18950216 See an image of this letter, https://doi.org/10.17613/z93c-r498


Ceará,   16th  Feby.  1895


My dear Mother,

Just before leaving Maranhão, three days ago, I received your welcome letter of 14th Jan. which, by the way, was posted with 1d stamp, so the lynxeyed P.Office clerk pounced on Mr Just at Pernambuco for 3d.[1] But as I got two gorgeous unpaid letter-stamps and as Mr Just paid the 3d we will say no more about it.

The weather seems to have been terrific at home. I hope it has become milder since and that your neuralgia has gone away with the frost. About a fortnight ago I had a slight twinge of neuralgia or rheumatism in my arm. It was very slight and it lasted only a couple of days, but I can imagine what it must be to have that dull constant pain badly.

From the accounts of all the balls and other entertainments it wd seem that the winter has been a gay one in Belfast, and Julie has come in for a fine fling. I had a letter from him along with yours.

I came from Maranhão in an English steamer, the “Brandenburg”, leaving on Wednesday evg. and arriving here yesterday, Friday, noon. Landing at Ceará is a fearful undertaking.

There is no harbour, and the sea comes in in heavy rollers and breaks on the sandy beach into a churning surf. The boats, which are large and strong, have two or more men to row and one with an oar of the stern to steer by. A rudder would be useless. With the oar the steersman can turn the boat half round with one stroke, and that is necessary to prevent her from getting broadside on and being capsized. As you come to where the surf begins to break, it is “steady all!” and wait for a big wave on the top of which you go sweeping in, then “row hard” against the back-wash and advance some yards before the next breaker comes tumbling in on the top of you. Meanwhile a crowd of twenty or thirty jabbering scantily-clad natives – more or less black – rush in to the water to meet you. Some pull the boat up on the next wave, and the others fight for possession of passengers and baggage. One big nigger lifted me high in his arms and then a wave nearly bowled him over. However he steadied himself and staggered up to the dry sand without dropping me.

I saw one boat turned right over, bottom-up, and passengers and trunks bowled over and over in the surf till they were rescued by the niggers. Our steamer was anchored in deep water quite close in, but we had to wait for an hour while several futile attempts were made to launch the health boat. Finally just as they got over the last breaker I saw one of the sailors sent spinning head over heels out of the boat. The wave had evidently caught his oar and the oar him. He dived and swam ashore.

I was fortunate in being landed with only a very slight wetting.

You are not fond of boats at any time, but I wonder what your feelings would be if you had to face a landing through the Ceará surf.

An English Company has spent a very large amount of money in the attempt to make a harbour for Ceará by building a breakwater, with the result that they have only made bad worse, for the sand silted in behind the breakwater and made it almost dry land.[2] There the dredges are, banked up inside, and it is very doubtful if they will ever come out again.

The town of Ceará is rather picturesque viewed from the sea. Behind the broad beach the land rises in a steep slope to a height of one or two hundred feet. On this slope, in the centre, there is a beautiful garden, with palms of many sorts, and trees which are one mass of splendid crimson bloom. Along the top there is a line of rather imposing public buildings which are, I believe, Naval and Military School Barracks, and so on. Above there is also one of the finest public gardens in Brazil, forming the fashionable promenade on Thursday and Sunday evenings, when the band plays.[3]

The streets are well-paved, broad, and clean; the houses rather small but painted with bright colours. Altogether the town produces rather a favorable impression, though how they came to choose such a place to build a town, with no approach from the sea but through the surf, I really cannot guess, unless it was because this is one of the few hilly spots along the northern coast and therefore healthier and more easily defended. The climate is said to be very good. In fact many invalids from north and south come to Ceará as a sort of health resort.

Though I praise the town, and the climate, I am sorry to say I cannot praise the “best hotel in the place”. In my room I can scarcely turn round without knocking against the walls; my deck chair stands half in the room and half on the lobby outside; overhead are the bare tiles; the bed would form a cot for an average-sized infant but it was never built for legs like mine. One must clean one’s own boots or go with them dirty. Mosquitoes flourish and bats abound. About the food and attendance I shall say nothing, but fortunately after dinner last night I discovered a place where one can get a ham-sandwich and a glass of beer.

The proprietor of this leading Hotel, Senhor Sylvester, walks round the dining-room with his hat on his head and slaps his guests on the back.

Well, I may as well make the best of it all for I shall have to stay here for a fortnight I suppose.

I have not made any acquaintances so far, but I have a couple of introductions to present.

The rainy season has begun here within the last few days, much to the content of the inhabitants. It is about two months behind time and they had begun to fear another “secca”.[4] They have had terrible experiences of a drought in this province, notably in the sadly memorable years of 1882/1883 when it is calculated over five hundred thousand people died of starvation and of the small-pox epidemic that ensued. There is a graphic description of these horrors in that book on Brazil I mentioned in a former letter.

What address shall I give you now? I think you had better send one more letter to Pernambuco c/o Theo Just. After that I shall probably ask you to write to Rio.

Love to all,



  1. Theodor (Theo) Just, agent. See Index to People.
  2. This was probably the start of the Port of Fortaleza. The first attempt to create a port at Fortaleza was around the beginning of the 19th century.
  3. The Public Garden in Fortaleza is set in the oldest square of the town and dates from 1890.
  4. The Grande Seca, the Great Drought, of 1877–1878 was the largest and most devastating drought in Brazilian history so far. It caused the deaths of between 400,000 and 500,000 people. By June 1879, all relief governmental relief was discontinued, although the drought did not end until 1880. After the Great Drought, the northeast was constantly plagued by recurrent drought, (1888-89, 1900, 1903-4) and in 1909, the government created an Inspetoria de Obras Contra as Secas (IOCS) headquartered at Fortaleza, the state capital of Ceará. This governmental department has focused mainly on increasing water storage infrastructure. In 1945 it was renamed the Departamento Nacional de Obras Contra as Secas (DNOCS): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grande_Seca


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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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