by G. J. Younghusband
Our friends in Singapore were much opposed to our entrusting ourselves to the tender mercies of the Spaniards, and advised us not to take passage by a Spanish steamer to the Philippines. The Spaniards, they said, were in an ugly mood after the severe handling they had and were experiencing at the hands of the Americans, and Britishers being taken for Americans might suffer from the studied impoliteness of one of the politest nations. But partly because our time was limited and a Spanish ship was the first to sail, and partly because we wanted to get into touch with Philippine thoughts and politics as soon as possible, we decided to brave the disagreeable, and took passage by the small Spanish ship, the Uranus, for Iloilo and Manila.
We made an expedition down to the dry dock at Singapore, where the Uranus lay undergoing repairs, and inspected our future quarters. The ship was small, of 873 registered tonnage only, but very fairly well fitted up, and reputed to be fast. A rough-and-ready-looking knot of Europeans were at the gangway, from one of whom we inquired for the first officer. The gentleman addressed at once pointed out one of the party as the object of our search, and we afterwards discovered that the rest were the captain and other officers of the ship. An inspection of the saloon and state-rooms demonstrated the fact that whereas most of the cabins were of about the size and general structural pattern of the ordinary dog-box of railway traffic, there was one capacious cabin calculated to hold six senoras of the largest dimensions. We, therefore, struck a bargain with el capitan that we would take passage only on the understanding that we should endeavour to fill, however unworthily, the space allotted to the six senoras. After a vast amount of gesticulation and shrugging of shoulders, not unaccompanied by the metaphorical clinking of dollars, an agreement was entered upon, and we left on the understanding that the date of sailing was to be communicated to us later.
Calling at Messrs. Boustead's office next morning, Mr. Waddell, the head of the firm, whose courtesy and kindness has left us under the greatest obligations, informed us that a Spanish armed cruiser had suddenly appeared in port, bound, it was stated, for the Philippines, and that no doubt we could arrange passage by her if so disposed. The cruiser was a fine new ship recently bought from the British India Steam Navigation Company, and rechristened the Buenos Ayres. Acting on Mr. Waddell's advice, we drove down to the dock to reconnoitre this engine of war, and found her a fine passenger ship of some 6000 tons burden, and armed with four fairly formidable-looking guns. Without being unduly inquisitive, it was difficult to exactly estimate their calibre, but though the matter is not now of the least importance, I should say they were 4-inch quick-firing guns. Passages were offered us on her as far as Iloilo at the rate of $85 a ticket, or about 40 per cent over peace rates. We had very nearly decided to go by her when we noticed in the local evening paper that this ship was suspected of carrying arms to the Philippines against the terms of the convention, and would, therefore, be detained by the British authorities and searched. As this probably meant detention at this end for one thing, and possibly unwelcome attentions from American warships at the other, we gave up the Buenos Ayres and returned to our first love, the Uranus. This admirable diseretion on our part did not, however, meet with its reward, for the Buenos Ayres slipped off at dawn, and the whole weight of official suspicion fell on our craft instead. Consequently the ship was unloaded from stem to stern, and closely searched by the police authorities for concealed arms, the search occupying nearly the whole day, a tedious and trying job for all concerned.
Whiling away half an hour with Colonel Pennyfather, late of the Inniskilling Dragoons, and now Inspector-General of Police at Singapore, he told me that our old friend, the Acheen War, which is just about to celebrate its silver wedding, so to speak, has during its 25 years' course produced an exceeding astute type of smuggler in arms and munitions of war. Per countra, I imagine the Singapore police have become equally astute at detecting the same, and, therefore, when Colonel Pennyfather's men failed to find anything contraband on the Uranus, I think we may safely conclude that she left port, on this occasion at least, on the same moral eminence as Cæsar's wife.
Directly we got to sea, quite an astonishing change came over the bearing of the ship's officers towards us, and I fully retract any unfavourable impressions which previously existed. Doubtless we had up to now been mistaken for Americans, and the most noble-hearted cannot view with fervent affection even peaceful travellers of a hostile nation. As soon, however, as it was clear that we were not Americano spies, but pure-born Inglis people, the spirit of the dream entirely changed, and we were treated with the utmost civility, and every endeavour used to make us as comfortable as possible. Sanitary science on most foreign ships is in an elementary stage, and therefore we only fought our way down to the usurped domain of the six senoras to hastily dress or undress as the case might be, and for the rest lived and moved and had our being on deck.
Mr. Waddell had warned us not to be too sanguine about the food on a Spanish ship, and especially on a small Spanish ship, but in this respect we were very agreeably surprised. Indeed some dishes were so excellent that with the gracious consent of the major domo we secured the recipes, and if any kind reader of this book who has lurking doubts on the subject will kindly step into lunch at the Guides' Mess when I return, his doubts shall be set at rest.
