18910221 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/e2g6-6j87


No 5                                         Barranquilla


French Packet                                   21st Feby. 1891


My dear Mother,

The French steamer passes tomorrow, & though I have nothing to write about & am not quite in the mood for writing about nothing, still mails are so far between & irregular that I like to send at least a few words by each, if merely to let you know that I am alright.

I have not had any letters from you meanwhile, so some ought to come soon.

A few days ago young Clark, traveller for York St., arrived from Cuba.[1] He witnessed a startling occurrence in Havana just before leaving. Some six highway robbers trying to escape from the country had taken passage by his steamer. The police were on their back & came, in plain clothes, on board the steamer to arrest them, when a pitched battle took place. The robbers were armed with two revolvers each, & fought to the last, but five of them were shot dead on the spot & the sixth was taken prisoner. Clark was standing on deck at the time & dare not stir, for the bullets were flying all round & the safest thing was to stand still. One man fell within five yards of him. Two jumped into a boat that had come off with some passengers & made the boatman pull away, but they were followed by a gunboat with which they exchanged fire till they were killed & the boatman was shot in the arm. They say adventures are to the venturous; – be that as it may, having such a thrilling story to tell gives Clark quite an advantage in the way of business over me to whom nothing exciting ever happens.

A Mr Taylor, from Dundee, is here too, a very nice fellow.[2] We had a little whist the other evening; – my points so far, since the beginning of the year, are slightly to the good. I am keeping a record to test the rest of my play.

Last night was a perfect tropical night. Warm but not oppressive, a faint breeze coming in from the sea, glorious full moon turning all colours into bright white or intense black; – we sat on the balcony of a quiet restaurant outside the town & lazily watched the winding Magdalena which flows slowly through the plain till it loses itself in the soft haze of the horizon. Everything seemed so still & quiet & yet the air was full of the humming of insects & the odd notes of strange birds. Inside the room friend Twose was at the piano playing softly snatches from Songs without Words & other dreamy music, while, to complete the poetry of the picture, I sat in a low rocking chair, with my feet on the balcony rail, & smoked, refreshing myself at intervals with an iced blend of ginger ale & lager beer.[3]

Pity the sorrows of a poor bag-man. Jack


  1. Clark(e): see Index to People. He probably represents the “York Street Flax Spinning Company”.
  2. See Index to People.
  3. Probably Robert Warren Twose (b 1858 Exeter, d between 1926-1930 Panama). Found on passenger list from Southampton to Savanilla in 1893. Involved with late 19th Century transportation modernization (rail and river boats on the Magdalena) in Colombia. See article by Hernán Horna in the Journal of Latin American Studies, 1982: 14(1), 33-54. https://www.jstor.org/stable/155726


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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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