Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (Hoskyn's Letter)

The Explanatory Letter of Margaret Hoskyn

Stellenbosch, 1951

One day, by some happy chance, a packet of old letters fell into my hands. They were written by my great-uncle Nicholas Loney in the Philippine Islands and cover – with a few gaps – a period of sixteen years, from 1852 to 1868.

They are written on the frailest, flimsiest possible transparent paper and are all in an incredibly fine and beautiful hand. After I had read the letters I thought that others might enjoy reading about life in the Philippines a century ago, which is the reason for this book.

Manila, Corregidor, Cavite and Panay are familiar names today, but they were very little known when Nicholas went there in 1852. It would appear that he stayed there in search of his health, although how he came to choose that remote archipelago is not clear. It was then under Spanish rule and a wild romantic place enough. Some references about him have appeared in occasional Philippine papers, but before presenting this let me draw upon the more picturesque if sometimes less relevant found of family legend and personal memory.

Most of the letters are written to “Nanny” his favourite sister, whom I remember as a very old lady who used to wear a lace cap and sit in an armchair on one side of the big bay window of a room in her house in Southampton, England, opposite her husband, great-uncle Charles, who wore an embroidered skullcap and a long white beard. They were both frighteningly old, as people sometime seemed to be when I was a child. Aunt Nanny had made a sort of hero and saint of “Nick,” her gay and adventurous brother, and I wish now that I’d asked her more about him.

In one of this letters, Nicholas speaks of his small god-daughter Annie Loney Ker. She and her sister Florence I knew well. They were staid Edwardian maiden ladies who wore blouses with high boned collars and their hair done in a high roll off the forehead. Their appearance then completely belied their fantastic and adventurous youth when their father, Nicholas’ partner, sent them to England on a sailing ship at the ages of four and five, respectively. They started off in charge of a Chinese amah but she died on the long voyage, so the little girls were looked after by the sailors who cut down their own clothes to make sailor suits for Annie and Florence, and taught them to dance the hornpipe.

Admiral Loney, Nicholas’ father and the recipient of some of the letters, lived first of all at Plymouth and later in a Cornish village called Antony. There I have been shown the old tree under which it was his custom to sit and read the newspaper to the village folk and talk with them of happenings in the world outside. Another pleasing, if less useful, habit of the Admiral when he was very old was to take a daily walk with two of his daughters. Sophie and Harriet, himself in full regalia – cocked hat, knee-breeches and all – to visit two old ladies to each of whom he would propose marriage in the most courtly old-world manner, falling on one frail and rheumaticky knee to do so. Apparently he continued to thrive on refusals.

The Loneys were a large family: Harriet, Sophie, Lizzie (my grandmother), Nanny and Mary, who when married went to live at Croft, a farm near Salcombe in Devonshire, often mentioned in the letters; and the boys, Robert, Henry, John, Peter and Nicholas himself. Robert joined Nicholas in the Philippines after he left the Navy and they seem to have made a show of it in trading together, in spite of the fact that Robert “objected to all Spaniards” (a sentiment divined and cordially reciprocated by them) and refused to learn their language.

As one reads the letters with their easy and intimate charm, a clear picture of Nicholas Loney emerges and one comes to know and love this lonely man. That he was a scholar was evident. He quotes effortlessly in old French from Montaigne and other letters are full of quite spontaneous literary and classical allusions. He felt deeply his self-imposed exile in “this forgotten dot of the universe” where he had scarcely anyone with whom to talk to his own language save after some years the eccentric Higgin who came from England to join him, but who does not seem to have proved the companion Nicholas had hoped for. Exactly where Nicholas acquired his learning does not appear. Perhaps from the Plymouth grammar school, which must have provided his only education, for the Loneys were a large family and not well off.

If I did not possess the original letters with their f’s instead of double s’s and their exquisite penmanship on paper now all but crumbling, I should find it hard indeed to believe from their modern idiom that they were written so long ago. I must own to having had the impression that “The Admirable Crichton” was a character created by Sir James Barrie until I encountered him in one of Nicholas’ letters and subsequently found out that, actually, he lived in the 16th century. Expressions like “a lot of old beggar women kicking up a row on the stairs” have little archaic flavor and the sentence “if remittances are squared up O.K.” written in 1859 is unexpected, to say the least.

The genial accounts of his household and pets are among the happiest passages of Nicholas’ letters and reflect a love and understanding of animals which some of his neighbours may have found a little odd. Though as for oddness, coming as he did from a prosaic country like England where one’s cook was usually called Ellen or Mrs. Smithers, Nicholas must have found it not a little odd to have a cook called “Ignatius of the Kings” and a houseboy called Athanasius, ”a mild good-looking youth, and no relation,” he assures us, “to him of the Creed.”

Nicholas was something of a traveller, having been in South America, New Zealand and Singapore before he settled in Iloilo as H.B.M.’s Vice-Consul in 1856. He married a French woman named Leontine, whom he met on one of his voyages and who, family tradition tells, was very beautiful, but there is a gap in the letters between 1859 and 1866 so that we hear nothing of their meeting nor of the early years of their marriage but are confronted in the last letters with the accomplished fact and a mention of two small children.

It seems that Leontine was not inconsolable for after Nicholas’ death she married a Mr. Ross, of whom Nicholas remarks in one of his letters that “one could leave one’s interests in his hands without any misgivings,” so one hopes that he looked well after Leontine and her two children.

Nicholas grew to love the islands and to believe in their future which he did so much to assure. Nevertheless, he often found the loneliness almost unbearable and constantly expressed a desire to go back to England. He writes nostalgically of the walks at Croft in Devon which he longed to take again “with Father and the girls,” but which he never did take owing to his death from fever in the Philippines at the premature age of forty-one.

The following was the inscription on the monument erected to him in the cemetery for foreigners at Iloilo:

“In memory of Nicholas Loney of Plymouth, England. Late H.B.M.’s Vice Consul at this Port, who died 22nd April 1869, aged 41 years. This monument is erected by his numerous friends: British, Spaniards, foreigners and natives, as a slight testimony of the esteem and regard in which his memory will ever be held by all who knew him.”

My thanks are due to Mr. Charles Johnman of the English Departmnet of Stellenbosch University, South Africa, for his help in annotating these letters; to the Rev. Father McManus of the Catholic Presbitery in Boksburg, Transvaal, for translating the French passages; and to Mr. Enrique Jorda, conductor of the Capetown Municipal Orchestra, for clarifying and translating the Spanish phrases used by my great-uncle.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (Postscript)


The preceding is the last of the Loney letters in the possession of his grandniece. Three years after it was written, he died of typhoid fever in the island of Negros. His nephew, who was then in Cebu, wrote to England a letter dated May 2, 1869 which gives an account of his sudden demise in the following words:

“You must have heard by last mail the sad news of Uncle Nicholas’ death. I had a long letter from him describing his Canlaon Expedition dated the 15th of April so that his illness must have been very short. We have only just heard of it and can hardly realize it yet. When he hurt his foot, some time ago, he was laid up in the house for some time without exercise and consequently got very fat and the sudden violent exercise he had the other day going up Canlaon must have brought on the gastric fever of which he died but I can’t say for certain as we have had no particulars yet.

May 3. The Sudoesta has just arrived and Captain Fass was in Iloilo at the time of Uncle N.’s death. He says that all Iloilo followed him to his grave and that over 100 carriages besides lots of buffalo carts filled with people were there. He was buried under some palm trees by the sea shore in the prettiest site that could be found and they are going to erect a monument there. Captain Fass was allowed to read the Protestant burial service over his grave. He says that poor Uncle Robert is very very much cut up. Mr. Ker wants very much to go over there in this present steamer but it will not be possible.

The Governor of Iloilo is a very nice man. When Capt. Fass and Mr. Gardner were searching for a place to bury him they applied to the Governor for permission. His answer was ‘Choose the prettiest place on anyone’s ground on the Island of Panay and bury him there and I will be answerable for the consequences.’ And again when they were at the grave a Padre made some objections about reading the burial service when he stood up before the thousands of people collected and said, ‘It is of no importance whether he was a Roman Catholic or a Protestant all I know is that he was a Christian.’

