Brock's and Current Affairs - The Battle of Manila Bay

Wednesday, 30 May 2018


Frank Brock's father Arthur Brock became the best known pyrotechnist in the world.  Dubbed the "Firework King" by the press, he was an outstanding marketeer and in an era long before cinema news films or TV he supplied his audiences with unique firework pictures.  Inserted into the evening's programme they would depict a recent event and would garner many column inches in national and local newspapers.  The Battle of Manila Bay is a good example.  Immediately war broke out between the USA and Spain on 20th April 1898, Arthur Brock got to work.

On Thursday May 19th, 1898 Brock's issued a press release:

Notes re FIRST DISPLAY of the Thirty-fifth Season of C.T.Brock and Co.’s uninterrupted connection with the Crystal Palace.

It had been the unremitting endeavour of the Crystal Palace Pyrotechnists to keep “CRYSTAL PALACE” FIREWORKS facile princeps by the constant introduction of novelties in mechanical and other devices, and by inventing new colours, aerial effects, etc., and, above all, by making the principal set piece, if possible, topical, artistic and true in every detail.

The Set Piece this season is a representation of the Battle of Manila Bay (No. 24 in the programme), which, besides being the most stupendous ever produced, is also the most complete in its approach to realism.  An endeavour has been made to show how the up-to-date armaments of the United States ships, the brilliant gunnery and seamanship of their crews, reduced the ships of Spain to battered, sinking wrecks, while, at the same time, a tribute has been paid to the memory of the gallant Spanish seamen, who, to their lasting fame, so gloriously died fighting for their country.


This stupendous set piece is by far the largest ever produced, being nearly 700ft. in length.

On the right, as we face the picture, the American Fleet is seen steaming along in line, the Olympia (flag ship), leading, and, the others being in the following order: Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, Boston.

On the left, in the distance, is the Cavite fort, and standing round Manila Bay further to the left are Spanish vessels, Reina Christiana, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Don Juan de Austria, Castilla, Valasco, Mindanao, El Cano, General Lezo, and Marques de Duero.


Is commenced by a sullen roar as the Olympia opens fire with her 8in. forward guns.  The Cavite forts are blown up; the Don Antonia de Ulloa sinks slowly, while her crew, under colours nailed to the mast, fiercely fight into the arms of death.  Masts and spars are falling, huge rents and breaches appear in hull and sails, tangled rigging and smoking chaos testifying to the deadly work of the American projectiles.  The Castilla now catches fire, and fearful explosions rend her frame as the awful carnage continues.  Amid the crash of broadsides and the scream of shot and shell hurtling through the air, the Spanish ships slowly sink or become battered wrecks.


Newspaper article response:

"Tit-Bits – May 21 1898


Sinking a Fleet in Two and a Half Minutes

The thousands of people who visit the Crystal Palace on the first night of the firework season will be fortunate in viewing a descriptive picture of the recent Battle of Manila.

Mr. Brock, who is world-renowned for the unique character and novelty of his firework displays, is ever on the search for something up-to-date and when it was known that war had been declared, he immediately decided that a grand firework display should be given at the Crystal Palace, illustrating the first big battle of which news should come to hand.  As soon as it was heard that an important engagement had taken place off Manila, preparations were immediately made to obtain the fullest and most minute particulars of the scene of the battle and the ships that took part in it.

The inquiries were successful and two artists on the staff of the company immediately set to work and sketched an outline drawing of the battle.  This, of course, was drawn to scale, and after completion, the work in connection with the display was at once commenced.  Sections of the picture were drawn in chalk, on the floor of a shed specially built for the purpose, and after the artists had finished, a number of boys were set to work to construct in cane and laths the designs desired.  Frames made of laths, divided into equal squares, were then prepared, and on these the designs were fixed.

The set piece will be 690ft. (over an eighth of a mile) in length, and 70ft. in height.  A tremendous amount of woodwork is required, and the whole of the frames will extend to nearly 50,000 square feet.  For the last five weeks twenty carpenters have been at work on these, and another twenty men have been engaged in filling up and fixing on the fireworks.  Over ten miles of quick-match will be used, and nearly a million coloured lights will be consumed.  The fireworks burnt will weigh nearly 2000lb., and over thirty different shades of colours will be shown.

The scene as depicted on the frame will be an exact reproduction of the scene that took place in the Bay.  To the right will be seen the nine American ships, headed by the Olympia; and to the left, the fort and the line of Spanish ships, backed by the Bay.

The Spanish Fleet will, of course, be totally destroyed, and every moving incident in the now historical battle will be faithfully depicted; a life-like picture being given of a sinking of the Don Antonio de Ulloa, with colours flying, and the burning of the Castella.

Although this unique display will only last for two or three minutes, during that time no fewer than 500 shells will be thrown from the two fleets, and it will require the services of no fewer than 100 men to quicken the huge framework into a beautiful picture of fire-belching batteries and ships.  The total cost of this short encounter amounts to £500.”

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