Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (6)

Letter No. 6

Vigan, Province of South Ilocos

Island of Luzon

September 22nd, 1855

My dear Nanny,

I wrote you a seedy semblance of a letter, dated 2nd of August, from Mariveles, communicating the fact of my having left Manila on an expedition to the province for a couple of months previous to leaving for “Inglaterra;” said seedy semblance, however, too late for the mail. It arrived the same night the steamer left Manila for Hong Kong, but not in time to get on board. Consequently you will probably be pestered with two letters from me by this mail, if this one reaches the Luzonian capital in time.

We got away from Mariveles on the 29th, and after a long voyage landed at a port in Ilocos Sur, on the 5th inst. And came overland to this place on the 8th. It being very hot this afternoon, I discover myself to be in such an incapable-of-doing-anything state of mind that I actually resort to jotting down the fragments of notes of occurrences by the way which I find in a mostly obliterated state in my pocketbook – premising that, being only a series of the veriest inanities (such very small beer in fact) they are only intended for your own particular and indulgent perusal, any small repetitions of previous observations to be overlooked.

Tuesday, August 14th. Went on board the schooner Santa Isabel this morning at seven, with Greenshields, Zarate, the Alcalde (magistrate) Don Jose, Mr. Bañuelos and his brother Joachim who played snatches of tunes on Domingo’s guitar. The Subteniente Oribe and Cresceni also came with us. Vessel rather larger than I expected (about 100 tons) and if we have tolerable winds and it doesn’t blow too hard (as it’s rather liable to do at this season) we should be at Salomanque in five or six days. At eight, Greenshields, Zarate and the rest left, Bañuelos, the sub-lieutenant and myself remaining on board. Weighed anchor and stood towards Cavite with a light breeze. Am now fairly underweigh from Manila which I leave with no particular excitement beyond the esperanzas (hopes) and temores (fears) connected with various asuntos (affairs). Feel, in point of fact, an almost unaccountable lethargy of mind. Can scarcely realize the idea that I have left K. and C. entirely, and am now a situationless roamer on the face of the earth.[i] Pecuniary and other questions look rather doubtful, to say the least, but no importa (doesn’t matter). The passengers in this craft consist of the Alcalde, a Spanish sergeant (who goes to Ilocos as sub-lieutenant to command the small local force under the immediate orders of the Alcalde) his Indian wife Marquita, myself and servants, the Alcalde’s servants including a coachman and his wife – cargo composed chiefly of the Alcalde’s furniture and traps and piece goods and other articles for Chinese traders in Ilocos. The “arraez” or Captain (derived from “Reis” of the Arabs) is an unfortunate Indian whom we have turned out of the apology of a cabin, which is occupied by the Alcalde, Oribe, and moi-meme (myself). It is a sort of compact shed or box erected on the deck. The women take up quarters in the long boat, which has a movable thatched roof. Feel rather down, with forebodings of being more so by and by when seasickness comes on, of which there are premonitory symptoms. Read part of Roger’s “Columbus” (out of a penny edition of poets sent out I think by Nanny) and afterwards one of Emerson’s essays – the latter taken as a sort of mental dram. Bañuelos has gone to sleep and lies on the berth or rather bench opposite mine, on which I extend myself on my back and scribble this. Weather very good, but too calm – vessel heaving easily over the water.

August 15th. Last night got out of the Bay, passing between Corregidor and mainland, with an accompaniment of thunder and vivid lightning. This morning wind ahead and nearly calm. Vessel groaning and pitching about. About four in the afternoon a heavy squall of wind, with a little rain. Horizon very balck and ugly. Worked on toward Cape Capones, tacking avery now and then. Got through at length a long and uncomfortable night. Consultation about propriety of running for Subic but decided to keep out.

August 16th. Wind still foul – sky overcast and black. Squalls and rain. In the afternoon Arraez determined to run for Subic anchorage – although we had nearly managed to round Capones – and we accordingly ran back and tried to get inside, but the wind failing and becoming contrary just at dusk, had to go outside again. The “Encerrada” (enclosure) into which we went was a wild thickly-wooded spot with a white strip of sandy beach, and would have been delightful under other circumstances. Got out of it with a light breeze and recommenced tacking to clear Capones. At seven came on to blow. Turned in but slept little all night owing to the motion and row. At midnight, weather being still bad, and vessel making no progress round the redoubtable cape, went about and ran for Mariveles.