I believe that Aunt Leontine intends going home as soon as she can find anyone to go with. People are continually calling at our office to know if it’s true that Don Nicolas is dead, they can’t believe it. I can’t make my letter very long this time as we are all in such confusion and have heaps and heaps of work to do for the steamer, besides two hemp vessels and one large sugar one. I don’t give you any more particulars of Uncle N’s death as doubtlessly you have already heard all from Uncle Robert.

Last week Mr. Ker and I managed to reach the top of the high mountains that are seen from here. It was a very hard pull as the sides of the mountain were like so – we saw an old Indian on the top who had lived there all his life and we asked him if he had ever seen a white man there before and he said ‘No, you are the first that have ever been up here.’ It was quite cool up there, but I don’t think that we ever should have come down again if we had not found a beautiful spring of water at the very top. We had a splendid view from the top..

A tribute to his memory appeared in the Iloilo newspaper “El Tiempo” of March 3, 1904 as follows:

‘The Municipal Council of this City resolved at its last evening’s session that the waterfront of Iloilo be called from henceforth “Muelle Loney (Loney Waterfront).

We congratulate the Municipal Council on this resolution.

The name of Nicholas Loney is held in this region of the Visayas with great respect and veneration: he was a philanthropist who gave impulse to the cultivation of the principal production of these provinces, sugar, besides initiating other works which are still remembered.

The following are the biographical data of N. Loney: He was born in Plymouth, England; son of the late Admiral Loney, R.N. of this town. At first he went to reside in South America, but after a short stay there, came to the Philippine Islands arriving at Iloilo about the year 1856, being the first British Vice Consul appointed to this post, which was opened to general trade at the same time. He was also the first foreign merchant to establish himself in this City.

The cultivation of sugar was then in this district almost nil, but he fomented it to such an extent that from that time it became an important article of export, and the first foreign vessel, which was also English, which entered Iloilo in 1860 – was loaded with sugar for Australia with Messrs. Loney & Co., of which firm N. Loney was partner.

This firm at that time represented in Iloilo the Manila Houses of Russell & Sturgis (American) and Ker & Co. (English). Loney & Co. were owners of the Matabas Estate in Talisay (Negros) in which they set up the largest steam mill in the Islands. Nicholas Loney furnished Sir John Bowring with much of the information contained in his book on the Philippines. He married Mademoiselle Leontine Traschler and had two children.

What was a mud flat, where now stands the go-downs on the waterfront, i.e. Progreso Street, from the house, now the property of Messrs. de la Rama & Sons (adjoining the military Commissary Store) to Melliza Street; thence to the last go-down towards the North, was filled in under his initiative.

The privations experienced during an ascent of the Volcano Canlaon in Negros brought on typhoid fever of which he died on April 22, 1869.

His name was for many years respected and venerated by the natives of the whole province, and still today many old residents remember him gratefully for the great interest in all that related with the sugar industry in the Provinces of Iloilo and Negros. In the British Cemetery of this City there is a marble monument erected by voluntary subscription amongst the Spaniards, foreigners and native residents of Iloilo, Jaro and Molo which was inaugurated in 1870 and bears the following inscription in English, Spanish, French and Visayan on its four sides:


Nicholas Loney

Of Plymouth, England

Who was H.M. Vice Consul in this Port

Died the 22nd April 1869

Aged 41 Years

This monument is erected by his numerous friends, Spaniards, foreigners and natives, as a slight testimony of the esteem and remembrance in which his memory will be held by all who knew him

The island of Negros ought also to dedicate a remembrance to the memory of such a famous name since she owes the progress of her agriculture in a great measure to the disinterested philanthropy of W. Nicholas Loney.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (22)

Letter No. 22

Tabucan House, Iloilo

February 28th, 1866

My dear Father,

Your letter of Dec. 18th to Robert and myself is duly at hand bought by the “Anastasia,” which arrived the day before yesterday after getting on shore at Point Tomonton on the Negros coast. A small war steamer went out to give her assistance but on nearing the spot founder her under sail. A fatality seems to attend the Glasgow vessels for Iloilo, as they always get on shore, or require repairs, but in the present instance I don’t think the “Anastasia” has suffered much.

