Home ° 2017

The Philippines

Malay Archipelago (Maritime Southeast Asia): ° Bangladesh ° India ° Indonesia ° Malacca Strait ° Malaysia ° Maldives ° Myanmar (Burma) ° Pakistan ° Philippines ° Riau Islands ° Singapore ° Sri Lanka ° Thailand ° Timor

International Harbors

° Corregidor ° Manila ° Subic Bay

Before the arrival of the Spanish in the mid-16th century, the islands were sparsely populated with well-established trading networks between the islands and wider regional networks in Southeast Asia and beyond to China and India. Some relatively large merchant groups exchanged local products, ranging from exotic foods to gold, for Chinese pottery, silk and other wares.

Nipa Thatch Houses. Manila. 1800s.

Nipa Houses near Manila.

Islam was the first of the world religions to impact upon the folk religious base of the peoples of the Philippines; by the middle of the 16th century the ruler of Sulu had converted to Islam, as had the court in Mindanao island and the influence of Islam slowly moved north to the island of Luzon where the Manila region was under the control of an Islamic ruler.

The Philippines and Moluccas are commonly divided into two distinct Archipelagos; but, in my opinion, all these islands in reality form but one; and if they were all under one Sovereign, they would, doubtless, be comprehended under one designation.

Pierre Sonnerat's Voyage aux Indes orientales et a la Chine." 1774-1781.

Man and Woman of the Molucca Islands.

The Philippines are attached to the crown of Spain, and the Dutch possess the Moluccas. These last are more deserving of consideration, and richer than the first. They owe their fertility to the industry of a nation laborious, commercial, and addicted to cultivation. Every thing, on the contrary, in the Philippines, indicates the indolence of a people who direct all their efforts to religion, and whose sole object seems to be to acquire proselytes.

In 1494 the Pope determined that Spanish expeditions should sail westwards and Portuguese expeditions eastwards of an imaginary north/south line in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Hence, Portugal established colonies in Africa, India, Malaya, the Indonesian archipelago and on the China coast, while Spain moved into the New World, establishing a base in New Spain (present day Mexico) and from there moving to conquer much of Central and South America.

In the mid-1500s, an expedition arrived in the Philippines in search of the fabled spice islands. (The spice islands were in what are now known as the Malukas in the Indonesian archipelago.)

An important factor in ascertaining the old spice routes from Southeast Asia is the trail of cloves from Maluku and the southern Philippines north to South China and Indochina and then south again along the coast to the Strait of Malacca.

From there the cloves went to India spice markets and points further west. This north-south direction of commerce through the Philippines has recently been recognized by UNESCO as part of the ancient maritime spice route.

From the late 18th century social and economic structures in the Philippines were transformed. The Philippines, along with the rest of Southeast Asia, was drawn into the world trading system. The catalyst was Britain s occupation of Manila in 1762. Britain occupied Manila in order to prevent a French threat to its China trade. Manila was sacked, galleons were captured and bullion confiscated. The British naval forces quickly departed leaving behind a considerably poorer Spanish colony. In the context of a general decline in Spain's economic power in the 18th century successive Spanish governors were forced to seek new sources of wealth and revenue.

Images of Old Manila.

Local people were forced to provide labour on tobacco plantations, producing cheap tobacco for export to European markets and generating considerable profits for the treasuries of both the Philippines colony and the Spanish motherland. By the 19th century Anglo American merchant houses dominated the burgeoning export economy. The Philippines became a major producer of cash crops for international markets with the volume of international trade increasing fifteen times between 1825 and 1875. The major exports were sugar, tobacco, coffee and abaca. Philippine export crops were grown predominantly on land owned by the Chinese mestizo community.

In the 1890s a growing nationalist movement in the Philippines resulted in a revolt in 1896 against Spanish rule. The revolt was unsuccessful; but in 1898 United States' intervention in Cuba, which had long been in a state of insurrection against Spain, led to a Spanish-American war - and as part of their war strategy the Americans attacked the Philippines. They destroyed a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and, helped by Filipino insurgents under their leader Aguinaldo, they quickly conquered the islands. By the peace treaty the Philippines were ceded by Spain to the United States for 20 million dollars.

The Filipino nationalists expected the United States to agree to their immediate independence. In this they were disappointed, and a revolt against the Americans broke out. The revolt lasted several years before the country was finally pacified. The United States then gradually increased Filipino participation in the administration - and the Filipinos continued the struggle for independence, but by parliamentary instead of military means.

Homestead , September 1, 1898, Des Moines, Iowa

The Philippine Islands.
Treasury Department Bureau of Statistics.

"The trade of the Philippine Islands in 1897" is the title of an interesting document which has just reached the Bureau of Statistics. It is a report of the British Consul at Manila, Mr. Rawson Walker, and as it was received at the British Consular office May 31, 1898, it is probably the latest and perhaps most accurate picture of commercial conditions in the Philippines which has been presented since Admiral Dewey intensified public interest in that spot.

Consul Walker estimates the 1897 imports into Manila at $10,000,000, of which about one-half was of Spanish origin, the imports from other countries having materially fallen off in 1897 while those from Spain increased largely. The exports from Manila have, he says, increased in the past year in several of the trading articles, notably tobacco, hemp and copra, and dried kernel of the coconut, the value of which along he estimates at $45,000,000, while he estimates the sugar crop at $13,000,000 and hemp at $14,000,000. He makes no estimate of the, tobacco exports but says they are larger in 1897 than in former years.

Consul Walker pictures local trade conditions in a way which will greatly interest merchants and manufacturers in the United States, prefacing his statements by saying that his information is mostly obtained from reliable British merchants, since the Spanish statistics are not obtainable until too old to be of any value. He says: "A decidedly bad year for importers generally has just closed. What with the upset of business owing to the, insurrection or rebellion in the islands, the heavy decline in the value of silver and consequent drop in exchange, and the imposition of a further 6 per cent ad valorem duty on all imports, merchants may be said to have had a truly rough time to contend with."

"In printed cambric during the year just closed, the importation of English goods has shown a decided decrease, while imports from the Peninsula have on tile other hand shown an increase. This is due chiefly to the advantage the Catalan manufacturer enjoys with protective duties, as such allows him to give a better cloth than his heavy muleted competitors can possibly give, and now that he has proved his ability to produce as good and fast colors as his foreign competitors, it is expected that teach year will see an increase of prints from Spain . . ."

Coral reefs are one of the earth's most ancient ecosystems, dating back to the Mesozoic period around 225 million years ago. Tubbataha is one of the Philippines' oldest ecosystems and comprises more than 10,000 hectares of coral reef. The Tubbataha Reef is regarded as one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. The diversity of marine life found in Tubbataha is equal to or greater than any such reef of its size in the world. Tubbataha is a reef ecosystem made up of two atolls in the middle of the Sulu Sea. The reefs lie on the Cagayan Ridge, a line of extinct underwater volcanoes which starts from the north at the Sultana Shoal and ends in the south at the San Miguel Islands. It is located 92 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and 80 nautical miles southwest of Cagayancillo.


The Port of Manila pre-dates the Spanish invasion of the Philippine islands. Going back as early as the 9th Century, the Port of Manila had trade relations with China, Japan, India, and modern Malaysia and Indonesia. The Port of Manila traded often with Arab merchants, even after Spanish rule, although the Spanish Port of Manila most often traded with Mexico, Spain, and China.

View of Manila, Phillipines. Ludwig Choris


In the 17th century Spain tried to create an Asian trading empire, based on Manila as both an entrepot and a naval base from which it could challenge the Dutch in the Moluccas. The attempt failed. Spanish economic and political power steadily declined and Spain was no match for the resurgent northern European protestant nations of Britain and the Netherlands, both of which aggressively sought Asian empires. Manila's rival during the 17th and 18th centuries was Batavia (Jakarta). In the 19th century Singapore outstripped both. Chinese merchants controlled Manila's trading lifeblood, although their numbers were only small.

At the beginning of the 19th century there were probably no more than four thousand Chinese in the Philippines, mostly based in Manila. Many of the Chinese married locally and over time became a mestizo community. 17th and 18th century Manila was in many ways a Chinese city, or at least a city of Chinese and mestizos.

January 17, 1876, London and China Telegraph, London, United Kingdom


The Report of Mr. Consul Ricketts on the trade and commerce of Manila for 1874, states the total value of the exports to Great Britain, Australia, and Hong Kong, in 1874, to have been $7,301,990; and the total value of the imports from Great Britain £873,435, against £ 896,215 in 1873. Although, however, there has been this decrease in the values, there has been a corresponding increase in the quantities of cottons, worsteds and other British imports. The quantity of sugar exported from Manila to Great Britain was greater in 1874 than 1873 by 85,154 piculs; and there is also a large increase in the quantity of tobacco exported during that period.


At the time Spain was confronted by open rebellion in the Philippines, it was fighting a major rebellion in Cuba. United States intervention in Cuba resulted in the American-Spanish war. As a consequence the United States Pacific fleet sailed into Manila Bay, destroyed the Spanish fleet and laid siege to Manila. Philippine nationalists took advantage of a weakened Spain by declaring independence on June 12, 1898; the Filipinos were the first people in Asia successfully to fight their colonial power and create a modern nation-state.

Before dawn on 1 May 1898, Commodore George Dewey's flagship Olympia led seven U.S. Navy cruisers and gunboats into Manila Bay. By 8 AM that morning Dewey's Asiatic Squadron had located and destroyed virtually the entire Spanish naval force in the Philippines. Damage to the American ships was negligible, and their crews suffered no fatalities and few injuries.

The Battle of Manila Bay was a demonstration of the daring and decisive application of sea power. In a few hours, Dewey had eliminated any threat that the Spanish Navy might pose to U.S. Far Eastern commerce and placed Spain's centuries-long rule of the Philippines in grave jeopardy. A few days later, with the capture of Cavite arsenal, he also gained a repair and refueling base, essential for maintaining his squadron under wartime conditions thousands of miles from home.

The United States decided that occupation of the Philippines would provide it with a base in the western Pacific from which it could promote its political and economic interests in East Asia. Early in 1899 warfare broke out between the Philippine Republic and the United States, eventually involving more than 10,000 United States troops descending on the islands. Most hostilities ended in 1901 when the United States promised to maintain their wealth and power in return for collaboration with American colonial rule.

San Francisco Call, January 25, 1899, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


MANILA, Jan. 20, via Hongkong, Jan. 24. The Independencia, today issued a supplement containing a dispatch purporting g to come from Malolos, the seat of the rebel government. It comments upon the appointment of the commission and says:

"The Filipinos naturally suspect this is a new attempt to humbug. Both Dewey and Spencer Pratt promised us independence if the Filipino republic was stable. The Filipinos are disillusioned. They believe the commission is a ruse to stall in tim euntil they have accumulated formidable forces, when America, abusing her strength, will begin a war to ratify her sovereignty.

The Independencia then alleges that all the commissioners are partisans of colonial expansion and incidentally asserts the Archbishop also favors annexation, "with the sole object of gaining the sympathies of the winning side, immaterial which, in the interests of the religious corporations."

The Filipinos of Caloocan and Gegalangin, mistaking salutes exchanged between British and German warships on January 18, moved 3000 men to the front in order of battle, covering the adjacent country, but they did not attack the American lines.

Reports from the interior indicate that Aguinaldo's authority is now generally recognized. Every available male is being recruited and arms depots are being established at San Bernardino Union, Trinidad and other large towns! The surrounding country is being levied on for supplies and the Filipino troops are living on the fat of the land, while the native villagers are compelled to subsist on rice.

There is some friction between the Filipino civil and military authorities, but they are united on the question of independence.

It is estimated that there are fully 30,000 Filipinos under arms and it is said that there are nearly fifty Maxim guns at Malolos, some of them having been recently acquired.

The Filipino military authorities are convinced, they say, that the Americans will be unable to work effectively outside of Manila in the event of hostilities, hence they feel confident in the future. Many of the Filipino officers complain of alleged discourteous treatment upon the part of Americans at Manila.

The Minister of War, General Corriea, has received a cable dispatch from General Rios, the Spanish commander in the Philippines, announcing that all the sick and maimed civilians and military prisoners were released by the Filipinos today. The general added that he hoped the remainder of the prisoners will be liberated shortly.

The Atlanta Constitution, December 6, 1901, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.


MANILA, Philippine Islands: The Stars and-Stripes!" What a thrill it does give a fellow after he has knocked over strange waters and stranger lands for two months looking upon every other flag under the sun except his own to see that beautiful bit of bunting being blown about by the breezes that sweep over Manila bay and out across Corregidor!

