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The USS Albatross arrives in the Philippines: Paul Bartsch’s eyewitness account

by Teodora Bagarinao

Dr. Paul Bartsch, after whom many mollusks, birds, and other animals have been named bartschi was a naturalist, professor, Smithsonian curator and scientist, chronicler of the Albatross Philippine expedition, and it turns out, also ethnographer of the Philippines circa 1907-1908. I have been allowed to transcribe his journals, all 473 handwritten pages, and I am excited and grateful for the wealth of information I am discovering. I am also happy with the education Dr. Bartsch got during his visit; few others can claim scientific work as hard and foreign-country experience as rich. Decades later he was still telling his students stories of the Philippines, and still writing books about his findings. Below is Dr. Bartsch’s account of his first fortnight in and around Manila.

26 Nov 1907, Tuesday

Samar was in sight when I awoke and looked out of the port window this morning, and Luzon made its appearance about 11:30. Both islands show ranges after ranges of hills and mountains. At the mouth of San Bernardino Channel between Samar and Luzon is a small island… with a pretty little light house… Just behind this the crater of Mt Bulusan 5,100 ft high showed up in a mass of clouds. About 1 pm we saw what we believe to be… an Orca or Killer Whale. Saw quite a school of Porpoises. Fishes seem very abundant here as we have seen numerous schools swimming near the surface.

27 Nov, Wednesday

All day long we have been passing islands… with many possibilities for the naturalist but hard to traverse. When I came on deck this morning we were just leaving Marinduque on our starboard side. Before night we hope to reach Manila Bay and first thing in the morning after the health officer has inspected our boat we will land. I see no end of work ahead of me. Feel that I could spend a life time here and keep busy every minute. I like these Islands — like Honolulu we have the omnipresent play of clouds about the peaks of its hills and hanging over the valleys like huge veils, now shutting out the scene, now exposing it like a drop curtain in some huge theater. Dropped anchor at 7:50 pm in Cavite Bay.

28 Nov, Thursday, Thanksgiving Day

The Health Officer paid us the customary visit and later Capt Johnson called on the Commanding Naval Officer. After which we sailed inside of the break waters at Manila and came to anchor about 11 am. Manila Bay is a very pleasant sheet of water with the low land in the foreground of the shore, the hills and mountains in the distance. Numerous native crafts of diverse kind and pattern plied about us, most of the small ones being dugout canoes with bamboo outriggers, all having a partly covered portion probably to shelter the man or men from showers.

After luncheon Mr Fassett and I went ashore to look up Dr. Smith. Our inquiry at the various hotels revealed the fact that he had not yet arrived. We hired a caromata, i.e. a two-wheeled cart with a small pony and drove around the walled city and town. The Old or Walled City lies between the Bay and the Pasig River and is surrounded by a high stony wall which is pierced in… places by gates. These in the past were guarded by draw bridges, the entire city being surrounded by a deep moat now filled up. Inside of the walls are plazas and in some places a second line of fortification. Then comes the city proper with its narrow streets. Old churches and quaint houses, unattractive from the outside but… a fine court in the center lends the whole a most charming aspect and renders it much more ideal than one could ever imagine form the exterior. Almost all the windows in the town… are glassed with Placuna shells which allow a very mellow but pleasing light to fall through them.

The evening was spent partly in the Captain’s room where we were invited to Thanksgiving dinner.

29 Nov, Friday

Went ashore on the 9 am boat and ferried across the Pasig in one of the native canoes… We next visited the Bureau of Science, found that Worcester does not hold forth here but is in the Walled City in the Administration Building. Seale is away but we found Mr. McGregor and talked shells and birds with him. Took lunch downtown, passed through several showers and continued… exploring the town. Paid a visit to Columbia Club, a splendid institution with fine gymnasium and reading rooms… light refreshments… but no alcoholic beverages.