In my last letter I told you that I was starting for Negros to consult as to what was to be done after the damage caused by the “devouring element,” to speak penny-a-linerly. I found the manager of Matabang[i] and his engineer-in-chief, Mr. Stevens, prowling about the ruins. There were lots of ashes about, if they had been inclined to take to sackcloth also, but on the contrary the burnt out parties seemed to be rather jollier than usual. They slept in the convent at Minuluan where the Padre gave them a room and behaved very kindly to them, but during the day they remained at the estate, taking their meals in a shed. The scene, as you may imagine, was desolate enough with the bare posts of the boiling house, store house, and dwelling house all charred and still smoking, and the machinery blackened and twisted with the effects of the fire. The actual damage, however, was not very great, and with some $2,000 (L400) things may be put to rights again. The engineer, Mr. Stevens, I learnt behaved very well, and if it had not been for his exertions in rushing in with water, more of the machinery would have gone. The young Spaniard Manuel also did his duty. When the house was burnt down, he lost all but what he stood in, except two shirts at the washerwoman’s. The latter fact revealed that he had not apparently very extensive transactions with the “Dhoby.” The Matabang disaster will be reparable as to its more immediate consequences for about $2,000. If we do not come short of funds for repairing and going on planting cane we shall recover from the hit.

The canes planted are looking remarkably well, and that “winged evil” the locusts keeps off, there being at present no trace of him save the mark of his malignant and saw-like tooth on the growing leaf. Mr. Costeker duly arrived four days ago and has taken up his quarters with me at Tabucan. We are now all working with a will and are buying sugar to a most satisfactory extent. We dispatch the “Valdora” today for Liverpool by Hamburg. The “Anastasia” with piece goods commences to discharge, and we expect three vessels for sugar.

Robert’s health continues quite good and I think his spirits have risen since after the late fire if anything, strange as it may seem. Leontine is well. I must tell you that about May or so she expects to add to the small community at Iloilo a juvenile of some sort, so that your grandchildren will be added to by one if the Fates permit. She was to have written Harriet by this opportunity, but I almost doubt if the letter will be ready in time. Robert will write you about Buchanan’s machinery. I am in a great hurry, and remain with love to all,

Your affectionate son,


P.S. Brackenbury was appointed Consul for Lisbon, and has left already.

[i] A sugar refinery located near the present-day town of Victorias in northern Negros Occidental.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (21)

Letter No. 21


October 23rd, 1865

Per steamer “Iloilo”

To Manila

My dear Father,

It is some little time since I wrote you last, and I now avail myself of the departure of this constant old steamer to own receipt of your last letter of August, to Robert and myself. It also enclosed one for Leontine, which she has received with satisfaction.

The young Enery (Henry) is going on satisfactorily, and spends his time mostly in sleeping, imbibing, and laughing. Fault is found with him, however, in that he lets the world go on too easily, and doesn’t cry or make a respectable enough row as a well –regulated-minded baby ought. But I am giving far too much prominence I fear to this young person, introducing him “au premier plan.” Let us therefore drop him, figuratively, I mean, for to do so positively would bring down the maternal ire on us.

Things here are proceeding in the usual kind of way. Sugar is being shipped and contracted for; piece goods are being sold, Chinamen dunned into paying up, letters of encouragement, congratulations or condolence written to constituents according as they require spiriting up, or as the results of their consignments call for felicitation or judicious regret.

Our minds are somewhat exercised by the purchase of the concretor by Higgin, which, being an experiment, is a somewhat serious one for us, who are by no means flush of disposable capital for more pressing things. But it may be a success, and we are so used to all manner of risks and perils of this kind that it doesn’t affect our appetite or cause any perceptible diminution in the constant consumption of curry and rice which is supposed to be always going on where tropicalities abound – though in reality I never see it at Tabucan, as our artist there is not equal to it. Robert, it is true, has a faint simulacrum of curry at his 12 o’clock breakfast, but it is not the curry of Lucknow or of Oude. The concretor is coming on the “Eliza,” but as we have not yet got the erecting drawings, we are not sure if it will be possible to have it up for this next season, which would be a drawback as it has to be paid for in a year from date of purchase.