August 17th. This morning reached Mariveles anchorage early finding there the pontin[ii] “Dolores” which left Manila last Sunday, and the schooner “Isabel,” the former bound for the same place as ourselves, and the latter for Cagayan. Have been admiring the “Golpe de Vista” of this fine harbor with the range of mountains towering up all round. A young fellow named Fabie came on board from the “Dolores” and tells us that he intends going on to Salomanque to try and get off the brig “San Lorenzo” stranded there some time ago.

In the afternoon went ashore to the village, distant about two miles. Pulled up river and bathed under some trees in beautifully cool limpid water. Got out and laid down on a plot of turf under a tree and did the sub tegmine fagi – the open air and trees being a most agreeable thing after being boxed up in our cabin. Afterwards we went to the church, only the walls of which are standing, most of the roof having come down in the earthquake of September 1852, Melancholy relics of altar, etc. strewn about, and woodwork greatly destroyed by white ants, pulpit still standing. Ruminated a while in this old sanctuary, where there was a mournful twittering of many bats skirmishing about the beams and rafters. At a short distance is a small wooden church thatched with palms, which does duty until the old one is repaired, built in 1729. Went up to the convent, the Padre is absent at another village, but expected back soon. Group of Indians in little churchyard waiting his arrival to administer the last rites to a poor relic of humanity wrapped up in a mat. Sat in the convent until the sun got nearer the horizon, and walked through the village which contains about 1,500 inhabitants, is situated on low swampy ground, and is much subject to agues. The mountains in the immediate vicinity are peopled by a race of savages who live a wandering life, and subsist by the chase, occasionally descending to the plains to purchase rice, and not infrequently transfix some unwary Christian of the villages with a poisoned arrow. Got off schooner and dined, subsided on bench and had a considerable sleep.

August 19th. In the afternoon Fabie and Don Juan and Barredo started in their launch for Corregidor to get such provisions as are not to be had in the village. After dinner we went again to the beach on the other side, and B. bathed in the sea. Climbed up a steep hill on the side towards the outer sea. Strong, invigorating breeze. Got among the waving trees and plants and felt pantheistic. Took walk along shore while B. continued bathing, and returned when quite dark.

August 20th. Up at five. Walked about deck and at eight went ashore to have another swim in the river. Sun unpleasantly strong. Stuck up canvas awning on four oars and had a long bath. On these occasions B. takes two small Indian servant boys with him, Crisanto and Bartolome, who kick up a great squealing and splashing. He is so awfully sout that the heat drives him into the water whenever he has a chance. About eleven our three companions in captivity came back from Corregidor, bringing some biscuit and a few coconuts purchased on our account. Wind still foul, long rainy night.

August 21st. Went on shore to river before six with B. and again indulged in our aquatic propensities. Arraez had some idea of starting again today, but weather came on very bad – strong N.W. wind and continuous rain. Arraez very hard at times, and again at night with great violence. Confined entirely to our box.

August 22nd. Weather a little more moderate, with squalls of rain, no getting out of this sorry cabin, which leaks so that the water meanders from side to side, and has to be swabbed up at intervals. Vessel dragged – all day at work warping her up, and let go another anchor.

August 23rd. Unceasing rain and wind with furious squalls. No stirring from cabin. Everything wet, musty, dark and uncomfortable. Heavy sea breaking outside with a mighty roaring. Trees tossing themselves about in a frantic manner. Been reading lately Longfellow’s “Poets and Poetry of Europe,” and Pope and Alison’s[iii] essays. Long, interminable night.

August 24th. Still pouring down this morning, but not so steadily, and wind has moderated. Occasional swooping squalls. Sun appeared for a time this morning, and we had a scanty breakfast on deck. Subteniente and his wife went on shore the other day and have not been able to return since. Fabie and San Juan say they consider it too risky to continue the voyage now the month is so advanced, and that they intend going to Corregidor and back to Manila in the Government fallua[iv] which leaves on the 29th.

August 25th. Weather better, with variations of squalls and rain. Made another start this afternoon, but had to come ignominiously back again. “Paquita” being a better boat, and better managed, got away all right.

August 26th. Wind still contrary. Took mats and pillows, etc. and went desperately up to the convent where the priest (an Indian cleric) kindly gave us a room.

August 27th. In the convento. Weather still bad.

