Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (9)

Letter No. 9

Jaro, near Iloilo

Nov. 23rd, 1856

My dear Nanny:

Here’s the state of things no less than two months have gone by since I last wrote you on September 15th. The opportunities of writing to Manila in October were nil – too, early in the month – and in November owing to the coasting craft being laid up till the typhoon season is over, there have been none until now, when the valiant brigantine “Soterrania” is going to venture through the Silangan (Straits) to Manila. We had a semi-typhoon here on the 15th ult. which did not do much damage; but a tremendous hurricane visited Manila on the 27th, and did some wild and whirling work for a few hours. Five large ships were driven on the shore, all the bamboo houses blown away, trees torn up, lamp posts hurled down, boats and small craft upset, watery graves made, etc. are some of the items against old Boreas, blustering railer, the windows of K & Co’s house at Santa Ana were blown in and the house rendered uninhabitable.

I broke off my last (letter) in an abrupt manner which, had the matter been of any interest, might have led you to sing out as Macbeth did to the witches: “Stop! You imperfect speaker, tell me more,” but as it wasn’t, will say no more at present about those defunct little angelitos (angels). Two or three days ago I had the pleasure of receiving yours of July 15th written at Croft with an idyllic sketch of your existence there in that flowery and fruity month. Your remarks about those young juveniles who have taken their places at “nature’s banquet” since I left home some nine or ten years ago, and who will be quite young women by the time I get back, are interesting to the avuscular mind. As for the conspiracy between you and Mary to elect me to the dignity of godfather to the unconscious little Florence Newcombe I cannot but think – though highly flattered by this mark of what’s-his-name – that you have made a very poor selection as regards not only the religious but the worldly benefits which godfathers are supposed to bestow on their spiritual charges. However, “ustedes cuidado[i]!” as the Philippine Indian say apropos of everything. In the meantime it won’t be very difficult in this semi-savage place to renounce the “vain pomp and glory of the world” as I see I am called upon to do by the form of ministration of baptism in the name of F.N. The last two months have glided away in a quiet peaceful sort of way, though I fear with far too little of either mental or bodily exertion, unless reading all manner of things from seven in the morning till nine at night and writing to Manila might be considered as a substitute for one, and a walk of two or three miles a day an equivalent for the other.

Of real positive work I have done nothing, and in that respect may apply to myself the reproach of everlasting old Titus about losing not only one, but sixty days. To this old Montaigne would reply “Quoy! n’avez vous pas vescu![ii]” and really at times one begins to be of the opinion of that old Representative, and to think that when a fellow gets through a certain amount of time without any extraordinary evils, he may congratulate himself and say “Well, there’s so much got through all right.” This view of the case is particularly attractive when the thermometer is continually hovering between 80 and 90 degrees F.

My vehicle not having arrived yet from Manila, and the road between this place and Iloilo being frequently in very bad condition, I have been very seldom at the seaport lately, and consequently have not seen much of the family at Government House. The last time I was there, a few days ago, the charming Carmen, Mrs. Carles and her husband and Don Juan Baroda started off by moonlight at 10 o’clock, “and into the moonlight they galloped abreast” on native ponies, rather to the trepidation of Carmen, who has only lately commenced doing equestrian. I find my position of being the only foreigner here rather awkward and triste (sad) sometimes. Spanish and Anglo-Saxon ideas are so radically different about many things that there can seldom be any complete sympathy, and I have never formed anything approaching to a friendship with any Spaniard except one, and he was a South American. Not that there is a lack of some decent fellows among them but the two races don’t amalgamate easily. John Bull is too angular and insular in most cases, but the Don on the other hand has generally seen little of the world beyond his own exceptional country, and has grafted on his own original stock an undercurrent of French ideas about everything else. Most of the Spaniards at Iloilo are, speaking from a social point of view, of a third or fourth rate sort, many of them ex-mates of vessels and that sort of thing who have left the sea and taken to small trading operations in the province – worthy, useful covies enough, but not exactly Admirable Crichtons.[iii] The most congenial agreeable people I have yet met with are the Governor and Lt. Governor, the under of the latter, the “interventor” of the Customhouse, one or two of the medicos and some of the naval officers who, however, are seldom long at the point of the station. As yet, however, I have not made the acquaintance of all the folks, but when I get settled at Iloilo (which I believe will be about the month after next when the house is finished) I intend to become more of a “man-about-town.”

In the meantime I have a fine opportunity of practicing another of the ideas of the Ancient Representative Man aforesaid “Or, puisque nous entreprenons de vivre seuls, et de nous passer de compaigne faisons nostre contentment despender de nous: desprenons nous de toutes les liasons qui nous attachment a aultruy: gainons sur nous de pouvoir a escient vivre seuls, et vivre a nostre ayse.”[iv] A medical friend in Manila saddled me before I left with a lot of drying paper, a vasculum, and other apparati for collecting plants, and I have latterly been making a small collection for him which is to be sent to Prof. Balfour of Edinburgh. Generally I come home of a morning with a handful of plants, greatly to the astonishment of the natives, who can’t comprehend the use of picking a lot of weeds. There are a good many very valuable plants in the Philippines and this island which as I mentioned to you before is the very isle where –

“Universal Pan,

Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,

Led on the eternal spring.”

is especially thick with ambrosial growth and “groves whose rich trees weep odorous gums and balm.”