We had been out from New York just sixty-one days, when, bright and early in the morning, we caught our first glimpse of the great rock that stands as a sentinel to Manila bay. Through, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, through the Red sea, the Suez canal, the Arabian sea, the Indian ocean, the great Malacca strait, and across the China sea. we had gone without seeing the United States flag at the masthead of any passing vessel.

There had been everything else, The British union jack had been flaunting itself in our faces at every lap of our journey; the German flag had graced several big troop ships bringing back Von Waldersee's men from Pekin and in a number of the ports we had found German merchant marine; we had seen the Russian flag, the flag of Belgium, that of Italy; the flag of little Holland is not absent from these waters of the Far East; even the star and crescent of Turkey and the blood red flag of the sultan of Morocco, the dragon flag of China and the blood red sun of Japan -- and yet not once the Stars and Stripes. The nearest we came to it was when we passed the gallant little gunboat Marietta in the Suez canal, but that was at night and, of course, her flag was down.

We had begun to be pretty hungry for something American as we approached the end of our two months' journey out from New York and I tell you it made us feel pretty good when we saw the flag flying over the great hospital on Corregidor island. As we drew in every minute revealed something of a special interest. Corregidor Itself you will recall that we heard a great deal about Corregidor Island and the Corregidor channels in the days when Dewey's fleet was waiting up on the China coast for the word to swoop down and make that morning call upon Admiral Montojo, which he subsequently did so successfully; we heard much of the powerful torpedoes which the Spaniards had placed so as to guard the approach to Manila by either channel; we had heard of the land batteries on Corregidor, and the name conjured up rather harrowing thoughts in those early days before we had learned that the land batteries were obsolete old things and that the torpedoes, if there every had been any, were absolutely worthless.

Corregidor rises sheer from the water at the entrance to Manila bay, making two channels. As we drew near, the spot was pointed out to us from which Dewey fired his first shot at the Corregidor land batteries. Then we saw the hospital nestling down in a little inlet on the island and dead ahead of us in the far distance the smoke of Manila!

Nobody who has not been here, most certainly nobody who is not a seafaring man, can get any idea from published dimensions of the size of this bay of Manila. The fact that it is 26 miles from Corregidor light in a bee line to the city hardly conveys the impression expanse which strikes one upon coming through the channel for the first time. I suppose I was very green, or rather very weak in that portion of my head where the geography bump ought to be, for I had always thought of Manila bay as nothing more than a good big harbor. As a matter of fact it is no harbor at all. It is such a great sweep of water that when one of these gentle typhoons is raging there is next to no protection for the shipping inside. As I found out afterwards there, is closer in the remains of a breakwater which the Spanish engineers are supposed to have built, but like every other Spanish public enterprise, most of the money appropriated found its way into the pockets of the officials in charge and a comparatively small proportion was spent as it should have been. The result is that what remains of the breakwater is the poorest sort of makeshift. Steps have been taken looking to something American in this line, but of that another time.

At Corregidor you are so far away from the city that you can see scarcely can anything save the smoke rising from the chimneys. On the left if you go through the channel -- that is if you go through the north channel, which we took as Dewey did -- the mainland rises beak and mountainous. This is the foot of the mountain range which lies along the western coast from Manila Bay to the northern end of the island There are occasional breaks in it farther up, but for the most of the distance the mountain chain is unbroken . . . It was here that Dewey found and destroyed the Spanish fleet. Through our glasses it was possible to see the tops of some of the Spanish wrecks sacking above the water. Behind them lay the batteries of Cavite, now occupied by American troops, and standing guard over the whole whole were the Brooklyn and the New York and smaller boats of our navy dressed in their white garbs of peace.

A little farther on a small side-wheeled steamer with two smokestacks drew the attention of Captain Frank Grant and at the same time I think drew a bit of dewy moisture from his eyes. I don't know what she is called now, but she once was the Laguna de Bay, the staunch little gunboat which was Grant's flagship when he commanded the operation of the little fleet of river gunboats which carried such terror to the Filipinos from the mouth of the Paslg up to and through the lake after which this craft was named and up the rivers which pour their waters into that lake.

Still closer in were the army transports Kiluatrick and Buford, both getting ready to leave for home; then a small army of tugs and launches; then smaller boats, the bancos of the Filipino fishermen, the small sailing craft with their outriggers, and all that makes life in a big harbor so full of interest.

