History of Taal's activity to 1911 as described by Fr. Saderra Maso Taal as seen in 1856

Last modification: march 18th, 1999

  One of the main sources of information regarding early eruptions of Taal volcano is the slender book (26 pages) by the reverent Miguel Saderra Maso (1991) "The eruption of Taal Volcano, January 30, 1911", which was published by the Weather Bureau in Manila.

This paper is difficult to get access to (even in Manila) and the present writer obtained a copy from Chris Newhall (thanks Chris!). Most more accessible sources on early eruptions of Taal, notably the paper of Dean Worcester (1912), published in the National Geographic magazine, largely quote Saderra Maso`s paper for Taal`s eruptions prior to 1904. For this reason, a portions of that book, i.e. S. Maso`s translations of early eyewitness accounts, is made available on this internet page (Maso`s translations of Spanish texts appear in green courier font face and are repeated in fill length, other text is slightly abridged and my insertations are identified by []). The translations form the core of chapter II of Maso's book: "Eruptions within historical times".

II: Eruptions within historical times (Saderra Maso)


The first mention of Taal Volcano which we find in Philippine history, is made on the occasion of the establishment of the town Taal by the Augustinians in 1572. Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin, relating the foundation of the town tells us, that in Lake Bombon [Taal Lake], on whose southern shore the town was located,

"there is a volcano of fire which is wont to spit forth many and very large rocks, which are glowing and destroy the crops of the natives."


In 1591, Fr. B. de Alcantara, O.S.A., repeated ... [a kind of exorcism] ... for the reason that the volcano had begun to belch forth extraordinary masses of smoke.

During this period [1605-1611] we find as a as rector of Taal Fr. Thomas de Avreu who, not content wth saying mass on Pilo Volcan, had a huge cross of anubing (a wood which admirably resists inclemencies of the climate) erected on the brink of the principal crater. We believe that this action was caused by sinister sugns of unusual activity on the part of the volcano, since several chroniclers tell us that there were heard frequent rumblings which tzerrified the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages.

The naturalist Semper states that in several chronicles are found vague statements concerning eruptions of the volcano which took place during these years [1634, 1645].

In similarly doubtful and vague notices consists the whole history of Taal volcano from the arrival of Legazpi on the island of Luzon until the beginning of the eighteenth century. This makes it probable that, during the long period of one hundred and thirty-five years, which intervened between the discovery of the volcano in 1572 and the first well-established eruption in 1707, the volcano showed only solfataric activity, or at most very unimportant outbreaks. Something similar we know to have been the case during one hundred and three years from 1808 to 1911.


The cone called Binintiag Malaqui burst forth with a tremendous display of thunder and lightning; but aside from fear and trembling, no damage was done in the town situated on the shores of Lake Bonbon.

[no reference is given]

... the whole point called Calauit appeared to be on fire.

On September 24, 1716, at about 6 o'clock in the evening, a great number of detonations were heard in the air, and shortly after it became plain that the volcano in Lake Bombon had burst on its southeastern side, which faces Lipa, so that the whole point called Calauit appeared to be on fire. Later on the eruption seemed to spread into the lake, in the direction of Mount Macolod, which rises opposite the volcano on the southeastern shore of the lake. Great masses of smoke, water, and ashes rushed out of the lake, high up into the air, looking like towers. Simulaneously there was a great commotion in the earth which stirred up the water in the lake, forming immense waves which lashed the shores as though a violent typhoon were raging. Their fury was such that in front of the convento of Taal, and in other places of the beach, a strip of more than 10 brazas (16.7 meters) in width was engulfed by the water, and the church was endangered. On the following days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, things continued the same way, but by Sunday all the combustible material appears to have been consumed. This eruption killed all the fishes, large and small, the waves casting them ashore in a state as if they had been cooked, since the water had been heated to a degree that it appeared to have been taken from a boiling caldron. There was an all-pervading, pestilential stench of sulfur which greatly molested the inhabitants of the towns surrounding the lake.

Sunday morning the sun broke through, but later torrential rains fell with thunder and lightning, some of the latter striking and the whole causing greatest terror. Finally, however, the weather cleared and of the whole tragedy there remained no other signs than the stench of sulfur and of the great quantity of dead fish cast upon the beach by the waves.

The foregoing paragraphs are taken from the narrative of Fr. Manuel de Acre, who copied them from the "Actas de Taal".


In 1729 took place a new outburst of the volcano which is attested by a report which as late as 1849 existed in the parochial archives of Tanauan.