I suppose Mr. Higgin will have been down to see you at Plymouth during this present month, and presume he would like the place and neighbourhood. Now that Ker & Co. are leaving Cebu, there should be more room for Loney, K and Co. on the import line. I suppose you hear all about Cebu doings from Frank, who seems to be a capital correspondent. Our firms come to an end as a partnership at the end of this year, but the idea is to prorogue the present arrangement till the end of next year. When that time is up I don’t know what we shall do exactly. I myself am extremely desirous to leave this place, where I have now been too long, and where one’s life is simply, you might almost say, a blank in many things, after having had so much of it. (Provincial Philippine existence)

I therefore think I must leave at the expiry of next year. By that time we should be quite out of debt, and our property in land and houses is now considerable, there should be enough to divide to allow one to turn towards Europe. But in any case my mind is pretty well made up to leave at the time mentioned, even if pecuniaries should be scant. On this you may be able to give me your advice. Robert will, I think, by that time secure enough to make up his original capital and more (and I think he rather inclines to join Mr. Costeker in something) either here or by living at home, but I do not say this definitely as the time being yet distant and events uncertain it is not much use speculating on these matters. He and Costeker apparently have great faith in the future of Matabang, and occupy and enjoy themselves in planning out schemes for its future prosperity which I think have a fair chance of realization. Though he does not care to allow it, I think Robert has pretty well got over his original dislike of the country and its ways, though he still objects to all manner of Spaniards, (and they – internos – return the compliment). In health I don’t think I ever saw him look better, though of course some effect has been produced by years in this warm climate; and he doesn’t seem impatient to get away. The drawback he feels about going is that his interests might suffer in his absence. Costeker being away at Negros, Higgin from his slightly eccentric style is not exactly the man to leave in charge of matters and things without someone with him. In this point of view it is regrettable that Ross did not join us, as was at one time probable when he thought of leaving Ker & Co. as we should have left our interests in his hands without any misgivings.

But at the end of 1869 I do not think I need allow money considerations to detain me here; as, rather than not leave, I would try to get a decent vice-consulate in Spain. For with this, and what might accrue from L & Co. I could along very well. I do not want to go into business again in England if I can help it – and to leave off work in toto (entirely) is of course a great mistake. From what I saw at Manila while acting Consul there, I think that if I again got well into that groove in a place of some little importance I think I could do some good, and advance perhaps after a time to a fair position, though after a man has been 26 years in the tropics his powers of work do not last far on in life. Anyhow my chief wish now is to leave this place, without sacrificing more than another year to it. Leontine is also very desirous to get away…

Mr. Ricketts writes me that he has got into a paper war with the Government in Manila, that the Captain General (who is said to be very ill) has written him an objectionable letter, and will only consider him on the footing of a “Commercial Agent.” He has refereed his position to Lord Stanley to be more clearly defined. Though an estimable, gentlemanly person, his dislike of Spaniards is so great that they have discerned and resented it, never calling on him or exchanging the usual social amenities of that kind.

In answering one of Mr. Brackenbury’s letters the other day (from Lisbon), I asked him what chance there would be of a Spanish vice-consulate, as he is well up in knowledge of that sort of thing. To tell you the truth, I don’t think there would be much chance, but it is well top keep it in view as a dernier (last) resort, and I by no means dislike the idea – though of course a residence in England would be more desirable for many reasons. However, these are mere speculations as to the future and to be taken as such.

Roberta Maria Josephina continues to be the wonder of the age – at her age- from the maternal point of view. I brought her home this morning a very long sugar cane from a field where they are cutting cane near the house, and there was great cutting and masticating thereupon.

With love from Leontine and self to all, including Aunt Kitty, believe me

Your affectionate son,