B is for the British in Manila

BDid you know that the British occupied Manila and neighboring Cavite from 1762 – 1764?  The Capture of Manila, as brief as it was, ended as part of the peace settlement of the Seven Years War.

The British had long hoped to establish a trading route from the Philippines to their colonies in India or the East Indies, despite the fact that the Spaniards got there first.  And though they were unable to establish a successful and long lasting trade agreement between the sultan of the southern island of Mindanao without incurring much financial loss in the process (the Sulu merchants owed the East India Company more than they could afford to repay even in goods), you can’t fault the British for trying.

So in 1844, they sent a British consul, John Farren, to Manila to secure free labor sugar.  This would replace the loss of West Indian sugar after Parliament passed a bill emancipating the slaves in those British colonies.  England would become the Philippines’ chief buyer of sugar in the late 18th century.  For the next 20 years, Farren, who would remain British consul to Manila until his death in 1864, was continually obliged to furnish proof that Philippine sugar was not the proof of slave labor to appease the anti-slavery wing in London.

Before his death, Farren appointed Nicholas Loney as Vice Consul to Iloilo, an island known for its sugar production.  While Loney is known in Philippine history books for his role in the rise in production and supply of sugar for export and nicknamed as the “Father of Iloilo’s Sugar Industry,” it is through his letters to his sister that we get to see life in Manila in 1850’s.

One almost imagines himself painting the scene before him along with Loney’s words as he describes, in this letter to his sister in 1852, a Manila scene:

This (Manila) is not at all a bad place to live in, and to a fellow with health and spirits and fond of amusement it would be quite the reverse. It is a large place containing some 20,000 inhabitants. Beyond the more regular and stone-built part of the town, an endless amount of nipa (palm leaf) houses stretch away into the distance, each with its little Indian occupants, its pig, its small naked urchins, its little prints of different saintly personages, its small effigy of Our Saviour or the Virgin Mary, its little crop of vegetables, its indispensable ladder for purposes of ascent or descent, and its equally indispensable pool of dirt beneath the whole.

The street in which we live, the Escolta, is, after the Rosario, about the best in the place. In it are the best of the Chinese shops which display an ample store of articles of the Central Flowery Land, with goods of the kind most adapted to the consumption of the European population. The Rosario again contains an almost entirely British manufactured goods in the shape of gaudy handkerchiefs, prints, sayas, cambayas, trouserings, muslins, cards and the like; hoc genus omne are prominently displayed both inside and outside the doors of the celestial establishments underneath the shade of the capricious awnings (sustained by light iron poles) the size cut, colour and duration of which are regulated by government ordinance, and which keep the pavement eventually cool and shaded during the whole of the day.

Here flock Indians of various colours, sorts, and sizes, from a fine clear olive yellow, to a dark and dirty brown (the majority) others again of attractions sufficient to render the place dangerous…..

via Iloilo City Boy: The Letters of Nicholas Loney (1).

Loney loved to travel around the island to study the natural resources and also to meet personally with the sugar farmers.  Six years into his stay, in which he was able to improve the standard of living and social conditions of the people on the island, Loney fell ill with typhoid fever and never recovered.  He died at 41, and at his funeral, his nephew wrote, “all of Iloilo followed him to his grave and over 100 carriages besides lots of buffalo carts filled with people were there.”

But not all of the British were like Farren, who devoted much of his own money to help the local indians (the name for Filipinos then) and stranded British sailors, often paying the price of passage back to England himself, or Loney.

“Englishmen in the Philippines were totally English,” recorded one British traveler, “and more exagerratedly so, being so far away from their own country.”  They insisted on sipping their tea while the Spaniards gulped chocolate, they sported waistcoats during the hot summer months, they doffed top hats and walked with canes and silk umbrellas, they refused siestas as “tiresome occupations,” they talked incessantly of the climate, they despised the local treatment of animals, they denounced cockfights as “the most horrible spectacle I have ever had the misfortune to witness!” and they bewail almost everything that was not British and was not conducted in the British fashion.

– Via Philippine Heritage, The Making of A Nation, Volume 6

And with the entry above, I can’t but help direct you to the presence of the English Club, better known as the Manila Club, comprised of Brits and Scots living and working in Manila.

“The saying goes in the Far East that if an Englishman, a Spaniard and an American were to be left upon a desert island, the first would organize a club, the second build a church, and the third start a newspaper.” 

Life in Manila: Description of the Philippine Island City,
written by Charles B. Howard shortly after the Americans defeated the Spanish, as it appeared in the American publication “Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly,” Vol. 46: July-October 1898

Manila-Club-Nagtahan-Russel-Sturgis-home-1876-logo
Manila Club – Nagtahan image from Manila Nostalgia

The Manila Club in the 1880s included many nationalities within its membership but the British and Scots comprised the majority of members, all male. It was financed by its members through shares or debentures and an entrance fee and monthly dues.

The clubhouse was a comfortable, cool resort with a large verandah overlooking the Pasig. It was a 3-storied building including an attic and opened from 6am to midnight. It held guest bedrooms, a bar, dining room and lounge, a bowling alley on the ground floor and billiard room. The reading and music rooms were towards the rear facing the Pasig. “The club house is long, low and rambling. The reading, writing and music rooms from on the river, and the glossy hard wood floors, hand hewn out of solid trees , seem to suggest music and coolness. It is possible to reach the city by jumping into a native boat at the portico on the river bank, or to go by one of the two wheeled gigs, called carromatas, waiting at the front gate, or to walk a block and take the tram car which jogs down through the busy high road. “ Yesterdays in the Philippines by Joseph Earle Stevens

At the gateway was a sign announcing “No Women or Dogs Allowed” , typical of the London-styled chauvinistic attitude of the day. The property was not large, measuring some 200 yards deep from the river bank to Calle Aciete and about 250 yards across Calle Nagtahan to the Estero de Valencia but still contained a garden, stables, a few annexes, a boat house, and at least one tennis court. Arthur D. Hall, author recalls, “The English (Manila) Club is not only a sort of social centre and bureau of information but it is also a trade centre at which sales are made, contracts closed and deals consummated.”

– Via The Manila Club, Manila Nostalgia

One can only hope that things have changed since the 1880’s…

If you’ve read this far, thank you.  I didn’t expect it to be so long – and I’m only at B.  But since the main character in the novel I’m working on is a Brit, I hope you forgive me this indulgence.  I love my muse after all, even if no women or dogs were allowed in his place of respite…

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