... there appeared in the air, surrounded by sulphurous flames ... enormous boulders, which built up an island from the bottom of the deep lake, said island having a diameter of one mile.

The fire burst forth again, this time from the lake, at a short distance from the point (of Volcano Island) which looks toward east. Vast and towering obelisks of earth and sand arose out of the water, which within a few days formed a new islet of about one quarter of a league (1.8 kilometers, or about one mile) in circumference. No damage was, however, done to the neighbouring towns.

Fr Torrubia ("Aparato" folio 110), who at the time of this eruption was at Los Baņos, gives us the following details concerning the event:

With terror we heard during one of the nights a continuous fire of heavy artillery, as if two mighty armies were engaged in abttle. This was followed by a terrible earthquake of long duration, after which we heard only isolated detonations, not with the former frequency, but very much sharper. Their persistency caused us to pass the following day in considerable enxiety and fear. At nightfall we were informed that out of the depths of Lake Bonbon, which is at a distance of eight leagues (34 kilometers, or 21 miles) there rose such a frightful and all-devouring conflagration that the whole region was panic-stricken. Curiosity led me to go and examine the terrible phenomenon which lasted during many days, accompanied by subterranean rumblings which caused the entire region to tremble. The moment when a report was heard, there appeared in the air, surrounded by sulphurous flames and pestilential smake, enormous boulders, which built up an island from the bottom of the deep lake, said island having a diameter of one mile, more or less. After the conflagration had become extinct, I myself saw this island from a place near Tanauan. It is composed entirely of rocks with an admixture of other materials ejected during the eruption, without any earth whatever. The rocks, subject to the action of fire ever since their formation, clearly reveal the hand which placed them there. This all-consuming fire made the water boil, cooked the fishes, and left the impress of its fierceness on the very rocks.


On august 11, 1749, began one of the most violent outbursts of Taal on record. It has been described by Fr. Buencuchillo, O.S.A., an eye-witness, since he was at the time parish-priest of Sala.

During the night of that day the top of the mountain burst with tremendous force from the same crater which since ancient times used to emit fire and rocks. The course of the events was this: At about 11 o`clock of the night I had noticed a rather extensive glare over the top of the island; but entirely unaware of what it might portent, I paid no special attention to it and retired to rest. Around 3 o`clock in the morning of the 12th, I heard something like heavy artillery fire and began to count the reports, taking it for granted that they came from the ship which was expected to arrive from New Spain (Mexico) and which, according to ancient custom, on entering Balayan Bay saluted Our Lady of Cayaysay. I thought it strange, however, when I found that the number of detonations already exceeded one hundred and still they did not cease. This caused me to rise with some anxienty as to what could be the matter; but my doubts were quickly dispelled, as at this moment there appeared four excited natives who shouted: "Father, let us leave this place! The volcano has burst out and all this noise and racket comes from it!"

... from the water there rose enormous columns of sand and ashes, which ascended ... to marvelous heights ...

By this time it began to dawn, and we saw the immense column of smake which rose from the summit of the island, while several smaller whiffs issued from other openings. I confess that the spectacle, far from freightening me, rather delighted my eyes , especially when i noticed that also from the water there rose enormous columns of sand and ashes, which ascended in the shape of pyramids to marvelous heights and then fell back into the lake like illuminated fountains.

Some of the pyramids surged toward north, others toward east, the sight lasting until 9 o`clock of the morning. At the latter hour there was felt a furious earthquake which left nothing moveable in its place within the convento. This forced me to flee to higher ground, especially as i noticed that some of the horrid pyramids shooting forth from the water were coming towards the town and place where we were. When we reached that part of the lake`s shore which was known as "tierra destruida" (waste land?), they ruined that tract entirely, and with a second earthquake, not less fierce than the one shortly predeeding, it sank into the lake. To this very day, the branches of the trees buried beneath the water can be seen from the distance.

During these terrible convulsions of the earth fissures opened in the ground amid horrifying roars, said fissures extensing from the northern and northeastern beach of the lake as far as the neighbourhood of the town of Calamba. Here as well as elsewhere, the whole shore of Lake Bonbon has been disturbed. The entire territory of Sala and part of that of Tanauan have been rendered practically uninhabitable - the water courses have been altered, former springs have ceased to flow and new ones made their appearance, the whole country is traveres by fissures, and extensive subsidences have occurred in may places.

During my flight I saw a great many tall trees, such as coconut and betel-nut palms, either miserably fallen, or so deeply buried that their tops were within reach of my hands. I likewise saw several houses which formerly, in accordance with Philippine custom, had their floors raied several yards above the ground, but had sunk to such a dregree that the same ladder which once served to ascent into them, was now used to descent to them. The most remarkable thing about this is that the natives tranquilly continue occupying them, though they find themselves buried alive.

It rained ashes in considerable quantity and that part of them that remained suspended in the air, formed a vast cloud which grew so dense as to cause real darkness during hours of broad daylight.

Sala and its surroundings to the northeast of the lake, as well as a portion of the territorry of Tanauan, which is north of it, were so thoroughly ruined and, consequently, depopulated that within the same year, 1749, the former was united with the latter town.

Fr. Murillo states in his "Geographica Historica, etc" that he was at the time at the Santuary of Antipolo which lies 21 kilometers (13 miles ) almost due east from Manila. During the eruption he felt three or four earthquakes so such violence that the roof tiles of the tower were thrown to a distance of more than 10 meters (33 feet). Of less intense shocks there were more than one hundred, and the earth trembled frequently during more than a year. There were likewise fierce thunderstorms during many days.


Of the eruption in 1754, the greatest recorded in the history of Taal Volcano, we have likewise a description from the pen of worthy Fr. Buencochillo, at the time stationed at Taal, of which narrative the following is an abridgement:

On May 15, 1754, at about 9 or 10 o'clock in the night, the volcano quite unexpectedly commenced to roar and emit, sky-high, formidable flames intermixed with glowing rocks which, falling back upon the island and rolling down the slopes of the mountain, created the impression of a large river of fire. During the following days there appeared in the lake a large quantity of pumice stone which had been ejected by the volcano. Part of these ejecta had also reached the hamlet of Bayuyungan and completely destroyed it.


... the falling ejecta made the entire island appear to be on fire ...

The volcano continued thus until June 2, during the night of which the eruption reached such proportions that the falling ejecta made the entire island appear to be on fire, and it was even feared that the catastrophe might involve the shoresof the lake. From the said 2d of June until September 25, the volcano never ceased to eject fire and mud of such bad character that the best ink does not cause so black a stain.

During the night of September 25, the fire emitted was quite extraordinary and accompanied by terrifying rumbings. The strangest thing was, that within the black column of smake issuing from the volcano ever sinceJune 2, there frequently formed thunderstorms, and it happened that the huge tempest cloud would scarely ever disappear during two months.


At daybreak ... we found ourselves forced to abandon our dwelling....

At daybreak of September 26 we found ourselves forced to abandon our dwelling for fear lest the roofs come down upon us under the weigth of ashes and stones which had fallen upon them during that hapless night. In fact, some weaker buildings collapsed. The depth of the layer of ashes and stones exceeded two "cuartas" (45 centimeters), and the result was that there was neither tree nor other plant which it did not ruin or crush, giving to the whole region an aspect as if a devastating conflagration had swept over it. After this the volcano calmed down considerably, though not sufficiently to offer any prospect of tranquility.

During the night of November 1, Taal resumed its former fury, ejecting fire, rocks, sand, and mud in greater quantities than ever before. On November 15, it vomited enormous boulders which rolling down the slopes of the island, fell into the lake and caused huge waves [note(added by Saderra Maso): The waves mentioned were most probably due to the earthquake rather than to the falling rocks]. The paroxysms were accompanied by swaying motions of the ground which caused all the houses of the town to totter. We had already abandoned our habitation and were living in a tower which appeared to offer greater security; but on this occasion we resolved that the entire population retire to the Sanctuary of Casaysay, only the "Administrator" and myself to remain on the spot.

At 7 in the evening of November 28 occurred a new paroxism, during which the volcano vomited forth such masses of fire and ejecta that in my opinion, all the material ejected during so many months, if taken together, would not equal the quantity which issued at the time. The columns of fire and smoke ascended higher than ever before, increasing every moment in volume, and setting fire to the whole island, there being not the smallest portion of the latter which was not covered by the smoke and the glowing rocks and ashes. All this was accompanied by terrific lightning and thunder above, and violent shocks of earthquakes underneath. The cloud of ejecta, carried on by the wind, exented itself toward west and south with the result that we saw already some stones fall close to our shore. I, therefore, shouted to all those who were still in the town to take to flight and we all ran off in a hurry; otherwise we would have been engulfed on the spot; as the waves of the angry lake began already to flood the houses nearest to the beach.

We left the town, fleeing this living picture of Sodom.....

We left the town, fleeing this living picture of Sodom, with incessant fear lest the raging waters of the lake overtake us, which were at the moment invading the main part of the town, sweeping away everything they encountered. On the outskirts of the town, I came upon a woman who was so exhausted by her burden of two little children and a bundle of clothing that she could proceed no farther. Moved by pity, I took one of the taddlers from her and carried him, and the little indio who has been wailing while in the arms of his mother, stopped short when I took him into mine and never uttered a sound while I was carrying him a good piece of the way.

All was horror during those three days...

Having reached a secure place on elevated ground at a distance of about half a league (2 kilometers) from the town, we halted in a hut to rest a little and take some food. From this spot the volcano could be contemplated with a little more serenity of mind. It still continued in full fury, ejecting immense masses of material. Now I also observed that the earth was in continuous, swaying motion, a fact which I had failed to notice during the excitement and fear of the flight.

Shortly afterwards the volcano suddenly subsided almost suddenly; its top was clear and apparently calm. We, therefore, returned on the following day, the 29th, to the town with the intention of surveying the havoc wrought during the preceeding night.

The 29th had dawned calm, but while we were still trying to persuade ourselves that the tragedy was overand the volcano had exhausted its bowls, at about 8 o'clock, we heard a crash and then I noticed that smoke was rising from the point of the island that looks towards east. The smoke spread very gradually as far as the crater of the volcano, while there were many whiffs issuing from points in the direction of another headland. I realized that the island had opend in these places and fearing that, if a crater should open below the water, an explosion might follow, much more formidable than the preceeding ones, I mounted a horse and retired permanently to the Sanctuary of Caysasay.

Between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the said 29th, it began to rain mud and ashes at Caysasay [12 miles from the volcano] and this rain lasted three days. The most terrifying circumstance was that the whole sky was shrouded in such darkness that we could not have seen the hand placed before the face, had it not been for the sinister glare of incessant lightnings. Nor could we use aritifical light as this was extinguished by the wind and copius ashes which penetrated everywhere. All was horror those three days, which appeared rather like murky nights and we did not occupy ourselves with anything but see to it that the natives swept off the roofs the large quantities of ashes and stones which kept on accumulating upon them and threatened to bring them down upon us, burying us alive beneath their weight. But fearing that even these precautions might prove unavailing, we 3 Europeans - viz. Fr. Prior, the Alcalde, and myself - the only ones who were at the time in the Convento of Caysasay, took refuge on the landing of the stairs; as the safest place, and awaited there whatever God might dispose with regard to us. To all this was added incessant thunder and lightning, and it really looked as if the world was going to pieces and its axis had been displaced.

Black airfall tephra of the 1754 eruption.

Foto: I.v.d.Zander

During the night of the 30th we had not a moment of repose, as every moment we heard the loud crush of houses collapsing under of stones, mud, and ashes piled upon them, and feared that the turn of the convento and the church of Casasay would come in next. Shortly before daybreak of december 1 there was a tremendous crash as if the house were coming down on our heads: the roof of the apsis of the chruch had caved in! Not long afterward, the roof of ther kitchen gave away with a thud. Both were tile roofs.

The first of December broke somewhat clear and our eyes contemplated everywhere ruins and destruction. The layer of ashes and mud was more than 5 spans [1.10 m] thick, and it was almost a miracle that the roof of the church and convento sustained so great a weight. We caused the bulk of the material to be removed, while new continued to fall on that day and the following, on whichlatter the direction of the wind changed, carrying the ejecta toward Balayan. On the 3rd and 4th we had a formidable typhoon, and thereafter the volcano quieted down.


Soon afterward I resolved to visit my town of Taal; nothing was left of it except the walls of the church and convento. All the rest, the government house, the walks of the rope factory, the warehouse, everything was burried beneath a layer of stones, mud, and ashes more than 10 spans [2.20 m] thick; only here and there could be seen an upright post, the only remnant of a comfortable dwelling. I went downb to the river and found it completely filled up, with a boat belonging to the alcalde and many of private persons burried in the mud. After incredible efforts I finally succeeded in unearthing in what had once been the church and sacristy, the chests which contained the sacred vestments and vessels. Nearly all of them were demoloished by the rocks and beams which had fallenupon them, and filled with foul-smelling mud that had ruined or disfigued their contents. With the aid of some natives of Bauang I likewise recovered some property from among the ruins of the convento.

