The Philippines and Round About
by G. J. Younghusband


Arrival at Pana Island - Defenceless condition of Iloilo - An ancient fort - The hardly aggressive sandbag - Garrison of Iloilo - Threatened rising - Rumoured defeat of the Spaniards - An excellent anchorage - The wharves - Description of Iloilo - Bad state of roads - European stores - Public vehicles - Mr. Duncan, the British Vice-Consul - A matter of passports - We tranship to the Butuan - "Plenty bad women " - A miserable experience - Disappointing scenery.

Early on the morning of October 24th, 1898, we sighted Pana Island, and about 2 P.M. dropped anchor before Iloilo, the temporary capital of the Spanish Philippines and the seat of government. The sea approaches to Iloilo, more especially from the westward, are very confined, and the crudest military or naval genius could find little difficulty in making the passage of a hostile fleet excessively unpleasant, but it is perhaps unnecessary to add that the Spaniards have done nothing either before the war began or during its continuance to put the place into a state of defence.

The only exception to this seemingly sweeping assertion that can be taken by those responsible is in favour of a few sandbags which have been piled up on the bastions of a venerable masonry work which stands, and has probably stood for a couple of centuries, on the spit of landd to the south of the town. This small fort is square, measuring about 80 yards each way, and its sea walls are so undermined by the action of the waves that one well-placed modern shell would tumble the whole structure into the sea. Beyond the useful but hardly aggressive sandbag there are no engines of warfare in the fort, no guns in position of even the smallest calibre or most ancient pattern. Either there never have been any, or perchance some needy former Governor turned them into cash. The garrison of Iloilo at this period consisted of about 1,000 infantry and two or three field guns. Of the infantry about half were natives, and could not be relied on. No opportunity occurred of seeing these troops, for they had just been despatched inland to check a rising which, instigated by the landing of 100 insurgents from the island of Luzon, was reported to be making formidable headway. The insurgents had brought several field guns with them, and arms and ammunition for their compatriots. On the morning after our arrival grave rumours were afloat that the Spanish troops had been defeated, and wholesale desertion to the enemy on the part of the native troops was taking place.

In the narrow strait which lies between the islands of Pana and Guimaras excellent anchorage and shelter exist for ships of any size and in any numbers. The town of Iloilo, though practically on the sea and completely visible from it, has no wharfage on either of its sea faces. Ships of over 1,000 tons register have to load and unload at the anchorage, but small steamers and gunboats can proceed up the river to the town itself. The river is only about 800 feet wide, and the wharves are about three-quarters of a mile from the mouth. At the mouth is a bar crossable only at high water even for sailing brigs. There is room for about ten steamers to unload at one time at the wharf.

The town of Iloilo is of irregullar shape, about one mile long by three-quarters broad. The houses are well built and the streets for the most part wide, but very badly kept. Another instance probably of the money which should have been expended in repairs going instead to feather the nests of officials. Side roads are mere quagmires, to bridge thee worst portions of which a public-spirited citizen here and there gives the use of a teak log. These logs are occasionally the saving of a pedestrian, but we noticed that the ponies and bullocks drawing vehicles viewed them in an entirely different light, when, in addition to deep going, such formidable obstacles had to be negotiated. A few good stores kept by Europeans appeared to contain all the usual necessaries of life, whilst the less pretentious shops were kept by Chinamen.

The public vehicles are two-wheeled and covered in, exact counterparts, in fact, on a smaller scale, of the inside car of "ould Ireland." The ponies are good, hardy little beasts, standing about 13 hands on an average, and cost from 75 to 100 dollars apiece. Rates of hire, like everything else, were high in consequence of the war, fares all round being double the usual peace rates.

