Mugford, The Manila Chilla

A familiar sight for nearly two centuries, and current in the Philippines.

Charles D Mugford was a master mariner from Salem, Massachusetts, in New England, home of a global ice export industry. A member of a wealthy family, he went into business in Hong Kong and seems to have commuted between there and Manila

In May 1846, three years after Frederic Tudor’s exports to Hong Kong had begun, Mugford asked the Spanish authorities to allow ice to be imported into Manila tax-free and for customs duties to be suspended on the importation of materials to build an ice house.

At some stage, Mugford invested $9,000 in the American trading firm of Russell & Sturgis which was doing well by exporting Manila hemp cordage and sugar from the Philippines.

He was rich enough that when he accidentally burned down a hemp warehouse when discarding a lit cigar he airly boasted he’d invest another $10,000, around $300,000 in today’s money.

A year after Mugford’s proposal to the Spanish, Russell & Sturgis imported 250 tonnes of ice, carried by the Hizaine, into the Philippines tax-free. It is fairly safe to assume that Mugford had done a deal with Russell & Sturgis and that an ice house was ready at the company’s factory on Calle Barraca.

View across the Pasig showing Russell & Sturgis buildings and dock.

It is also reasonable to assume that the ships which brought in the New England ice were outbound with hemp and sugar, the staples of Russel & Sturgis’s business.

That was followed in October 1848 by a Royal Decree making the importation of ice tax-free.

Now ice was available.

There were deliveries to private houses and hotels where blocks were put into an insulated wooden box, a rudimentary refrigerator. Emilio Aguinaldo had one in his house in Cavite.

As yet we have no information on how big the ice business was or how widespread the use of ice. Apart from consumption in drinks and food, it was used to preserve food, and in hospitals.

Imported ice would be used in ice boxes like this, invented in the first years of the 19th century.

The economic and social impact of the arrival of ice in 19th century Manila is a historical study worth pursuing.

In the mid-19th century, the famous Russian novelist Ivan Goncharov visited Manila aboard the Pallada in a failed Russian attempt to open Japan to international trade, and sampled the available sorbet at a restaurant on Calle Escolta, noting that it was so sweet that anyone from Europe would have found it hard to swallow.

One is tempted to suggest that Goncharov’s sorbet had been flavoured with sweet, sticky condensed milk, a new product at the time. The huge amount of sugar in condensed discouraged bacterial growth.

This would have been a water/juice confection, sweetened with sugar then stirred as it froze.

Within a decade of that first arrival of ice in Manila, the end of the ice import business was in sight.

The iceman was coming.

Part Four: Here Comes The Iceman

Part Two: Ice, Ice, Babae

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