How to find Balay Negrense

Victor Fernandez Gaston


Victor Leopold Fernandez Gaston was born on November 23, 1850, in Silay (then still a town), province of Negros Occidental. He was the second of three children of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston of Lisieux, France and Prudencia Fernandez of Balayan, Batangas.

Victor's father, Yves Leopold Germain Gaston, was a pioneer of the sugar industry in Negros island. A sugar technologist trained in Mauritius and Bourbonne, Yves was commissioned by Domingo Roxas, forebear of the Roxas-Ayala-Zobel and Soriano families, and brought to the Philippines around 1837. He was to direct the planting of sugar cane and to set up a mill in Roxas' newly acquired estate in Calatagan, Batangas.

  However, the soil proved unsuitable for sugar cultivation, leading Roxas to give up the project and Yves to venture on his own and eventually moved to Negros island in 1844. He chose a stretch of land in BuenRetiro and established his sugar hacienda where by 1847, he had built a house and installed the first horno economico(steam run iron sugar mill) on the island. This allowed him to produce sugar in large quantities and soon established a reputation for the quality of his export sugar. Today Yves Leopold Germain Gaston is credited with being the first to engage in sugar cultivation on a commercial level.

It is not known when exactly Yves brought Prudencia Fernandez to BuenRetiro, but it is highly probable that they met when he was working for Roxas in Batangas. Once settled in Negros, they had three children – the oldest Maria Felicia, born in 1848, Victor, and the youngest Fernando, born in 1852. Yves died at the age of 57 and was buried on 30 May 1863 in the British Cemetery in Molo, Iloilo, at that time the resting place for all foreigners residing in the Visayas. The story has passed down from the older Gaston folk that Yves became very ill and decided to take his family back with him to France. But their journey was interrupted as he succumbed to his illness at their first stop which was in Molo, Iloilo. After his burial, Prudencia, Victor and his siblings returned to Hda. BuenRetiro.

Victor Fernandez Gaston was 12 when his father died. Research has allowed only a fragmentary picture of his own life and person. What follows is what is known thus far, based on family interviews and archival documents, as recorded in an article written by one of Victor's granddaughters Consuelo Gaston-Maisto.

Within a year after his father's death, Victor's education and that of his siblings was entrusted into the care of Don SoteroNessi, a Spanish European. While nothing more is known of the kind of education he provided the Gaston children, it may be assumed that he had credentials worthy enough to be approved by the French Consul in Manila. In his Last Will and Testament, Yves had specified that the French Consul was to be consulted and no expense spared for the education of his children.

It could also be expected that Victor's mother Prudencia Fernandez had an influence on his formative years. She lived until 1875, the year that Victor turned 25. As explicitly provided in his father's Last Will and Testament, this was the age at which he was to assume his full inheritance and its corresponding duties.

Archival records indicate that the administration of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston's estate was probably shared by Victor with his brother-in-law Manuel Suarez, who married his sister Maria Felicia in 1864, and eventually with his brother Fernando when he turned 25. While no records have been found yet clarifying how the siblings divided their inheritance, an Estadistica report establishes that by 1897, Victor was owner of the property known as BuenRetiro and Fernando of the property known as Binunga.

After his mother’s death, Victor continued to live in the house built by his father in Hda. Buen Retiro. But it was eventually moved to the present site in the hacienda where its ruins may still be viewed.

It was to this new site in Hda. Buen Retiro that Victor brought his wife and raised a family. In 1885, Victor married Filomena Maquiling with whom he had 12 children: Cenon, Emilio, Felix, Demetrio, Consolacion, Jose, German, Asuncion, Antonio, Victor, Rosario and Concepcion. Nothing more is known about Filomena, except that she was a native of Guinhalaran, Silay. She died in 1898, leaving Victor a widower at age 48. By that time, he had also become the guardian of his brother Fernando’s children after the latter’s death in 1895.


Sometime during the last few years before 1900, Victor decided to move his permanent residence from the remote Hda. Buen Retiro to the town of Silay where he owned property that stretched from the beach to what is today 5 de Noviembre Street. Here he had constructed a large new house and moved there with his children. He also set up a brick factory in the Mambulac area just behind the house. Victor and his children divided their time between their Silay home and Hda. Buen Retiro, as circumstances dictated. These changes in Victor’s life reflected the exigencies of the time – the hacienda was about an hour and a half by quiles, the children had to go to school and other business opportunities were opening up.

The Silay house is the very same that today stands on 5 de Noviembre as the Victor Fernandez Gaston Ancestral House and transformed into the Balay Negrense Museum. However, the country home in Hda. Buen Retiro survived only until the Second World War. Used as Officers Headquarters by the Japanese occupiers, it was burned to the ground by Filipino guerrillas just before 1945.

It was probably better that Victor did not live to see the destruction of his childhood home. He died at the age of 78 on 19 October 1927 in St. Paul’s Hospital in Iloilo City and was buried in Silay. Aside from official documents relating to his will and death, no other documents have yet been found that can reveal more about the later part of his life and personality. But recollections of the elder grandchildren fortunate to have known him have thankfully been recorded.

Teresa Gaston-Dacudao, remembers her Lolo as “a serenely fulfilled man, thoroughly enjoying his role as grandfather, content to leave the workings of his sugarland holdings to the next generation, yet being fortunate enough to keep himself busy with the new project of running a brick factory.” According to her, a typical day in his later life began with a visit to the Silay church to hear mass and pray his devotions and novenas afterwards. Back home around 10 am, he devoted the rest of the morning to administrative paperwork in his first floor office and reading newspapers to stay current. His lunch would be followed by the traditional siesta. Then around 4pm, he would walk through the fruit orchard at the side of his house, then go to the brick factory, sometimes taking any visiting grandchildren like Teresa with him on these walks. She vividly remembers the arched ovens where bricks were baked, the workers with long palas taking out the baked bricks and setting them out to cool.

The recollections of his grandchildren paint Victor as “a quiet one though given to occasional bursts of temper…a very conservative person [who] was never one to decide on an important issue without thinking long and hard about it, sometimes much too long”. According to grandson Antonio Gaston (a former Silay Mayor and son of Emilio who became Governor of Negros Occidental in 1934), the question of Victor’s son Jose leaving for studies in the United States in 1906 might never have been resolved if left entirely to the father. It was Victor’s older son Emilio who made him see the importance of this step, reasoning that “the Philippines was now a US colony; English had to be learned; and above all, scientific and technological advances were being developed and taught in many American universities”.

Even after Victor finally made the painful decision to send Jose to the United States, there remained a lingering concern as related many times by Jose himself to his own children – would his son Osing (as Jose was called by his family) find enough rice to eat in the United States? Despite all assurances that he would, Victor the doting father wanted to make sure. As the story is told, in 1906 “on the eve of his son’s departure, as Osing was locking his leather trunk, the quietly concerned but determined presence of Victor Leopold Gaston came into view, holding out a bag of rice [saying]: “Esto es, por si acaso, no podras encontrar arroz en seguida al llegar alli.” [This is for, just in case, you don’t find rice right away upon arriving there].

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