18930419 See an image of this letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/921j-9g28



19th April 1893


My dear Mother,

In my short letter posted y’day I mentioned having just rcvd your letter of 6th March. Today I was glad to get two more – 12th & 20th March, bringing the home news more up to date. Jim 6ft 0 ¾![2] Jupiter! The Baby of the family. Why it’s no time since he was a kid in a blue jersey & corduroys. No more cutting down of discarded garments for the small boy. I was thinking of taking home a pair of trousers worn through in that part that suffers most from the friction of cane chairs, saying to myself that twelve inches or so cut from the legs would serve to repair the other place. But I look at them now with a tender regret that a deficiency of six square inches in their structure should prevent their further usefulness to our family.


A sketch by JMcC of the location of the holes in his trousers (over the buttocks) that constant sitting in cane chairs has caused
A sketch by JMcC of the location of the holes in his trousers (over the buttocks) that constant sitting in cane chairs has caused

Well!  Well!  G.Y.K. reduced to rocking a cradle & wheeling a perambulator![3]

It is well it is a girl, for if it had been a boy he wd have had to wait for me to come home to stand god-father to it at the christening.

You must be glad to have your house-cleaning over. People don’t bother much about that kind of thing out here, as you would say if you saw the cobwebs on the ceiling & the thousands of ants running over the floor.

An English Commission of Astronomers came to Ceará to observe the total eclipse of the sun last Sunday.[4] On that day I was at sea, between Maranhão & Pará. The sky was perfectly clear & we had a good opportunity of watching the eclipse, which was only partial, about three-fourths of the surface of the sun being covered. I had some amusement in discussing the eclipse with the natives on board. Having made a hole in a card & allowing the sun to pass through it, the eclipse was reproduced on a paper held some little distance behind the card. Then every eyelet in the awning caused the sun to be reproduced on the deck in the shape of a crescent. They maintained this was owing to the cord passing through the eyelets to lace the awning. But when the cord was removed & the crescent remained they could not understand it at all. I should much have liked to have seen the total eclipse. There was nothing very remarkable in the partial eclipse as we saw it. It became a little darker but not very much, & even when the sun was most covered one could not look at it without shading one’s eyes or using coloured glass.

I promised to tell you something about that ball at Maranhão. It was given at the house of one of the members of a club formed among the Marahense families for mutual entertainment. I went in a cab with three other gentlemen & one lady, all five inside, & we congratulated ourselves that the resurrected crinoline had not yet come into fashion in Brazil. After fifteen minutes jolt over the deplorable streets, in the course of which we were nearly upset, we came to the house standing in a garden illuminated with Chinese lanterns. As soon as we were inside the gate I was startled by the band striking up a few bars of a march fortissimo as a kind of salvo of welcome. This performance was repeated on the arrival of each batch of guests. The stewards at once rushed forward to receive us & to escort the lady up the steps.

Between 9 & 10 the President, a Prince for the occasion, took the chair, surrounded by his council of Dukes, Marquises, & Counts, & another band inside struck up the Club March, composed for the occasion. Then there were a couple of speeches without which no Brazilian gathering of any kind would be complete. After this dancing began & was kept up till about 3 o’clock. The two strangers, Mr Millet (Frenchman) & I, were summoned to the presence of the Prince, dubbed Barons de Poulet-Canet & de Gingerale respectively, presented with button-decorations & the freedom the guild in a dish of very unsavory “Cariru” which politeness obliged us to swallow.[5] As they were all very kind & attentive to us it is perhaps not fair to make fun of them but really the scene at times was very comical. Many of the guests were coloured – not black – but with a touch of tar. The ladies’ dresses were mostly cotton prints with all possible combination of colour. The dancing was bad. The quadrilles are danced pretty much according to the fancy of the master of ceremonies who calls out his instructions in Portuguese French. En avant! En arrière! Balancez vos dames! A vos places!

I saw one young man twice leave his partner to expectorate out of the window! And remember this was the best society of Maranhão.

There was supper during the evening. In fact on entering I was presented with a card which I took to be the dance-programme but which, on examination proved to be the menu.

Supper was served on little tables in the garden. Altogether it was very good fun.

You would smile sometimes if you saw me saying good-bye to my Brazilian customers.

Perhaps a fat little man in shirt-sleeves: he puts his arm round me & pats me on the back; I do the same to him & look over his shoulder, feeling a strong inclination to “put my thumb up to my nose & spread my fingers out.”