Twelve persons are known to have perished - some carried away by the waves of the lake, others crushed beneath their collapsing houses. Thus the beautiful town of Taal remains a deserted wilderness and reduced to the utmost misery, while once it was one of the richest and most flourishing places. In the villages to the west of the lake, which were the greater and better part, all the houses have either collapsed under the load of material which had been piled upon them or have diappeared completely, swept away by the waves which in these places were so violent that they dug three ditches or channels, too wide and deep to be forded, and thus rendered impassable the road which joins the town with Balayan. In other parts of the lake shore have likewise opened manycracks and occurred very extensive slides. The worst of all is, that, the mounth of the river Pansipit having been blocked, the lake is rising and invading the towns of Lipa and Tanauan, both being on the lowest level, and inundating their buildings. All the animals of whatever kind have perished, some by being burried, others by drowning, the rest by starving, as not a green blade remained anywhere.

The same fate as Taal has befallen the towns of Lipa, Tanauan, and so much of Sala as still existed. These towns, together with Taal, lay around the lake, being situated within easy reach of it, and less than one league [4 kilometers] from the volcano. The bulk of the population left this neighbourhood and settled in more distant places. Thus out of 1200 taxpayers whom Taal contained formerly, hardly 150 remain in the poorest and least respectable villages, which suffered little from the rain of ashes.

Thus far good Fr. Buencuchillo. The towns of Taal, Lipa, and Tanauan were on this occasion definitively transferred to their present sites, a measure , the great prudence of which has been shown by subsequent eruptions.[note by the author of this site: the story of the towns that were relocated as a consequence of Taal's activities has been traced by Thomas Hargrove in this book The Mysteries of Taal. The relocation of Tauan, Taal, Lipa and Sala is obvious from a comparison of the 1734 Murillo Velarde map (left) and the 1911 map of Saderra Maso (right).

  Maderra Maso's 1911 map

After 1754 the volcano had no notable eruption untill the middle of march, 1808. Although this outburst failed to reach either the magnitude or the duration of the preceding, it, nevertheless, proved disastrous to the neighbouring towns owing to the quantity of ashes and pumice stone ejected on the occasion. In the more immediate vicinity of the volcano there were places where the ground was covered with ashes to a depth exceeding 84 centimeters, and in more distant localities the fall was proportionally heavy. According to an author who, however, visited the volcano for the first time as late as 1849, this eruption profoundly modified the principal crater. He says:

Formerly the depth seemed immense and unfathomable, and at the bottom was seen a liquid mass in continual ebullition. After the eruption the whole aspect was changed; the crater had widened, the pond within it had been reduced to one-third and the rest of the crater floor is dry enough to walk over it. Besides, there has formed on the enlarged floor a little hill whose top continually emits smoke, while at the side of this elevation there are seen several wells, one of which is especially remarkable for its size and the material which it contains. The fire causes the latter to rise to a certain height at regular intervals while a monotonous sound is heard. It would seem that the eruptions issue from this hole. The height of the crater walls has diminished and will continue to decrease from day to day, owing to the rains which disintegrate them.

The great change which the crater underwent on the occasion of the eruption of 1808, may be inferred likewise from the description given in his work "El Estadismo Filipino" by Fr. Zuniga, an Augustinian, who had visited the volcano in 1800. Speaking of the impression received when he had reached the brink of the crater, he says:

We expected to find a deep abyss into which penetrated so little light that it would hardly permit us to distinguish what was in the interior; when in reality we saw a vast opening of more than one league in circumference, and at the bottom of it a lake only a little smaller, as all its borders looked as if cut with a knife, descending well-nigh perpendicularly to the water which was of a deep-green color.


On July 19, 1874, took place an eruption of gases and ashes which killed all the live stock which was being raised on Volcano Island and withered or burned the entire vegetation on the western slopes of the crater.


From the end of October until November 12, 1878, noises were frequently heard proceeding from the volcano which finally, from November 12 to 15, ejected a quantity of ashes sufficient to cover the entire island.


During April, 1904, it was reported that Taal was in eruption. In fact, a new crater or outlet was found to have formed near the southeastern inner wall of the principal crater. During several months this new opening continued to emit great masses of vapors and, intermittently, also mud and rocks, up to a height of 150 meters. As there usually prevailed atmospheric calm during these eruptions, nearly all the ejecta fell either within the principal crater or on its southeastern and southern slopes. In December, 1904, the floor of the new crater was occupied by a pond of boiling water, which had completely disappeared in 1907, leaving only an oval depression at the muddy bottom of which were a few outlets for gases.

Taal after the 1904 eruption
Taal after the 1904 eruption
Foto from Worchester

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