18910122 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/jj7w-ps36


Penultimate page on headed notepaper:             

JAMES D. SMYTH,                                      Cable Address: “EQUINE, NEW YORK”

Manufacturers’ Agent.                                          335, Broadway,

New York,…………………………..18………….



No 1

S.S. “Germanic”         22nd Jany.   1891


My dear Mother,

Our voyage is nearly over; we are within a couple of hundred miles of New York & most of the passengers are on the look-out for the pilot-boat & for a sight of the islands to the north.

We shall be up to “Quarantine” tonight & on shore early tomorrow. We have had a capital run across, & if we had not run into a gale on Wednesday the officers say we should have beaten the ship’s record.

The day at Queenstown was glorious, – bright warm sun, more like June than January. We almost all went ashore & walked through the town & along the road overlooking the harbour & the beautiful bay or river that winds towards Cork. Young Weir & I also visited a fine Roman Catholic church which is being built on a prominent height in the middle of the town, & Weir listened respectfully while, fresh from “Stones of Venice”, I improved the occasion. After that we had a game of billiards which I had the satisfaction of winning like a worthy chip of the old block. At one o’clock the Dublin train came in bringing a few passengers & a tremendous pile of mail-bags; the latter filled about half the tender. Towards three o’clock we sailed out of the harbour, about an hour behind the Inman liner “City of Berlin”, which we passed on the following day.[1] The fine weather came with us & the first four days we made splendid runs, – one day as much as 395 knots, which is very high for the “Germanic”. Off the Newfoundland Banks we ran into a dense fog that generally hangs over this part of the ocean; it is caused by the Gulf Stream.[2] The fog lasted the greater part of two days during which the fog-horn’s mellow music filled the air. Strong head winds & heavy seas delayed us considerably during the last three days & spoiled the prospect we had of arriving on the Thursday evg., but altogether we were lucky in having a remarkably fine trip for this time of year. We did not slow down in the fog, & only once we stopped to make sure of the whereabouts of another steamer which seemed, from her fog-horn to be uncomfortably near.

At first I had a fair, but rather small cabin along with a young Canadian, but being somewhat crowded with all our bags, I spoke to the Purser, a very affable obliging man, & he moved me into another cabin twice as large, in fact one of the finest on the ship. My mate in it was a Mexican-Englishman who arranged all his belongings in most tidy fashion & gave no trouble. I felt in capital form the whole voyage; – had my salt water bath every morning, stowed away a startling amount of porridge & real cream as an appetising introduction to breakfast, & fed formidably at frequent intervals from that meal till ten o’clock at night, when our whist party used to “supper” on tea & anchovy toast. Starvation was staved off between lunch & dinner by slices of that excellent plumcake, of which I have still rather more than half left for Addie, & by pieces of the very good toffy that I have to thank Annie for. By the way it was a capital idea to cut it up into little squares.

There were not many passengers, – I think about a hundred, & no notabilities among them except Donoghue the champion skater; – though perhaps you are as shamefully ignorant of his existence as I was.[3] Of ladies there were only about half a dozen, & none pretty, but among the men were some very nice fellows. “The parson”, a Rev. Mr. Johnston from Bundoran was very popular, – always genial, good at a song or a story, & a keen whist player. He & I took the lead (not the American lead because not fourth-best: make a note) at the latter, & our table was completed by a Mr Muirhead, a Glasgow solicitor, & a rancher from Texas, Mr Creswell, both good fellows.[4] The whist form was not A1, but we had plenty of fun over our games.

The “Germanic” took her pilot on board at midnight on Thursday-Friday, & sent up her signal rocket showing two white stars so that no doubt her arrival will have been published on this (Friday) afternoon’s papers in England. About two we anchored at Quarantine, & “passing the doctor” at day break, we went into dock between nine & ten.

As the steamer approached the wharf I looked out in vain for Addie, & I was reflecting what I should do if he failed to turn up, when just at the last moment he came up smiling, exactly as when I landed from the West Indies.[5] He is looking & feeling very well indeed, the only change in his personal appearance is that he has discarded the blue glasses! I feel bound to report this fact forthwith, remembering your farewell charge to me to pulverize them; so you may ask in your neighbours to rejoice with you, & sup on oysters. At the same time you must not sup too liberally, for he has replaced the blue glasses with plain ones. I asked him if they magnified much, & he answered smiling & with hesitation “Well —- not very much”, & on closer examination I found they were two bits of plain glass. But at last I have got at the reason of his wearing them. In confidence & in the dead darkness of night he acknowledged that without them he did not feel “quite dressed”, but was self conscious & timid, whereas with the glasses on this nose he was self-possessed & bold as a lion, & felt that he had all his clothes on.

