Letter No. 7
Per “Solterranea” to Manila
Jaro, near Iloilo
Island of Panay
August 15th, 1856
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.