18940304 See an image of this letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/jnvq-d580


Pará      4th    March     1894


My dear Mother,

My last was dated 22nd Feby., from Maranhão. Here I am, one step further on, & at the last place I have to visit in Brazil. I have your letters of 29th Jan. & 5th Feby. – that of 22nd Feby. seems to be still short.

I am very sorry to hear of the death of Mrs Kamcke.[1] I don’t know what they will do without her. It is well the young people are all independent, & Meta, I think is a good housekeeper. How is Victor?[2] I think he was very devoted to his mother. She was a good woman, if ever there was one. The Miss Blacks will feel lonely – three young girls all by themselves.[3] They have no near relatives, have they? What is the matter with Mrs James Carr? I did not know she was ill.

I wish old Campbell had left some of his money to his former neighbours instead of to his wealthy relatives.

Many thanks for your good birthday wishes. Into the thirties, high-ho![4] Seems no time since I was half that age. I really must come home & marry some girl who will support me in comfort & affluence during my old age. What do you think? You might put an advertisement in the paper. Best thanks to Emma, Julie & Jim, for their letters. I also had kind birthday wishes from Dundee.

Thanks to an old acquaintance, the manager of the Cable Station here, to whom I spoke along the wire from Maranhão carrying on a conversation with him free of charge, I got a fair room he reserved for me in the best of the hotels here (but bad is the best of them!). The rainy season is in full swing here & to-day, they say, is the first day with dry intervals they have had for a fortnight.

Most of my acquaintances of a year ago are here still. Two fellows who were kind & hospitable during my last stay – Power & Duff [5]– partners as exchange brokers – have had rather a tough time. They lost about £ 3000 through people speculating for a rise in exchange, who omitted to pay up differences when exchange dropped instead of rising. They have let the pleasant house where they used to give nice dinners, & have gone into lodgings. Otherwise things seem to have gone on pretty much as usual in Pará.

I have spent the greater part of to-day writing letters, & have now several briefs ready for the mail which will carry this. When it reaches you I hope to be in Barbados, if there is a convenient steamer, a matter for investigation to-morrow.

Mosquitoes & the late hour remind me that it is time for me to retire to the restful shelter of my curtained couch. I must be astir at 6 a.m. to-morrow for our agent, Mr Kolb, goes up river to Manáos & I have several matters to settle with him before he leaves. Manáos is 900 miles up the Amazon – four days by steamer.[6] I shd rather like to make the journey too, & if Mr Kolb wd wait 10 days or so I might go with him, but having just arrived here I want to see what’s to be done here first.


7th         Still waiting for the mail steamer for England to come down from Manáos. She ought to have left five days ago & she is not even here yet. Perhaps stuck in the mud somewhere. There was a steamer from England this morning. Left Lisbon abt. 22nd Feby. Brings letters up to 17th or 18th but none for me. Expect mine have gone via Pernambuco. Last I got from Belfast 7th Feb. Dundee 9th Feb. This was one of Singlehurst’s regularly advertised steamers, the “Sobralense”, but all my writing & preaching to watch the sailing-bills of direct steamers to Pará via Lisbon seems to be of no use.[7] The English Bank got their mail & all the firms, but not even a newspaper came for me.


Pará 12th      “the office”  –    Kolb’s that is, not the police

Waiting for a fly who promised to walk into my parlor at 9.30. He is only 10 minutes overdue & as he won’t turn up for another half hour I may as well go on writing to you & so keep my idle hands out of worse mischief. One “client” was here already by appointment at 8 o’c. but merely to say he couldn’t stay, on account of the “mail”. So meanwhile I went out & “got a line” – i.e. took an order – for the old man in Dundee[8]. That is friend Power’s little joke; – when we meet each one asks the other “Got a line to-day?”

He describes himself as “Once a bank-manager & a gentleman, now a broker”, & me as “Once a gentleman, now a drummer”. He is an awfully good fellow. He was telling me y’day abt. his family skeleton. He sends home every year two or three hundred pounds toward the sinking fund, a matter of twelve thousand pounds which his sister’s husband misappropriated in a Bank, & which he & his brother made good to save a prosecution. The fellow wd have got 15 years penal servitude, & for their sister’s sake the Powers paid the money & shipped the man off to New Zealand.

Power is in partnership with another very nice fellow – Duff, who comes from Inverness, where his people have a nice place, to judge by photographs.[9] Last year Power was offered the sub-managership of the Lond & Riv. Plate Bank at Rio with a salary of £ 1200 & a free house, but he refused, for there was a speculative boom in exchange at the time, at the rate of six or eight thousand a year. When the Revolution came exchanges dropped & several of their clients failed to pay up their differences & Power & Duff were responsible & lost some £ 3000. Then of course the speculation stopped & Power is now sorry he did not accept the Rio offer, which was a certainty. But having been full manager in Pará, he did not like to accept a sub-managership.

Blow this mail. It has been “leaving to-morrow” ever since the 2nd & this is the 12th & it is still there. It upsets things horribly. When one approaches the merchants about business they all say – “Awfully busy, steamer to-morrow for Europe, kindly call again after it goes.” Of course such delay is unusual. It is bungling in the steamer agency. – Putting in one cargo first, then taking it out to make room for a more valuable one. “Cosas de España”!

There is an Italian opera company here now & the tenor is practising Aida next door. When I have done this letter I shall put my head round the balcony & tell him that if he wants to get rid of a throaty tone he must sing koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-oh-a.