On the morning after our arrival we went ashore and called on Mr. Duncan, the British Vice-Consul, who proved to be the brother of a friend of ours, Surgeon-Major Duncan, of the 5th Gurkhas. The Spanish Government, great in small things however small in great things, made here the astonishing discovery that I had no passport. I had asked the American Consul at Singapore if one was necessary, and was informed that it certainly was not, we being through passengers to Manila and only touching at Iloilo incidentally en route. However, the Spaniards would have it, and I was ordered to present myself with my papers before the Secretary to Government. As my "papers" consisted of nothing more official than my visiting card, supported by a regimental crest on the back of a cigarette case, we appeared to be in some danger of missing our ship, which sailed in an hour's time, but here Mr. Duncan most kindly came to the rescue and accompanied me to the Spanish Government Offices. The result of the negotiations was the highly interesting document given on the opposite page, which no one has ever been able to decipher, and which no one of course ever afterwards asked for.

At Iloilo we transhipped into another Spanish ship flying, however, the American flag. We had fondly imagined that we had fallen as low as it was possible to fall in ocean shipping in a steamer of 873 tons, but our next venture, the Butuan, undeceived us in that respect, foor she was only a little over 400 tons, and a nice little bounce she gave us during our thirty-six hours' voyage in her. She was very crowded too, the first and only saloon being so full that there was not room for all to be fed at one time. Our kind friend, the captain of the Uranus, had personally conducted us on board and handed us over with many and most careful injunctions as to our welfare to our new captain. The result was that the new captain drew me apart and unfolded a dark and dreadful conspiracy, whereby we were to feign indisposition till the other good people were safely settled at dinner, and then he would have a nice table spread on deck for himself and us and one other privileged seņor. The conspiracy came off all right, but the captain got dreadfully careworn over it. His English was very rudimentary, and we chuckled a good deal when, in explaining his plan of campaign relative to meals, he described his fair compatriots of the first saloon as "plenty bad women," with fearful shrugs and contortions, "not good like Missis," smiling blandly at the back of my wife's head in the distance. A voyage in the Butuan is like a voyage on the most depressing form of switchback railway, with the additional horror of some one giving the bottom of the ship great bumps up at all the most inconvenient moments. A more miserable crowd than thronged the decks even the annals of the Calais-Dover boat could with difficulty produce. As to the scenery during the trip through the network of islands which lie between Iloilo and Manila, one feels compelled in honesty to record an opinion that it is certainly not worth the trotible of going so far to see. During a previous visit to Japan it had been impressed upon us that the scenery in the renowned inland sea of Japan could not compare with that to be found in the Phililppine Islands; this may or may not be the case, but of a surety we did not come across those parts. One of the charms of the inland sea is, that in ships of the largest tonnage you can run close along shore as in a deep river, and the mainland and islands are full of life and the sea of boats. In the Philippines, on the contrary, the ship, as a rule, keeps well away from land, and such land as is passed close consists merely of thickly-wooded, deserted-looking hills, dipping steeply into the sea. No life is visible on shore, no variety in the stereotyped class of scenery, and a boat is as rare as an octopus. Go, therefore, by all means to the Philippines, but not to see anything more beautiful than the scenery in Japan, or for that matter in England. But even the most uncomfortable voyage is not without its humours, and here a standing amusement was furnished by a little German, very fat and very ill, whose bed, bedding, and blankets another gentleman, equally ill, had approppriated, spread on deck, and permanently occupied. Every few hours the little German whould dash at the usurper and shake and abuse him, and demand his bed; but the usurper was a big man and very ill, and absolutely refused to stir, whereupon the little German would dash away and be violently unwell, and sleep about here and there and glare at the big man. At last, after firmly resisting all attacks for twenty-four hours, the big man gave in so far as to allow the little fat man to have half his own bed, and there for the rest of the voyage these two lay as lovingly as the babes in the wood, and were comfortably ill together. The chief engineer was a Scotchman, and had been on the Butuan for twenty years, during which period his consumption of whisky appears to have reflected great credit on the swallowing capacities of his native land; as the captain put it, " Him very good; what you call drunkengineer."

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created: October 20, 1997
updated: October 20, 1997
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger