18950312 See an image of this letter, https://doi.org/10.17613/2bb3-r044


Ceará,         12th March 1895


My dear Mother,

I wrote you on the 7th, 16th, & 28th Feby. For a very long time I had been without any news from you and I was very glad indeed to get, just half an hour ago, a batch of fourteen letters from Mr Just in Pernambuco, including your three of 28th Jan., 4th & 11th Feby. (21st Jan. must be on the way to Maranhão by a very slow steamer).  These long delays are very difficult to avoid unless you are thoroughly posted in the sailing dates of the various steamers. From Pernambuco the coasting boats come slowly north every ten days. A mail from Europe may just fail to connect with one of these, and then there is a great loss of time.

But don’t worry about Xmas or birthday letters not coming in time. I know that it is not your fault and that the good wishes are there all the same. Many thanks to Addie, Annie, Emma, Olga, Julie and Jim for exceedingly welcome letters and to everybody for kind birthday greeting.[1] I spent the day same as other days and had no celebration but the fellows with whom I lunch and dine wished me many happy returns and I told them you would be drinking to my health at home. From Bahia I had a business telegram on that day and at the end of it congratulations from Eggers, Hoyer and Tonita, the little daughter (aged 10) of the proprietor of the restaurant where we all lunched in Bahia, with whom I carried on a desperate flirtation.[2] Very kind of them to remember.

The rainy season continues in full swing here. Three days ago there was one of the heaviest falls on record – nearly three inches in a few hours. You can have no idea what that means till you see it come down.

Leppin, I was told, had gone to the West Indies, but some one else told me since he had gone south again to Pernambuco – perhaps on his way home.[3]

I should like to have been at some of those dances described in the various letters, – and particularly to have met Miss Boxwell again.[4] I shall see her people very soon again in Pernambuco if they have not left for England meanwhile. But to drive 40 miles for a hop requires an amount of enthusiasm worthy of a better cause. 20 dances is a very good record for a couple of months.

The “Bonnie Briar-bush” has not come yet. It is not a tract is it? Perhaps I shall have it this afternoon.[5]

The only papers I have had of late were “New York Heralds” – till Feb 12th – ; what excitement over the delay of the “Gascogne” – coming after the fearful catastrophe of the “Elbe”.[6] And what phenomal records of cold.[7] On a steamer that arrived at Pernambuco the other day the coal was still frozen solid, and the barefooted natives could not be induced to work at it. Here, if I come to my room for fifteen minutes, I immediately take off coat and vest, collar and tie, and turn up in my shirt-sleeves, and “mop” frequently.

French Liner La Gascogne is safe. Line drawing from The New York Times, February 12, 1895.
French Liner La Gascogne is safe. Line drawing from The New York Times, February 12, 1895

For about a month I have been looking forward with expectant interest to a total eclipse of the moon. I had talked about it with several fellows and we were to sit up last night till one o’clock to observe it. Alas it had taken place the night before!

Since I wrote you last nothing of interest has occurred to be entered in my last log and reported. The usual work during the day and, in the evening, a walk on the promenade. Then, sometimes to bed at nine, sometimes a penny tram-ride, sometimes a game of cards – whist (one of the four has played about a dozen times and rather fancies himself, another just knows the values of the cards) or mild poker. At our table in the hotel we have Mardock, U.S. Consular Agent and Cable Superintendent, Page, an American, and Wengorovius (Carlos for short) a Polo-Anglo-Portuguese.[8] Page is here to buy a sort of wax collected from the Carnahuba palm-tree.[9] Carlos represents a Manchester firm. We have small jokes at one another’s expense and we join in abusing the waiters and the hotel, and so the time passes.

I expected to leave for P’buco abt. 7th inst. but no steamer has come since. There will be one in a few days. Meanwhile I have been turning the time to account though unfortunately rather for Dundee than Belfast. Still for myself I have earned £5 or £10 in the last few days – according to the commission Dundee sees fit to pay me.

I mean to write a lot of “family” letters very soon tell them all.  I am now considerably in arrears.

Bye-bye. I must trot out now and look after business. It is one o’clock and the folks will be back from breakfast.

Best love



The book has come – many thanks.

  1. All JMcC's siblings.
  2. John C Eggers Commission agent of German trading houses in Bahia (in 1899 Bahia Registry) and his colleague George Hoyer. See Index to People.
  3. Ernest Leppin, ex-employee of Moore & Weinberg in Belfast. See Index to People.
  4. Ada Boxwell (b 18th September 1870 Liverpool),  niece of John Harvey Boxwell (b 1845), "Merchant" based in Pernambuco. Her brothers John Harvey (b 1868) and William E.G. (b 1870) were also merchants based in Brazil. Her sister was Edith Ann Williams née Boxwell. JMcC had already met them in Pernambuco in 1893. See Index to People.
  5. As the scribbled last line of the letter records, the book indeed arrived. Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush is a book of short stories by Ian Maclaren's published in 1894. It became a hugely popular bestseller: https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7179/pg7179.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beside_the_Bonnie_Brier_Bush.
  6. The New York Times of 12th February 1895 reported: "La Gascogne, the big French Line steamship, whose long absence has caused so much anxiety, is safe. The vessel made port last night under her own steam, and none of her passengers is any the worse for the protracted journey. A broken piston rod and bad weather caused the delay. Heavy southerly gales drove her out of her course and drifted her to the northward of the steamship lane." https://nyti.ms/3FFcs0E. The SS Elbe was a transatlantic ocean liner built in the Govan Shipyard of John Elder & Company, Ltd, Glasgow, in 1881 for the Norddeutscher Lloyd of Bremen. She foundered on the night of 30th January 1895 following a collision in the North Sea with the loss of 334 lives. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Elbe_(1881)
  7. "phenomal" JMcC's misspelling. The winter of 1894–1895 was severe for the British Isles with a Central England temperature (CET) of 1.27 °C or 34.3 °F. Many climatologists have come to view this winter as the end of the Little Ice Age and the culmination of a decade of harsh winters in Britain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1894%E2%80%9395_in_the_United_Kingdom
  8. William H. Mardock (b 1860) US Consular Agent in Ceará. Charles Francis Wengorovius (b 13th August 1869 Oporto).
  9. Carnaúba palm a species of palm tree native to northeastern Brazil (mainly the states of Ceará, Piauí, Maranhão, Rio Grande do Norte and Bahia). The most important product of the Carnauba tree is the wax extracted from its leaves. It can be used in floor, leather, furniture, car and shoe polish, and in the manufacture of carbon paper, candles, chalk, matches, soap and woodwork stains: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copernicia_prunifera


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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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