18910412 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/tg43-5n26


No 10                                                            Curaçao 12th April 91

via New York


My dear Mother,

Once more I write you from Curaçao but this will likely be the last letter for some time from this little Dutch Island.

After posting my No 9. 3rd inst., I received your welcome letters of 9th & 16th Mar. When the New York mail arrives the P.O. officials require almost a whole day to sort & deliver it with the result that the homeward-bound steamer leaves before we get our letters, a system, – or want of system -, that would be speedily remedied in more civilised regions, as it entails the loss of 10 days in the exchange of correspondence with the States & Europe.

How do you get along with your “Edge-Hill” neighbours?

The Pond is a funny idea; surely a tennis-court would have been more to the purpose.

Just now your letter of 9th Feby. has been forwarded to me, having gone round by Barranquilla, & Cartagena. It contained enclosures from Emma, Olga & Jim with birthday wishes, for which, though they come rather late I am none the less grateful. I see I was wrong in blaming Emma, as I did in a recent letter, for not writing to me & I now humbly apologise.

There is now no blank in your weekly news from 26th Jany till 1th March.

Last week I was down in Maracaibo & just returned this morning. It was frizzingly hot there –  it is the hottest place along the coast.[1] You know it was from Maracaibo that the wicked man came who died, went below & finding it chilly, sent back for his blankets.

I had made the same trip, two years before, on the S.S. “Merida”, then called the “Maracaibo”, & Captain Laksy, Chief-engineer Meyer, & Black Steward & factotum Thomas, were old friends of mine, so both on the downward & upward trip I was the distinguished passenger. The best cabin & the seat next to the Captain were given to me, & I had the run of the Captain’s room. When Captain Laksy did not come to table, I was installed in his place by Thomas, so that the other twenty-five passengers looked upon me as a personage of some importance.

The run from Curaçao to Maracaibo takes about twenty-eight hours, & the return trip some six hours more owing to the stiff easterly winds & strong current. Leaving the island we make for the isthmus peninsula of Paranaguá, which is inhabited only by wild Indians among whom white men do not venture.[2] A curious phenomenon is to be seen here. At night, all the year round, there is a continuous play of brilliant sheet lightening over the interior of the peninsula. So regular & unremitting is this that it serves as a guide to passing vessels & is known as the “Lighthouse of Zulia”. It is to be seen from many miles away all round, & yet when people approach the spot from where it seems to originate, it disappears.[3] Several explanations have been offered of this interesting phenomenon, – one that there are large oil-springs & coal beds in the vicinity giving off natural gas which ignites in spontaneous flashes, – another & more plausible one that the lightning is the evidence of electrical disturbances caused by the difference of temperature between the warm swampy ground & the cold water of the river Zulia which flows through it.[4] The river, always cool, is said turn ice-cold immediately after sunset, but this is probably a tale of some imaginative traveller, already passed into a popular belief.

Maracaibo lies half-way up the large bay of its own name – more like an inland lake than a bay. The entrance to this bay is a narrow & shallow bar which is constantly shifting, making Maracaibo the most dangerous port in this part of the world. Coming out we drew 10 feet 5in & the lead gave just 11 feet of water on the bar. As a rule the little steamer comes bumping over the sand, but this time we came in beautifully, without touching.

I spent only four days in Maracaibo & I was glad not to have to stay longer, on account of the heat & the bad hotel.

The food was bad & the place was infested with rats that scampered all over my bedroom all night long. I caught two one evening in a trap, & I could count them by the dozen as they ran up & down the walls & shutters & over the table. Add to that a plague of mosquitoes & you can form some idea of the paradise that Maracaibo forms for the passer through.

There is however a large German colony – mostly very nice fellows who live comfortably & well in their houses in the outskirts of the town.

One evening I went out with Mr von Jess[5], dined & slept at his house & returned to town early next morning, riding out & in on horseback, & the day before leaving I lunched with Mr Birtner.[6] Both these gentlemen are partners in the firm of Minlos Breuer & Co, the largest house in Maracaibo.[7] Mr Birtner has a beautiful “Hatico”, as these country houses are called, on the shore of the lake. The garden is shaded by palms & tree-ferns & is bright with roses & other flowers, while half a dozen splashing fountains keep the air cool & the leaves green. A picturesque little bathing house stands out over the lake & above it is an American “wind-mill” pump which supplies the fountains & fills the cisterns.

Mrs Birtner is a native lady but Mr B. has trained her up in the way she should go, & she gave us an excellent luncheon, consisting of clear soup, haunch of venison, beefsteak, rice-cakes, delicious melon, mangos, bananas, & oranges, – a very agreeable change from the oily awfulness of the hotel. Before table we sat in the garden under the shade of a fine tree & drank the water or milk of a fresh cocoa-nut that the negro servant had fetched down & split open for us. The dining room is almost “al fresco” – open all round, with a light roof to keep the sun off. Climbing plants & tropical shrubs formed the walls, & bright-feathered birds hopped through the branches waiting for crumbs, while the humming birds sucked the many-coloured flowers. To see it & enjoy it all, even for a short time atoned for all the outside un-pleasantnesses.

Must post this now without waiting for the letters I hope to receive by mail just in.

Best love



The two-storied offices of the merchant company of Breuer, Möller & Co, Maracaibo - with a donkey cart outside.
Breuer, Möller & Co, Maracaibo (split off in 1895 from Minlos, Breuer & Co. founded in 1860)


  1. Maracaibo is the capital of the state of Zulia in northwestern Venezuela. For the lake: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Maracaibo
  2. Actually Paraguaná Peninsula
  3. Catatumbo lightning is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs over the mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. It originates from a mass of storm clouds at an altitude of more than 1 km, and occurs during 140 to 160 nights a year, nine hours per day, and from 16 to 40 times per minute: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catatumbo_lightning
  4. Zulia River is a river in Venezuela and Colombia. It is a tributary of the Catatumbo River. The Zulia forms a small part of the international boundary between the two countries.
  5. Probably Eduard von Jess (b 7th May 1863 Hamburg; m Ana Julia Lossada Diaz in Maracaibo; d 13th July 1935 Maracaibo) In the early 1900s he was a merchant with Breuer, Möller & Co, Maracaibo, which had split off in 1895 from Minlos, Breuer & Co. founded in 1860. He was also German Consul.
  6. Friedrich Wilhelm Birtner (b 3rd February 1854 Bremen; m 15th December 1883 to Flor de Maia Baldo Jara).
  7. Minlos, Breuer & Co is described in a research paper about German businesses in Maracaibo found on the Internet (in Spanish): "The Germans had majority control of the import-export trade of the port of Maracaibo. The most powerful German firms in the capital of Zulia were Blohm & Co. installed in this city in 1854 and Minlos, Breuer & Co. founded in 1860." https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Minlos


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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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