If I were a scientific botanist and chemist I should doubtless find out many important things; but not being either, and not having talent or patient industry enough to become either the one or the other, I cannot immortalize myself in that direction. Talking of want of industry, Gilfillan mentioned in his “History of a Man” an amusing though affected instance of a fellow student excusing himself to Professor Milne for not performing the prescribed exercise, on account of the “invincible, incessant, and ineradicable laziness of his nature.”

I should like to show you the plaza of Jaro on a market day at about 2 in the afternoon when the movimiento reaches its apogee. On Thursdays the usually empty stalls are furnished and decked out by their proprietors with attractive goods. Showy handkerchiefs, dresses, gauze and blond kerchiefs of the head, lace, ginghams (all of a check or plaid pattern), sarongs, Chinese silk, trouserings, cotton twist, jacanettes, muslins, blue and white shirtings, etc. etc. with a sprinkling of hardware, glassware and “all sorts” calculated to overcome the aboriginal mind and make it shell out its hard-earned reals and quartos. These stalls represent capitals of from L50 to L500 in stock. Temporary shops of bamboo and of palm leaves are also improvised for the sale of different native products comprising of leaf tobacco in assorted bundles, earthenware, woven baskets, hats of straw and bamboo, mats, hemp of a very fine quality used in the native textures, coarse cakes of sugar, rice, dried beans, pease and other vegetables, pineapple leaf fibres, cotton twist made from native cotton, oils, vegetable pitch, cowries, skins, nondescript eatables and other heterogenous rummy-looking things. The square becomes a perfect babel on market days, and, looking out from my windows which command the whole scene, you behold a congeries of confused groups where camisas are mingled with sarongs, civilians with principals, sombreros with pañuelos, and the subdued-looking Indian damsel with the more noble and self-asserting (though somewhat porcine) mestizo can’t stop to explain those mysterious terms just used.

Sallying forth into the scene of action you forthwith find yourself tumbling over long rows of brown and canary coloured damsels seated on the ground each with a small heap of silk and cotton sarongs (a sort of large pillow slip open at both ends in which the women envelop themselves), kerchiefs, trouserings, etc. of native fabric. Besides these vendors of indigenous goods you also observe swarms of other daughters of “our general mother” perambulating the different shops and offering their delicate piña and sinamay goods to the critical examination of the mestizo purchasers. Conceive this with the usual gabble of a multitude intent on the absorbing process of buying cheap and selling dear, under the shadow of a thousand umbrellas with which they vainly endeavor to ward off the glare of the noonday sun when the tall cross in the plaza scarcely leaves an atom of shadow. Conceive the bright colors, and the shifting groups, the strings of jaded horses and oxen, the confused rows of primitive vans and vehicles, the church tower looking scorched up and ready to topple down with the heat, the holy friar leaning wearily out of the convent window, and then conceive the done up, irresolute-looking figure of Nicholas Loney mooning across the square, armed with a silk umbrella, a self-expatriated Briton, the only specimen of his race on the island.

Some of the native textures made in this province are very beautiful, that is, as to quality. The designs, though in some instances good, are not as a rule in very good taste, but it is surprising what admirable articles the women turn out of these rude looms. I have heard the number of looms in this province estimated at 50,000, but I think this is rather over the mark. All the female population appears to be employed in weaving, and in almost every house there are three or four looms, in some as many as a dozen; but I am wasting all my available writing ground on something very dry like statistics.

A few days ago I received a polite necrological invitation as follows: “The Señorita Doña Trinidad Fernandez and Mamlanda has died. Her brothers, sisters and friends beg you to commend her to God and to assist at her funeral rites which will be performed tomorrow between 7 and 8 in the morning at the church of Iloilo, and accompany the body to the cemetery of Arevalo; for which favour they will eternally grateful. Iloilo, November 16th, 1856. Señor Don Nicholas Loney, V.C. de S.M.V.”[v]

Accordingly next morning at six I donned my black coat and trousers whisked a black ribbon round my neck, and trundled off in a hired carriage with two black horses to Iloilo. There I found the whole Spanish population assembled, and a lot of the mestizos also, near the house of the defunct whose brother is a government employee. Accompanied by the Governor we all went up the house, and after waiting some time three native priests arrived dressed up in all the ecclesiastical finery of the Catholic Church. Their long under robes were made of the finest piña beautifully embroidered with large flowers. They commenced chanting over the body which lay on a trestle in an open coffin in a room, and then a great number of long wax candles were lighted and one given to each of us, we then formed in a double line in the street, and the body still exposed was conveyed between us to the Church. It is the custom here not to put on the lid of the coffin until the ceremony at the church is over. Señorita Trinidad I noticed had a long white dress with shoues and white stockings, and a lace cap with a wreath of white artificial flowers and pale green leaves; she was 22 years of age, rather tall, her face was disfigured by the old king of terrors (smallpox) but the features appeared to be good. She died of dropsy aggravated by almost total inactivity. It was supposed she was in love with someone in Manila, as she was continually wanting to go back there, and used to sit constantly in her chair chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy.

Arrived at the church the coffin was placed on the top of a high temporary cenotaph where the white lace cap of flowers appeared in strange contrast to the black coffin and funeral glare of the long waxen candles. There were about 50 candles ranged in large carved candlesticks on the cenotaph, and the saints’ shrines were all lighted up in a similar way. The priest’s little choristers chanted in Latin, incense was wafted about, holy water sprinkled with a silver instrument, mysterious fumigations went on at the altar, and I and the rest stood round with lighted candles which were extinguished and thrown on the ground and relighted at particular parts of the service. Several times we all knelt down for a few moments on the stone floor, and after about an hour had passed in this way, left the church. Outside everybody lighted up big cigars and started off for Arevalo, a town about five miles distant. I went with Ortiz and two other fellows in a carriage and four, the corpse was put in another vehicle, and the whole proceeding drove at a gallop to the churchyard. There we saw the coffin bestowed in a niche built in the wall.