August 29th. Improved weather. Bid adieu to the benevolent old Cura, leaving him to his lonely convent, his ruined church, his little graveyard with the tumble-down cross, his dusky folk, and his village with the “most ancient and fish-like smell.” Started to go one with the other vessels. Fabie and Oribe resolved to go on also.

August 31st. Calm all last night and until noon today when a breeze sprung up at first ahead, and changing afterwards so as to allow us to proceed in a direction to bring us round the point of land near Masinloc. Passed the pontin “Dolores” with Fabie aboard. Fish scudding about – saw a snake – sky was beautiful this morning, fine crimson effect on the waves. Been reading lately Shakespeare, Browning, and Alison. Some fine passages in Browning’s “Paracelsus.” Sleeping mostly during day and sitting outside on chair during great part of night.

September 1st. Yesterday evening we had a causeless fright, occasioned by a heavy squall which took the vessel aback, and created a chaotic confusion increased by the insane shouts of the Indian sailors. Calm again nearly all day and night. What little wind stirring is dead ahead. Tacking slowly and drearily on and off the land on this side of Bolinao point. In evening sat argufying with B. on top of cabin. Direfully long night.

September 2nd. Fair wind early this morning, but little on’t. Soon veered to dead ahead and got stronger, and as this vessel does nothing at all in tacking against a breeze, provisions are nearly all finished, and there is no harbor hereabouts to run to if weather should come on bad towards night. The Arraez determined to run back to Palauig (distant about 40 miles) to the infinite disgust of the undersigned, who advocated holding out, and putting up if necessary with rice and salt for a few days. To add to our annoyance, the wind after we had run back half the distance, became fair for getting round the point, and then fell calm.

September 3rd. Light breeze sprung up last night from S.W. which would have sent us round the point. Went on under easy sail night so as not to pass the post of Palauig, into which we stood at daylight and anchored between seven and eight this morning. Went on shore to villages. Small, but very pretty, with an abundance of tamarind, coconut, mango and other fruit trees. Walked to convento. Cura a non-resident, and his deputy also absent. Proceeded to tribunal or Town Hall of the village from which B. sent off a dispatch to the Alcalde of the province, Don Manuel Santana, who is an amigo (friend) of his and also an acquaintance of mine. Sat in tribunal taking to village officials. Curious old school master who had been in South America. Anecdotes about alligators which are said to swarm in all the rivers of this sparsely populated province. Two heads found in interior of one captured a short time ago. Mode of catching described. Breakfasted, laid on mat, slept a little, and afterwards bathed with a big jar and a calabash in an extempore bathroom. Looked over the official books containing copies of the various orders and decrees issued by the different Alcaldes of the province. At six, the Alcalde arrived on horseback, with a posse of Lancers, Gobernadorcillos and nondescripts all mounted on ponies. Sat on some antediluvian chairs on the grass and confabulated. After vespers, had some coffee and the unheard (to us) luxury of fresh bread and butter, which with no end of other luxurious comestibles the enthusiastic Santana had brought all the way from Iba (in Zambales province).

The two Alcaldes taking ad infinitum (endlessly) about things alcalde-ish. Drew sapient inferences therefrom about the Government of these here provinces. Learned from Santana that news had reached Manila of the capture of the Malakhoff (in Crimea) with a loss to the Allies of 7000 men, but there seems to be some contradiction in the telegraphic dispatch, leaving the matter still doubtful. Turned in after an immense amount of talking, and was soon transformed into a profoundly sleeping beauty.

September 4th. In the morning up before daylight and took a walk. Very wet underfoot, but scenery superior to all descriptions of Eden or the Elysian fields. Have been seedy during the last few days, but now somewhat improved. Had a most original conversation with one of the village authorities, he being one of the three men in the village who can speak Spanish. This individual displayed the most ravenous desire to obtain all sorts of information, geographical, political, national, and general. Wished to know if England was subject to Spain, and made other naïve enquiries and statements which afforded me great entertainment. At one sallied forth to the beach accompanied by the Alcalde to whom we said adios, leaving him to the vast forests and infrequent ricefields of his big domain. Are now (2 p.m.) retracing our lost ground, with a favorable though too gentle breeze which I hope will freshen up.

September 5th. Breeze accordingly did freshen up last night, and being dead astern with a heavy sea, vessel rolled so as to quite prevent anything like sleeping on our benches. Sat a long time on taffrail and watched the heaving of the multitudinous sea. Morning at length came “struggling up the world’s great side with light,” not “blithe and jocund,” but shrouded in black-shattered clouds. Wind freshened to a stiff gale with violent gusts of rain. Bowled along at a tremendous pace, with an infinitesimal amount of canvas. B., in an apprehensive state of mind, having misgivings about not reaching the land on the other side of the Gulf of Lingayen, and being driven into the China Sea. About noon sighted land of province of Ilocos, and between four and five went tearing into the anchorage at San Esteban – a very pretty little port (though rather too exposed) with hills rising all round, and each fringed with coconut trees girded by a belt of yellow sand. Surf breaking outside, and wind breaking off the white tops in a manner to entrance a painter. Old tower on beach used formerly for defense against pirates, but now abandoned and destitute of roof.

Raining constantly like my elder namesake… Oribe and the women go ashore in the midst of it. We remain until the morning when the intention is to drive on to Santa Maria, and so on to Vigan, distant from here about 20 miles. Village of San Esteban hid by coconut trees, with the exception of a house here and there scattered along the beach and hillsides.

September 6th. A deputation from the village came off to wait upon B. (all the native officials in the Philippines wear a curious costume of trousers with shirt worn outside, and black jacket, generally with very high collar over the shirt, the whole having an imposing effect). Went on shore with part of the luggage and were carried across the river in chairs by a dozen obsequious natives. Were conveyed in the Cura’s carriage to the convent, a melancholy band of music being stationed to play as we came up. Sat and talked with the Cura in the convent, an edifice which had seen better days – and in the afternoon drove to Santa Maria with four horses, Domingo and Juan following on horseback. Convent of Santa Maria a fine old building with grey, weather-beaten church attached – situated on a hill and approached by an infinite number of steps up which we toiled and penetrated through long galleries and Castle of Otranto corridors into a larfe toom in one corner of which we discovered the octogenarian old Cura playing tresillo[v] with a couple of friends, (the sergeant Gonzalez, and the tercenister Lopez of Vigan). Ancient Cura a lively old fellow of 75 who had been Cura of Santa Maria for 50 years. A sheep was killed for supper, after which every man went to his cell and slept.

September 7th. Up early and had some chocolate. Magnificent sight of rising sun with inconceivably gorgeous clouds. Ricefields extending across the plain as far as the horizon. Started for Narvacan. Roads very bad. Rivers much swollen and stream rapid. All the temporary bridges being carried away this season, we have to cross the rivers on rafts, putting the horses and carriage on one and committing ourselves to another, the whole proceeding being poled across as far as there are soundings, and then let go down stream until the poles can get to work on the opposite side. Curious to see B. and myself seated majestically on chairs on these floating arrangements and getting poled across by yelling aborigines. About noon arrived at Narvacan, a large pueblo of some 15,000 inhabitants. Cura a fine old Augustine friar named Guillermo Piris, dreadfully stout from good living and want of exercise. Convent an old building with immense rooms, no end of pictures of saints and carved glass cases containing much ornamented representations of the Virgin. In the principal room was a well-carved, greatly adorned figure of the Virgin dressed in silks and satins and fine lace.

Had breakfasted in the great hall, and afterwards retired to our cells for a siesta. Sketched the belfry tower, which is separated from the church on account of the lightning. In the evening walked round the pueblo with B. It contains a good many storehouses. Had a cup of thick chocolate with toast, and after a great conversation with the reverend Father, slid off to bed.

September 8th. Up before daylight and took a short walk. B. went to hear Mass, and after swallowing a cup of gorgeous chocolate, I started for Vigan. After sundry difficulties with rivers, rickety bridges, and bad bits of road, got as far as Santa, where the river was rather a poser, being particularly broad and rapid. Got across at length, and on the other side found the Alcalde Don Jose Paez y Lopez, whose place Bañuelos takes, waiting to receive his successor, with the authorities and notables of Vigan. Formed in line and rushed along the road attended by no end of individuals on horseback, lancers and native authorities. Crossed another river near Vigan, and were received with a very good band of music, flags, and that kind of thing. Drove on and made a grand triumphal entry into the Casa Real where another band of music was posted to welcome the new Jefe. Extensive breakfast. The Casa Real is a large house, the residence of the Alcaldes.

