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Alexander Dalrymple

Early map maker of Australia Alexander Dalrymple also helped lease Sabah from Sulu Sultanate

In 18th century, Alexander Dalrymple, a 30 year old Scot, was instrumental in naming the waters separating Australia and Papua New Guinea in the map of the Pacific in honour of Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres.

In 1767, Dalrymple published a book with a chart of New Guinea identifying the southern coast running west of the Solomon Islands as ‘Torres’ and now popularly known earlier as Torres Strait.

This body of water was also known as the middle channel much earlier discovered by another Spanish Explorer Alvaro de Mendaña who headed two Pacific explorations in 1567 and 1595. The Mendaña expedition, like the De Quiros expedition, with Torres as next-in command, failed to establish a Spanish foothold in the Pacific region. Dalrymple’s role in the early link between Australia and the Philippines follows.

When Dalrymple prepared his map of the area included in his travel to this part of the world, he referred to the passage which Spanish Admiral Torres described in his 1606 report about the De Quiros discoveries as the Torres Strait.

Dalrymple, later became known as an author, geographer, navigator, and royal hydrographer. He was born in Newhailes, near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 24 July 1737 to Sir James and Lady Christina Dalrymple. At 16 he joined the East India Company in India as a clerk andacquired knowledge in navigation and trade which resulted in his promotion within the company.

Four years later he became the deputy secretary of the company’s office at Madras. In 1759, he was sent to South-East Asia and visited Palawan, Sulu, Mindanao and Manila. During this trip he successfully negotiated a treaty with Sultan Mu’izzuddin of Jolo on 28 January 1761, shortly before the East India Company decided to attack Manila. This treaty with Sultan Mu’izzuddin, brother of Alimuddin I opened the Sulu Sultanate to British trade and, eventually, the ‘cession’ of the island of Balambangan to the East India Company as its trade base in Asia.

The island was considered of material importance in the southern seas, from where valuable advantage might ensue for the East India Company’s commerce. This historical event is somewhat linked to the Sabah claim of the Philippine government.

While one side of the argument stated that Sabah or then known as British North Borneo was ceased by the Sultan of Sulu to the British authorities, Ambassador Amado S. Tolentino, Jr., theyoungest delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention and a member of the 8-man Committee on National Territory believed that the word ‘padyak’ used in the contract that was signed allowing the British in North Borenao meant ‘lease’ not ‘cession.’

It could be surmised that the success of Dalrymple in dealing with the Sultan of Sulu was influenced by the negative experience of the Sultan from the hands of the Spanish colonial government in Manila. Just a few years earlier, Sultan Alimuddin I whose Christian name was Don Fernando I, king of Jolo, sent a letter to King Philip V of Spain on 19 September 1754, a couple of years after he was jailed, complaining against Marques de Ovando, Spanish Governor General of the Philippines. The complaint was about the sad experience of the Sultan during his imprisonment in Manila.

The East India Company was a trading company formed in 1600 by enterprising merchants of London for the purpose of trading in Asian countries. It was given the Royal privilege when it was granted by Queen Elizabth I a charter on December 1, 1600. Among the privileges grantedthe company were: 1) to establish factories (trading posts) in Asian countries; 2) to conclude treaties with native rulers of Asian countries; 3) to acquire and govern Asian territories; and 4) to maintain its own naval and military forces. It existed until 1874 when it was finally dissolved.

Dalrymple was in Mindanao when the British forces invaded Manila during the first week of October 1762. Unaware of what was going on in Luzon, he advocated in a detailed plan, dated 23 November 1762, the British conquest of the Southern Philippines. He also endorsed the English takeover of the equally rich island of Luzon, considered by him as of great agricultural and commercial potential. This commercial interest in the Southern Philippines became the dominant reason why the East India Company participated in the invasion of Manila.

A year after the British stormed and occupied Manila, Dalrymple arrived in the capital as representative of the East India Company. Earlier in that year, the Seven Years War that brought the English to the shore of the Philippines ended, but news of the armistice reached Manila one year later and it took several months before the official transfer of administration from the British to the Spanish authorities was made.

When Dawsonne Drake, British Governor of the Philippines resigned from his post, Dalrymple was appointed by the East India Company to supervise the turning-over of the administration of the city to Spanish Jurist, Simon de Anda, who became the acting Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines.

Dalrymple returned to London and was recognised for his accomplishment in the Philippines. In 1767, he published his Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean with the chart of the South Pacific, indicating the 1606 Torres’ passage through the Strait between New Guinea and Australia.

It is strongly believed that when the Cook expedition sailed to the Pacific, leading to the ‘discovery’ of Australia, Captain Cook and Joseph Banks were already in posession of information from Dalrymple chart about the Torres voyage.

In 1774, a French translation of Dalrymple’s work was published containing a letter of Dalrymple to Hawkesworth stating that he had given Banks materials about the discoveries in the Pacific before 1764. Included were the maps Dalrymple had drawn of those discoveries. These were the same maps included in theEnglish version of his book published in 1767. Dalrymple also stated that he marked the passage with the name of Torres Strait, based on the Arias memorial which, in turn, was based on the Torres account of 1607 that the British found in Manila in 1762.

The Dalrymple information obtained from Manila during the British occupation, therefore, determined the course taken by the Endeavour in passing through the passage between New Guinea and New Holland (Australia) that ended with the ‘discovery’ of Australia.

As regards the British North Borneo case, the late historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa wrote of the event that followed after the British invasion of Manila and said that when the war ended, and Spain was poised to get back the Philippines as part of the settlement, the British saw the need to confirm in a separate treaty with Alimuddin I all the concessions they had obtained earlier from his brother, Sultan Mu’izzuddin with Dalrymple allowing the English flag to be flown over Balambangan in North Borneo.

The result was the ‘cession’ of North Borneo and Palawan to the East India Company on July 2, 1764. Dalrymple kept his end of the bargain by personally accompanying Alimuddin I to Jolo in May so he could retake his throne. Eight years later, the formidable sultan abdicated in favour of his son, Muhammad Israel.