At last we were at anchor. Manila!

Subic Bay

Subic Bay.

Subic Bay's famous strategic location, sheltered anchorages, and deep water was first made known when the Spanish explorer Juan de Salcedo reported its existence to the Spanish authorities upon his return to Manila after Salcedo arrived in Zambales to establish the Spanish crown. But it was a number of years before the Spanish considered establishing a base there. The Spanish government in the 1800s was weighing the naval values of their port in Cavite and in Olongapo. In 1884, the Olongapo Bay was declared as a Spanish naval port in the Philippines. In 1885, construction of the naval base arsenal in Olongapo started. Hundreds of Filipinos were deployed to work on the site in exchange for tariff benefits.

Among the first projects was harbor dredging, including the harbor basin, plus the excavation and construction of a drainage canal to isolate Olongapo as an island and establish the Spanish Navy there. The canal, according to the History of Subic, was also part of a defense system to protect the main entry. Subic in the Philippines was originally designed to have artillery defenses at the ends of the naval base and powerful Spanish gunboats to ward off any invasion from the sea coming to Intramuros.

When the naval base was ready, these gunboats docked there for defense: San Quentin, Santa Ana, and the Caviteno. Subic in the Philippines had been recognized since early times for its potential as a naval base and from where naval attacks could be easily launched. The history of Subic also point out the value of Grande Island nearby as an Artillery base.

July 14, 1898, The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A.

Dewey Soon Brought a Spanish Official to Terms.

New York, July 13.--A special copyright cable from Manila dated July 10th to the New York Journal says: Admiral Dewey, early on July 7th, dispatched the Raleigh and Concord to take Grande island in Subic bay and capture the garrison. The cruisers shelled the principal points on the island, destroying the earthworks, and other fortifications. They sent out a launch with a message demanding surrender. There was 110 response and the Raleigh finally sent a six-inch shell through the commander's house.

In the Philippines with Admiral Dewey.

The white flag was instantly run up on the ruins of the earthworks: A landing party demanded absolute surrender.

The Spanish Colonel, Rio, realized how hopeless was opposition, and gave up his sword. The 500 men comprising the garrison were made prisoners and their rifles were taken from them. Forty thousand rounds of ammunition and one Hotchkiss gun were also captured. This victory gives the Americans control of Subic bay. The Spanish were endeavoring to protect its submarine mines and to make it ready for the occupation of the Spanish fleet supposed to be on its way from Spain. Admiral Dewey's possession of Subic bay defeats Germany's supposed plans to interfere in the Philippines.

The insurgents have captured the merchant coast steamer Philipinas. The natives killed the officer of the ship before her capture. The insurgents were using the transport in an attack which they contemplated making on Grand Island, before Admiral Dewey was called upon.

Admiral Dewey at Manila Bay.

Although the attitude of the Germans is still irritating, Admiral Dewey is managing them with great diplomacy. He does not expect any trouble with them. The blockade will hereafter be more rigid. Only the supply ships of the American and foreign fleets are allowed to enter.

The Esmerelda, arriving from Hongkong yesterday with passengers, was stopped and ordered to sea. The long-expected refrigerating steamship Culgua, from Australia with a cargo of fresh beef, arrived and was welcomed enthusiastically by the sailors and, soldiers.

The Austrian cruiser Freundsburg arrived and saluted the Spanish flag first, after which she saluted Admiral Dewey's flag.

July 14, 1898, The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A.

Crew of a Steamer Kill Their Officers Near Subig

Hongkong, July 13. Letters received here from Cavite under date of July 9th says that while the Spanish steamer Filipinas was hiding in the river near Subig, the crew mutinied and killed the officers. They then handed the steamer over to the insurgents, who armed the vessel and dispatched it to Subig for the purpose of making an attack on Grande island. Continuing, the letter confirms the story told by the Associated Press correspondent at Manila in regard to the action of the German warship Irene and the steps taken by Admiral Dewey to prevent interference with the insurgents, adding that the Spanish, prisoners, in spite of their protests, were handed over to the insurgents with the captured arms and ammunition. The Germans, it appears, fraternize with the Spaniards, and German officers are often seen in the Spanish trenches.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

Kindly Kindly Donate.


DALevy @


Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.