Manila, Philippines

The Fleet would visit the Philippines twice, once before going to Japan, and then afterwards for gunnery practice and a chance at liberty.  The Islands of the Philippines were under American control and a military presence had been maintained with the U.S. Army and Navy since the end of the Spanish American War.  American naval forces were always in Manila and used the facilities to support the fleet.  During the cruise, the fleet visited the ports of Manila and Olongapo before and after the visit to Japan, October 2-10 and October 27- December 1, 1908.  Upon arrival in Manila on October 2nd they faced the tale end of a cholera epidemic that had caused more than 12,500 deaths in the previous 2-months.  After a 3,500 mile transit from Australia there would be no liberty.


The local reception committee was upset having spent $170,000.00 on arches, bunting and perishable food to feed the crowds of a naval parade.  Unfortunately, no food or drink would be purchased ashore or for re-supplying the ships.  The ships took on coal and departed after one week.



There was at least one photographer who saw an  opportunity during the first visit.  The above series of real photo post cards are quite nice.  The photographer must have been out in a boat on several days to get each ship in the best lighting.  I have found 10 in this series so far, but I imagine that there are more to the set.

In mid-October the fleet headed north for it's port visit at Yokohama.  During this transit the encountered a large typhoon that damaged ships and scattered them to fight the heavy seas.  The set of postcards below are from the Frank Lesher collection, probably purchased from one of the card sellers that was a crew member on one of the ships.

leave here for home

"Manila P.I., November 9, 1908, We are at target practice just at present.  Everyone is well in the fleet.  Leave hear for home Dec. 1.  Love to all, G.G. S."  Sent to Bremerton, Washington through FPO San Francisco December 11, 1908."  Street Scene, Malabon, P.I. showing buggy and rail lines.  Malabon is located north of Manila and is named for its edible bamboo shoots.


the reception at manila

In honor of the Officers of the American Battleship Fleet the General Committee of Arrangements arranged a reception on Friday, October 2nd, 1908.  Because of the outbreak the cholera epidemic it was rescheduled for November 27, 1908.  Apparently the General Committee did not have enough time to reprint the invitations and chose to add the small slip of paper shown at right with the envelope.

The reception was held at the Malacanang Palace, the official residence and principal workplace of the leader of the government.  In 1898, when the islands were turned over to the United States it became the residence of  the American Governor, Wesley Merritt.  In 1900 Arthur MacArthur Jr. (father to Douglas) became the military Goveror-General of the American occupied Philippines.

This invitation was addressed to LCDR McDougall, USS Virginia.


christian herald

There are not many articles regarding the first visit of the fleet to Manila.  This addition of the Christian Herald, a New York magazine had a small article and this fine illustration of "The American Battleship Fleet Entering Manila Bay" by G. W. Peter.

"A great reception had been planned, but the fearful  epidemic of cholera prevented the carrying out of this plan, so that the visit of the fleet to the Philippines, instead of being full of pride and glory, was filled with infinite pathos.  The fleet in the harbor of Manila was illuminated - the hulls and masts were outlined in electric lights and the searchlights were sweeping the sky-but this is the only part of the original program which was carried out."

Not much is know about G. W. Peters.  He worked out of New York City and captured many of the scenes of the city including immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, and the New York subway.  The other illustrations that I have found are line drawings and black and white illustrations.  This is the only item that I have seen where he added color to the drawing.



While Second Squadron was enjoying the hospitality of the Empress of China in Amoy, the other half of the fleet returned to Subic Bay to conduct gunnery practice.  On November 8th the fleet regrouped and entered Manila Bay.  It was Sperry's wish to visit the city but the epidemic was worse than before.  American prestige was suffering as the Manila Times stated that Admiral Sperry behavior "has persisted in a line of  boorish and rude to the extreme, and was absolutely unwarranted and unpardonable."   This caused Sperry to eventually allow sailors ashore to limited areas and the mode became better.

The photographs above, from the M. R. Battey collection, show the sites sailors got to experience when they did get ashore.  Photo #9 is a view showing the arrival gate from a street view looking down towards the water.  Another photo shows the pavilion that was erected during the fleet.  Many are from around the City and Fort Santiago.  Some of the photos seem to be taken from a launch showing the people with welcome signs on the bridge and lining the side of the canals as they passed.



Ben & Nellie

The collection of cards between Ben & Nellie start from before the cruise until well after  These are the some of the cards from Manila.  More more of their correspondence follow this link.


From the Frank Lesher Collection:

Manila, PI November 11, 1908

Dear Papa,   We arrived at Olongopo which is 60 miles noroth of Manila at 11:30 on the last the 7th of November.  It is a beautiful harbor being only about 6 miles wide at its widest point.  It is here that the dry dock Dewey is  located.  I got a sight of it from a distance of about 2 miles.  We fired four shots from each of the 6", 8" and 12" guns to see if the sights were properly adjusted then left there Sunday night and arrived in Manila Bay Monday morning.  We are now hard at it with operations for target practice which comes off on the ship on the 18th last.

Have not heard from you for several weeks but am looking for a letter on the mail  which arrives on the 16th by the way of Japan.

The Weather is intensely warm here and we will be glad to get underway on December 1st and be homeward bound.  We ordered a permanent 500 foot long to be made in China.  This is called a homeward bound pennant and is flown at the main mast as we pass a ship or enter or leave port on our way home.

Our last week here will be devoted to liberty for the men in order to allow them to get ashore.  The quarantine is  raised and I think we will be able to see Manila.  "Tommy Burus" our bear mascot died from cramps on our way down from Amoy and was buried at sea, being weighed down by grate bars.  I think he was poisoned as he howled around the quarters, where they kept him all night.

The moonlight nights are very beautiful here at this time of the year.  One sees many falling comets around this latitude at this time of the year.  They have noticeably long tails, the longest I have ever seen.

Tell Mother I have two beautiful Chinese brass vases about 8" in height and 6" wide in which she can put two pots of ferns or other flowers.  The outside of each is hand carved in beautiful shape.  Each vase a little black wooden stand to set in.  I got a brass Chinese dinner gong for you to call all hands to breakfast in the morning.   It has a good tone and is 10-inches in diameter.  It sounds somewhat like the ones they used to beat at the Hbg AA Station and will I am afraid raise all the neighbors.  Will, I will close for tonight as news is scarce around here.  Heard of Taft being elected on the afternoon of the 4th about 4:20 pm which would be about the same time am in Pa.

Love to Mother, Affect. Frank


Homeward bound pennant

In the letter home above, Frank describes the homeward bound pennant they had made in Manila.  The postcard at right shows the pennant, presented to the YMCA in Norfolk, Virginia, it was draped around the lobby to decorate the space.  As the signs read, "615 feet long and all silk.



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