Cádiz-Manila: The maritime journey that opened the doors of Asia to Spain | Culture


The maritime route between Cádiz and Manila via the Cape of Good Hope, which operated between 1765 and 1834, established a link between three continents, Europe, America and Asia, in what were the first steps towards current globalization. An important episode in the history of Spain that has gone almost unnoticed as it was overshadowed by the Manila Galleon route, the famous international commercial circuit instituted two centuries earlier, which, between 1565 and 1815, connected the capital of the Philippines with Acapulco, Mexico. and Veracruz, but that in order to carry its precious merchandise from New Spain to the Iberian Peninsula, it needed to be complemented with the route to the Indies. There was no direct route between Spain and Asia, which came to correct the new Cádiz-Manila route.

Nautical chart 'Bay and city of Manila', drawn by the pilots of the Royal Navy ship 'Buen Consejo' that started the Cádiz-Manila route.  / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA
Nautical chart ‘Bay and city of Manila’, drawn by the pilots of the Royal Navy ship ‘Buen Consejo’ that started the Cádiz-Manila route. / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA
MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA

The historian and professor at the National University of Distance Education (UNED) Marina Alfonso has just published an article in the magazine Andalusia in History that reconstructs that great route that Carlos III launched so that Spain would benefit directly from trade with the Philippines and, through its colony, with the rest of East Asia, without having to take the detours required by the circuit. of the Manila Galleon. “They have never taught us to value Spanish history, with its lights and shadows. It is known very badly and the prolongation of the empire, even worse ”, explains Alfonso. “This is a general reaction to everything that sounds imperial that occurred after the dictatorship. And that detachment has made companies as important as this journey go almost unnoticed ”, he adds.

For 69 years, Spain sent iron and military material to the Philippines via the Cádiz-Manila route, as well as small amounts of wine, olive oil and brandy; While on the return trip the wineries came loaded with silk and cotton fabrics, spices, musk, camphor, indigo, coffee and cocoa. The pilots of the warships that started the route and did it exclusively until 1784 mapped the itinerary. Information of vital importance for a time when maritime powers such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom were vying for the waters of the Pacific. The Municipal Archive of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) preserves 19 nautical charts, made between 1768 and 1770, of the ports, bays, passages, straits and inlets through which the Royal Navy ship sailed. Good advice under the orders of Captain Juan de Casens, a ship that could mount 60 guns and transport 1,000 tons, with a crew of 50 men.

Nautical chart of the roadstead of Achem (Sumatra).  / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA
Nautical chart of the roadstead of Achem (Sumatra). / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍAMUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA

The transfer of the Casa de la Contratación to Cádiz in 1717 – an institution created in Seville in 1503 by the Crown to promote relations with overseas territories and which operated for more than two centuries – turned the Atlantic city into the most important port of Europe. The new route allowed sailing “straight” from Cádiz to Manila in about five months, making several commercial stops. The historian and technician of the El Puerto de Santa María Archive Ana Becerra Fabra, who has studied nautical charts, explains how the route originated: “The idea came from Simón de Anda y Salazar [gobernador de Filipinas entre 1770 y 1776], who advised that it be done with Navy ships so as not to arouse suspicions about European commercial competition and as a test for regular commercial traffic “.

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Becerra and the historian Teo Cardoso released in 1992 the 19 nautical charts mapped by the Spanish sailors who arrived at El Puerto, probably with the Jesuits expelled from the Philippines and housed in the Hospicio de Misiones in the town of Cadiz. After the confiscation, the documents became part of the Porto archive. The 19 letters, handwritten on paper with inks of various colors and about 30 by 40 centimeters, describe Portuguese, Galician, American and Asian coasts, among which are those of the bay and city of Manila, the roadstead of Acham (Sumatra) , roadstead of Malaca (Malaysia), port of La Concepción (Chile) or port of Havana (Cuba).

Nautical chart of the port of Havana, one of the 19 that the pilots of the 'Good Council' made in their trips between 1768 and 1770. / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA
Nautical chart of the port of Havana, one of the 19 that the pilots of the ‘Good Council’ made in their trips between 1768 and 1770. / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍAMUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA

In the metropolis the company was very well received, as the Marquis of San Leonardo, Pedro Fitz-James Stuart y Colón, wrote to his brother Jacobo in 1767: “A warship with 60 guns went straight from Cádiz from Cape Good Hope to the same island [Manila] for make see it was possible to do this navigation without any treaty or anything else that prevents us; It is one of the greatest things that our great monarch has done because he has allowed his vasayos from the Philippines with those from Europe to trade and communicate without the work and pregnancies they had before ”. Not so among the large merchants established in the Philippine capital, who saw the new company as a threat.

According to Marina Alfonso, with this route the Crown struggled to gain a foothold in the profitable East Asian market through the Royal Company of the Philippines (1785-1834), which had exclusive direct trade with the archipelago and the rest of Asia. from Spain and South America. An area divided between the powerful Dutch East India Company, which controlled the spice market, and the English East India Company, which had the weaving market.

Nautical chart of the Port of Ecomon or Bay of the Crusade (Malvinas).  / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA
Nautical chart of the Port of Ecomon or Bay of the Crusade (Malvinas). / MUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍAMUNICIPAL ARCHIVE OF THE PUERTO DE SANTA MARÍA

In 1790, the Royal Company eliminated the forced stopover in Manila, so that Spanish ships could trade directly with India, starting in 1796, creating the Cádiz-Tranquebar-Calcutta line. While, as of 1814, it opened direct and regular trade between Asia and America, explains Alfonso, who in 2000 curated, together with Carlos Martínez Shaw, the exhibition The Manila Galleon, organized in Seville by the Ministry of Culture and the Focus Foundation. Both researchers are also authors of the book The Spanish route to China (El Viso, 2007).


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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