We next paid a visit to the Quadras home and found that Sir Quadras Sr died last Monday. I am sorry for this because I should like to have obtained a lot of data regarding localities from him. Madame Quadras, the wife of the young Quadras who is in the US, told me that all of Quadras collection and library had been taken to the US.

We next attended the concert by the constabulary band on the Luneta. Here we heard a lot of good music. The band seems to be made up almost altogether of natives. Though the leader is an American Negro (a Mulato), tonight he was absent and the bandmaster too was a native. After the concert we went to the Metropole Hotel for dinner. After dinner we returned to the Columbia Club where we met a number of the Bureau of Science men. I returned to the boat on the 11:30 launch.

30 Nov, Saturday

At 3:30 I met Mr Topping at the bridge of Spain and we took a street car and rode to its limit. We visited the water works and then walked over to San Felipe Mission, an old stony walled structure with a large roomy hall minus any seats. I am told the priest… do all they canto see the gospel properly spread. The best looking natives that I have seen so far were in the little settlement about the Mission and the regular features are probably also acquired from the same source from which they obtain their religious tendencies. We walked along a very picturesque road toward Sta Anna Mission, another complex of structures not unlike the last but a little more pretentious.

At one place in the road we saw a bunch of girls and women play at a game of beans. They used a small pit in the ground for their goal and standing off about ten feet would try to flip the beans into it. Part of the game also consisted in taking the bean in the mouth and shooting it with the lip.

In many places we saw girls and native women fishing for frogs in the rice fields, using a short pole with a moderate lengths of line to the end of which a piece of what appeared to be meat was tied. They keep bobbing the line in and out among the rice, jerking it much in the same fashion that Potomac fisherman jerks his hand line.

Along the small streams which we passed and also along the shallow reaches of the river, the Caribous which had completed their day’s labor were enjoying their mud dip, submerged completely excepting their nose in the water if this was deep enough or else wallowing in the mud like a log, apparently enjoying the experience greatly.

1 Dec, Sunday

The launch took us ashore at 6:30 by special dispensation and we reached the RR Station in time to take the train to Montalban. Our train followed the Rio Pasig for some time, then changed over to the valley of Rio San Mateo, the winding course of which came into view at many places. At each station, a bunch of natives and white men hailed the train. Many of the natives carried their pet cock for Sunday is the day for cockfighting. It seemed somewhat strange to see these birds quietly reposing in their master’s hand seeming perfectly content and happy, sending challenges to rival cocks. We passed through a rather large village… most of the houses… were raised above ground, the lower story lacking side walls, furnishing shelter for pigs, children, chickens, dogs and the other domestic beasts. Some of the more pretentious structures furnished stores in their lower quarters and the home on the second floor. Many native villages we passed had houses all constructed of bamboo and palm thatch.

We reached the station at Montalban about 8:00 and proceeded at once toward Marikina Valley and soon reached the river by that name. Passing the village which extends for fully 1 1/2 miles, we struck the first signs of the conduit which is to bring water to the city. This conduit consists of 3/4 inch thick steel tubes of about 3 ft caliber and these are placed about five feet underground.

In many of the shallow pools and partly inundated rice fields, native children were fishing. They used a basket of truncated cone shape, about a foot in diameter at the large end and about five inches at the lesser. Both ends are open, the larger is placed over a muddy spot, the hand and arm inserted in the smaller, and the contents searched. A very laborious process which apparently yield scant results.

About 10:30 we stopped to look for mollusks. Work up to noon gave us about fifty specimens. All were found in the vegetation. We took our lunch here then started northward toward the dam. Many times while walking along the mountain road we heard the curious booming call of a bird, probably a Pigeon up in the trees on the cliffs. Birds were quite plentiful, also butterflies, some of which were marvelously beautiful. At one place we found a scorpion with a long whip like leash at the posterior extremity. I poked him up and teased him with a flower… in return for which he emitted a very pungent odor which was as nauseating as a skunk and lasted for many an hour. In future I shall refrain from this pastime.

