An Austrian View of Manila circa 1858

Image: Front Cover of An Austrian View of the Philippines 1858

In his book published last 2011, An Austrian View of the Philippines 1858, Wilhelm M. Donko, Austrian Ambassador to the Philippines, brings to light the story of the frigate “Novara” which became the first Austrian warship to visit the Philippines, or to be more accurate, Manila, as part of a global scientific mission by a team Austrian scientists.  The centerpiece of Ambassador Donko’s book is the reprint of Karl Scherzer’s (one of the Austrian scholars) narrative  about the expedition’s stay in the Philippines from June 15 to June 25, 1858. In addition,, Ambassador Donko provides a comprehensive background history of the Austrian navy and the Novara circumnavigation of the world in 1857-1858.

Karl Scherzer’s narrative about the Philippines focused on observations about a very wet and rainy Manila (including Binondo, San Miguel) and of the scientific trip to “Laguna Encantada” or the Enchanted Lake passing  by Pasig, Pateros, Los Banos, and Calamba. While on the Pasig river, Mr. Scherzer took notice of a number of grackles which he claimed was imported from China at considerable expense by the Spanish authorities to help combat the locust infestations in the area. The Spanish authorities even prohibited the killing of these grackles with violations punishable with imprisonment. Unfortunately, after four years of stay in Manila, the grackles found other appetizing sources of food and thus simply ignored the locusts (Mr Scherzer identified the grackles from China as “pastor rosen” although the correct scientific name should have been “Pastor roseus” (

Image: Rosy Pastor Imported from China to Help Manila Deal with Locust Infestation (

Interestingly, Mr. Scherzer’s spent quite a number of pages describing his visit to the monasteries of the four religious order in Manila. Among the four, he was most impressed with the Augustinian monastery  which he described as the place that speaks of “power and splendour” (p. 299) while he was most critical of the Franciscan’s monastery that reflected “…the melancholy spiritual decay” of the order (p.303). Apparently, he associated cleanliness with Godliness, as he found the Franciscan monastery and the Franciscan monks very dirty and untidy.  In a similar fashion to the Franciscans, he gave the opinion that the monastery of the Recoletos reflected the monks’ “careless indifference” (p.304). For the Dominican monastery, Mr. Scherzer had no complaints remarking that the place was “kept clean and comfortable..” (p.303).

Curator’s Note: Thanks to my German friends, Stephan and Ulla Rama, for gifting me with a copy of the book as their “pasalubong” during their 2012 visit to Manila.

Additional references:

A copy of the book can be ordered from the German publisher:

Ambassador Wilhelm M. Donko Official Website


~ by Martin Gaerlan on March 20, 2012.

2 Responses to “An Austrian View of Manila circa 1858”

  1. Martin, thank you for mentioning us, we had a wonderful time in the Philippines. A very interesting site. Take care!

  2. Ulla, thank you the kind remarks. Hope to you see you again….take care.

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