Part 3: The Final Offensive and the New Masters of Manila
Under constant bombardment, the Spaniards attempted one final offensive.
More than five thousand troops were assembled. Their most able fighters, the Kapampangans—2,000 in number—were split into three columns. The first column would be thrown into the meat grinder in a direct frontal assault on the trenches and battery. The two other columns would flank the British forces in a staggered pincer attack, one to take Ermita, another skirting through the seaward approach to attack Malate.
The Spaniards had intended it to be a surprise attack, moving out at dawn and using the thick undergrowth to disguise their movements. However, as the troops moved out of the gates of the Parian, some of the Filipinos began shouting out battle cries.
Alerted, the British moved to form defenses. The first contingent of Filipinos, led by Francisco Rodriguez and “their valiant leader Manalastas”, smashed into the front lines, firing off volleys of arrows before rushing forward with their spears. Those who weren’t gunned down by musket fire were impaled at close quarters, clawing at the bayonets. Still they charged.
At Bagumbayan, they routed an advance party of British troops, firing at them from the windows of the church. Together with some Spanish musketeers, they entered Santiago church, which had been evacuated. Climbing to the top of the hated belltower, which had only days before rained gunfire on their walls, they killed the sentries who had lagged behind.
The English ranks were thrown into confusion. Fearful of hitting their own men, the British artillery ceased firing as the Filipinos surged forward.
The pincer attacks were less successful. The Spanish commander of the column tasked to capture Ermita, Santiago Orendain, fled at first contact with the enemy. The third column, which attempted to outflank the English from the seaside, similarly faltered.
While Draper would later comment on the fury of the attack (“Had their skills and weapons been equal to their strength and ferocity, it might have cost us dear,” he wrote), the truth was that the assault quickly collapsed. The British field pieces roared into action, punching holes in the Filipino ranks and driving them back from Santiago. By nine o’clock, the Philippine forces were in full retreat, with some musketeers and archers providing covering fire from Bagumbayan before they, too, were forced back.
The Philippine losses were heavy. Aside from their almost 200 dead, sixty Kapampangans were captured by the British, and hanged inside the British camp. Upon hearing what had happened, many Filipinos deserted the Spanish ranks, leaving them to their final fate.
The Spaniards had intended it to be a surprise attack, moving out at dawn and using the thick undergrowth to disguise their movements.
Rojo called one last council of the remaining officials in the city. Many of their countrymen had already fled. Some of them had tried to take refuge among the natives in the outlying villages, but “as they searched for sanctuary, irate Filipinos vented their anger against the Spaniards.” In fleeing the invaders, the colonizers were less than welcome.
The shells still exploding on the walls, the city engineer reported on the sorry state of Intramuros’ defenses. With the non-stop shelling, it was impossible to carry out repairs, or shore up the breach, or even to dig ditches and trenches for the inevitable British assault.
The military men in the council all advocated surrender. But everyone else—the tradesmen, the bureaucrats, the clergy—would not back down. The friars reminded Rojo about Mother Paula’s vision. St. Francis himself would lead the defense of the city.
Cesar Fayette, the Frenchman who led the first counterattack from Intramuros, tried to crash the meeting and talk some sense into the officials. As the Spaniards’ most experienced officer, he knew a lost cause when he saw it. He tried to leap over the barrier blocking the antechamber where the meeting was being held, but was tackled to the ground by an auditor.
Wrestling him to the ground, the auditor called him an idiot. Better men than him were calling the shots. “Do you take us for traitors to our fatherland?” he spat out to the Frenchman. “Do we not know our obligations?”
There would be no surrender. Rojo tried to survey that part of the wall breached by the British, but the same auditor stopped him. It was too dangerous. The archbishop withdrew and wished, fervently, for a cannonball to hit him and end his life.
On October 5, at sunrise, the British commenced their final assault.
From their posts, the British forces left in small groups and assembled at Santiago church. Covered by a thick smoke that blew into the city, and protected by mortars and musket fire from the San Juan church of Bagumbayan, they advanced towards the Intramuros walls.
The main body of attackers headed for the breach at the Baluarte de San Andres. At their forefront, with around 20 volunteers, were the English forces’ most elite troops, the grenadiers. Kneeling, they fired off their muskets at the defenders arrayed against them at the curtain walls, the outposts, and the bastions. Two sweeps of musket fire, and then they charged the breach, bayonets out, clambering over the broken masonry to ascend the walls of the San Andres. Engineers tailing the attackers—including Captain William Stevenson, who would later write a detailed account of the siege—began hammering at the walls that had been punched apart by their artillery, hoping to enlarge the breach. When they made it to top, where they saw Spanish soldiers fleeing the bastion.
A second group departed from Santiago and made for the Puerto Real. When they reached the gate, they pulled out axes and crowbars, and began battering the gate down. From the guard post atop the gate, musket fire and projectiles fell on the British ranks. One defender nocked an arrow and took aim at the commander of the 79th regiment, Major More. He was hit, and instantly killed.
As their compatriots reached the top of the San Andres, the soldiers finally broke down the Puerto Real gates. Assaulting the guardhouse, from where More’s killer might have fired, the attackers ran the entrenched Spanish and Filipino defenders—a hundred of them guarding that royal gate—through with their swords. They found one soldier cowering under a statue of the Virgin Mary, where the soldiers manning the Puerto Real regularly prayed. He, too, was cut down.
Fire broke out in five different places in the city as the bombardment from the cannons went on. The Puerto Real was thrown open. Sepoy troops rushed into the city. From the Parian gate, more invaders entered.
Inside Fort Santiago, a messenger told the governor-general the news that the British had already entered the city. Rojo immediately ordered the artillerymen inside to halt their cannon fire, even if they spotted the British crossing into the city plaza without cover. The less of their soldiers that would die, he thought, the less their revenge on the city would be. He would be gravely mistaken.
As the British rushed into the city, the remaining Philippine defenders began to throw themselves off the walls and into the Pasig river. Many residents followed, trying to cross to safety to the other side, but the strong current pulled them under. From the walls, British soldiers aimed their muskets and picked off the swimmers. Three hundred corpses would wash up on the river banks, either drowned or riddled with bullet holes.
The British surrounded Fort Santiago. In the main plaza, a few remaining inhabitants barricaded themselves against the attackers and tried to put up a resistance from the galleries of their homes and the windows of the courthouse. The soldiers smashed into the buildings and overpowered them, before dragging their belongings outside.
The battle for Manila had ended. The rape of Manila now began.
Later in his life, safely back in England, Brigadier General William Draper would address Spanish accusations about the looting. By that time, the Seven Years War had ended, but the British crown still wanted to claim the entirety of the 4 million Spanish dollars that Draper had demanded from Manila. But why, the Spaniards argued, would they pay the rest of the ransom—a ransom that Draper had demanded to ostensibly keep the city safe—when the general had allowed, or even ordered, his men to brutally ransack the city?
“It is a known and universal [rule] of war, amongst the most civilized nations,” he declared in his defense, “that places taken by storm, without any capitulation, are subject to all miseries that the conquerors may choose to inflict.”
Those miseries were many.
The Beaterio de Santa Rosa was thrown open. The young women inside were raped. (Mother Paula would later deny this.) Across the city, more rapes took place, with the soldiers sparing neither the “honor of the married women or the virginity of the girls,” as Spanish historian Ferrando put it.
Troops entered the churches and, after looting all valuables, paraded around the town wearing priests’ robes.
Statues of the saints and other holy images were vandalized. Looters entered the home of a Spanish widow and ransacked her of everything she owned, including the clothes she was wearing. “There also entered the plaza de armas on this day five hundred marines,” wrote Alfonso Rodriguez de Ovalle, “who committed all kinds of excesses on convents, churches, and houses.”
Even the archives weren’t spared. When visiting London over a century later, Rizal would remark on the treasure trove of Philippine documents in the British Museum. Did these come from their looting of Manila? Draper himself returned to England with city flags and eight copper printing plates. He would donate these to Cambridge University.
The Spaniards would also claim that many Filipinos joined his troops in the looting. “The Indians,” the historian Martinez de Zuñiga wrote, referring to the indios, “were much worse, for they discovered where the riches of their master lay.”
Draper and Cornish, who had arrived in Fort Santiago to meet with Rojo, seemed more concerned with negotiating the formal surrender of Manila—including the enormous 4 million dollar ransom—than to stop the pillage. Draper even thought that his command responsibility could only extend so far. “All military men know how difficult it is to restrain the impetuosity of troops in the first fury of an assault,” he later said, “especially when composed of such a variety and confusion of people, who differed as much in sentiments and language as in dress and complexion.”
Even as he wrangled for concessions, including the preservation of the Catholic faith, existing commerce, and military honors and salaries for his troops, Rojo begged the two commanders to halt the rapes and the pillage.
Finally, the general relented. He issued orders for the looting to stop, and for all ransacked valuables to be returned. Patrols would be mounted, and a drummer would sound out regular roll calls. Any British soldier caught looting would be hanged, and then buried at sunset. Later, Draper would personally shoot one of his troops he caught defying his orders.
After forty hours of rape and pillage—Draper would assert that it was only “several hours”—order returned to the city.
News of the Spanish defeat spread out from the city like a flash flood. Eventually, stories of the once-invincible Spaniards’ humiliating fall would go north and reach the ears of Diego Silang and his wife Gabriela. Meanwhile, in Bulacan, Simon Anda, the self-appointed new governor-general, began to organize the Spanish resistance.
In Fort Santiago, the Spanish and British came to agreement. Rojo and the other Spaniards signed the papers of surrender. Draper had granted the enemy officers the honor of still keeping their swords and their freedom, but as they signed, the Spanish knew that, for the first time since Legazpi had seized the city from Rajah Sulayman almost 200 hundred years before, they no longer ruled the city.
The British were the masters of Manila now.
Author’s Note: I have based this narrative primarily on the journals of Archbishop Rojo and Brigadier-General Draper, along with reports from Admiral Cornish and Captain William Stevenson, an engineer in the English army. Guillaume Le Gentil de la Gailaserie’s book “Voyage to the East Indies” (cited in the multi-volume The Philippine Islands 1493-1803), provided many colorful details and commentary. Shirley Fish’s 2003 book When Britain Ruled the Philippines 1762-1764 provided invaluable guidance and inspiration. A few parts have been embellished for dramatic purposes. Click here for a line-by-line list of references.