We reached the gap at 1:15. Here the Marikina has cut its way through a mountain range, making a very narrow cut not more than 150 feet wide. This is bounded by steep bluffs on both sides rising almost vertically to a height of 400-500 feet, the whole covered by luxurious vegetation. It was here that von Mollendorf and Quadras made their first collection of Philippine Island minute mollusks and here practically the foundation was laid for the splendid work done by Mollendorf on the Philippine fauna later. We made a fine collection of Melania, Vivipara, Corbicula and Neritina in the stream at the base of the gap. Then climbed up on the right bank and collected land shells amongst the bushes and crags. It was real exciting and our work yielded good results. Saw many ferns and interesting plants but did not collect any, confined all attention to the mollusks.

2 Dec, Monday

Worked until 2:30 pm on the collection made yesterday. Mr Ratcliffe caught a beautiful sea serpent this morning having many black bands and pale yellow ones between them. We are unable to locate the species in Dr. Stejneger’s Japanese Herpetology. At 3 pm, I left for shore to meet Mr Topping. We called on Mrs Dr Pond at the hospital in the western part of the city. Took tea and dinner with her and enjoyed a long drive through the city on our way to the meeting of the Medical Society of Manila. Here I listened to a long discussion on infectious jaundice and a new malaria-bearing mosquito. The latter was quite interesting, Dr Banks having worked out the complete life cycle of the beast.

3 Dec, Tuesday

Cleaned up my room… and continued the work on Sunday’s catch. Dr. Smith arrived at 11:00 am… from Japan. In the afternoon I called at the Bureau of Science where I met Mr Schweitzer, the entomologist who has been conducting an exceedingly interesting set of experiments on the influence of temperature upon a large moth, cocoons of which he subjected to freezing etc. The results are striking—great variations in size, but more so in color and even in color pattern. Mr Seale next took me to the botanists Mr Foxworthy and Mr Copeland, the latter a fern expert. Had a most pleasant hour with them and planned a Christmas trip. After dinner, Dr. Smith, Fassett and I had a game of checkers and later Mr Chamberlain gave us some gramophone selections.

4 Dec, Wednesday

I dropped a hoop net overboard this morning, baiting it with a chunk of suet hoping to catch some mollusks. The net however sank so deeply in the mud that I had considerable difficulty to recover it. Worked on the collections all forenoon. After lunch Mr Wells and I took the small skiff and rowed to the shore off Luneta Park. Here we found native fishermen throwing their cast nets, circular nets with about inch mesh, the periphery well leaded, and a long cord extending from the center which is fastened to the wrist of the fisherman. The fisherman… casts this net and makes it spread at some distance from shore in a perfect circle. The leads make the periphery sink rapidly and the fish are thus enclosed in a pouch. The fish, which are always small, less than a half foot long, are folded within the net as it is withdrawn from the water. (I took two photos of the operation.) Got a water snake from a cast net man.

The entire sea wall is plastered with Oysters and (Patelles?). The land inside of the sea wall is made land from mud pumped from the Bay. The material seems to be sifted,… the large shell heaps… used for paving streets… indicate as much. I am sorry that no pumping is being done at present as I should like to look over the sifted material and secure a series of shells from this source.

Just as we were leaving, a native came with half a dozen crab nets. These are square nets of about two inch mesh with cross sticks extending diagonally form corner to corner. The nets are baited and sunk, the crabs holding to the meat as the net is drawn from the water. We secured two specimens. They look something like Callinectes but more rounded and smaller than our East Coast species.

We had more gramophone music tonight and Dr Smith gave me Worcester’s book on the Philippines which I read until 12. The Japanese artist Kumataro Ito came aboard today.

5 Dec Thursday

We got out a long (180 ft) gill net and tried to catch some of the small fish about the boat, but they all went through. Dr Smith caught four with a long-handled dip net by making rapid dashes at them as I rowed him about and I added another in the same manner. Later Mr Ratcliffe and Mr Wells caught three more. Mr Seale came aboard at 6 pm and visited until 10. After this Dr Smith and I tried the dip net and electric light from the gang plank. He held the light and I caught a small fish, Lagocephalus, and another sea serpent similar to the one caught by Ratcliffe Monday. Barthalow caught another sea serpent this morning, a much darker species than the other two. The artist has been working on a color drawing of it all day.

6 Dec, Friday

Spent part of the forenoon working about the laboratory and reading the letters from home, the first since we left San Francisco. Spent about two hours throwing my little dredge overboard from the landing platform and washing the mud this brought up. Caught a fine series of small mollusks which I added to the catch made the other day. At 3 pm, Dr Smith, Ratcliffe, Wells, Hanson, and myself took a seine over to shore off Luneta and made five hauls. Caught about 20 species of fish and a number of nice crabs. I picked up a nice series of shells along shore. Took care of the specimens after dinner, then tried my hand with dip net and electric light on the gangway. Caught four sea serpents. Saw many squids and small fish but could not get them. The squids are swift as lightning and seem to be able to move forward and backward equally well. They are much better swimmers than fish.

7 Dec, Saturday

Worked on the mollusks caught yesterday and read book of Worcester. At night fished off the gangplank with a dip net and incandescent light, caught more sea serpents, #4473-84. These were exceedingly abundant and usually appeared in pairs. Also added a number of squids and small fish.

8 Dec, Sunday

Took care of the specimens caught last night and photographed a bunch of sea serpents, placing them in a drawer lined with white blotting paper. Our negative was made in the sun, the other in the shade. Next I took two with the snakes on a sheet of glass. These proved to be the best made, the snakes were unable to move on the polished surface, simply squirmed about a bit and could be placed to suit our purpose.

In the afternoon Mr Chamberlain, Ratcliffe and I went to town, visited the cockpit beyond Tondo. This is a rather large bamboo house with extensive open anterooms. The street anteroom and house proper were filling with a jabbering and gesticulating multitude. Along the walls of the anteroom and the walk just outside of it, women were selling all kinds of eat- and drink-ables. Conspicuous among the former were boiled hatched eggs with the chicks well feathered. These seemed to be considered a great delicacy. Not even a drop of the uncongealed fluid surrounding the chick was allowed to escape. The egg being gently cracked at one end and a piece of shell removed is pressed to the lips and the precious fluid is daintily sipped, after which the opening is gradually increased and the contents of the shell gradually emptied. Large shrimp and fish pastes and cakes of all sorts as well as trinkets were sold here. Among the throng of humanity were many mendicants with all kinds of deformities and ills pleading for a consideration.

In the anteroom, hundreds of men were squatting with their favorite game cock. The birds were of all kinds of breeds, the green fine form exceeding all others. The bird were tied to a leash by the left leg and to a peg into the ground. The owner sits or rather squats beside the fowl, stroking his pet or holding him in one hand and caressing him with the other. All natives are exceedingly fond of their birds and it has been said will rescue their game birds first in case of fire and then render assistance to their family. The game pit proper consists of a large room with a balcony that extends its entire length, the main part being reserved for Americanos. When we entered a fight was just finished and a dead bird was being dragged away and a little sand swept over the arena, a hard clay floor. Two men met and next came forth, and betting at once began. The judge fastened the gaffs which are about 3 inches long, narrow, shaped like a scythe and keen as a razor, to the left leg spur of each bird. Then the two owners holding the birds made passes toward each other and allowed them to take a peck at the comb and beard, drawing a little blood. Then the angry fowls were placed on the ground. After a few parries, they set to work and in less than three minutes, one or the other would succeed to give his opponent a smooth kick with the knife. Great shouting and picking up of the coins placed on the floor by the winner ends the fight. A new lot was brought in and the game continues. We did not remain long. The whole thing is disquieting to the highest degree and even now I am mad about it.

