Portuguese and Spanish in the Pacific

On September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific.

The opponents of this Portuguese trade monopoly were initially natural enemies as followers of the Prophet and therefore committed by the tenets of their faith to the forcible conversion of the infidel; the Portuguese similarly favoured extermination of such unprofitable material for their burning missionary zeal as the Muslims invariably were. Thus on both sides material aims which could vary in degree from honest trading ambitions to sheer rapacity, were given the cloak of piety. Portuguese guns would sink the ships of Muslim rivals with the blessing of the Church ; Mohammedan rajahs would take to ruthless piracy in the name of Allah. One consequence of the latter which arose when Mohammedanism spread to the ports of Western Java and southern Borneo, was the denial of these as stopping points for Portuguese ships on the run to and from the Spice Islands. When the seamen of East Borneo and Celebes, the warlike Bugis, took to unabashed piracy, the route became so dangerous that the Portuguese eventually preferred to accept the hazards of the Sulu Islands passage and the North Borneo coast.

In 1521, however, a new factor was introduced by the arrival at Brunei of a patched and battered carrack flying the flag of Spain, Portugal’s only serious European naval rival in that period. This was the Victoria, sole survivor of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition which was to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan, a Portuguese who had been pilot to Sequeira at Malacca in 1509, had offered his services to Spain and had been commissioned to command a squadron sent to find a route to the Spice Islands by sailing westwards. Discovering the straits that bear his name, he had entered and named the Pacific Ocean and had been carried across it in the latitude of the trade winds to make landfall on the Philippine Islands.

There Magellan had been killed in a brush with the natives, but his flagship had continued the voyage westwards to arrive at Brunei. When fighting broke out there also, the ship was turned east again and after sailing through the difficult channels amongst the Sulu Islands, arrived at Tidore, to the west of Halmahera, and rival centre of the spice trade to the neighbouring Ternate. When the Victoria arrived home in 1522, Spanish claims to the Spice Islands were put forward.

The rival claimants, Spain and Portugal, were bound by the decision of Pope Alexander vi in 1493 by which the new world being gradually discovered was divided between the two countries. To the west of a line drawn from pole to pole passing 100 leagues to the westward of the Cape Verde Islands all would belong to Spain ; to the eastward all was to be Portuguese. Unfortunately the difficulty of establishing the longitude of a place even approximately with the means available at the time made it impossible to say where the demarcation line ran with regard to the East Indies; no agreement could be come to at a conference in 1524. Spanish efforts in the next few years were ineffective owing to the difficulties and hazards of the long haul across the Pacific. As a result of the Treaty of Saragossa in 1529 the Spaniards withdrew their claims for some years, selling their rights in the Moluccas to the Portuguese and fixing the dividing line seventeen degrees to the eastward of those islands. The King of Spain, however, reserved the right to annul his agreement, in which case arbitrators would decide the ownership of the Spice Islands. The Portuguese had, therefore, prepared against future trouble by building a fort on Ternate and espousing the cause of the Sultan against his rival on Tidore.

While the Portuguese were thus establishing, amidst unceasing conflict, their control of the East Indian trade, the pioneering genius and the commercial ability (or, as St Francis Xavier was to condemn it, the insatiable rapacity) of their seamen had been taking them ever further afield. In 1517 a squadron of seven ships under Fernando Perez de Andrade, victor of the sea-fight of 1513, arrived off Canton carrying a valuable cargo. Though the gun salute with which the Portuguese announced their arrival violated the code of conduct imposed on visiting foreign ships and Andrade had to make apologies for it, relations were thereafter friendly and permission to build a factory for the housing of goods on an off-shore island was granted.

Accompanying the expedition as ambassador was Tome Pires who had previously visited China and written an account of it in his Suma Oriental in 1515. From Canton, Pires was sent on to the Chinese court at Peking in September 1518, while Andrade, with part of his squadron, returned to Malacca. The remainder, in company with some Fiu-chiu Islands junks sailed on northwards to Ningpo where another factory was built and trade was opened with other parts of China, with fortified posts at Amoy and Foochow also.

This satisfactory opening of European trade with China was not to persist for long, however. The old bone of contention, China’s claim to the overlordship of all southern Asia, was brought out when Pires arrived at Peking. A letter from the deposed Sultan of Malacca had reached the Emperor, reminding him of Malacca’s vassal status and requesting Chinese assistance to eject the invaders. Pires, not authorized to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty in the same way, was put under arrest and conducted back to Canton, where he was to remain a prisoner until his death in 1540.

In 1521 Fernando de Andrade’s brother, Simon, arrived off Canton with another expedition. The high-handed arrogance which was the fatal defect of the Portuguese in their heyday was to cause his downfall. Just when negotiations for the opening of Chinese ports to trade were reaching a satisfactory conclusion, he offended the Chinese authorities by erecting a factory and fort on an off-shore island, without permission, ostensibly as protection against pirates ; and there he proceeded to exercise sovereign rights, demonstrated by his trial and execution of one of his sailors. A Chinese fleet of war junks attacked him, destroying all but three of his ships with which he was lucky to escape.

Nevertheless Portuguese trade with China through the former’s fortified posts at Amoy, Foochow and Ningpo persisted until 1545 when their aggressive behaviour finally led to their being expelled. The survivors, apparently learning their lesson at last, now adopted a conciliatory and suppliant attitude ; they were eventually permitted in 1557 to build a trading post on the island of Macao (in the approaches to Canton), which has persisted as a Portuguese colony to this day.

For the next fifty years the Portuguese enjoyed a monopoly of direct trade with China using their own ships, while at the same time Chinese junks traded to the Philippines, to Brunei, to Patani and occasionally to Malacca, though the extortionate charges levied there discouraged them. Another country opened up to Portuguese exclusive trade at that time was Japan; an expedition reaching Kagoshima in 1542 set up a trading post which enjoyed total absence of European competition for fifty years.

Far otherwise was the situation of the Portuguese in the Indonesian Archipelago. Besides the unceasing hostilities between Christian and Muslim in the Malacca Straits, with frequent full-scale naval expeditions by the Sultan of Atjeh against Malacca itself, the Portuguese hold on the Spice Islands was constantly under attack by the inhabitants and their rajahs, resentful of Portuguese arrogance and made desperate by their cruelty and greed.

Much of the Portuguese difficulties in the Spice Islands stemmed from their ruthless and often treacherous treatment of the native rulers and, conversely, from these Muslim rulers’ opposition to attempts to make Christian converts amongst their subjects. Indeed, Portuguese cupidity and missionary zeal were always at loggerheads to the frustration of the efforts of such as Francis Xavier, who laboured in the Moluccas from 1546 to 1548. The type of man sent out to govern the Portuguese settlements was more often than not bent on personal enrichment to the exclusion of other aims; or, if he bestirred himself to restrain the peculations of his subordinates he was liable to have a mutiny on his hands, and more than one governor was murdered for his pains. Throughout the century of Portuguese control of the Spice Islands, only one governor, Antonio Galvao 1536-40, left behind him a reputation for rectitude and fair dealing with the natives. He consequently returned poor to Lisbon, and there died in poverty.

In 1544 the ruler of Ternate, who claimed the overlordship of the Banda Islands as well as the Moluccas, made over Amboyna to the Portuguese who thereupon occupied the island, thus obtaining a more ample and secure base than the tiny islands of Ternate and Tidore, where strife was endemic, with the rival rajahs sometimes at war with each other, perhaps with the support of Portuguese or Spaniards, or in alliance with each other to attack the Portuguese strongholds.

The Spaniards had abrogated the agreement of 1529 in 1542 and had established prior and exclusive rights for themselves on Tidore. But for the next twenty years they were unable to follow this up. Though they could reach the area by sailing westwards across the Pacific from Mexico, until an eastward return route across the Pacific had been discovered, they would have had to return to Spain by completing the circumnavigation of the globe and thus to traverse waters dominated by the fighting galleons of their jealous Portuguese rivals. It was not until 1565 that a Spanish expedition of five ships, having landed the nucleus of a settlement at Cebu in the Philippines under Legaspi, was sailed northwards on the south-west monsoon by Andres de Urdaneta to discover the region of fairly constant westerlies between the parallels of 32 and 38 degrees north and so to reach the shores of California whence they could coast southwards to Mexico. Legaspi’s settlement at Cebu was considered an intrusion by the Portuguese, who showed their resentment by sending a squadron of ten ships to besiege it in 1568. They failed to dislodge the Spanish, however.