The churchyard of Arevalo appeared to be a new one, and the niches had few tenants. The only one with an inscription was the burial place of an Englishman named Wyndham which bore a legend in Spanish signifying, “Here lies the body of Don Guilliamo Wyndham, a native of England who died here on the 10 November 1855.” He had lived for a long time in Sooloo (Sulu) where he was well known, and possessed great influence with the people there who made him a “Datu” or chief. Getting into difficulties with the Spanish Government at the time of their attack on the place when most of his property was destroyed his health gave way under a series of vexations and he died of dysentery at Iloilo leaving a mestizo wife and daughter. All this, I am afraid, will be very uninteresting to you and I will wind up the lugubrious tale by adding that I returned to Iloilo, breakfasted at Ortiz, under the shadow of the saints formerly mentioned to you, and got home to my den at about two in the afternoon.

Last month I had an invitation of a very different kind. It was in an official form and conveyed an intimation that the day being the Queen’s birthday (Isabel II) the Governor hoped I would accompany him at dinner. I duly arrayed myself in a blue coat with V.R. buttons and a white neckcloth. It was a portentious sight to see me leading in the gobernadora to dinner and doing the amiable generally. But fancy sitting in that mortal coat and choker and patent leather boots from 6 till 11. These are sacrifices which one offers up on the altar of an unappreciating country.

I find that postal considerations prevent my replying to Mary’ note, tell her that I accept with enthusiasm the godfathership and will write next mail. I have another goddaughter at Singapore called Annie Loney Ker, a small thing two years old. Last night I was invited by the priest of the adjacent village of Manduarriao to the feast of the pueblo. Went to the convent where there were lots of people, a supper and a dance. What would they think at Plymouth of dancing, music and supper in a religious building with eight or ten priest looking on, smoking big cigars and taking a hand at whist! It was an animated affair, though the rain prevented many of the village belles from coming. I looked on and sipped a glass of beer and talked Gammon to different fellows. Space is up and this absurd letter must do till next time, till then and always I am

Your affectionate brother,


P.S. Dreamed last night that I was at a splendid ball with Mary, and in wandering through spacious rooms and marble halls, lost her in the crowd. What does this signify?

[i] Meaning “it’s up to you.”

[ii] “heavens, have you never lived.”

[iii] James Crichton, “the admirable,” (1560-1687) traveled to Paris in 1577 where he is said to have disputed on scientific questions in 12 languages. He served in the French army, was a staunch Catholic and a good swordsman. He was killed in a brawl in Mantua, Italy. His title of Admirable originated from Sir Thomas Urquhart’s narrative of his career.

[iv] “Since we have undertaken to live alone and do without the company of others, let us make our happiness depend on ourselves only: let us cut all the ties that bind us to others: let us get such a grip of ourselves that we can deliberately live alone, and live at ease.”

[v] The initials stand for “Vice Consul of Her Majesty, Victoria.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (8)

Letter No. 8

Jaro, Iloilo

September 15th, 1856

My dear Nanny,

On the 16th of last month I wrote thee a feeble scrawl in which I brought my travels’ history up to the point of my settling down in this web-weaving town – thereby conferring an imperishable celebrity on this house. I have nothing very tremendous to record since my last. The last mail which was received here on the 17th of August with dates from England to June 9th did not bring me a letter from home. I imagine that if any was sent by the June mail it must have miscarried. During the last month I have been leading a queer sort of indescribable life. The weather has been very wet and boisterous and there has been no such thing as getting out of doors except at rare intervals. When it rains in the tropics, the streets – particularly in a flat place like this – become inundated with water which on subsiding leaves a delightful stratum of mud. Fortunately, however, a few hours of sunshine suffice to make the roads walkable again, and sometimes towards evening or early in the mornings I have been able to do my accustomed peripatetics, or cut over to the convent, or make a descent upon Iloilo. At other times I am restricted to perambulating up and down the sala, reading, and occasionally doing a little writing. Wouldst know how the insipid creature hath lived and moved during the last two days?

September 13th. After dinner set out on foot for Iloilo, the full moon scarcely visible behind a dull bank. Clouds shed a sort of mournful light across the wide plain of rice fields. Most of the fields partly covered with water shining with a muddy lacklustre dullness. Nothing to be heard but the monotonous creeping of the water through the banks of the higher fields into the lower. Met scarcely anyone except four native skirry[i] bringing along a malefactor with his arms tied behind his back, and when I was approaching Iloilo, was overtaken by Notary Don Joaquin Montero, who gave me a lift in his vehicle. Went up to Don Joaquin Ortiz and found him and Apalategui at cards. I talked to Ortiz about things in general, and arranged to send for my ten cases ex “Rosita” on Monday. He says he is going to build another godown and is getting timber ready for constructing a vessel of 300 tons to be employed between this town and Singapore. I am glad to see these symptoms of an extending trade.

