The Austrian Frigate Novara visits Manila in 1858

excerpts from
Karl Scherzer (1861)

  • Historical notes relating to the Philippines
  • From Cavite to Manila
  • The river Pasig
  • First impressions of the city
  • Its inhabitants
  • Tagales and Negritoes
  • Preponderating influence of Monks
  • Visit to the four chief monasteries
  • Conversation with an Augustine Monk
  • Grammars and Dictionaries of the idioms chiefly in use in Manila
  • Reception by the Governor-general of the Philippines
  • Monument in honour of Magelhaens
  • The "Calzada"
  • Cockfighting
  • "Fiestas Reales"
  • Causes of the languid trade with Europe hitherto
  • Visit to the Cigar-manufactories
  • Tobacco cultivation in Luzon and at the Havanna
  • Abáca, or Manila hemp
  • Excursion to the "Laguna de Bay"
  • A row on the river Pasig
  • The village of Patero
  • Wild-duck breeding
  • Sail on the Lagoon
  • Plans for canalization
  • Arrival at Los Banos
  • Canaoe trip on the "enchanted sea"
  • Alligators
  • Kalong Bats
  • Gobernador and Gobernadorcillo
  • The Poll-tax
  • A hunt in the swamps of Calamba
  • Padre Lorenzo
  • Return to Manila
  • The "Pebete"
  • The military Library
  • The civil and military Hospital
  • Ecclesiatical processions
  • Ave Maria
  • Tagalian merriness
  • Condiman
  • Lunatic Asylum
  • Gigantic serpent thirty-two years old
  • Departure
  • Chinese pilots
  • First glimpse of the Celestial Empire
  • The Lemmas Channel
  • Arrival in Hongkong Harbour
Causes of the languid trade with Europe hitherto

During our stay occurred the "fiestas Reales," or royal fêtes, which were given by the Colonial Government in honour of the birth of an heir to the Spanish throne, Don Alfonso, Prince of the Asturias. The little heir-apparent had, in fact, seen the light in the month of November preceding, at Madrid, but when the news reached the Philippines it was Lent; respect for the tenets of the Catholic Church deferred the festivities, and afterwards the various fire-works, triumphal arches, illuminations, &., took so long a preparation that the month of June and the rainy season were again at hand before the fête could be held, which owing to the latter circumstance fell through, and excited hardly any interest. That intelligence should be so many months in arriving at the Philippines is due less to their great distance, than to the little care taken by Government to promote the public interests. Until l857, all letters to Europe were for the most part dispatched by sailing-vessels , so that letters remained four or five months on the way, and owing to the uncertainties of the length of passage made by the various vessels, it was constantly happening that the last letters sent came to hand before those dispatched several weeks earlier. This irregularity and uncertainty weighed so heavily upon commerce, that since March, 1858, there has been established regular communication by steam between Manila and Europe, for the residents throughout the Archipelago, being conveyed by a Spanish steamer from Hong-kong, which is distant only 600 miles, while all letters for Europe are conveyed to the latter port in time for the mails of the 1st and 15th of each month, whence they are forwarded together with the English correspondence via Singapore and Suez.

On the other hand there is up to this moment no regular communication with any of the adjacent islands in the Archipelago, even the Government only availing itself of such sailing-vessels as private adventurers may from time to time charter. When any change of officials takes place, the new appointment must often remain vacant for months till the occupant reach his post; indeed, during our stay in Manila we witnessed a case in which the consort of the Governor of the Marianne Archipelago had been vainly waiting for months for an opportunity to return to her husband.* Some foreign merchants settled at Manila had made an offer to the Government, in consideration of a fixed subsidy, to establish regular communication between the various islands of the Archipelago, and to keep it on foot by means of five steam vessels. But the Colonial Government did not see its way to giving the company a larger subsidy than 43,000 Spanish piasters (£6763 at par), and thus the whole p lan once more fell through, the carrying out of which would so greatly tend to the development of these islands.

Notwithstanding the fertility of the islands in islands in all manner of natural wealth, there are at present but three products of the soil wealth are exported in anything like large quantities to the European and North American markets, and which thus give this group any importance in the eyes of the commercial world, viz. tobacco, Abáca, or Manila hemp; and sugar. The amount of all other articles exported, such as coffee, indigo, Sapan wood (Cæsalpinia sapan), straw-plait,** hides and skins of animals, &c., is proportionately but small. We visited the great manufacturies of Binondo, as also that of Arroceros, where cigarillos, or paper-covered cigarettes, are exclusively manufactured. The former gives employment to about 8000 work-people, mostly women. In the long workshops, where it is common to see 800 females sitting at work on low wooden benches in front of a narrow table, there prevails a most disagreeable deafening hubbub. Some are busy moistening the leaves, and cutting off the requisite lengths, or are sorting the fragments and smaller pieces, of which inferior cigars will be made; others hold in their right hand a flat smoothed stone, with which they keep continually pounding each single leaf, in order to make these more susceptible of being rolled up. This drumming noise, and the cries of several hundreds of workwomen, who, on the appearance of foreign visitors, handle their implements of stone with yet more energy, apparently out of sheer wantonness, the strong odour of the tobacco, and the disagreable exhalations from the bodies of so many human beings shut up together in one close apartment, in a tropical temperature, have such an unpleasant, uncomfortable effect that one hastens to exchange the damp sultry vapours of the workshops for the fresh air without.


* This unhappy holy died melancholy death, having, what rarely occurs among Spanish women, committed suicide at her hotel by swallowing Prussic acid. It was romoured that an unhappy attachment let to this fatal resolve.

** Of these straw-plait manufacturies the cigar-holders are especially noticeable for their fine texture and elegance. These are usually sold at very high prices; some of the more elegant of these fetching from 40 to 50 dollars (£8 to £10). Straw mats and hats, not inferior in finess of texture to those of Panama, are made here of palm fibre, and form a not unimportant article of exportation.

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created: March 08, 1998
updated: March 08, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger