Manila Cholera Epidemic 1820

Filipinos Brutally Attack Foreigners because of Cholera Epidemic

Because of a cholera epidemic in Manila 3,000 plus Filipinos went on a violent rampage as they turned their anger against foreigners in the city. 125 were killed and many more injured, British, Chinese, French and Russians were butchered.

On the 4th October 1820 the first case of cholera was reported along the Pasig River. It is believed the cholera arrived in the Philippines via the port of Manila and originated from a neighbouring country that was also affected by the Asiatic Cholera Pandemic.

The outbreak of cholera turned into one of the worst cholera epidemics the Philippines has ever seen.

Eyewitnesses claimed the cemeteries were overflowing with bodies and dead bodies were being left on the streets. A rumour went round claiming a person that will bury someone who died in the morning would in turn be buried in the afternoon.

The cholera epidemic was spreading like wildfire in towns and villages along both banks of the Pasig River.

Many at the time were making assumptions to how the cholera arrived in the Philippines and still today people are making assumptions about how the cholera arrived.

It is claimed the Russian Consul to the Philippines Peter Dobbel said it arrived in the Philippines on an English ship named Merope. However I searched English records for a ship of that name and cannot find any record of an English ship of that name in 1820. The Royal Navy had a ship of that name but it was sold to be broken up in 1815. The next record of an English ship by that name is the first log entry which was not until 1823.

A French traveller Paul de la Gironiere claimed the cholera came from Madras, India.

What is for sure the unsanitary conditions of Manila helped the spread of the cholera epidemic. The Pasig River was a source of drinking water at the time, it was also a place where human waste was disposed off, people also dumped their rubbish in the river.

Anger Builds up

Rumours were spreading as fast as the cholera among the locals, most of them putting the blame on foreigners, this quickly changed to rumours that the French wanted to take over the Philippines and they had infected the water deliberately. It was believed killing all the Filipinos was part of their plan to take over the country.

The arrogance of some of the British, French and Russians who considered themselves superior, did not help the situation.

The Truth is many foreigners were trying to help, they gave their time, put in a lot of effort, and used their medicines to try to save the Filipinos from the cholera epidemic.

Violence Breaks Out

On the 9th October 1820 the anger fuelled by the rumours boiled over, a crowd of over 3,000 angry men armed with bludgeons and knives went on an orgy of violence aimed at all foreigners apart from the Spanish.

At 10am they set off looking for foreigners to attack, one of the first victims was the Captain of the Cultivateur. Nearly all the French living in Manila were butchered and their houses were pillaged and destroyed.

The violence lasted for days and quickly spread to Binondo, Tondo, and Cavite and only stopped when they could find no one else to attack.

A Frenchman did manage to escape after seeing his friends cut to pieces. He ran at the men that were about to attack him, with no weapon to defend himself apart from his fists, he managed to fight his way through the angry crowd. Before he managed to escape he received a lance thrust into his body and 3 sabre-cuts to his head.

Some people at the time put the attack more down to jealousy and hatred and thought the cholera just gave the angry crowd an excuse. While most of the violence was fuelled my fear there was probably some in the crowd because of their hatred towards foreigners.

Both priests and friars claimed the foreigners had poisoned the sick and infecting the drinking water purposely to kill of all the Tagalog people. The priests were also claiming it was the end of the world.

It took the Governor-General 2 days to give the order to his troops to put an end to the violence, even then according to eye-witness when the troops came across violence they stood aside and let it continue, just watching as the Massacre went on. Some people at the time wondered if Spain had a hand in the violence. It does seem strange that not one Spaniard was attacked.

Author Peter Dobell wrote “the massacre and the rumours against the foreigners in Manila were in fact perpetuated by some Spaniards who were envious of the commercial bounty being reaped by foreign trading companies and traders. To prevent these foreigners from firmly establishing their trade and commerce base in the Philippines while making it appear that they do not have any hand in this massacre, they circulated the rumours that foreigners were spreading the disease.”

After the Violence and the cholera epidemic

The government did make some changes to combat any epidemic in the future but they were more superficial reforms than real changes. They opened up a cemetery in the Plaza Dilao and the Governor General did make noises about opening a school of medicine, surgery and pharmacy which never happened.

What measures the Spanish government took were not enough as more cholera epidemics followed. Historians believe that the first pandemic had lingered in the Philippines and it was that which caused the second pandemic in 1830.

When I researched this I could not help notice the similarities to what is happening in the west today. The media (in them days priests) and government stirring up anger against foreigners for their own agenda. You would have thought in nearly 200 years we would have moved on and became more civilised.

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