Ortiz is an Andalusian who came to Iloilo twenty-one years ago, married a mestizo, and had gradually, by making specs in tobacco and trading with Manila, accumulated a large capital. His wife is of Chinese descent, and the features of her sons also show traces of Celestial origin with Iberian modifications. The house contains some good rooms, and some good furniture badly arranged. One large room is hung round with immense portraits of pictures of different saints, sent out from Spain – stern, austere, olive-colored San Antonios, San Joaquins and San Geronimos. Ortiz is a lively, good-humoured individual of about 55, with Spanish features and a straightened forehead, given to drawing the long bow to any extent, and full of a pardonable bit obstrusive vanity regarding his riches, trade, and general extensiveness. Went afterwards to the Governor’s house where I remained till half past ten, returning home in the Lieutenant Governor’s drag with that functionary, Vita, the Government surveyor, and Lopez, the commander of the gunboat station.

Present at the Governor’s were Rosello, a Lieutenant attached to the station, Manuel Roldan a ditto ditto, Rafael de Comas, the Lieutenant Governor Antonio Vita, the surveyor aforesaid Lopez, the gallant commander aforesaid Relar, the comptroller of the inert Custom house, the Governor’s father, Don Jose, the Gobernadora Doña Federica, her sisters Carmen and Dolores Kierulf (this name means in Danish “water wolf” I believe). A curious custom prevails in the Philippines in Spanish society, of ranging eight or ten chairs in two straight lines on each side of the principal window of the sitting room, the idea being to allow the sitters therein to get the benefit of the current of air from the window. When a stranger enters the room, the masculine part of the society usually gets up and bows, or goes through a process of individual hand-shaking with the new arrival. As for the wimmin’ they never shake hands with the men, and would consider it a great impropriety to do so, or to walk arm in arm, except with a relative or very intimate friend. Amidst this politeful company behold the unpolished Nick, squatted down in a low armchair alongside the amiable Dolores, with whom he opens a feeble conversation in the usual meteorological manner of a Briton.

“How very much it has rained lately.”

“Yes, we have not been able to go out the last week.”

Carmen: “How do you get on in Jaro, Loney?”

I.“Oh, well enough, the rain makes me rather too much of a prisoner, but I manage to exist, how is Doña Federica?”

C. “Much better today, thank you, she has been out of her room since yesterday, and will be here directly.”

I.”Nothing in particular. Bell sends his regards to you all, they are much in want of rain for the young rice crops, and to cool the air.”

C. “Well, I am sure we could spare them a little of our wet weather.”

I. ”Yes, but my letters were dated August 21st, and we had the same sort of suffocating weather as the Manila-ites at that time; they send me a few cases of goods by the “Rosita,” so if you want any handkerchiefs or anything in that line I can supply you ad limitum.”

C. “Ah now if they had sent some pretty sayas we should be glad to take some, there is going to be a saya ball soon and Dolores and I intend going as mestizas.

I. “I am sorry they have not sent any, but I shall write for some. These goods have arrived at a bad time, during the rainy season, and I did not expect any so soon. Did you hear that Mr. Butler [ii]has been buried in Manila? His body arrived on the “Queen of England” from China. His wife Doña Josefa had it sent out from England.”

D. “How foolish not to leave the poor man’s bones in his own country.”

C. “Do you know if he was a Catholic?”

I. “I don’t know, but presume he was so nominally, or he could not have married Mrs. B.”

And so on – a heap of “falaises” pretty much in that style. With reference to the familiar use of my surname as above by the charming Carmen, I should remark that after one or two interviews the Spanish Señoras generally address a person by his surname, sinking the formal “Señor.” Sayas are a peculiar dress worn by the mestizas, they are tied around the waist, and over them is worn a jacket or skirt made of the fibres of the pineapple plant.

September 14th. Read most of the day Captain Julien de la Graviere’s “Voyage Chine,” a very good work. His descriptions of those places in China where I have been are well written, without the exaggeration which most French travellers usually commit, and the view he takes of Chinese politics at the time, 1847 to 1850, seems to be clearsighted and just. He also has three or four good chapters on the Philippines worth reading. The description of the appearance of the Bay and City of Manila must seem good to anyone who has seen them.

At five my mestizo friend Cornelio Melliza of Molo came, and after dinner we drove in his carriage to Molo, passing through the populous pueblo of Mandurriao, along a road bordered nearly all the way with houses on each side, stuck in amidst palm trees and dense tropical vegetation. Remained a couple of hours at Melliza’s (who has a good house at Molo where live his wife and family and his father-in-law, an old blind man, asthmatic but lively, intelligent and full of conversation). They know of some gutta percha trees (called in the Bisayan language “natu”) and I urged them to exploit the juice and send as much as possible to Manila.

Cornelio is going to drive me over on Monday to Oton, a town locally famous for its manufacture of sinamay,[iii] silk and cotton sarongs, napkins, tablecloths, etc. (Monday is the market day, and I daresay the sight will be interesting to the commercial eye). My ten cases of goods arrived from Iloilo brought along by an imposing array of two carts drawn by buffaloes, and one drawn by a reddish brown cow. Mrs. Maria Lopez (an Indian matron to whose husband I brought a letter of recommendation from her son-in-law, a Chinese friend at Manila) being then at my house, returning my visit, I took advantage of the circumstance to victimize the old lady and an unsuspecting friend who accompanied her, with goods to the value of $492.69 – and have subsequently sold another lot of $275 – thus getting quit of four and a half cases, but I am quite disappointed with these goods which are not well selected for the market. Consequently I have sold part of them off at once cheaply, but fear the remainder will stick for some time on hand.

I am now going to prepare for the dinner table, round the legs of which I perceive my three cats are roaming impatiently, rubbing their sides up against them as if to coax the banquet-bearing mahogany into a propitious mood. Two of the cats belonged to the family living here previously. The other is an unfortunate arrival which appeared on the stairs one day in a battered state enough to move the compassion of a Tamerlaine or Timon the Tartar. It now moves about gingerly on three legs, but is able to polish off a pretty good ration. The other two were in a half-famished condition, (Indians are passively cruel in this way to all animals), but are not getting into good case. The male cat has had one of its hind legs put entirely out of joint and, in walking, maneuvers along in an extraordinary manner. It is ridiculously scratching himself on the side of his game leg. Although his paw can’t reach the part affected he goes through the motions with great perseverance. He is, however, a rapacious scoundrel, and is constantly grabbing bits out of the other cat’s mouth, a treatment which she, being a meek resigned female, submits to without a murmur. She has two small kittens, one as black as night, the other tortoise-shell – in a deep box in my room. These she is always scheming to keep out of sight – covers ‘em up in a kind of bower made of old “Times” newspapers at the bottom of the box. I have destroyed the cunningly devised fabrics, however, so often that she has latterly given up making any more – but still persists in never going near the box if anybody is in the room, or if discovered in the neighborhood, pretending not to have the slightest connection with any box or case whatever.

There is an old dog also, who makes his appearance at meal times, almost as far gone as old Argus at the time when to him

Fate granted to behold

His lord when twenty tedious years had rolled.”

This old Argus when in receipt of the diurnal bone retires to the staircase and goes through a laborious munching. There is yet a further quadruped on the establishment in the shape of a little Manila poodle which was given me by the wife of the owner of the house, but which, never having seen a white face before, will have nothing to do with me on any terms except hostile ones. He has consequently taken refuge in the kitchen and leagued himself most devotedly to Domingo and his wife. Occasionally he comes to the door of the sitting room, and discharges a portentious, but very rapid growl, and hastens back to the kitchen. He is a very pretty little dog, with brilliant eyes, and full of pluck if he had anybody to back him in his warlike propensities. Every morning when I go through the culinary department on my way to the bathroom, he used to make predatory attacks on my heels, both in going and returning – lying in wait under a bench for that purpose. I have given orders to hit him on these occasions, and he is now far subdued as to content himself with faint growling when I pass.

As for the bipeds of the household, they get on tolerably well, though I hear that Blas’s former master more than suspected him of a tendency to emulate the thievish propensities which beset his celebrated namesake of Santillan[iv] soon after he set out from Oviedo. Domingo and his wife had a dreadful row this morning just before breakfast. I heard the young rascal hitting his little spouse several severe stingers with his slipper – but they appear to have made it up again now quite satisfactorily. Au reste, it’s the “custom of the country” for an Indian to administer to his better moiety an occasional thrashing.

Another curious custom of the country is the nonchalant way in which these children of the tropics have in every house of sleeping about anywhere on the floor. The happy pair above mentioned take up their nightly quarters on a mat at the landing place near the dining table, and Blas extend his muscular limbs on an old bit of matting without anything like a pillow, at the door of the sala. Talking of strange customs, I daresay you have heard of the poetical practice prevalent in some Roman Catholic countries of carrying young children to their graves to the sound of joyous music, their innocent souls being supposed to go at once to heaven. This is the case in Manila among the Indians and mestizos, where the parents can afford it, but I never saw it carried out to such extent as here. The music in this place is very good, much better than what you generally hear in provincial towns in England. On an average about four children per diem are brought to the church, just opposite my windows, where the priest performs the usual rites previous to their being conveyed to the cemetery. Each little yellowish-brown corpse is laid, dressed out in satin and embroidery, or bright cloth and spangles according to the pecuniary means or piety of the parents…

September 20th. Those perennial circumstances again, O.W.N.C. have prevented me from continuing the thread of linked dullness since the 13th, and now I am embarked upon such a sea of small letters for this craft (have written 7 pages all about styles of goods to one poor victim) and the time for sending ‘em away is so close upon the “nick” that I am compelled to leave those unfortunate little corpses awaiting burial on their biers until I can find time for their decent inhumation though I fear they’ll come and haunt me until this is done. But what I must find time for is to acknowledge receipts of your welcome letter of June 3rd. Primroses “May” and violets duly to hand – I have sniffed at these faded representations of the summers of my native land, and imagining the ghosts of a faint odour to proceed therefrom felt emotions similar to those experienced by poor Susan in London on hearing the larks in Wood street:

“Tis a smell of enchantment; what ails him? He sees

A mountain ascending, a vision of trees - .”

On glancing at the preceeding lines they seem to me to be made up of infantile stories about cats and dogs, and I must apologize for writing such meagre trash. Adios till next time and with love to Mary (I note the arrival of the small stranger at Croft), Harriet, Sophy, Aunt Kitty, and all the good people, I remain dear Nanny,

Your affectionate brother,


[i] Slang for policeman.

[ii] John Benjamin Butler was a pioneer British merchant in Manila, married to Maria Eustaquia Somes (1820-1882) known as Doña Mariquita. The reference here that he was married to Doña Josefa is probably an error. Butler was a devout Catholic, although his father was Bishop of Lichfield in England, and his remains may be found today in one of the crypts of San Agustin Church in Manila.

[iii] A transparent hemp fabric.

[iv] Gil Blas, the celebrated character in a Spanish picaresque novel.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (7)

Letter No. 7

Per “Solterranea” to Manila

Jaro, near Iloilo

Island of Panay

August 15th, 1856

Dear Nanny,

Time, Favonian – or rather Northerly and S. Western gales, and the good craft “Rosita” brought me at length to these secluded shores on the 31st of July last, A.D. 1856. Now as to the manner of my coming, briefly behold a few fragmentary notes:

Wednesday, July 23rd. Left Sta. Anna at 8 p.m. and drove to town. Took banca from the Escolta with W.R.G. and was on board the “Nueva Rosita” at nine, at her anchorage at the end of the mole. Descended into the cabin and was horrified at the number of cockroaches disporting themselves by the light of a feeble lamp. Night damp, and decks wet and slippery – waves creeping thunderously along the mole, and vessel yawing about in heavy ground, swell. Up anchor, out Kedge, and warped off-shore. Soon after 10, G. left and black Nox swallowed up his banner. Set sail about 11, and stood out for the island of Corregidor at the entrance of the Bay. Light air scarcely sent the ship through the water. After looking apathetically at the waning lights of the City of Manila and the long low line of fortification on the Santa Lucia beach, dined below, and turned in among the cockroaches.

Thursday, July 24th. Wind still light. Corregidor and Pulo Caballo not far off. Passed the “Rosalia” from Iloilo, and sundry other craft. Weather gloomy and showery. Read newspapers and loafed about. Towards evening passed Corregidor, steering towards the Island of Lubang along the coast of the Province of Cavite from which a fine aromatic smell comes off with the evening breeze. At sundown the crew performed the usual vespertinal chant, commencing with “Ave Maria” containing a lot about “vegando con felicidad a buen puerto[i] and ending with a general “buenas noches,” to the Arraez and all round. Driven from deck by the rain, turned in and slept in a troubled manner after a light row with Domingo about some things he couldn’t find. At midnight awoke, and found we were abreast of Lubang – a high dark mass on the starboard quarter. Corregidor light still visible in faint flasher in the distance. Towards morning torrents of rain – door of cabin closed, and smell of bilge water headachy.

Friday, July 25th. Rain ceased about six. Vessel off Mindoro, near Abra de Ilog, Maricaban, Lubang and Punta Santiago astern, and Puerto Galera and Green island in the far distance ahead. Morning fresh and beautiful, with a pleasant breeze right aft. The high mountains of this part of Mindoro thickly clothed with dark green trees, varied by small patches of light green “paramos[ii] towered up – considerably capped with white clouds, soled, immovable, like that refectory one in Wordsworth’s:

“That heareth not the land winds call,

And moveth altogether if it moves at all.”

Amongst those sombre forests on the hills, live tribes of peaceful savages of a race called “Manguianes.” Did a little declamation about “the wild savage whose untutored mind, etc.” and sang out for chocolate. Looked with interest at the entrance of Abra de Ilog where Napper and I and Padre Pedro arrived one day in a stray “colla” and narrowly escaped smashing on the bar. Here, too, was the long, weary, shingle-strewed with sand, and rock-encumbered beach, where Father Pedro and I toiled for days, “through break and through bier,” over beetling cliffs and down slippery precipices until we reached the convent of Puerto Galera, where old Father Antonio washed our aching legs and feet with warm brandy and water.

Thought I recognized the sport where I came upon an open-mouthed “Allegory on the banks of the Nile,”[iii] and retreated in dismay. There was the sandy strip bordered by green forest where we discovered the resting place of some Manguianes who had cleared off at our approach – formed by four sticks, and a few newly-cut palm branches from which the sap was still oozing. There we slaked our rabid thirst with water from a limpid river, hooked up in fresh leaves made like a cup by a peculiar native dodge. Passed Puerto Galera (where the British ship Banshee was last seen two years ago) near enough to hear the surf growling round the rocks and caught an inner glimpse of that beautiful port – evidently intended by nature to be a magnificent dock. Ecce! The Castillo of Suban (erected for defense against the pirates) gleaming white on the beach where the “pasaye” with Napper and myself went on shore in a seething surf and thought it was “all up with Squeers.” There is the thin line of pebbly beach over which we floundered, ankle deep for six hours as far as Calapan, and appeared to the petrified gaze of old Bañuelos in the guise of distressed mariners.

This was a delicious morning, had a fragrant cup of chocolate andsniffed the balmy breeze – the “amas deliciosas, herchidas de perfume” of the poet. Day hot and glaring, got my countenance scorched up by the sun. Night fine, breeze increasing from the N.E. Heavy thunder and blinding lightning. Puffy squalls off Mindoto. In gaff-topsail and fore-topgallant sail, triced up half of mainsail. Fine effect of dark clouds and occasional groups of stars. Water very phosphorescent, waves sparkling all round. Vessel leaving a track of milky light, and going at time fully ten knots during the squalls. Maestre de Campo island just ahead. Turned in at 10. Towards morning it rained like fury. Woke and found the cabin door left open and everything wet. Anathemized D. and proceeded to drag packages out of the wet. Arraez and crew working mysterious maneuvers and the former a cussin and a ‘swearing in the rain. He sleeps in a kind of kennel made of bamboo and palm leaves, on deck.

Saturday, July 26th. Morning fresh after the rain. Up at five, ship abreast of Islas de Tablas, and between it and the South end of Mindoro. Tablas seems a very fine island, but is little populated – has only three misiones. Turtle grass floating by. Chocolate is a divine beverage. Had some and felt inclined to smoke, but didn’t.

“Strong goodness of the weed, it will not be

One of the myriad slaves thou callest thine.”

Observed small village peculiarly situated on the conical summit of a hill. Tablas is three and a half miles long, ten and a half wide.

Read the newspapers. At half past 12 went on deck. Panay visible with clearly defined peaks beyond the Carabao Grande (Big Buffalo). Small banca with five unsophisticated natives from the island of Tablas dressed in lightsome garb, came off, and considerable trading transactions took place in fowl and plantains. Wind still fair and weather fine. Thermo in cabin at 2 p.m. 87 Fahrenheit. Flying fish popping up all about. Two brigantines working up towards Mindoro. In evening abreast of Sibuyan and Romblon. Here we go (to paraphrase Milton):

“Fast sailing from Mindoro and the Isles,

Of Tablas and Romblon, whence merchants bring

Their skinny fowls, we on the trading flood

Through the wide Bernardino to the Cape,

Fly, stemming nightly to Panay.

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,

And ye that on the sands with printless foot

Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly hum

When he comes back.”

Towards evening wind died away. Working slowly up along Sicogon towards Pan de Azucar (Sugar Loaf). Old Arraez in a growling mood.

Monday, July 28th. At daylight close to Pan de Azucar, a picturesque island to one of those conical peaks crowded with feathery foliage to the very summit, this prosaic name has been given by some sordidly minded individual who has also called the small island adjacent the “sombrero” (hat). We are now fairly within the small archipelago called the Silanga – a series of green islands of great beauty enclosing an almost unruffled sea. A few houses observable on the shore, and in front a line of fishing stakes. At the opposite island observed a boat from which a few natives emerge, and stalking round a belt of mangroves disappear mysteriously into the woods. At night strange forest sounds come off – queer croakings of birds, and cries of nondescript animals. Woke at 12 and walked the deck till 1.

Tuesday, July 29th. This morning weather still fine – wind from same contrary quarter. Weighed and stood slowly out towards Isla de Negros, working between it and the south end of Tagubanyan. Hailed a native boat with five indigenes, transactions struck up for some large eggs of light brown colour, each wrapped up in a palm leaf. The faces of these men had an innocent, earnest look, as if they had little communion with civilized man. At 12 dead calm. Myriads of fish twinkling all round the vessel during the whole afternoon, and occasionally a dread apparition of three or four sharks. At five heavy squall with rain. Rained all night, cockroaches terrific.

Wednesday, July 30th. Fine day, wind still dead ahead. Working up between Panay and the Island of Negros. (There is a volcano constantly emitting smoke on one of the peaks of Negros).

Sunday, July 27th. Begins with fierce weather. At five this morning we are just abreast of the two Zapatos and Zapatillo (Two shoes and little shoe). High land of Sibuyan just visible, faintly defined in the distance astern – ahead the Greater and Lesser Giants – Tirtolo and Obiuya on either side. Capiz (the chief town of the province of Capiz in Panay) we have passed during the night. Conical peak of the island of Pan de Azucar (sugar loaf) visible over the lowland of this part of Panay. There appear to be few or no towns on this part of the coast, and apparently there is no end of uncultivated land at the base of thickly wooded hills.

Breeze drawing ahead and freshening up. Porpoises skylarking on starboard quarter. Proceed for some distance on the edge of a shoal. Could see the bottom, rocks and fine sand – faintly at a depth of 33 feet. Worked up to the North and South Gigantes, and cut through the narrow pass between the beautiful little islands of Sicogon and Calagnan with a stiff breeze which rattled down from between the ravines like winkin’. Passed both islands near enough to distinguish the several kinds of trees (among them observed several palms and wild plantains) and hear the sempiternal singing of the cicadas. These small secluded coves bordered with yellow sand, with the green water rippling up the beach remind me of it quite plainly from Jaro. The higher purple mountains of Negros look grand in the clear morning air. Negros is a gorgeous isle – 115 miles long and 18 to 24 broad, with a population (very small to what it ought to have) of 80,000 inhabitants including 9,000 savages – a black race with woolly hair, like the Papuans of New Guinea. At noon off the little castle of Banati, erected (like many others along the Philippine coast) for defense against the Malays. Guimaras, the island in front of the port of Iloilo, visible ahead. Fine fresh breeze with heavy squalls at intervals. In the afternoon an exciting incident of taking three men and a young lad off a sinking prau which was already submerged below the water line kept from going down by the buoyancy of its cargo of palm leaves.

Thursday, July 31st. Tacking all night between Negros and the coast of Iloilo keeping lead going frequently, water being in some places rather shallow. 7 a.m. Are now making long and short legs for the entrance between Guimaras and Iloilo, and shall be in harbour some time this afternoon. Landed at five, saw Ortiz and others – met my old amigo Don Jose Maria Carlos who received me with “effusion.” Afterwards I went to the Governor’s where I dined at seven. Don Jose Maria has kindly insisted on my occupying the only disposable room in his house (the others being taken up by the Collector of Customs and his wife who arrived yesterday by steamer) and has gone to live with his son at the Casa Real.

August 1st. At ship disposing of things. Breakfasted and dined at the Governor’s. In afternoon drove to Jaro to see the house which has been engaged for me (there being none obtainable at Iloilo in consequence of the late influx of Europeans for the Customshouse, etc.). Rent rather electrifying, $25 per month – equal to about L70 per annum for a domicile with a large drawing room or sala and only one bedroom. The mestizo family now occupying it will turn out in a few days. Received dispatch from the Governor giving transcript of one sent him by the Captain General (informing him of my coming here) and acquainting me that he had issued a circular to the towns of this province to the effect that I had arrived here as the “British Commercial Agent” and was to be recognized as such. Made an observation to the Governor as to the title of British Consul Agent (which it appears is what the Government is to consider me until the arrival of instructions from Spain) and said that it might be looked upon as provisional until the receipt of said instructions from Madrid. In this we coincided.

August 2nd and 3rd. Made out dispatch for Consul and wrote to Manila. So far the watery narrative, (watery in two senses of the word) the absurdity of which you must excuse, although to read it would argue the indulgent complaisance of these laudable readers who “take a passionate interest in their author’s dinner hour, and what he had to eat.” These insipid notes will show you, however, the mode of my arrival here, after a passage of eight days – though they contain nothing to captivate the “seriously inclined” attention of a Desdemona. “Mode of my arrival” is horribly foreign, but I am forgetting how to speak and write English already – “Britons are rare within these distant isles.”

I continued at Iloilo until the 4th inst. Taking my meals with the Governor’s family who were very kind and hospitable. Got installed in my new house on the 4th, and have since been existing in a strange sort of way, but have hardly yet got settled down into a regular sort of existence. Jaro is just about 20 minutes drive from Iloilo and is a large town with upwards of 30,000 inhabitants, and in the immediate vicinity are other populous towns and villages. There are about six Europeans in Jaro: the Lieutenant Governor, the two priests, a notary, the Doctor, the Lieutenant Governor’s uncle and myself. We occasionally interchange visits, and the Padre and others sometime come to my humble domicile, or I spend an evening now and then at the convent or come of the other houses. Every three or four days I go to Iloilo and join the evening tertulia[iv] at the Governor’s – sometimes on foot and sometimes getting a cast down in the Lieutenant Governor’s carriage, but the non-possession of a vehicle of my own in a country where such things are almost indispensable necessaries is awkward and I must strain a point to get a modest equipage bought for me and sent in from Manila.

Iloilo is situated close to the sea. It is a small place, with about 6 to 7,000 inhabitants – some tolerable houses occupied by about 12 or 15 (or perhaps 20) Europeans, the whole of whom I have not yet visited or seen. The port is formed by the island of Guimaras which is situated immediately opposite it, and is 22 miles long and 9 in breadth. The country in the neighborhood of Iloilo and Jaro is too flat to present any very striking features, but its general fertility and the abundance of that graceful tree, the coconut palm, give it a very pleasing appearance. I have only been as yet to very limited distances from this, my furthest excursion having been with the Padre Francisco to a place called Santa Barbara about 10 miles off. As soon as a house falls vacant at Iloilo I intend to return there, and I think it will be a better place for what business I may manage to “scare up” as the Americans say. During my ten to twelve days’ residence here I have occupied myself into “looking into” things, picking up some information about the quantity, quality and prices of goods consumed in the province, amounts and values of exports, etc. and things in general bearing on the subject of bizziness – so that my caput is in a lamentably confused kind of state, from which I frequently (more frequently than I thought) extricate it by taking a book and “laying off” on a couch. The heat since my arrival has been very great – something, they tell me, quite unusual; but lately it has been rather cooler. My house is situated at one extremity of the Plaza or square of Jaro, within a stone’s throw of the church. It is surrounded on three sides by noble coconut palms which sway about majestically when the wind is high. In fact there are far too many of these trees all about the country here as they impede the proper circulation of the air, and if there were fewer it would be more cool.

My household consists of a cook who rejoices in the name of “Ignacio de los Reyes (Ignatius of the Kings) and to whom I pay 4 dollars per mensis; a “boy” (a big fellow of about twenty) called Blas, by birth a Malay, who has 2 dollars per month, and his wife Elena, who bones a dollar or two for mending my clothes and looking after buttons. Jaro is not so healthy as Iloilo, not having the benefit of the sea breeze. The water at both places is not good, which is a nuisance. (My marketing costs me half a crown a day – washing 18 shillings a month.) I live at present after this style. I get up at half past five or six, take a walk around some circumbendable road, return home, have some tra and biscuit, bathe, dress, do something till breakfast which is generally dispatched about eleven, read or write, (sometimes I plead guilty to taking a siesta[v] during the “heat and burden of the day”) till dinnertime – half past five or six. Then some cove perhaps comes up and confabulates, or I go to some fellows and confabulate, or else proceed to Iloilo and become a brillian ornament of the society at Don Emilio’s (the Governor’s house). Behold me making very indifferent attempts at conversation with the Señoritas Carmen and Dolores, or exchanging what I am afraid must be set down as decided commonplaces with Doña Federica.

About these Señoritas Carmen and Dolores I may have something to say on a future occasion. Meantime as I have sundry letters to write to Manila by this opportunity and time is getting short, I believe I must suddenly wind up this demented manuscript. A vessel is expected every day at Iloilo which should bring the June mail from Europe (which we hear arrived in Manila on the 1st of August) and I hope in a day or two to hear from home. Tell Henry with memoritas from me that the medical field here seems to be occupied by certain ruffians. Papers up, and I remain my dear Nanny, with love to Mother and all the good folks.

Your affectionate brother,


[i] Navigating happily to journey’s end.

[ii] High land lacking vegetation.

[iii] Said by Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s “The Rivals.”

[iv] An informal gathering.

[v] From Latin Sexta (hora), a short sleep or rest, especially at midday. It is the custom among the Filipinos to take their siesta after the noonday meal.