On January 18th 1596, three ships set sail from Manila, captained by Juan Gallinato
and carrying 120 or 130 soldiers. The captain's ship, however, was thrown off course
by a storm and was forced to seek refuge in Malacca.
The ship with Bias Ruiz sailed up the river to the capital Phnom Phen. The third ship,
with Diogo Veloso on board, was shipwrecked in the estuary of Mekong, but Veloso
and his companions managed to save themselves and proceed towards the capital on
foot. When they reached Phnom Phen, they were faced with an entirely new situation from the one they had left. Their old friend and protector, King Satha, had been overthrown and had fled with his family to the North, to the kingdom of Laos. In his place was a cousin, the usurper Chung Prei, who had settled with his court just north of the capital, in the village of Srei Sathor.
Negotiations began between the two factions. The new King was protected by a guard
of Muslim Malays, and was suspicious of the bonds of friendship that tied the
Portuguese and the Spaniards to his rival.
The expedition set up camp in Phnom Phen, close to the ships. Suddenly, they saw
appearing on the river a large fleet of Chinese vessels.
(It is worth explaining at this point that the governor of the Philippines mentioned
above, Gomez Peres Dasmarinas, had been assassinated by the Chinese crewmen
aboard his galley. In retribution, his son had launched a bloody attack against the
inhabitants of the Chinese quarter in Manila.)
The Chinese sailors, well aware of the massacre suffered by their compatriots in
Manila, were preparing to attack the Christian ships. The Europeans, a total of 60
men, were joined by 20 Japanese Christians who were also in the town. Informed of
the impending attack, they decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on the enemy
vessels and set them ablaze. They then attacked the Chinese quarter of the town,
convinced that its inhabitants were involved in the plot.
Such violence did little to facilitate their relationship with a King already suspicious of
their intentions. Veloso asked for a reception with the King, and left for the Court with a
small group of men. The King refused to grant them an audience, and the atmosphere
became increasingly hostile. Knowing that the King planned to have them imprisoned,
Veloso and Ruiz decided to risk everything, and attacked the palace on the night of
May 11th. In the ensuing confusion, the gunpowder storage room was blown up and
the King was killed. Despite momentarily controlling the situation, our adventurers
were surrounded by enemies and so were forced to retreat to Phnom Phen.
It is there that captain Gallinato, finally recovered from the storm in Malacca, found
them. Deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation, he ordered reparations to
be paid to the court and to the Chinese community and ordered the Europeans to
leave. Their ships set sail down the river Mekong in June 1596.
The story might have ended here! Perhaps... but not for men like Diogo Veloso and
Bias Ruiz. Upon arriving at the coast, they convinced the captain to let them disembark in Faifo (today Hoi-An in south Vietnam) on August 21st.
They proposed to travel by land, crossing what is today Vietnam and Cambodia, as far
as the mountains of Laos, to reach the exiled King. In the middle of the rainy season,
with temperatures around 35°C (95°F), facing malaria and dense forests full of wild
animals, they made a truly remarkable journey. (I recommend that the curious reader
pick up an Atlas to see the enormous distances we are speaking of). They reached
Viantiane, in Laos, in October, where they were informed that King Satha had died a
few months earlier. Instead of being discouraged, they convinced his son and the widowed Queen to return with them to Cambodia, which was in a state of upheaval with various pretenders fighting for power. In May 1597 the new King, Preah Reachea II, ascended to the throne. Beside him on that occasion were almost certainly our two adventurers, proud to see the outcome of their efforts.
It was to be the high point of their careers. The new King showered them with honors
and titles and made them governors of two provinces. Diogo Veloso was given
But the new King was also weak and indolent. His court, dominated by the Malayan
guards, was ripe with intrigue and conspiracy. The King asked Malacca and Manila for
help to keep him in power, and at this moment, for the first time, our two friends did not
see eye to eye. Diogo Veloso insisted on securing Malaccan-Portuguese support;
Bias Ruiz preferred Manilan-Spanish aid. In August 1598 Embassies were sent to both
cities. A new expedition thus departed from Manila on September 17th 1598. One of
its ships disappeared and another was blown to the Chinese coast. The third reached
Phnom Penh in October 1598. In early 1599 a Japanese ship also arrived, led by a
young Luso-Japanese captain called Gouveia. Faced with the ever-deteriorating
situation, Veloso and Bias Ruiz made peace with each other and set off towards the
Court, in Srei Sathor, where they tried to force the King to take decisive action.
However, the situation was uncontrollable. While our friends were at the court, a fresh
conflict broke out in Phnom Phen between the Spaniards and the Malays. Due to the
general hostility, the King recommended to Veloso that he should leave and go back to
his province where he would be safe. Instead, Veloso travelled to Phnom Phen by
river in order to join the Christians under attack. There were violent clashes and a
general massacre of the Europeans.
Among the dead was Diogo Veloso. It was the summer of 1599. The King did not outlive his faithful servants by many weeks, having been assassinated at the end of the same year. The memory of Diogo Veloso was still very much alive in Cambodia in the early
twentieth century, where he was remembered for his great courage and loyalty towards
the Kings he served. In 1934, the French governor of Cambodia had a bust erected in Neak Luong with an inscription that reads: 'Diogo Veloso - Ne a Amarante, Portugal. Au Service du Roi do Cambodje Prah Alamkara, epousa sa cousine, l'alda a reconquerir son royaume sur un usurpateur. Recu en recompense la province de Ba Phnom - Mourat en Combat en 1599:
The challenge remains for Portuguese historians to piece together the gaps in Diogo Veloso's life story. Amarante's authorities will certainly be keen to endorse such research, the same way they hope to collaborate with the authorities in Cambodia to
restore a school that will carry the name Veloso, one of the most adventurous figures in
the long history of the Portuguese in Asia.