Chapter 8

Manila Bay, the People

by Lieutenant John White

The fine bay of Manila is 30 leagues in circumference.

The dangerous part of it is small. With proper attention, it is easily avoided.

The least of water found on it at present is 11 feet. But its summit is constantly approaching the surface of the sea, as has been ascertained by surveys made at different periods by orders of government.

It indicates the presence of Zoophytes, that compound of animal and vegetable life.

  • Their incessant and rapid labors create polypus-like powers of receiving perfect form and vitality into numberless dismembered portions of their bodies.
  • These small, compound animals, commence their operations at the bottom of the sea, and proceed upwards, towards the surface.
  • They spread in various ramifications.
  • The older members of the mass become concrete, petrify, and form dangerous shoals.
  • The superior portion of these little colonists always being the last produced, in its turn generates myriads of others, and so on infinitely till they reach the surface of the ocean.

These coral reefs and shoals are found in most parts of the world, within the tropics; but the waters of the eastern hemisphere seem to be peculiarly congenial to their production, and, indeed, there appear to be certain spaces or regions in these seas, which are their favorite haunts.

Among many others may be mentioned the Mozambique channel, and that tract of ocean, from the eastern coast of Africa, quite across to the coast of Malabar, including the Mahé, Chagas, Maldive and Laccadive archipelagos; the southeastern part of the China sea; the Red sea; the eastern part of Java; the coasts of all the Sunda islands; and various places in the Pacific ocean.

These shoals, when they begin to emerge from the sea, are frequented by aquatic fowls, whose feathers, and other deposits, combined with the fortuitous landing of drifts of wood, weeds, and various other substances from the adjacent lands, in the course of time form superaqueous banks, of considerable elevation; and the broken fragments of coral thrown up by the waves, slowly, but constantly increase their horizontal diameter. Coconuts are frequently seen floating upon the sea in these regions, some of which are no doubt thrown upon the shores of the new created lands; from which accidental circumstance this fruit is there propagated.

Vagrant birds unconsciously deposit the germs of various other productions of the vegetable kingdom, which in due season spring [531]up and clothe their surfaces with verdure; and the natural accumulation of dead and putrid vegetation serves to assist in the formation of a rich and productive soil, and to increase the altitudes of these new creations.

As I have been always much amused and interested by this subject, and had frequent opportunities, during many years’ experience, to observe and examine these shoals in their various stages of subaqueous progress, and subsequent emersion I am convinced that not only many considerable islands, but extensive insular groups, owe their existence to the above origin.”

The People

The natives are generally well made, and bear strong marks of activity and muscular vigor.

They are in general somewhat larger than the Javanese, and bear some affinity in the features of their faces to the Malays.

Their noses are however more prominent, and their cheek bones not so high, nor are their skins so dark. Their hair is of a jet black, made glossy by the constant application of coconut oil, as is the custom in all India, and drawn together and knotted on top, in the manner of the Malays.

The women display great taste in the arrangement and decorations of their hair, which they secure with silver or gold bodkins, the heads of which are frequently composed of precious stones.”

Many people of Manila are mestizos. They are the offspring of the intermarriages of the Spaniards with the native women, and these again forming connexions with the whites, or with the native Indians (the latter, however, less frequent), combine in stamping upon their descendants a great variety of features and shades of color; a general resemblance is, however, to be traced, and waiving color and manners, a mestizo could not easily be mistaken for a native.

This class of the inhabitants is held in nearly the same estimation as the whites. They are very cleanly in their persons, and neat in their dress, which, among the males, consists generally of a pair of cotton trousers of various colors, as fancy dictates, and shoes in the European manner, a frock, or tunic, of striped grass manufacture, worn outside the trousers, in the manner of the Asiatic Armenians (but without the sash, or girdle), the collars of which are tastefully embroidered, and thrown back on their shoulders; a European hat completes their costume, which is light, cool and airy, and after a stranger has been a short time accustomed to see what he at first would call a perversion of dress, his prejudices subside, and he has no hesitation in pronouncing it very proper and graceful.

They are remarkably fine limbed, and well built, the females especially, who are really models of the most complete symmetry; their hair and eyes, which unlike their skins, seldom vary from the original jet black of their native parents, bestow upon them the primary characteristics of the brunette. This people, unlike the generality of mixed colors in the human race, have been improved by their intermixture, they are more industrious and cleanly than the Spaniards, possess more intelligence and polish than [532]the Indians and are less malicious and revengeful than either.

The men are employed mostly as writers, brokers, agents and overseers; many of them hold lucrative offices under government, and they not unfrequently arrive at wealth and consideration. The women are also industrious, and capable of great intellectual improvement; they have a natural grace and ease in their manner, and make excellent wives and mothers.

This character must not, however, be taken in an unlimited sense, for we cannot expect this rule to be without its exceptions, and it is true that some of these females do degenerate, and copy after the manners of the creoles, or white natives; but this is only the case when, by their intercourse with the whites, their Indian blood is merged and lost in the European. That part of the population in which is blended the blood of the Chinese and Tagalogs is named the Chinese mestizos.

The natives are not unapt in acquiring knowledge, neither do they lack industry, when efforts are made, and inducements displayed to call their powers into action.

They are excellent mechanics and artisans, and, as horticulturists, their superiority over many of the Asiatics is acknowledged. They are polite and affable to strangers, but irascible, and when excited are very sanguinary; their natural bias to this revengeful and cruel character, is strengthened and rendered more intense by the … doctrines of the Roman catholic religion as dictated to them by the designing and interested priests who reside among them.

The culprit always finds a sanctuary in the nearest church, till by the payment of some pecuniary mulct, he satisfies the demands of the priests, obtains absolution, appeases the resentment of the relations of the deceased, and eludes the arm of justice; he grows hardened by impunity, repeats his offences, and again escapes as before.”

A Filipino foundry

All the necessary works for a garrisoned city are within its walls; extensive magazines were erected in 1686, besides which are a hall of arms, or armory, a repository for powder, with bomb-proof vaults, and commodious quarters and barracks for the garrison.

There is also a furnace and foundry here, which, although their operations were suppressed in 1805, is the most ancient in the Spanish monarchy; this establishment was founded in 1584, in the village of St. Anna, near Manila; to the latter of which places it was transferred in 1590.

The first founder was a Pampango Indian, named Pandapira. When the Spaniards first arrived at Manila, in 1571, they found there a large foundry, which was accidentally burnt, in consequence of the combustibility of the building and effects, which character applies to all the houses of that period.”


Their colloquial language, like that of the natives of Java, Borneo, Sumatra, and many other islands in these seas, is a dialect of the peninsular Malay from whence it is thought they originated.

so striking is its similarity among all these islands, that the natives of each can, in a greater or less degree, understand that of all the others.

The characters of their written language differ widely, and great varieties of arrangement exist among them. [533]The Tagalogs write from top to bottom on palm leaves and strips of bamboo; and many of the Moros or Mahomedans use the Arabic characters.”

Difference of days.5From the circumstance of the Spaniards arriving in these seas by Cape Horn, and the general route being by the Cape of Good Hope, a consequent difference in time of one day is produced in the different reckoning; the Spaniards losing, and those who steer eastward gaining, each in the proportion of half a day in completing the semi-circumference of the globe.

Consequently, the time at Manila, being regulated by their own reckonings, is one day later than that of those who arrive there by steering eastward from America or Europe; as for instance, when by the accounts of the latter it is Sunday, by theirs it is only Saturday.

The English in Manila

In 1762, Manila was taken by the English, where, and at Cavite, immense quantities of naval and military stores, brass and iron ordnance, and several fine ships, fell into their hands.

It was, however, soon delivered up to the Spaniards, on a promise of the payment to the English of 4 million dollars as a ransom, which, however, never has been paid.

This breach of faith and promise has been loudly complained of by the latter, and as pertinaciously excused by the Spaniards, who complain that the British plundered the city, and committed many other excesses, contrary to the express conditions of their engagements, by which they were virtually rendered nugatory.


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