Some people are fond of trivial gossip and some are not, but as this chapter is chiefly trivial, and as there is plenty of solid matter for the beefeaters elsewhere in this enticing tale, I may perhaps be allowed to describe the way we live on a Spanish ship. At dawn, of course, the inevitable swabbing of the decks commences, but whereas on a British ship this sacred rite occupies at the outside an hour or so, on the Uranus it occupied varied periods extending from half an hour on the least inspired day to six hours on what must have been the very holy of holies. However, as our beds were safely perched on the skylight out of harm's way, we soon learnt to snooze comfortably through the whole operation, with the soothing feeling that the crew was being kept out of mischief, and on the fair way towards earning a day's pay. At 10 A.M., with a bottle of eucalyptus in one hand, a scent bottle in the other, and surrounded by a soft rainfall of Little's Soluble Phenyle, we dashed into the senoras' bower - our bower - washed and dressed as only those who are habitually late for parade know how to, and then burst again on deck much as a boy who has been searching for eggs for sixty seconds at the bottom of a swimming bath shoots to the surface. Déjeuner à la forchette is served on deck at 10.30 A.M., and is a very substantial meal, and rightly so, for it has to sustain us till dinner-time. The courses come in a somewhat different order to those at a French déjéneuer or English lunch. Thus we begin with omelettes or other egg-made dishes, next come two courses of meat generally in the form of hashes and pillaus, then fish, and as a coup de grâce an exceedingly solid beefsteak, winding up with slight kickshaws in the shape of cheese and fruit. The wine, which is served gratis, is a red wine of good quality, but remarkably strong. My first morning, being somewhat thirsty, I drank a good deal of it, and as a result slept peacefully till dinner-time, when I woke with a mouth like an ashpit and a head like a volcano, and in a frame of mind quite incompatible with singing Watts's hymns. Dinner is served at 5.30 - infamous hour! - and is an exact replica of breakfast with a basin of soup thrown in. My old enemy, the rich red wine, was there also, but I watched him carefully this time, and noticing that the Spaniards only sipped the wine, and then immediately chased it down with half a tumbler of water, I did likewise, and am therefore alive to tell the tale. The cooking was not at all oily or greasy; on the contrary very clean and savoury but I imagine the chef had not a very varied assortment of dishes in his répertoire. Picquet, at which I lost a large fortune, and reading books about the Philippines filled up the rest of our days.
The voyage from Singapore to Iloilo, a trading centre on the coast of Pana Island, of the Philippine group, occupies about five days, the course usually taking heading straight for the Balabac Straits, which divide Paraguay from Borneo. The Borneo coast is distantly visible, and on clear days the majestic Kinabalu mountain, 13,700 feet high, can be plainly seen so far at sea as 130 miles. Passing through the Balabac Straits the voyager to the Philippines enters the Sulu Sea, and after hugging the Paraguay shore for 150 miles or so to avoid reefs and other maritime pleasantries, heads northeast across the sea for Iloilo. From Singapore to the Balabac Straits occupies about three and a half days, and the transit of the Sulu Sea about one and a half days.
In these latitudes the question of weather at sea is naturally an all-important one, for the Philippines are the nursery of the much-dreaded and extremely formidable typhoon of the China Seas. Having already borne the brunt of two of these storms, and the afterwash of a third, not the remotest ambition remains to see another. Typhoons and cyclones were made for sailors, I imagine, not for soldiers, or possibly they are among those things which no fellow can understand the use of, and might serve for a verse or two from old Omar Khayyam, who would, no doubt, address his Creator with a healthy unreserve regarding a matter of such doubtful advantage to any one concerned. Before crossing to the Philippines it is as well therefore to make sure that no typhoon is expected, and if one should be it is undoubtedly wiser to incur an extra week's bill at Raffles's Hotel, and wait till it has blown over. The track of a typhoon at once becomes known at all ports within telegraphic communication with each other, and its exact direction can be almost mathematically calculated, so that given sufficient warning there is no necessity whatever to run one's head into the noose.
The season of the year in which typhoons are reputed to be most prevalent extends from April to December, but no part of the year appears to be entirely free from all chance of them. From past statistics, however, it appears that rarely more than one really formidable typhoon per annum need be expected. In the year of our visit, 1898, this annual occurrence took place on May 31st, whilst we came in for a second and milder one just before leaving Manila at the end of November.
Is there any being so fortunate as never to have been assailed with qualms on the subject of tips to servants? Personally I have suffered more anguish on this subject than on any other, except my teeth. The last day at a country house, every day's fishing and shooting, even the drive to the station and the journey itself are ruined by this dreadful shadow of impending evil. Not that I or any one else grudges for a moment the useful menial whatever he may think his due; but where the hitch comes in is that no one ever seems to know how much one ought to give, and to whom. I think it is the Duke of Westminster who has a notice up in his bedroom requesting none of his buests to tip the servants; if, however, they feel that their consciences will not allow of this, their attention is directed to a box into which their offerings may be dropped, such offerings forming a fund which is divided amongst all the servants at Christmas time. Such a step is certainly one in the right direction.
These sad reflections were occasioned by our impending departure from the Uranus. Here there was a major domo, a Spaniard, who did nothing for us in particular, beyond taking a lordly but distant interest in our welfare, and Tho-mass, a nominal descendant, I imagine, of the late-lamented Didymus, who did everything for us, as valet, lady's maid, housemaid, waiter, and general fag. Now the great question was, should we insult the Spanish nation in general, and the major domo in particular, by rewarding both him and Thomas the Philippine according to their merits, or on the other hand should we distribute our tips on the basis of to him that hath shall be more abundantly supplied? After a sleepless night spent in wrestling with this problem we solved it by deciding to subsidise both so heavily that they could each buy a church for themselves and praise the British nation ever afterwards.
updated: October 20, 1997
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger