F is for the French adventurer who made the Philippines his home from 1820 – 1840. His name was Paul de la Gironiere and after finding his name in the “fueilleton of the Constituionnel” figuring among Alexandre Dumas’ “Thousand and One Phantoms,” he decided that it was high time he wrote about his adventures.
“As a traveller, he had seen strange sights – done valorous deeds – gained a marvellous experience. He had outlived a massacre, married a fortune, founded a colony – he had combined in his own person the adventures of a Rajah Brooke and a Col. Dixon of Mairwara memory: – how, then, could he stand by and see himself reduced to “phantom” – and hear the story of his own colony of Jala-Jala mistold by the daring romance-writer of the Constitutionnel!”
– Via The Living Age, Volume 39
Gironiere was born in the region of Nantes, in western France. His father was a captain with the regiment and by all accounts they lived a good life. The French Revolution changed their fortunes, and they were forced to move to La Planche, 18 kilometers from Nantes, where his father died shortly after from illness, leaving his widowed mother to raise all the six children herself.
The hard life he lived after his father’s death taught him and his brothers and sisters to be resourceful and hardworking and soon, Gironiere went to study medicine and became a naval surgeon.
“Twenty-four hours after my nomination as a surgeon, I went and offered my services to a ship-owner who was about freighting a shipping vessel to the East Indies.”
At 22, he landed in Manila and made Cavite his home. He certainly was not one to sit around, sip tea and watch life pass him by. Besides, adventure seemed to follow him everywhere he went. In Manila, among the many adventures he would encounter included surviving a cholera epidemic, saving the life of a ship captain, and walking away from a massacre unscathed.
I had only resided a short time at Cavite when that terrible scourge, the cholera, broke out at Manilla, in September, 1820, and quickly ravaged the whole island. Within a few days of its first appearance the epidemic spread rapidly; the Indians succumbed by thousands; at all hours of the day and of the night the streets were crowded with the dead-carts. Next to the fright occasioned by the epidemic, quickly succeeded rage and despair. The Indians said, one to another, that the strangers poisoned the rivers and the fountains, in order to destroy the native population and possess themselves of the Philippines.
On the 9th October, 1820 … a dreadful massacre commenced at Manilla and at Cavite…Almost all the French who resided at Manilla were slain, and their houses pillaged and destroyed. The carnage only ceased when there were no longer any victims.
…Four hundred Indians surrounded me; the only way of dealing with them was by audacity. I said in Tagaloc to the Indian who had attempted to stab the captain: “You are a scoundrel.” The Indian sprang towards me; he raised his arm: I struck him on the head with a cane which I held in my hand; he waited in astonishment for a moment, and then returned towards his companions to excite them. Daggers were drawn on every side; the crowd formed a circle around me, which gradually concentrated. Mysterious influence of the white man over his coloured brother! Of all these four hundred Indians, not one dared attack me the first; they all wished to strike together. Suddenly a native soldier, armed with a musket, broke through the crowd; he struck down my adversary, took away his dagger, and holding his musket by the bayonet end, he swung it round and round his head, thus enlarging the circle at first, and then dispersing a portion of my enemies. “Fly, sir!” said my liberator; “now that I am here, no one will touch a hair of your head.” In fact the crowd divided, and left me a free passage. I was saved, without knowing by whom, or for what reason, until the native soldier called after me: “You attended my wife who was sick, and you never asked payment of me. I now settle my debt.”
Whew! He certainly knew how to write, didn’t he? I was on the edge of my seat there! Anyway, like any story, I hoped that our adventurer would find love, and luckily, he did.
One of my American friends often called my attention in our walks towards a young lady in mourning, who passed for one of the prettiest senoras of the town. Each time we met her my American friend never failed to praise the beauty of the Marquesa de Las Salinas. She was about eighteen or nineteen years of age; her features were both regular and placid; she had beautiful black hair, and large expressive eyes; she was the widow of a colonel in the guards, who married her when almost a child. The sight of this young lady produced so lively an impression upon me, that I explored all the saloons at Binondoc, to endeavour to meet her elsewhere than in my walks. Fruitless attempts! The young widow saw nobody. I almost despaired of finding an opportunity of speaking to her, when one morning an Indian came to request me to visit his master. I got into the carriage and set off, without informing myself of the name of the sick person…Having examined the patient, and conversed a few minutes with him, I went to the table to write a prescription; suddenly I heard the rustling of a silk dress; I turned round—the pen fell from my hand. Before me stood the very lady I had so long sought after—appearing to me as in a dream! My amazement was so great that I muttered a few unintelligible words, and bowed with such awkwardness that she smiled.
Gironiere go on to establish the Jala Jala (pronounced Hala Hala) hacienda in Morong, which is now known as Rizal province. He raised hogs, planted indigo, sugarcane and even coffee. He gained the respect of the clergy by building them a church and earned the good side of his workers by building them cock fighting pits.
The Real Sociedad Economica de Amigos del Pais de Pilipinas even awarded his efforts in the field of horticulture and agriculture with 1,000 pesos for raising 6,000 coffee plants.
Gironiere’s life was not without its sad moments, however, for despite his prosperity in Jala-Jala, his success with the natives, and in agriculture, he experienced much sadness as well. He lived to see most everyone he loved die before him, including his wife, his premature daughter and later, his son, and…well, there’s more but it saddens me just thinking about it.
You can find out more about Gironiere’s Adventures in the Philippines via Gutenberg here.