HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 11 no. 3 & 4 (1963)

Some aspects of British trade in the Philippines in the nineteenth century

Nicholas Tarling

Discipline: History



Students of South-east Asian nationalism must always be struck by its comparatively early development in the Philippines. In part this may no doubt be attributed to the comparatively advanced degree of literacy and of cultural Europeanisation. To these must also be added, however, the rapid economic development of the islands in the mid-century period. Between the 1820s and 1870s, as Benito Legarda has written, “the Philippines was transformed from a subsistence economy to an agricultural export economy”.1 Elsewhere in South-east Asia such an economy was to be built up by large-scale plantation agriculture or by governmental pressure on the peasantry to produce for export. In the Philippines, as Legarda argues, it was rather the work of private, mostly alien, entrepreneurs, advancing money to dealers and growers. From the reign of Charles III, the Spanish Government had attempted to develop the Philippines, and Basco’s tobacco monopoly had proved at least a fiscal success. The Royal Philippine Company was, on the other hand, largely a failure. The galleon trade and the Mexican subsidy, furthermore, were first impeded and then cut off by the revolutions in the Spanish American colonies. An American observer in Manila in 1819 believed this a good augury for foreign merchants in the Philippines.