Paez seems to live in a great state – very good carriage, no end of servants and an A-1 cook. Here I receive letters from Manila, including one from Father dated 3rd of July. Sorry to find that the report of the capture of Malakhoff tower turns out to be the other way. Vigan, the chief town of this province is a great place entirely, with its grand Plaza, cathedral, Episcopal Palace, barrachs, public buildings, and a great number of stone and brick houses. Country round about most splendiferous, particularly the chain of mountains towards the districts of Abra. In the evening a lot of people came to visit the new Alcalde, and a deputation of the guild of Mestizos, one of whom read a great poem felicitating Bañuelos in very flowery terms on his arrival to rule over them.

September 9th. Went across the river to the adjacent village of Bantay the Cura of which is a friend of B’s. He and B. went to early Mass, and I mounted the belfry tower, the view from which is superb. Came back, chocolate at the convent which is in very good order, and the Padre a very good fellow. Went back to the Casa Real, and wrote for post.

September 10th. In the evening visited the Bishop, the illustrious Señor Don Fray Vicente Barregro, a venerable old man seated in a big armchair in an enormous room hung around with full-length paintings of Saints and Popes, among whom St. Augustine occupies a prominent place. This province is one of the most thickly populated in the Philippines, and the natives are comparatively intelligent and industrious. They manufacture all sorts of woven fabrics (a few specimens of which I sent to the Sydenham Palace, and which you will see in the Philippine department if you go there) and are great on the production of indigo and rice. Yet the mountains and forests not far off are full of wild tribes who are still unsubdued, and have lately managed to make off with the heads of fourteen men from a military post not far from here. The ex-Alcalde Paex left this place on the 13th, to take command of the province of Cagayan, where the greater part of Manila tobacco comes from.

Bañuelos and I live all alone in this big house, and generally breakfast and dine by ourselves. During the day he is busy getting through official work, and trying cases which are brought before him for judgment, the documents connected with which are all sent to the “Royal Audience” at Manila, and his decisions confirmed or altered. After taking a matutinal walk, and imbibing some tea, I read till breakfast at 10, and then generally resume reading till dinner comes off between four and five. Afterwards we drive out in a very nobby carriage with four horses, to the great awe of the admiring “pueblo” who doff their curiously shaped slates (vide some of those at Sydenham) and look reverently at the distinguished foreigner with the white hat – afterwards we walk about the suburbs or call on some of the Castilian residents… Not wishing to trespass too much on the hospitality of my present host, I intended to have left for Manila soon after the arrival of the last post if it had brought some letters I was expecting, but now I must wait until the next post reaches here – about the 27th, and then make traces for Manila overland; that is, if the weather is good enough. Today, however, it is blowing and raining furiously, and likely to continue to do so for the next fortnight. The rivers are already in a fierce, impassable state, and some of the roads under water, so I am afraid it will be some time before I am able to start. I hope, however, to be in Manila at all events by the end of next month, and to leave for England not later than December. No vessels leaves this town for Manila until November, this being the season of storms and hurricanes – or else I should prefer going by sea, the journey by land being long and troublesome on horseback over a distance of nearly 300 miles. The post leaving this evening I must wind up this long, unprofitable story. I hope this will find you all well and hearty. The European mail of August 9th should reach Manila about the 31st inst. And will I hope bring better news from the Crimea. I have received some English newspapers from Manila, with dates to July 2nd the accounts in which I have read with great interest. Nothing very striking to be done in the Baltic I observe. The Malakhoff business is unfortunate, but I suppose it won’t be the last of many a doleful piece of news you will be getting from the Crimea.

In this part of world it is at present raining and blowing like anything –

“The wrathful skies

Gallow the very wanderers of the dark

And make them keep their caves.”[vi]

I pity the unfortunate carrier who has to take the correspondence to Manila, it will take about 10 days to reach, and will, I expect to be too late for the mail. With love to all the folks, believe me dear Nanny, to be

Your very affectionate brother,


[i] Apparently he ceased to become an employee of Ker and Co., although, as we shall see later, he rejoined it in Iloilo for sugar transactions.

[ii] A vessel used for the coasting trade.

[iii] The Rev. Archibald Alison (1757-1839) author of “Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste.”

[iv] For felluca, a lateen-rigged vessel.

[v] A Spanish card game.

[vi] Kent’s speech from “Lear.” The “gallow” is a variant of “gally,” an obsolete dialectical word meaning to frighten, scare or terrify.

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