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
A row on the river Pasig

On a grey, dreary morning we found ourselves pulling up the Pasig in small covered boats, till we reached the Lagune, where a larger craft was awaiting us, to take the entire company of pilgrims on board and transport them to the opposite shore of this inland lake, as far as Los Baños. In clear sunny weather a row in a banca upon the river Pasig, the aorta of Manila, which forms the communication between the city and the Lagune, together with all the various settlements along the shores of that internal sea, must be exceedingly pleasant. The banks of the river, indeed, are flat and unsightly, but the vegetation rejoices in a marvellous profusion most beautiful forms and colours. The Bambusaceæ are the chief ornament of the shores, on which there are but few palms to be seen, while the banana, the sugar-cane, or the rice-plant are only exceptionally met with at certain points. The delicate-leaved bamboo accordingly presents hereabouts an elegance and variety of form, which at first sight seems to mark out its individual representatives as belonging to so many different families of plants. Wherever the subjacent rock is visible along the banks it presents beds of an ashen-grey pumicestone, which constitutes the chief building material of Manila.

On the shores of the river, near the city, are situate the various factories and iron-foundries, above which are the residences of the wealthy Mestizoes and foreign settlers, as also the country-seat of the Governor-general, whence, still ascending the stream, are Tagal villages of wretched cane huts, grouped round stately churches and parsonages, which peep picturesquely through lovely groves of bamboo.

There are three modes of boating on the Pasig and through the Lagune, namely, the banca, consisting of a large trunk of a tree hollowed out and covered with an awning of bamboo; the lorcha or falúa (corruption of felucca), large, comfortable, but exceedingly clumsy row-boats, which, particularly during the rainy season when there is a heavy sea running, are those chiefly used in this navigation; and finally, the casco, which is of equal breadth at either end, and has more the appearance of a raft. The last-named is principally made use of for the transport of heavy merchandise, and is in especial favour with the natives, for the reason that it is practicable to hoist sail upon it as well as to row. On the Lagune there is also found yet a fourth kind of boat, the Paráho, the principle of which, as well as the name, has obviously been borrowed from the Malay Prabu, which it closely resembles in form and mode of steering.

On the Pasig there is a constant and amazing tide of human activity. Numberless boats pass and repass, some bound for the city, to supply it with provisions and other necessary articles, even to drinking-water, which has to be shipped in casks at a considerable distance, others returning with all sorts of purchases made in Manila, for the supply of the various residents on the shores of the Lagune with the necessaries of life. On this voyage we got a sight of numbers of grackles (Pastor Bosen), the well-known grasshopper-destroyer, which, about five years before, had been introduced from China at considerable expense, with the view of extirpating this formidable locust. But since these birds, to kill which is punishable by imprisonment, have become acclimatized, they seem to have lost all relish for grasshoppers, sitting quiet and unmoved on the trees and roofs of the houses, while swarms of locusts are disporting under their very eyes. Apparently the number of these de structive insects is less great in China than in Manila, where these voracious wanderers often appear in dense swarms, which, in the shape of black clouds, absolutely obscure the daylight! Probably, too, their means of sustenance is much more limited in China than in the Philippines, where these birds, being in fact treated as tame animals, and fairly domesticated find frequent opportunities of satisfying their hunger otherwise.

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