The abortive expedition of Don Juan de Silva against the Dutch in the Indies (1612-1616)

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English translation of an extract from a so far unfinished and unpublished work entitled "La presenza Spagnola alle Isole Molucche, 1606-1663" written by Mr. Marco Ramerini.

Mr. Ramerini runs since 1999 a very extensive website with information on the european overseas expansion and in particular the remains thereof.

In the propositions of the governor of the Philippines, Don Juan de Silva, a big joint expedition of Spaniards and Portuguese should succeed in getting rid of the Dutch forces present in Indonesian islands one time for all. The Dutch feared also such expedition. ("Generale Missiven" vol. I pp. 37-38)
In 1612 in order to agree with the viceroy of Portuguese India, de Silva had sent to India the former governor of Ternate Cristobal de Azcueta but the entire expedition disappeared in a shipwreck between Manilla and Macao.
The governor of the Philippines did not loose his courage and charged this time 2 Jesuits to reach Goa , father Pedro Gomes, rector of the company in Ternate and father Juan de Ribera, head of the Manilla college. At the end of 1614 ( Ribera left on november 21th Cavite harbour) they went with 2 different fleets to Goa, where they arrived in 1615 without problems . The agreement that the 2 fathers reached with the viceroy required the Portuguese to contribute with 4 big galleons that would be send to Malacca.
Father Pedro Gomez returned to Manilla in july 1615 to inform the governor of the results of the mission and to tell that the 4 galleons would soon sail to the Philipines. De Silva had prepared a big fleet. In order to obtain the artillery for this expedition he had weakened the defences of the city of Manilla with grave risks in case of an attack on the city by the Dutch.
When the Portuquese galleons did not arrive, he thought of going at their encounter. Notwithstanding the negative advise of many of his subordinates he decided to depart in February 1616 to Malacca, instead to direct himself directly to the Moluccas where it seems that Jeronimo de Silva had concluded treaties with the inhabitants of the Makian and Moti islands that upon arrival of that great expedition they would rebel against the Dutch and help the Spaniards.
The governor suffered of bad health. It seems that the illness manifested itself already for the first time before the departure from Manilla. There are testimonies of the fluctuating health of the governor since the first expedition to the Moluccas in 1611. Several times already he had sent petitions to the King to be replaced in his function to be able to return home.
In spite of this, the governor of the Philippines sailed from Manilla on february 9th 1616, at the head of a important expedition composed of 10 big galleons, 4 galleys, a patach and other minor vessels. The galleons were: the ship of the General-Staff "Salvatore" of 2000 (volumetric) ton, the flagship "San Marcos" of 1700 ton, the 2 galleons "San Juan Bautista" and "Espiritu Santo" both of 1300 ton, further the smaller galleons "San Miguel" (800 ton, "San Felipe" (800 t.) , "Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe" (700 t.), "Santiago" (700 t.), "San Andres" (500 t.), "San Lorenço" (400 t.). On this fleet had been embarked 5000 men, both soldiers and sailors, of which less than 2000 Spaniards, a unit of Japanese infantry and about 300 pieces of artillery. Six Jesuits took also part in the expedition.
The fleet was the mayor armada that these islands had seen. So marvelous that father Colin asked himself , "how was it possible to build such machines in these recently conquered countries populated with Spaniards, the most remote and distant part of the entire monarchy". The fleet took the direction of the Strait of Malacca, with the intension to unite forces with a Portuguese armada and to attack together first of all the Dutch factory on Java and thereafter the Dutch bases on the islands of the Moluccas.
But the Portuguese fleet sent by the viceroy of Goa had already been completely destroyed near Malacca, attacked by Dutch vessels. In order to avoid capture by the Dutch of the big galleons the Portuguese were obliged to burn them.
The Spanish armada entered the Strait of Singapore on february 25th, 1616. From there De Silva sent Juan Gutierrez Paramo to Ternate with a "socorro" (relief fleet) with the new title of sergeant-mayor.[2] Probably Juan de la Umbria was sent to Ternate together with Paramo.[3]
The health condition of de Silva deteriorated and on april 19th 1616 thereafter, the eleventh day of his suffering, he died in the Malacca city. The whole entreprise ended up in a gigantic fiasco, nothing had been done against the Durch and the death of de Silva in Malacca, shortly after his arrival, caused the inglorious end of that expedition.
The armada returned to Manilla at the beginning of june 1616.[4] On top of this, caused by fevers and other ilnesses that struck the fleet during her stay in Malacca and the Strait of Singapore, a large part of the men on the fleet died and the vessels returned to Manilla " sin gente" (without people). [5])
The decision of de Silva to go first to Malacca instead of pointing directly to the Moluccas is a bit strange, considering that according to the treaty the Portuguese galleons should have sailed to the Philippines in order to join the Spanish fleet. Besides that, at the moment of departure of De Silva from Manilla the Portuguese fleet should have arrived in time, if they had not been intercepted by the Dutch. Strange enough De Silva wanted in any case try to unite his own force with that of the Portuguese although he had at his command a big and important naval force and the position of the Dutch in the Moluccas was very precarious as informs us various testimonies, " the enemy is meager in this season". Secondly, Vergara was certain that a large part of the islands would have been captured by the Spaniards, if the Spanish fleet without waiting would have gone directly to the Moluccas without passing via Malacca.[5]

[1] Correspondencia"", Jeronimo de Silva, pp. 284-285
[2] AGI: "Confirmación de encomienda de Filipinas. Juan Gutierrez Paramo. 10-03-1625", Filipinas,48,N.1
[3] AGI: "Confirmación de encomienda de Marinduque, etc. Juan de la Umbria. 02-10-1623", Filipinas,47,N.60
[4] For further information about this expedition see: (Colin-Pastells "Labor Evangelica" vol. III pp. 581-646)
[5] AGI: "Carta de Lucas de Vergara Gaviria al Rey defensa Maluco. Terrenate, 31 maggio 1619" Patronato, 47, R. 37
AGI= Archivo General de Indias/ General Archives of the Indies; Sevilla, Spain
this translation made by myself and corrected by Mr. Ramerini was added on August 23, 2004
as I am far from a professional translator Italian->English I would appreciate it to receive remarks, suggestions, etc for improvements of the translation on the following address: