18891214 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/0cma-yf06


By Royal Mail



Sat. Dec. 14th 1889


My dear Mother,

The night before arriving at Barbados I brought to a close the long letter I had written during the voyage. Next day I posted it via New York, but you will not have it much before this one though I shan’t post this for another week. Unfortunately the outward steamer of the Royal Mail just misses the homeward-bound ship, reaching Barbados the day after the departure of the other, so that our letters lose a fortnight. The contract-day for the arrival of the outgoing Mail is Wednesday, but almost all the steamers arrive on Tuesday, & might easily do so on Monday. But as there is not competition on the route the Company instruct their captains to use as little coal as possible. Besides if the Post office sees that the voyage can be done in 10 days instead of 12, it will shorten the time when giving out the next contract.

When we anchored on Tuesday at day break it was raining heavily. The island looked very fresh & green, & everyone was pleased to see land once more. A Yankee who had suffered from sea sickness during the whole voyage came on deck with beaming face & “guessed he’d go ashore” & have a “square meal”.

The “Medway” lies in the middle of a small fleet of the Royal Mail Intercolonial steamers that meet the Packet & convey passengers & cargo to the various islands & to Demerara. She is about half a mile from the shore, & all around her are dusky boatmen clamouring for fares, & imps of darkness in cockle shells of their own construction, who dive for the pennies thrown into the water by those of the passengers to whom the scene is fresh. As the coin touches the water over go the “little nigger boys” & for a few moments you can see only the white soles of their black feet down through the blue water. Then they turn upwards & you catch the gleam of the whites of their eyes. The one who gets the penny – for they never miss it – holds it up triumphantly; then they clamber into their cockleshells again & recommence the chorus “Master! Throw in a penny, Master!”

After breakfast I came ashore got comfortable quarters at the Ice House. The place that enjoys this refreshing name is the depot where the ice is stored & retailed, & is also the principal hotel in the town.

As it was Packet Day I was not able to do very much; still I made a few business calls & met with a most friendly reception from old acquaintances.

In the evening, while sitting in the verandah of the hotel I was told that someone wanted to speak to me at the telephone. This was Mrs Da Costa who had heard of my arrival, at which she was good enough to say she was very pleased.[1] She very kindly invited me to dinner the following evening, saying she has something to tell me. I accepted the invitation & spent a very pleasant evg. The “something” was that they were going to have a dance on the 31st & hoped I wd be present. Unfortunately there is no chance of that & I am very sorry indeed. I am told they give awfully jolly dances in “a” style & that the girls here know how to dance!

Mrs Da Costa promised to fix a day for tennis. I imagined playing tennis at Christmas & finding it almost too hot work.

Dalkeith is the name of their place & they have improved it greatly since my last visit.

The drawing room is square & about as large as our two rooms with a wide open verandah round three sides of it. The verandah will be lighted by Chinese lanterns, & Mrs Da Costa has arranged to have bright moonlight on the occasion.

Mr Da C. has put my name down as hon. member of the Club during my stay. I had first rate whist there the other evg. & several games of billiards.

Next day I met one of the youngest Professors of the Harrison College.[2] He asked me out to dine there this evg. It was very likely this College that young Craig thought of coming to. There is another, the Codrington College, at the other side of the Island.[3] I don’t know much abt it, but in any case Craig did not know what he was refusing.

I also met old Mr Braithwaite, my cabin companion on the way home; – a friend of Dr Brown & of Taylors of Drum.[4] He is out of town but will be back in Bridgetown in a few days, when he says he will show me some attention.

I have made a beginning in business & hope I shall do fairly well. Among other things I have an order for G.Y.K. for collars & cuffs.[5]


Tuesday Dec. 17th Many happy returns to Julie[6]

Although it is only 12 o’clock I have had 3 invitations already this morning! How is that for Barbadian hospitality? A note from Mrs Da Costa asking me for tennis this afternoon. An invite for tea from a Mrs Cumings, whom I don’t know. She is the aunt of one of the heads of departments at Harrison’s store.[7] Thirdly a dinner-party at Mr Braithwaite’s on Friday evg.

