The Zambales Incident


History occurs all over the world all the time and has been doing so forever. We, however, tend to learn of only the more significant events and personalities in the more topical or important periods and places. All other histories, covering all other peoples and periods in the past, like leaves falling from a tree, usually just blow away, dry up and turn to dust, leaving little or no trace of their paltry existence on earth. But occasionally, like the odd dinosaur bone uncovered from the Siberian ice, or a decaying letter found in a derelict attic, an exiguous, meagre record sometimes remains.

Since I graduated with a degree in history from Edinburgh University, I have been fortunate in my work and travels to have visited almost all the countries and regions of the world. When I travel, my historian’s mind, as though with a mind of its own, finds itself imagining and probing into the past of the various places I pass through with curious wonderment.

During my travels, I have encountered many fascinating small histories of obscure corners of obscure periods. By digging around in libraries, museums and increasingly online, I can sometimes partially piece together sufficient information to feel that I have uncovered at least some faded jigsaw pieces of the puzzle. Around such pieces, my historian’s mind continues to attempt to envisage missing details, the settings, the weather, the day to day events, the emotions, the personalities and the motivations of the characters or peoples involved.

I first uncovered evidence ofthe Zambales Incidentmany years ago while doing some historical research in the Philippines. I tried to pursue the incident further but found documentation about it utterly sparse on the Spanish side. I then attempted, vainly, to discover more from the British side, only to come to the conclusion that the incident appears to have been intentionally covered up by both sides. Today only a few fleeting references to the characters and events remain.

I decided to attempt to write this little-known story, to add flesh to the scant dinosaur bones available, taking the liberty to use my own imagination, experiences and historical background to attempt to paint a more full picture around the few faded jigsaw pieces uncovered. In so doing, I wanted, in some small way, to reach in and retrieve from the abyss of obscurity the events and the people, the living, loving, hopeful people involved, both those who survived and those who died. I do not know if my interpretation is right, I, indeed we, will never be able to know that. But I hope I have partly repainted the balance of the historical picture for posterity, or at least until scholars wiser or more determined than myself can pursue this mysterious incident further before any more of its leaves fall away and turn to dust.

Colin Mackay


This story covers an incident that occurred during the period of attempted British incursions into the remote Spanish East Indies Colony, one of the more obscure episodes of later 18th century colonial history. Few original records or documents about the incident still exist today.

This is partly due to the great destruction of documents during the Battle for Manila in 1945 and partly because both the Spanish and British Colonial authorities at the time decided this “Incident” should be covered up and expunged from most records.

After many years of research, the author has allowed himself the liberty of the historical fiction writer to add meat to the skeletal information available. He has, however, attempted to keep this enigmatic story as close to the known facts as possible.

The Historical Background

During the Seven Years War (1756 — 1763) in Asia, Britain fought against France, the Mughal Empire, and Spain. By 1758, the British were victorious against the French and the Mughals in India. In 1762, the British military joined with the East India Company (EIC) to send a joint expeditionary force from Madras against Manila, the capital of the Spanish East Indies. The British captured the fortified city and occupied it for two years until the end of the war.

After the war, Britain had become the dominant new naval power in Asia and The EIC began to expand its lucrative China trade. To support this trade, they wanted to establish new naval bases east of India, on the route to China. The EIC had originally agreed to join the naval expedition to Manila under the belief that, at the war’s end, Manila could be returned to Spain in exchange for its southern Philippine island of Mindanao where the EIC could establish such a new far-eastern naval and trade base.

In the complicated peace negotiations in Paris at the end of the war however, the British government negotiators agreed that in return for both Manila and Havana, Cuba (which Britain had also captured in the war), the British would instead take Spanish Florida and a large ransom in gold to pay their debts. This left the EIC frustrated and still looking for a suitable new naval base east of India.

Read Chapter 1

Published: 1 August, 2020

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