Loney, I’m Mr. Loney

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By Betsy Gazo

Kaleidoscope

Saturday, July 26, 2014


WHEN we dock at the Iloilo pier from Bacolod, we are actually docking at the wharf named after an important figure in Iloilo history who also figured prominently in Negros.

Muelle Loney or the Loney Wharf gives us a beautiful sweeping view of the Iloilo harbor. On a sunny day when the sea is calm, the sight is breathtaking.

Although the muelle (locally pronounced “molye”) has gained an unsavory reputation as a place replete with dubious characters as most areas surrounding a pier usually becomes, the man after whom it is named was a fine gentleman who greatly developed the sugar industry in Iloilo and Negros.

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In 1856, an Englishman from Plymouth by the name of Nicholas Loney settled in the Visayas where he was assigned as vice-consul in Iloilo by the British Consul to Manila John Farren who, in turn, was assigned to the Philippines for 20 years. Farren only had good words for Loney. The former said that Loney is “a gentleman of integrity, intelligence, zeal and public spirit.”

Somewhere at the port, one can see the tall and lean figure of Nicholas Loney immortalized in a sculpture on a pedestal with etched (and now quite defaced) wordings: In memory of Nicholas Loney of Plymouth, England who was Her Majesty’s vice consul in his post. Died April 22, 1869 aged 43 years.

Somewhere in a short street behind the statue is the ancient Ker and Co. office. Loney opened his own trading house under the name of Loney and Ker Co. He had decided to make his fortune in our country. Carlos Quirino, a prominent historian, wrote that “he imported cane cuttings from Sumatra and brought machineries from England and Scotland. He sold the machinery to local planters on easy installments, with a low rate of interest. Then he built a stone warehouse on a swampy seashore land. This he and other local businessmen developed into a wharf, where deep-sea vessels could dock.” He was also said to be the inventor of the crop loan.

Loney managed to considerably raise the standard of living of the Ilonggos despite staying in the city for only six years. It was also despite being full of frustration over the general work attitude of the people. The islanders were generally lazy and once in possession of “a real or two” would not work at all. He said of Iloilo, in fact, “the most astonishing place for not being able to do anything out of the usual course of things I ever saw.”

Although Nicholas Loney is more affiliated with Iloilo and even has the port named after him, it wasn’t only Iloilo that benefited from his wisdom and foresight but also the nearby island of Negros.

In Negros, virgin land was cheap and Loney was able to buy a large farm here. The vice-consul also encouraged planters to follow suit and sold them the latest machineries and equipment for milling and sugarcane cultivation. According to historian Carlos Quirino, before the move to Negros, the island produced merely around 3,000 piculs of sugar. Then, it produced 618,129 by 1880. By 1893, the figure went up to 1,800,000 piculs.

Negros had overcome Iloilo and other sugar-producing provinces in Luzon. John Foreman who lived in the Philippines in the last decade of the 19th century said, “Negros is the finest sugarcane-producing island in the archipelago.”

It would be interesting to read Mr. Loney’s personal accounts of his visit to Negros. The following were written on February 12, 1860. The one to directly follow shows us Mr. Loney’s deep appreciation of our natural resources and his profound admiration has caused me to even wish I was there at that precise date.

Alas, and alack! This piece of natural heritage is now gone.

“Bye the bye we came to long cane fields, the commencement of Montilla’s estate, and in the distance a long line of luxuriant bamboos marked the course of the river Bago. Reached Montilla’s house… where Don Agustin (a Philippine Spaniard) did the honours with planterian hospitality. His wife and daughter being unaccustomed to see much of Europeans did not show up… but as for loveliness, the river of Bago is equal to Abana and Pharphar and all the rivers of Damascus…such a gleaming flow of deliciously clear water between banks of feathering bamboo, areca palms, creepers, camanchiles and other manner of tropical greenery! Stunning, sir—stunning, is about the only word that can convey to you a remote notion of the blessed Bago river which henceforth forms an inalienable part of my mental consciousness.”

Below, Loney gives us a glimpse of early hacienda life and its denizens.

“On the 31st of December 1859, Francisco del Castillo, Felipe G. Diez and I embarked in a panca for a trip of a few days to the Isle of Negros including a cruise round the island of Guimaras. After a night of wind and rain, which we spent on a deck, we found ourselves opposite Bacolod, the chief town of Negros. Disembarked in a gloomy shower of rain, got duly wet and went to the Governor’s – Dr. Pedro Beaumont—He was engaged in ordering the gobernadorcillo and teniente mayor under arrest for deficient supply of grass to his horses. Received us very politely, between the intervals of storming at those functionaries.

“Talked about things in general. Spiced sausage, biscuits and wine – Returned at three to governor’s for dinner…Don Jose de Alvarez y Sotomayor…was great on sugar crops and sugar, cane crushing labor, etc. – he having converted a large estate at Ginigaran…As I walked down the beach some Indians through the water to the baroto and pulled off to the panca—with us came Don Hugo Koch, a Prussian ex-naturalist settled at Valladolid and married to a mestiza daughter of a sugar planter. Started for Pulu Pandan on the southern coast of Negros.”

Nicholas Loney, the father of the Philippine sugar industry, loved traveling and those trips were spent on marveling at the natural resources of our islands. Ironically, it was his love for nature that brought his demise.

On a trip to Mount Kanlaon, he fell ill of a tropical disease (was it typhoid fever?) and died on April 22, 1869. His funeral in Iloilo was grandly attended and the love of the Ilonggos for this British businessman could be summed up in his nephew’s letter when he wrote home about it: “All Iloilo followed him to his grave and over 100 carriages besides lot of buffalo carts filled with people were there. The governor of Iloilo said, ‘Choose the prettiest place on anyone’s ground on the island of Panay and bury him there and I shall be answerable for the consequences.’”

Thank you, Mr. Nicholas Loney, for sharing a significant part of your life to the Ilonggos and the Negrenses.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 26, 2014.

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