Speaker: Professor Peter Borschberg
April 28th 2017
Beverages from 6.30pm, talk starts promptly at 7pm
Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium, Empress Place
In March 1616, the Spanish armada comprising ten heavily armed galleons and numerous support vessels dropped anchor off the eastern coast of Singapore. It was one of the largest demonstrations of naval power ever seen in the East Indies at the time. The arrival of this armada in Singapore waters formally concluded years of careful planning and costly preparation for war that spanned half the globe: from the desk of the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City to the chambers of the Portuguese viceroy in Goa. The logistical challenges had been formidable to coordinate an ambitious military project in an age when long-distance communications were slow, cumbersome and utterly unreliable. In all this Singapore was not seen as a sleepy backwater, but recognized as a key strategic nodal point in a planned epic showdown at sea of the Iberian powers with the Dutch. The Spanish armada arrived in Singapore as planned, but for weeks the galleons waited here in vain for naval reinforcements to arrive from India. Little did the Spanish realize that the war ships dispatched from Goa had been completely destroyed after a string of misfortunes.
The surviving documents touching on this episode tell a tale that is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. It is a story of not only of hubris and miscalculation, but also of death, disease and personal tragedy. It involves war-hungry rajas, scheming crown officials, conniving Dutch businessmen, zealous Jesuits, prisoners on the loose, an ambitious auditor, and lest it should be forgotten, a kidnapped Malay princess.