18900323 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/kfvw-n765


Sketch enclosed with letter


S.S. Coleridge

Posted Montevideo

Montevideo Apl 7th, 1890


Sunday 23rd March 1890


My dear Mother,

Just one week out to-day, & about one third of the voyage over.

I posted a letter to you two days ago in Madeira. We had about five hours on shore at Funchal & in that time we managed to see about everything that was to be seen.

The first visit was to the post office where I was disappointed, on account of the collectors, to find Madeira no longer has stamps of her own, but has to be satisfied with the ordinary Portuguese ones.[1]

We formed a party of three to do the place, my cabin companion (of whom more hereafter), a young fellow called Hayes (son of one Major Hayes, Inspector of Irish Fisheries), & myself.

After posting our letters we set out to look for Reid’s Hotel & in making enquiries as to its whereabouts I had an opportunity of airing my best Portuguese. We were beset by beggars & guides, who seemed to form no inconsiderable part of the whole population.

We had the greatest difficulty in getting rid of one disgusting fellow & had finally to appeal to a dirty little policeman to prevent him from pestering us.

The guide was argumentative but the policeman was peremptory. The scene was very amusing, but we did not wait for the issue, but left them at the corner of the square & walked diagonally across the pretty garden in the centre.

When we came to the far corner we saw that the persevering guide had gone round one side of the garden & was making for us again, but the suspicious little policeman had dodged round the other side & Greek met Greek at the corner!

This time the Bobby would admit of no palaver, but sent the guide right about, & we got rid of him at last.

We found Reid’s hotel a bright comfortable place, with tennis-court & pretty garden, & over part of the house a flat roof, forming a kind of verandah, covered, & decorated with shrubs & climbing plants. From this spot we had a splendid view of the town of Funchal, & of the steep hills that rise behind it, covered with vines & terraced by stone walls to prevent the scanty soil from being washed down by the heavy rains.

At the hotel we were told that the correct thing to do was to take a ride in a sledge to the convent up on the hill & then slide down again.

Se we precured a light basket-sledge with the seat facing back, drawn by two bullocks (as per sketch!)  & having taken our places we Started. The bullocks were strong & used to their work & they drew us up the very steep hill at a pace that our guides & drivers (of whom there were five!) found some difficulty in keeping up.


A light basket-sledge with the seat facing backwards used to climb the hill above Funchal. The bullocks are unleashed at the top, and the sled slides down.
Sketch of sled and bullocks used to ascend the hill above Funchal, and then descend it (without bullocks).

The narrow streets are paved with small hard stones, in about twelve-inch waves so as to give men & animals foot-hold (Refer again to sketch). There are no wheel-carts or carriages in the place. All the traffic is done in sledges with runners of hard wood that slide over the smooth pavement, polished by the constant friction, as easily as they would over snow.

As we gradually rose we had a bird’s eye view of the town below us, & the amphitheatre of hills sloping down to the calm blue bay, on which the vessels looked like toy boats. It was a magnificent panorama.

We spent ten minutes in the dingy old convent & church at the top. I think our guide was disappointed that we did not evince more admiration at the sight of the dusty tinsel on the alters & the daubs hung on the walls.

We then took our seats again in the sledge from which the bullocks were un-yoked, & off we went down-hill at a merry pace, three men running with us & guiding the sledge by means of ropes fastened two to the sides & one at the back. When we came to a long straight slope they wd jump on behind, & give an occasional shove with one leg.

In less than ten minutes we were at the foot of the hill that took us an hour & a quarter to go up.

After our excursion, our appetites, already sharpened by a week’s sea air, were phenomenal, & I think we ate the biggest lunch on record at Madeira. Hayes said he felt as if he had swallowed a cave, & to judge by the havoc  he wrought among the cutlets, cold chicken, salad, cheese & fruit, it must have been the Mammoth one.