We passed the customs examination, thanks to Addie’s experience, without much trouble, & expressed the luggage, part to Brooklyn, & part to the “Red D” line.[6]  We then had a rest in his office,[7] some lunch, & a walk through town, left a card at Adam Jenkins’s hotel, & paid Walter Portheim a visit.[8] The latter is very well, & hard at work, though the business season has scarcely opened yet.

In the afternoon we went out to Addie’s digs in Brooklyn. The house is a nice three-storey one in a quiet side street; opposite is a church with some ground about it over which Addie’s window looks. His room, “a fine room, a large room” (without joking), is on the second floor, & is bright & cheerful, & tastefully decorated. The wash-stand is fixed in a little recess in the wall, & has hot & cold water taps fixed over it, the mantel-board is decorated with photographs, & on the toilet-table are an amber satin & lace cover & pin-cushion to match, presents from two of his numerous lady friends, while a handkerchief sachet, the gift of a third, stands on a little table.

So much for his room; I must ungallantly leave till next letter, Mrs Bridge, the pretty young widow, I mean the young & pretty widow; besides by that time I shall have more to say about her. As “Goldie” (aged 5) observes “I know who you are, but we aint acquainted yet”.[9]

Best love to all,


I have told Addie about Troy marking ink,[10] as desired by G.Y.K.[11]

Letters c/o Sñres. Aepli Eberbach & Co


Colombia             S.A.

by Royal Mail, if you just catch it, otherwise via New York

  1. City of Berlin was a British ocean liner that won the Blue Riband for the Inman Line in 1875 as the fastest liner on the Atlantic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_City_of_Berlin
  2. The Grand Banks of Newfoundland are a series of underwater plateaus south-east of the island of Newfoundland on the North American continental shelf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Banks_of_Newfoundland
  3. Joseph F. Donoghue (b February 11, 1871, d April 1, 1921) was an American speed skater. He became the speed skating World Champion in 1891 and was a member of the Manhattan Athletic Club: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Donoghue
  4. The rancher from Texas was possibly Henry Whiteside (Hank) Cresswell, range cattleman in the Texas Panhandle, the son of John Cresswell. He was born at Fairfield House, Lancashire, England, in 1830. In 1877 he formed the Cresswell Land and Cattle Company with the brothers J. A. and M. D. Thatcher and O. H. P. Baxter. That same year Cresswell established his Bar CC headquarters in Ochiltree County, Texas, with a foundation herd he drove south from Colorado. As his acreage and cattle expanded, he became a favorite among ranchers and their families throughout the upper Panhandle: https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/cresswell-henry-whiteside
  5. That was on 13th February 1890.
  6. The Atlantic and Caribbean Steam Navigation Co. / Red "D" Line was founded in 1881 and was a successor to Boulton, Bliss and Dallett & Co. who operated services to Venezuela. Commonly known as the Red "D" Line as they flew a white house flag with a large red D in the center. Passenger services operated between New York, San Juan, Curacao, La Guaira and Puerto Cabello and returned to New York via Curacao and San Juan. Another service operated to Mayaguez, La Guaira, Curacao and Maracaibo. The company and its services were taken over by the Grace Line in 1937: http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/redd.shtml
  7. Who did Addie work for and where was his office? On the passenger list when he returns to England in June 1891 he is listed as “Com Agent” – probably Commission Agent.
  8. Adam (Primrose) Jenkins was from Antrim, Ireland, (b ~ 1866, arrived NY on the “Celtic” on 17 Jan 1891). He was a linen merchant (See Index to People). Walter Portheim is on the arriving passenger list into NY on 5th Jan 1891 as a “merchant”, b~1861. Probably US citizen. Nothing else known.
  9. Goldie is Mrs Bridge's daughter.
  10. I think this must refer to the collar and cuff-making industry in Troy, NY: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy,_New_York and https://www.albany.edu/history/Troy-Cohoes/ The one large-scale industry that survived into the 20th century was collar- and cuff-making. Beginning with the detachable collar, supposedly invented by a Troy woman, Hannah Montague, in 1827, the collar industry grew steadily and eventually included over 20 factories manufacturing collars, cuffs, and shirts in Troy.
  11. G.Y.K. is George Young Kinnaird (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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