Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Relic of The Seven Years' War

As one of the earliest possessions of the British in the Orient, Madras served as a base camp for several military manoeuvres; mainly within the peninsula, but every once in a while, across the seas into Ceylon, Burma, Malaya or even beyond. Once such trans-oceanic adventure happened as a part of the Seven Years' War; though the main cause of the war was Austria's desire to get back Silesia from Prussia, the European powers - especially the British - were quick to figure out that it was as important to establish ascendancy in the colonies as well as on the continent. That belief saw a lot of imporance being attached to theatres in North America and in Asia.

In Asia, almost of the action was centred in India. Battles at Palashi (Plassey, 1757) and Vandavasi (Wandiwash, 1761), were the most significant of these, reducing France's capabilities and establishing the British as the leading power in India. With the victory at Vandavasi still fresh, the British troops were itching for more action and they got it when a fleet under Admiral Samuel Cornish and a 3000-strong land force under Colonel William Draper were ordered to take Manila, in the Philippines, then under Spanish rule. The troops reached Manila after almost two months at sea and yet managed to land unopposed at Manila Bay, within a few kilometres of the city. The Governor of Manila, who was apprently unaware of the course of the war in Europe was taken aback when called upon to surrender; under-estimating the strength of the attacking force he chose to fight with his 2000-strong garrison. Despite the fatigues of the sea-journey, Draper's forces overran Manila within 10 days and the Governor surrendered, offering a payment of £ 4 million as ransom for the city. It is not clear if this amount was ever paid, but Manila remained under British occupation for over a year before being returned to Spain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years' War.

Draper returned to India, with William Pitt the Elder referring to him as "Manila's gallant conqueror". But Draper felt he had been denied his just rewards from that conquest; his claims made him an object of mockery. Maybe he brought back this cannon - and a few others, today seen at the Government Museum, Chennai - as part of his victory spoils, but maybe they were confiscated from him when he got back to Madras!

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