- Hernando de los Ríos Coronel and the Spanish Philippines in the Golden Age by John Newsome Crossley
To scholars of Philippine history, the name Hernando de los Ríos Coronel is most likely to ring a bell. His is a familiar name, but many will have a hard time recalling who exactly he was. At most, they will remember De los Ríos from his letters and memorials published in Antonio de Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas and in Emma Blair and James Robertson's The Philippine Islands, where he brings to the attention of colonial officials problems in the Philippines and the surrounding region. Other than that, almost everyone will draw a blank on his life or even the personal circumstances behind his letters and memorials. John Newsome Crossley's book on De los Ríos fills this gap in our knowledge and gives life to the man behind the words.
Doing the biography of a person who lived four centuries ago is not the easiest of tasks, even in the case of a relatively important person in Spanish Philippine society. Crossley had to follow the tracks left behind by De los Ríos in libraries and archives in different countries from Australia, United States, and the Philippines to Spain and the United Kingdom. Readers who are used to biographies of famous persons whose every move and motivation are accounted for might be slightly disappointed by this book since there are noticeable gaps in the life story of De los Ríos, such as where in Spain he was born, why as a soldier he decided to become a priest, what happened during his unaccounted for years during his second stint in the Philippines, and in what year did he die. That basic biographical questions are left unanswered has nothing to do with the quality of the research but more to do with the lack of extant materials. Crossley's detective skills extract as much information from the primary sources as possible without going overboard with fanciful speculation. The life of De los Ríos still comes alive in the mind of the reader. De los Ríos was one of those Renaissance men of the early colonial era; he was a pilot, navigator, mathematician, scientist, priest, and lobbyist.
Crossley's strategy is to follow the life of De los Ríos as it was inextricably linked to the history of the Spanish Philippines in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. After a couple of introductory chapters that center primarily around the colonization of the Philippines, each succeeding chapter in the book focuses on one stage in the life of De los Ríos. As a soldier [End Page 255] he arrived in the Philippines, where he joined the expedition to Ternate with Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, served as administrator at the hospital for Spaniards in Manila, defended Manila against a Chinese fleet, went on an expedition to Cambodia with Luis Perez Dasmariñas, got shipwrecked off the coast of China, and invented a new kind of astrolabe. On his return to Spain, he maintained a sea-log of his voyage and, once there, performed his role as procurator-general dispatching requests and letters to the king informing him of the Chinese uprising, explaining problems of administration and security in the colony, and advocating the rights of Spaniards and indigenes alike. He was effective in his job since most of his proposals were approved and resulted in royal decrees. He returned to the Philippines as a newly ordained secular priest, but on the way he still had to perform his duty as navigator because he was tasked to try out a new compass that was supposed to solve the problem of determining longitude.
His second stint in the Philippines is unaccounted for except for the fact that he received a chaplaincy in Manila. To fill this gap, a chapter is dedicated to De los Ríos's personal library that survives to this day in the Heritage Library of...