In order to get rid of the bitter taste (mentally), we decided to visit churches next and proceeded to the Walled City where we paid a visit first to the Cathedral, a massive structure of pleasing exterior form but poor internal architecture, a cold bleak building with many actors and saintly images. There are however several excellent paintings, which I feel sure must be the product of some of the masters, representing Madonna in one of the alcoves. Sto Tomas was our next point and the museum the immediate object of our visit, but unfortunately the good father in charge was enjoying his afternoon siesta so we had to postpone the call. Sto Tomas Church was open and we entered. Here we could hear the chant of the monks, saying a litany on a balcony high up, away from public view. Poor devils. I felt sorry for them spending a life chanting litanies and beseeching a deity on bended knees all hours of the day, hoping for an eternal reward. Next we visited the monastery but saw little here. Then we went to the Normal School where we inspected the building and pictures of classes hung on the walls, but saw no one. We passed through the botanical garden which is also a zoological garden. Here we found a couple of Bears, Tigers, and Leopards, also some Monkeys, one of which was an albino, and quite a lot of diverse kind of birds, among which were Pheasants and Pigeons.

We returned to the Albatross in time for supper. After supper I continued fishing with dip net and incandescent light. Saw lots of snakes and caught # 4484-4500. Also some mollusks.

9 Dec, Monday

Spent the morning taking care of the specimens caught last night. In the afternoon Dr Smith, Ratcliffe, Wells, and I went to Ermita Beach and drew a long seine several times. We caught a goodly number of fish and crabs. I collected a lot of shells along the beach. We had quite a crowd of spectators all of whom were eager to help. On our return to the boat, we found that someone had caught a dark brown medusa about 2 1/2 inches across the umbrella and with it about half a dozen small Caranx fishes. These usually accompany the Spanish man-of-war Physalia. At night I fished on the gangway again, saw many sea serpents but did not catch any. Counted 9 in about half an hour. They would come up probably to breathe, swim about for a little while, then wiggle down again out of sight. Only one long dark colored fellow was caught, at least three feet long. I placed it in a pail, covered it up, but found next morning that it had escaped.

10 Dec, Tuesday

Took the launch and had it tow the frahm and dinghy to Malate Beach. Dr Smith, Chamberlain, Ratcliffe, Wells, and I seined and caught a lot of fish. I got two nice specimens of an Octopus from a fisherman and later we caught two more of another species in the net. I also made a collection of shells along the beach and added many by wading. Caught a small Octopus in a dead shell and had him take a bite of my finger. They are nasty things to handle. Found many natives wading up to their waist catching Strombus which they use for food. Brown medusae were very abundant and we caught a lot of them, each having a small number of fish swimming under its expanded mantle and frills.

Dr Jorgen came aboard, he had arrived from Culion yesterday afternoon. We called at his office and he found that he was booked to return on the next boat to the Leper Colony to superintend some construction. This means that he will leave Manila about the 20th of this month. I joined him on his drive about town attending to official business. We saw the Lilliputian opera troop, all small children ranging from 5-16 years. Jorgen secured tickets for “The Toy Maker” for tonight. We paid the University Club a visit and I had a card of admission extended to me. From here we could see the soldier cavalry drill on the encampment ground. Also saw a three round boxing match. At dusk we returned to Hotel Delmenico, took dinner there, then went to the theater. It was exceedingly surprising to see how well the tiny tots assumed the parts of the elder persons whom they represented. The little girl that assumed the part of the Chief doll was simply glorious and her rendition of the fishing song could not be exceeded.


Dr. Teodora Uy BagarinaoDr. Teodora Uy Bagarinao is affiliated with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) in Tigbauan, Iloilo, Philippines. She is now conducting a Fulbright-funded research project at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC entitled “The USS Albatross Philippine Expedition of 1907-1910: biodiversity collections, research publications, and exploration history”.


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