The abortive expedition of Don Juan de Silva against the Dutch in the Indies (1612-1616)
Click here for the Italian text.
English translation of an extract from a so far unfinished and unpublished work entitled "La presenza Spagnola alle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
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
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
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
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.
Probably Juan de la Umbria was sent to Ternate together with Paramo.
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. 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
Manilla " sin gente" (without people). )
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
as informs us various testimonies, " the enemy is meager in this
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.
 Correspondencia"", Jeronimo de Silva, pp. 284-285
 AGI: "Confirmación de encomienda de Filipinas. Juan Gutierrez Paramo.
 AGI: "Confirmación de
encomienda de Marinduque, etc. Juan de la Umbria. 02-10-1623",
 For further information about this expedition see: (Colin-Pastells "Labor Evangelica" vol. III pp.
 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: