growers and manufacturers of their staple exports. If the affairs of these islands should in future be properly conducted, the revenue arising from the impost on the single article of coffee, will in a few years be amply sufficient to support the government, and leave a net income of the revenue arising from the imposts on all other articles, besides what would accrue from the taxes and numerous other resources.

A free commerce with other nations would create a competition, and a consequent reduction in the price of imports, and their articles of export would increase, in proportion to the demand for them. In short, nothing is wanting in these beautiful islands, but ability to direct, and energy to execute the most extensive plans of agriculture and commerce, which the bounties of the soil, and its excellent climate and situation, would most certainly render completely successful; and, instead of being, as at present it is, a burden to Spain, it would become a source of great wealth to her.”

Spirit of independence

It is to be hoped that the narrow and illiberal policy which has heretofore retarded the prosperity of these fine islands, will necessarily be superseded by more expanded views, and enable them to maintain the rank and importance to which their intrinsic worth entitles them. The spirit of independence which has recently diffused its influence through the Spanish colonies on the American continent, has also darted its rays across the Pacific, and beamed with enlivening lustre upon those remote regions and the sacred flames of liberty which have been kindled have in the bosom of that country, though for a period concealed from the view of regal parasites and dependents, burned clear and intense; and the time is perhaps not very remote, when it shall burst forth, and shed its joyous light upon the remotest and most inconsiderable islet of this archipelago.

Opportunity for a republic

Perhaps no part of the world offers a more eligible site for an independent republic than these islands; their insular posture and distance from any rival power, combined with the intrinsic strength of a free representative government, would guarantee their safety and glory;

Their intermediate location between Asia and America, their proximity to China, Japan, Borneo, the Molucca and Sunda Islands, the Malay peninsula, Cochin China, Tonquin, Siam, and the European possessions in the East, would insure them an unbounded commerce, consequently great wealth and power; and their happiness would be secured by religious toleration and liberal views of civil liberty in the government.

It must be confessed, however, that the national character of the Spaniards is not suitable to produce and enjoy in perfection this most desirable state of affairs.

It is to be feared that their bigotry would preclude religious toleration, their indolence continue the present system of slavery, so degrading in a particular manner to a republic, their want of energy paralyze the operations of enterprising foreigners among them. No change, however, can be for the worse, and if all the advantage, cannot be reaped by them, which the citizens of our republic would secure, it will be better for them to seize and enjoy such as their genius and talents will enable them to.”


The health of the city and suburbs is proverbial, and the profession of a physician is, perhaps, of all others the least lucrative. A worthy and intelligent Scotch doctor, who had come to Manila, while I was there, to exercise his profession, and who lodged in the same house with me, was greatly annoyed at the want of practice which he experienced there, although he had his full share of patronage, and often jocosely declared that the “dom climate” would starve him; in fact he did not long remain there; I afterwards met him in the Isle of France, where he was still in pursuit of practice.”

A barbarous execution.8“ * * * Impelled by a very common and, perhaps, excusable curiosity, I rode out with some friends one day to witness the execution of a mestizo soldier for murder. The parade ground of Bagumbayan was the theater of this tragic comedy, for such it may be trully called, and never did I experience such a revulsion of feeling as upon this occasion. The place was crowded with people of all descriptions, and a strong guard of soldiers, three deep, surrounded the gallows, forming a circle, the area of which was about two hundred feet in diameter. The hangman was habited in a red jacket and trousers, with a cap of the same color upon his head. This fellow had been formerly condemned to death for parricide, but was pardoned on condition of turning executioner, and becoming close prisoner for life, except when the duties of his profession occasionally called him from his dungeon for an hour.

Whether his long confinement, and the ignominious estimation in which he was held, combined with despair of pardon for his heinous offense, and a natural ferocity of character, had rendered him reckless of “weal or woe,” or other impulse directed his movements, [536]I know not, but never did I see such a demoniacal visage as was presented by this miscreant; and when the trembling culprit was delivered over to his hand, he pounced eagerly upon his victim, while his countenance was suffused with a grim and ghastly smile, which reminded us of Dante’s devils. He immediately ascended the ladder, dragging his prey after him till they had nearly reached the top; he then placed the rope around the neck of the malefactor with many antic gestures and grimaces highly gratifying and amusing to the mob.

To signify to the poor fellow under his fangs that he wished to whisper in his ear, to push him off the ladder, and to jump astride his neck with his heels drumming with violence upon his stomach, was but the work of an instant. We could then perceive a rope fast to each leg of the sufferer, which was pulled with violence by people under the gallows, and an additional rope, to use a sea term, a preventer, was round his neck, and secured to the gallows, to act in case of accident to the one by which the body was suspended. I had witnessed many executions in different parts of the world, but never had such a diabolical scene as this passed before my eyes.”


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