Have got along very well so far in business. I have made up my mind to go to Demerara before visiting Trinidad. The steamer goes tomorrow week. I shd like to get an earlier one & be back here for Da Costa’s dance – for I must come back to get the steamer for Trinidad – but there is none before the 25th Xmas day, & business is the first consideration.

I must be off now to finish taking Harrison’s order.[8]


Elaborately dressed white people walk in front of a storefront reading C. F. Harrison & Co as darker skinned people, some carrying fruit on their head, grab for money being tossed from a balcony. The print is from 1889 and is entitled "Street Scene, Barbados-Throwing Money" but the source is not noted.
“Street Scene, Barbados: Throwing Money.” An illustration from Owen T. Bulkeley’s The Lesser Antilles, published in 1889.

Sat’day 21st Dec.

Owing to heavy rain the tennis did not come off on Tuesday. I went to Mrs Cummins’s for tea & found that my hostess was a tall middle aged coloured lady with a cafe au lait complexion. She was very kind but rather melancholy, for she had lost her only son not long ago. There were three young coloured ladies & one ditto gentleman. We had some music of very fair quality, & I had to taste all the fruits & preserves of the country. So many different sweets nearly made me sick, but it wd not have been polite to refuse to try them as Mrs Cummins took considerable trouble in bringing them out.

The dinner-party last night at Mr Braithwaite’s was most delightful. He has a nice villa about 2 miles out of town. The hour was 7.30 & we sat down 10 to table. There were Mr Braithwaite & a lady related to him, who did the honours, a Capt. & Mrs Saddler, a Dr Anthony, from the garrison, & his wife, Mr, Mrs, & Miss Austin & myself. Mr Austin is agent here for the Royal Mail.

I took Miss Austin in to dinner – to borrow a description from Fred Boas[9] “one of the most charming girls I ever met”, not exactly very pretty, & yet distinctly not plain looking. She talked & listened well – she did not “ejaculate” but she “conversed”, so she was different from the most of young ladies one meets – the interjectional fair ones whom Andy Bell objects to so strongly. But Miss Austin’s “greatest charm” was a perfect ease of manner & an absence of all affectation.

And now I will tell you who these Austins are. Mrs A. is a sister of Mrs John Taylor of Drum, & I don’t know what relation to Dr Jack Brown – the Fergusson’s Dr Brown. Mr Braithwaite is also related to the Austins & Taylors by marriage I think. I am not very clear about the whole connection, but possibly you may know more about it. Mrs Austin & also her son & daughter have been in Belfast at different times staying with the Taylors at Windsor.[10]

I am going to the Austins’ to-night for dinner. As I have finished my business & am now waiting for my steamer, I am lucky in getting so many – almost too many – invites, as the time goes very pleasantly.


Sunday evg. 22nd Dec.

Y’day afternoon I went to an Agricultural Exhibition held in the grounds of the Harrison College. The show itself was not very remarkable, consisting chiefly of poultry & vegetables, but it was well worth going to see the collection of gorgeously arranged negro beauty & fashion. It is quite impossible to convey any idea of the display of multi-coloured dresses, along side of which Joseph’s coat would have looked dowdy. The proudest “ladies” were those who had most hues in their skirt & most flowers in their bonnets. The latter were botanic gardens in miniature & as for the former, the effects produced by the combination of the most flaming blues, greens, yellows, reds & pinks, baffle all attempt at description. Over all the tiny parasol festooned with embroidered muslin, carried, no doubt, to shade those exquisitely chiselled (out of one block!) full round lips, which suggested to the intelligent observer the probability of there being a face behind them.

After the exhibition I came to the Hotel & dressed for Austins’. It was a very pleasant little dinner, menu clear soup, flying-fish, eggs, boiled mutton, roast chicken, & English pheasant. There were two other fellows there & the conversation was lively, though it began rather uncannily with deaths & funerals at sea, & the delightfulness of being drowned.

Unfortunately I had to leave early, about 9 o’clock, to carry out a second engagement (!) – being such a popular man, as Mr Austin put it!  The other was for tea, & I did not enjoy it for I was too horribly sleepy. – You see I am up at half past six every morning here, & have my bath over when my cup of tea is brought up at seven.

One more dinner brings the list up to date. It was this afternoon & my host was a Mr Challenor, a well-to-do sugar planter & merchant, who has a nice place on the outskirts of the town.[11] He has 7 children – one daughter married, & a son in England; the rest are youngsters. The dinner was like a family English meal; – giblet soup, roast beef, & roast turkey, with plum-pudding to finish up.

Tomorrow the mail goes & I must now bring this letter to a close. On Tuesday the steamer arrives from England, & brings, I hope, letters with good news from you all.

On Christmas-day I leave for Demerara, so I shall eat my Xmas dinner on board. After Barbados I am afraid I shall have a dull time at Demerara, as it is my first visit & I have not introductions. Still we shall see.


“When other lips & other eyes

Than mine shall feast on your mince-pies

Then you’ll remember me.”[12]


With which touching couplet I stop.

Best love all round.

Your affectionate son.


  1. The Da Costa family is believed to be of Portuguese origin. The earliest Da Costas in the Caribbean are believed to have been Sephardic Jews from Europe. The family home was Dalkeith House, a large mansion in the centre of Bridgetown. "Mr and Mrs Da Costa" were probably Darnley Da Costa (b 1844) and his wife Ellen Mary Jeany née Clements. See Index to People.
  2. Founded in 1733, Harrison College takes its name from Thomas Harrison, a Bridgetown merchant, who intended it to serve as "A Public and Free School for the poor and indigent boys of the parish". Even in the nineteenth century it was recognised as perhaps the most prestigious secondary school in the British West Indies, attracting boys from neighbouring islands, including Pelham Warner who later went on to become the "Grand Old Man" of English cricket. Described as "The Eton College of Barbados", since Barbados' independence in 1966, five out of Barbados's eight Prime Ministers have been alumni of Harrison College, among whom are also numbered the national poet Kamau Brathwaite and Alan Emtage the co-inventor of Archie, the world's first Internet search engine.
  3. Codrington College is an Anglican theological college in St. John, Barbados now affiliated with the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill. It is the oldest Anglican theological college in the Americas. It was affiliated to the University of Durham from 1875.
  4. How old is old? There is a John Braithwaite in Barbados – b 1849 – so just around 50 then.
  5. George Young Kinnaird – father of Elizabeth Kinnaird - (George Kinnaird & Co, linen merchants, Belfast ; Kinnaird, George Y & Co., collar & cuff manufacturers ). See Index to People.
  6. Julius Loewenthal Jr (JMcC’s younger brother) 17th birthday – b 17th December 1872. See Index to People.
  7. A store on Broad Street,  Bridgetown, Barbados called the HARRISONS. It was owned/founded by a C. F. Harrison in 1875.
  8. Our lack of the parallel set of business letters to his father means that we can only surmise JMcC's business in Barbados. However, possibly he is setting up business deals with both Da Costa & Co and Harrison, C. F., & Co for jute ropes. Both companies are listed as Ship Chandlers in the "Commercial Directory of the American Republics" of 1898.
  9. See Index to People
  10. The social networks of the Victorian colonies are on full display here. Mr Braithwaite was related to the Austins and Taylors by marriage. Capt. & Mrs Saddler, Dr Anthony (from the garrison), Mr Austin (agent for the Royal Mail), and Mrs Austin a sister of Mrs John Taylor of Drum.
  11. The Challenors were one of the established English families on the island and were frequently listed among Barbados's leading citizens.
  12. JMcC is parodying "Then You'll Remember Me", a song from M. W. Baife's opera The Bohemian Girl, 1863: https://digitalcommons.conncoll.edu/sheetmusic/1081/


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John McCaldin Loewenthal: Letters Home from a Victorian Commercial Traveller, 1889 - 1895 Copyright © 2022 by Michelle Fink, Robert Boyd, Sarah Watkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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