At four o’clock we were on board again & we found the quarter deck of the “Coleridge” covered with chairs & sofas of all imaginable shapes, made of the wicker work for which Madeira is famous. They are sightly, comfortable, & very cheap, & both passengers & officers had purchased freely.

The sun-awning was now spread for the first time, & soon tweeds & serges were changed for tennis flannels.

The next land we sighted was the Cape de Verde Islands. We sailed between St Vincent & San Fernando, I think, signalling our name to the station as we passed. What we saw of the Islands was all brown-black lava, twisted up into the most fantastic shapes, entirely without vegetation. On San Fernando there are numberless little craters of extinct volcanoes.[2] On St Vincent the mountains rise to a considerable height & on their jagged ridges we could make out several resemblances of a man’s face.

I never saw a more barren uninviting place than these Islands.

The signal station is on a conical rock, & behind it is the little harbour of St Vincent, in which two or three steamers were coaling.

Four days later we crossed the line, & the heat became very oppressive, particularly in the cabins. To cool our heads a little Hayes & I agreed to cut each other’s hair. I was the first operator. H. sat on a camp-stool on the lower deck, with an old shirt over his coat. The performance caused much amusement & we had an admiring crowd round us. We were sketched by two amateur artists & photographed by another. The enclosed is a copy of one sketch made by a very nice fellow, Pearce Edgecumbe L.L.D.  He has been in the River Plate bore, & has written a book about his trip, under the title of Zephyrus, a very readable volume containing interesting information about ranching, politics, & railways, in the Argentine & Uruguay. In the railways he seems to take a particular interest; he is a banker by profession & I suppose he has something to do with some of the lines.

He tells me he has also written two law books & a little book on Political Economy. The latter was published by the Cobden Club & is used as a text-book at Harrow.

I should think he can’t be more than 35, but he is already a widower, with two youngsters.

He also tells me he is the proud possessor of two Reynolds & some other good pictures.[3]

But to come back to the hair-cutting, it is not by any measures easy. I thought before I tried it.  I snipped a little piece out of my own finger & brought blood to both of Hayes’ ears & after all there was a touch want of uniformity about his head when I had done, one side was almost bald & the other was in white & black patches. The thinness of his hair, & the rolling of the ship, together with my inexperience, produced such a sorry result that I wanted to back out of my part of the bargain, but Hayes would not let me off, & when he had done I was told by another passenger that my head suggested the penitentiary.

A sketch of haircutting on board the SS Coleridge, drawn by Edgecumbe
A sketch of haircutting on board the SS Coleridge, drawn by Edgecumbe

The only entertainments that have been arranged on board were two concerts.

The first was a very mediocre performance; more trouble was taken with second, the programme being settled beforehand so that singers & accompanists had some days to practice.

The Manager was a man called Deeming, – a chap who has been everywhere & done everything at some period of his life. He started as an engineer on a steamer, was wrecked in Australia, worked at gold & diamond mines in South Africa, floated companies, & so on. He wears huge diamonds on his fingers & his shirtfront, & has a large nugget on his watch-chain.

He drops his h’s in the most reckless fashion, a little habit that has afforded much amusement on the ship. His singing of “The place where the hold orse died” was immense, & made many of the audience almost choke with laugher though the song is really most pathetic.[4]

One line

“Hi was hup in alf a minute”

has been seized upon & is now quoted at every propos.

Another amusing item in the concert was the topical song, a parody on Killaloo (?), written by Edgecumbe, really a clever composition.[5] It related the various incidents of the trip – the storm in the Bay of Biscay – the sickness – the leaky cabins – the hair-cutting – etc. etc. – & contained most of the passengers. I shall not copy it as you wd not understand the allusions, but I may mention that I was referred to in the flowing couplet.


“Oh come now. Blow it all!

Said graceful Lowentall.”


Needless to say that “graceful Lowentall” has stuck to me during the rest of the voyage.

A minstrel troupe was made up by some of the passengers, with aide from the crew. They blackened their faces, collected banjo, tambourine & hornes, & made a very good show. The second steward was the most amusing of the crowd. He sang an utterly absurd ditty, the chorus of which was


“Oh I weep-ye-were & I wander-were

Overhills-es-es & mountains

Where the bees-es-es & the wops-es-es (wasps!)

And the nanny goats do baa!”


He also gave us a capital stump speech on that “insect the world”, appealing every now & then to that his “Brethren & Sistren”

Altogether the concert was very successful.

I have read quite a lot of books in the last 3 weeks. Uncle Adolph gave me “Darwin’s Journal during the voyage of the Beagle.” It is about South America, & is a most delightful book. Though written in 1835, I am told that nothing better or more complete has been published since. I wd be glad if Father wd mention to Uncle how much I have enjoyed it.[6]

My cabin companion is the most orderly chap. He had tacks & strings arranged about the cabin to hang things on & all kinds of ingenious contrivances. He keeps everything very clean & altogether is about as pleasant a room-mate as I could have got.

There is a Dr Siddal with his wife, from Nottingham, on board.[7] I had a long conversation with him last night & heard some curious facts. He is a horsey man & is just now going to Buenos Ayres to settle up some difficulties into which he has got through young Buckly. This must be Miss Buckly’s brother, the one who ran through their money. Dr Siddal formerly practised in Nottingham & says he was a friend of Dr Buckly, the father. The son was, he thought, a decent fellow, but he went to the bad. Dr Siddal got him employment in Buenos Ayres on the Harbour works, & I think got him to bet for him (Dr S.) on horse-races, backing horses sent out by friends of Siddal’s. Buckly seems to have exceeded his powers, lost some money & given Siddal’s name for it. The amount is not great, but Dr S. is going to settle it personally & also to attend to some business he has in rubber tires for wheels.

I expect it was Dr Siddal & his set that had a good deal to do with Bucklys’ going wrong.

You had better not say anything about this to Dora Sinton. It might give pain to Miss Buckly if she knew about it.[8]


Monday April 7th

We are now in the River Plate, nearing Monte Video where I shall post this.

Easter Monday, I suppose the youngsters are in the Gardens. I hope to have letters from you in a week or so.  I shall write again very soon, & by the way, I shd like you not to destroy my letters, but to keep them for me. There are some things that I might like to refer to again, & my home letters are the only diary I keep.

Best love all round


  1. "the collectors" are his stamp-collecting siblings.
  2. There doesn’t seem to be a “San Fernando” – I think the other island was actually “Santo Antão” with St Vincent they are the 2 north-west most islands.
  3. Sir Edward Robert Pearce Edgcumbe (b March 13, 1851 , d September 29, 1929 ) was a British politician, author and lawyer. Edgcumbe was considered an art lover who collected African and South American art while travelling through South America and Africa. He indeed published several books including: The Law of Bills of Sale. The Bills of Sale Acts, 1878 and 1882, H. Sweet, London, 1882; Zephyrus. A holiday in Brazil and on the River Plate, Chatto & Windus, London 1887; Popular Fallacies Regarding Trade and Foreign Duties (together with Frédéric Bastiat), Cassell, London 1888; The parentage and kinsfolk of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Chiswick, London,  1901. He was actually 39 when JMcC wrote.
  4. How Mr Deeming (Beaming Deeming) portrayed himself to the admiring crowd is described in a later letter.
  5. “Killaloo” Actually Killaloe – you can find the words to the song here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killaloe_March
  6. "Uncle Adolph" was Ferdinand Adolphus of 205 Adelaide Road, Julius’ brother.
  7. Dr Sidall is listed on the passenger list as “Doctor G.O. Siddall” – he was a surgeon (b 3rd March 1837), with his wife Eiza.
  8. The Sintons are Quaker Linen merchants, and friends of the family: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sinton. I can find no trace of Dr Buckly, his son who “went wrong”, or Miss Buckly, nor how they are connected to Dora Sinton (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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