The other day a Brazilian gun-boat blew up in the river. The explosion shook the town. Four or five men were killed, & all you can see now is a bit of a mast above the water. The cause is unknown, but it must have been accidental. No one wd do such a thing with the men on board, asleep. Probably carelessness – smoking cigarette in the powder magazine; – they do that kind of thing here.

Seldom if ever, felt so dry of material for a letter. Obliged to look for moisture & matter in a bottle of Apollinaris, – positively without anything else in it, in view of your warning, except a piece of ice.[10]

Meant to pay a visit to-night, but sat in deck-chair after dinner & read through a novel, one of seven I borrowed just before dinner from the Bank quarters. Mostly rubbish, but short & big print. Wouldn’t attack a novel in 3 vols or one printed in small type, – not for Joseph.

In the house opposite there lives a comical bird. He struts up & down along the little ledge that connects the window-balconies. He has a peculiar note, or rather two notes, {see sketch below} something like the tuneful song of the common or garden donkey. I have found out that by whistling those two notes – like the domestic donkey m / e – I can set that bird going. You have no idea the amount of entertainment I derive from that bird. I come to my window & whistle a challenge. He forwith cocks up one eye, jerks his head out, straightens his long neck, & finally with beak wide open to the sky he answers ten times more shrilly. If I am in a bad temper I can set that bird going just about the siesta time of the surrounding neighbourhood, it soothes me & makes me feel quite cheerful again.


JMcC notation of what the friendly bird sings, inserted in the letter.
JMcC notation of what the friendly bird sings, inserted in the letter.


Same,   11.30 p.m.

Got two spiders after all & did a fair day’s work, – from 8 pretty steadily through till 11 – for, glory be, the mail is really going out to-morrow morning & after my customers left me at 4 I had to set to & write. Then the English steamer came in this afternoon, & brought letters, – from you one of 12th Feb. – that of 22nd Jan. came two days ago from Pernambuco. I am very sorry your neuralgia is so troublesome this winter; but March is half over now & the summer always agrees with you better.

When you get this I shall likely be in Barbados, but I shall not stay there long. I want to get along quickly to Curaçao, after which I shall probably soon turn home (unless I get other instructions) as I don’t know many more places where there is money to be made.

Write to Curaçao,   c/o Mess. Rivas Fensohn & Co & put on envelope[11]

via New York

thence per Red D Line.

Best love.


  1. Mrs Helene Emilie Kamcke (b ~1837 née Rung in Danzig) who died “suddenly” in Belfast at 73 University Road, on 26th January 1894 age 57, buried Belfast City Cemetery 29th January. She was the wife of William Roderick Kamcke (b ~1825 in Danzig, d 27th November 1896 Belfast). He arrived to Belfast in 1848 as “apprentice to a merchant” and later established “Kamcke WR, & Co., flax , yarn & linen merchants”. They were married on 28th July 1861 in Danzig. See Index to People.
  2. Victor Kamcke, born William Victor Rung Kamcke in 1863 (contemporary of JMcC), became a missionary in Bengal; married Mabel Eliza Llyod, the daughter of a missionary, in Bengal, in 1902.
  3. These are the “heiresses” next door. No clues as to their identity.
  4. JMcC b 29th February 1864 – 30th birthday just been! – no mention of any celebrations . . .
  5. See Index to People.
  6. Manáos is an old name for Manaus, a city in Amazonas, Brazil. Manaus, on the banks of the Negro River in northwestern Brazil, is the capital of the vast state of Amazonas. It's a major departure point for the surrounding Amazon Rainforest. Just east of the city, the dark Negro River converges with the brown, muddy Solimões River resulting in a striking visual phenomenon called the “Meeting of the Waters.” The combined tributaries form the Amazon River.
  7. Robert Singlehurst & Co was founded in 1869 to operate a cargo and passenger steamship line from Liverpool to Northern Brazil. In 1882 a joint Red Cross-Booth Line service started from Manaos and Para to New York and an Amazon feeder service to Para commenced in 1887. In 1897 the Red Cross Iquitos Steamship Co was founded to operate services 2,000 miles up the River Amazon to Iquitos, Peru. Robert Singlehurst retired in 1901 and the company amalgamated with Booth Line. S.S. Sobralense was built 1884 and owned by Robert Singlehurst & Co. till 1901. It was then owned by Li Lai Chuen, Hong Kong, and mined off Port Arthur on the 12th May 1905 when en route from Newchang for Kobe with a cargo of beans & bean cake.
  8. Mr Weinberg
  9. JMcC talked about them very effusively when he last wrote home from Para nearly a year prior (letter of 30th March 1893): "Power was former manager of the London & Brazilian Bank here.. Duff is from Aberdeen, where his people have a nice house, judging from photos he showed me." In the current letter he writes: "Duff, comes from Inverness, where his people have a nice place, to judge by photographs" See index to People.
  10. Apollinaris is a German naturally sparkling mineral water (now owned by Coca Cola). The spring was discovered by chance in 1852 in Georg Kreuzberg's vineyard, in Bad Neuenahr, Germany. He named it after St Apollinaris of Ravenna, a patron saint of wine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollinaris_(water)
  11. Mess. Rivas Fensohn & Co was a trading company in Curaçao. Their business in Curaçao was principally as an agent for the American Red D Line. 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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