18910214  See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/qwy3-a682

No 4

Barranquilla,   14th Feby. 1891[1]


My dear Mother,

My last letter was dated 9th inst. & posted in Curaçao. I mention it in proper business-like fashion so that you may know whether any of my valuable communications have gone astray. – an eventual loss that would be much bemoaned by your appreciative selves though possibly not realised by an undiscerning posterity.

Valentine’s day – but none of the giddy thoughtless creatures have sent me a valentine

“Ah” say the girls I left behind

“He’s gone out to the tropics

“That place, you know, where you may find

“Immense & microscopic s-

“-orts of every insect kind,

“Wriggl-ic, – crawl-ic, hop-pic, s-

“-o out of sight is out of mind,

“Let’s talk of other topics.”

If I had time I would write you some pretty verses for the 17th March, “while I’m in the way of carvin’” as Tommy would say, but not having hired the horse of the Muses I must send by Royal Mail or Mail Pegasus, & in prose, my best wishes for many happy returns of the day; for the steamer sails to-morrow, & to produce any dapper couplets worthy of the occasion I should have to sit up all night with my head in a tub of warm water, & a cold bandage round my feet.[2]

I was warmly received by old Curaçao friends & I have been promised entertainment on my return. Before leaving I received from New York my waterproof & the five volumes of Modern Painters, left behind owing to the early sailing of the “Philadelphia”. I am very pleased with my purchase & am already half way through the first volume.

I met some old friends in the officers of the steamer that brought me down to Savanilla[3] – the port for this place – for by a curious chance it was the “Australian”, the boat on which I spent a week very pleasantly last year, between Trinidad & Curaçao, when I met the young engineer, Copperthwaite, whose name you may remember.[4]

On landing one of the first people I saw was my old acquaintance, Colonel Pellet, of New York, proprietor & editor of “The Shipping List”, in which, on my first visit to Barranquilla, he cordially extended to me the freedom of the City.

It is welcome Sunday today, & I can be as lazy as I like. I have had my bath & my coffee, & I am now not obliged to dress & feel hot & uncomfortable, but can sit in my many coloured garments, write, & smoke the while, windows & doors open, but the venetian shutters closed, to keep out the sun on the one side, & the curious stares of the chocolate-complexioned natives on the other. There is not much superfluous luxury in the furniture; – two trestle beds (one I use as a stand for my portmanteau), being six feet of brown canvas stretched between two parallel bars, supported on cross legs at the ends, two sheets, two pillows, & a mosquito curtain overhead; the most comfortable kind of bed in these hot countries when one is used to it, though rather hard at first. I have a little table, three feet by one & a half, & two straw chairs – one a rocker which I stole from the sitting room. There is a small tripod wooden wash stand with a metal basin, & beside it a tin pail. The walls are of unplaned planks, whitewashed, & rise to about eight feet, leaving some four feet of unwalled space to the bare beams of the roof, thus ensuring a free circulation of air, & offering facilities for conversation with the other inmates of the hotel. At the same time this through communication has its trifling disadvantages; one cannot have undisturbed rest till all one’s neighbours have retired, usually in the small hours of the morning, sometimes not even then, – last night, for instance, I had to sing out to an unknown neighbour on the right to stop snoring.

One wall has six wooden pegs for clothes & a mirror eight inches by six, &, voilà, I have completed the “Voyage autour de ma Chambre”, describing every article in it. Stay, there is a large shell to hold back the door, & a much used straw mat before the bed.

The bare-footed, unkempt, dusky valet-de-chambre has just been to settle the room, but has limited himself to emptying the india-rubber bath by the simple process of dropping its contents over the balcony on the street below. “Catalino!” I said, (that is his name, – anything less than four syllables would be too mean) “you might at least have called out “Agua va”. The old Spaniards used to do so in similar cases, as Julie will find in Gil Blas. “It’s Carnival” was his laconic reply, meaning that if he did douse anyone the Season would excuse the deed.

My previous letters were so long that I am not going to exceed the four pages this time. You can still address to Curaçao, via New York, c/o Rivas Fensohn & Co. Should I have left, they will forward letters.[5]

Best love to all




  1. Barranquilla lies strategically next to the delta of the Magdalena River, 7.5 kilometres (4.7 miles) [originally 25 kilometres (16 miles) before rapid urban growth] from its mouth at the Caribbean Sea, serving as a port for river and maritime transportation within Colombia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barranquilla
  2. Jane's 55th Birthday on 17 March
  3. Sabanilla is a district of the municipality of Puerto Colombia. During the 19th century it was an important commercial port through which products from the interior of the country went abroad, which is why the province of Sabanilla was formed around it: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabanilla_(Colombia)
  4. He mentioned Copperthwaite the year before when he was on ship between Trinidad and Curaçao, going to Columbia. He worked in Mexico in charge of railway works. This is William Charles Coppertwhaite – civil engineer – b 7 March 1861. Membership of Institution of Civil Engineers recorded 2nd April 1896 and married Alice Hobroyd in Mexico City on 22nd April 1889. See Index to People
  5. Rivas Fensohn & Co was a trading company in Curaçao that issued private paper money in 1893 in denominations of 25 cents, 50 cents, 1 guilder and 2½ guilders. They were listed as Lloyd’s Agents in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. See Index to People


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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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