Lemery, Batangas in the 19th Century as Described by a Spanish Historian

Modern-day Lemery seen from the opposite banks of the Pansipit River.
Continuing with this web site’s series on late 19th century Batangas as described by the former government official and historian Manuel Sastron, this time we turn our attention on the town of Lemery just across the Pansipit River from the historic town of Taal. This trip back in time comes courtesy of Sastron’s 1895 book “Batangas y Su Provincia1,” a chapter each of which was dedicated to Batangas’ 22 pueblos back in that era.

Sastron began by calling Lemery “a very modern town” which was established in 1862. It was bounded by Taal, Talisay and Calaca as well as by the Bay of Balayan. Of course, in the present day, Lemery shares no common border with Talisay. In the late nineteenth century, however, Laurel – which in the present day occupies the space between the two – was still “a remote barrio of Talisay2,” the latter having officially become a “municipio” or town in 1869, just seven years after Lemery3.

Lemery’s distance from the province’s capital of Batangas was 28 kilometers according to Sastron – the actual distance as the crow flies is about 20 kilometers – and the town could be reached by land or by sea. While Lemery had a port, it was what Sastron called “unsheltered,” that is, it was dangerously vulnerable in the face of the rough seas brought on by the southwest monsoon. It was much safer, though, during the months of the northeast monsoon.

The roads in Lemery itself were in fairly good condition. Outside of the town’s jurisdiction, this was not necessarily so and especially because there was a shortage of rocks to have the roads repaired. Sastron also noted that all the bridges along the roads from Lemery were in a poor state of repair.

The town had a population at the time of 17,867. This figure was probably from the 1887 Census, the last undertaken by the Spanish colonial government before the writing of Sastron’s book. By the time of the 2015 Philippine Census, the town’s population had risen to 93,157.

Apart from the Pansipit, there were no other major rivers that flowed through Lemery, according to Sastron. There were, however, a few minor streams so that by and large, the town was blessed with flowing water. The curious thing was, despite the abundance of water, agriculture in Lemery was primarily dependent on rainfall. It was only in the districts of Nonongcasto, Matingain, Majayajay (Mahayahay) and Sinisian where there were irrigated agricultural fields.



Sastron noted that Lemery’s church and convent were solidly built and the architecture was “of good taste.” Construction was begun during the tenure of the Most Reverend Father Jose Martin and completed under the Most Reverend Father Raymundo Cortazar.

This being his first visit to the Lemery, Sastron wrote that he was quite eager to try the vegetables from Spain that the Augustinian friars somehow managed to grow on a sandy plot close to the convent. [Sastron continued to lavish praise on the friars as he did in other chapters; but these are no longer relevant to the purpose of this article.]

In the town was assigned a section of the Guardia Civil that was under the command of a First Lieutenant whom Sastron failed to name. A stone building was also under construction, intended to be used as a courthouse. Work had been suspended, however, and Sastron wrote that it was due to the shortage of resources.

Lemery was also among the healthiest pueblos in the whole of Batangas, thanks in no small way to its proximity to the town of Taal. In the latter, Sastron wrote, resided several doctors with degrees in Medicine, Surgery and Pharmacy.

Within the Calauang district of Lemery were the so-called waters of San Raymundo, which were reputedly medicinal. The waters’ properties had not as yet been properly analyzed; but Sastron conjectured that these were probably sulfurous.

Lemery’s people were very industrious, he wrote. For the manufacture of sugar alone, there were in the town 16 mills made of iron and about a hundred made of wood. There were soap and alcohol factories, both of which were owned by the Chinese, who were not allowed to engage in business just across the Pansipit River in the town of Taal.

There were in the town also two bodyworks4, wrote Sastron; and countless home-made looms from which fabrics were woven. The fishing industry was also particularly active in the months of April and May, when bangus5 (milkfish) was harvested.

Rice was imported into Lemery from the Northern provinces or even from Mindoro by way of several registered boats. Meanwhile, the prevailing prices in the town of goods and services such as transportation were similar to those in the neighboring town of Taal.

Notes and references:
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2History of Laurel,” online at the Laurel, Batangas Local Government web site.
3History of Talisay,” online at the Talisay, Batangas Local Government web site.
4 Likely shops for the manufacture and repair of horse carriages. “Bodywork,” online at Merriam-Webster.
5 Although commercial bangus in the present day is frequently grown in freshwater lake pens, in the wild, it “commonly lives in tropical offshore marine waters around islands and along continental shelves, at depths of 1 to 30 m. They also frequently enter estuaries and rivers.” It is possible that the bangus caught by Lemery’s fishermen as described by Sastron was from Balayan Bay and the Pansipit River. “Milkfish,” online at Fishbase.org.

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