More of a threat to the Spanish colonizing efforts were the native Moros of the southern islands of the Philippines. Converts to Islam, they made formidable enemies and lived largely by piracy. In 1570, therefore, Legaspi moved his settlement to Luzon where he founded the city of Manila. There, after repulsing an attack in the following year by a Moro fleet, the Spaniards laid the foundations of a centre for both missionary work amongst the pagan inhabitants of Luzon and trade with the Chinese merchants from Fukien who brought their silks to exchange for Mexican silver. Neither of these objectives was possible amongst the belligerent Muslims further south and the Spanish left them discreetly alone.

After the foundation of Manila, Spanish ships again appeared in the Moluccas to dispute the Portuguese monopoly. By this time Portuguese misrule and the cruel cupidity of often mutinous forces had fanned the enmity of the natives and loosened the Portuguese hold on the Spice Islands. Amboyna had narrowly survived an attack by a Javanese force; the Portuguese fort on Ternate was besieged by forces under the Sultan of Tidore, a siege which was to end with its surrender in 1575. The Spaniards were then able to gain a foothold on Ternate for a time; the Portuguese shifted their spice trading headquarters to Tidore. An open struggle between the two Iberian powers was, however, avoided through the unification of the two countries under Philip II of Spain in 1580.

Enter the Dutch…

Future events were now casting their shadows before them. In 1579 Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, on her voyage of circumnavigation, had called briefly at Ternate, after refitting in Celebes, and loaded a quantity of spices. In the following year the Netherlands began its revolt against the rule of Spain. Both English and Dutch were soon to challenge the Portuguese/ Spanish claims to exclusive trading rights, though it was the Dutch who were to take the leading part in the East Indies.

Dutch procurement of the spices and other commodities of the East had for a long time been by means of their own ships sent to load them at Lisbon, and much of the supply of oriental pepper and spices to northern Europe had been in the hands of Dutch merchants. In 1585, however, Philip II gave orders for the seizure of all Dutch ships found in Spanish waters. For another nine years this regulation was to a great extent flouted so that no particular hardship was thereby suffered by the Netherlands.

The Dutch, whose trading and exploring ventures had been spreading far and wide, had, however, long coveted a direct share in the trade with the East Indies. In 1592, Huyghen van Linschoten returned from a nine-year sojourn in India possessed of all the necessary geographic and navigational information for the voyage to the East Indies which he published in his Itinerario in 1595. When Lisbon was finally closed to Dutch trade in 1594, therefore, it was not long before an expedition of four ships was organized which sailed in the spring of 1595 under Cornelis van Houtman, and arrived at the Javanese port of Bantam in June 1596.

Here they were amicably received; a treaty of friendship with the Sultan was concluded and a cargo of pepper was soon being loaded. Unfortunately van Houtman had neither the wit nor the manners to take advantage of this and strife soon broke out. As a result further supplies of pepper were refused at other Javanese ports and, when his crew refused to venture further to the Spice Islands, Houtman was forced to return with little profit.

Nevertheless the flood-gates of Dutch trade with the East Indies had been opened. Making use of the constant west winds, the `Roaring Forties’ south of the Indian Ocean, for their easting, which made them independent of the seasonal monsoons, they established the fastest route to a trading post set up at Bantam via the Cape of Good Hope and the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java. Thirteen ships took this route during 1598, returning with vast profits. Others, usually sailing in squadrons for mutual protection, followed. From Bantam they voyaged on to the Banda Islands and Ternate at both of which places they were welcomed and were able to establish trading posts. Peaceful trade being the expressed aim of the ship owners, invitations to assist the natives against the hated Portuguese were at first declined. But in 1600 the Admiral of one of these squadrons, Steven van der Haghen, made a treaty of alliance with the inhabitants of the island of Amboyna against the Portuguese, receiving in return promises of a monopoly of the spice trade.

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