The Brazilian coasting-steamers are not very pleasant for an Englishman to travel on. They are fearfully dirty & there is no discipline or decency.  The pillows & bed-clothes are taken out of the cabins & dragged all over the place. The first-class passengers sprawl on the deck on the benches, in the music-saloon, & the steerage passengers hang their hammocks forward & amid-ships & along the passages. There they swing & eat bananas & oranges & smoked codfish, & litter the deck with bones & peel. The smell is abominable. The cabins are filthy. On the last trip, at dinner one day I had to give back three forks to the waiter, which he brought me one after the other as clean. The food is mostly uneatable. Fortunately I had brought a bottle of wine & a tin of sardines.

I should like to have taken some photos of the “deckers”. One family had brought their flat-bottomed canoe with them & they were camped in it on deck. I saw one young woman with a long comb sticking out of her “chignon”, balanced in front by a briar pipe which she smoked with evident enjoyment.[6] It is quite a common thing to see these emigrants carrying about with them the most intimate articles of domestic furniture with entire unconcern.

I received y’day a letter from Bahia, written 7 weeks ago. Of course it was one to which the writer wanted an immediate reply. It went first to Dakar on the coast of Africa, then down to Rio, then to Pernambuco, from which place it was sent here.


21st April.    Hurrah! I shall not have to wait here 2 weeks after all. The “Lisbonese” leaves in four days & calls at Barbados. I shall soon be able to wire what steamer I am coming home by.

This afternoon I drove out in the tram to see Mr Rand’s garden.[7] He is an American who has spent 14 years in Brazil & devotes himself to botany, particularly to orchids of which he has a very fine collection, one of the finest, I believe, in the world. He is a member of many Botanical Societies in Europe & contributes to their various magazines. I had a very interesting conversation with him. He told me a lot about orchids & showed me round his garden. Unfortunately it was a wet afternoon, & he has not very many orchids in bloom just now, so his collection did not look so imposing as I dare say it would at another time. He has a bright & a rolling eye; – only one, for the other is of glass, which gives his face a somewhat wild expression. He is an animated talker, but not easy to talk to for he is very deaf. Mr Rand has done a good deal of original work & has discovered various new species of orchids. I shd like to have bought some Amazonian orchids for Fernbrae[8] but I am told you can’t get much from him for less than £20 & that is beyond my means.

Just now our afternoon thunderstorm is going on, & the rain is coming down in torrents.  How would you like to live in a country where there is a thunderstorm almost every afternoon?


26th April.      Still here. Steamer detained two days waiting for a Bill of Health from Ceará. They need it for Barbados & as they had not at first intended going there they did not get it when in Ceará & now they have to wait for it. But we are to sail positively to-morrow morning.

Last night I gave a little dinner to five fellows who have shown me much hospitality. Mr Power (who describes himself as “once a bank-manager & a gentleman, now a broker”, – but makes as broker twice as much as he made when manager of the London & Brazilian Bank), Mr Duff, his partner,[9] Singlehurst, partner in Singlehurst, Brocklehurst & Co owners of the direct line of English Steamers,[10] Jordan, manager of Sub-marine cable station, & Mr Brown “of New York”, who wants to electric-light Pará. All very good fellows. We were a merry party. After dinner we adjourned to Jordan’s & sang songs till mid-night. Jordan has a good voice & Singlehurst is an excellent musician. The others have voices pretty much like mine.

I shall post this here, & begin a fresh letter at Barbados. Love to all



Nature February 2, 1893, p. 317

The Approaching Solar Eclipse, April 15-16, 1893

The total solar eclipse of April 15-16, 1893, is not only one of the longest of the century, but is the last of the century from which we are likely to get any addition to our knowledge of Solar Physics. The longest duration of totality of this eclipse is 4 minutes 46 seconds, and as the path of the moon’s shadow is to a great extent on land, there is a considerable choice of possible stations with long durations of totality. Commencing in the Southern Pacific the line of totality passes in a north-easterly direction and enters Chili at Charañah in 29° southern latitude, crosses the South American continent, and issues at Para Cura, a village near Ceara, at the north-east corner of Brazil, in latitude 3° 40′ south . . . The eclipse will be observed by several parties of astronomers in Chili, Brazil, and Africa, there being almost absolute certainty of fine weather in Chili and Africa, and a reasonable probability in Brazil. The English arrangements to observe the eclipse have been made a joint committee of the Royal Society, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Solar Physics Committee of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington; Dr. A. A. Commons, LL.D., F.R.S., undertaking the duties of Secretary. Two expeditions will be sent from England, one to Africa and the other to Brazil, the expenses being defrayed by a grant of £600 from the Royal Society.

  1. The last letter from this packet, ending one day before being able to set sail to travel home via Barbados.
  2. This is JMcC's baby brother James Moore, the youngest child in the family, born on 19th November 1874. He is 18 ½.
  3. G.Y.K. = George Young Kinnaird. See Index to People. The baby girl referred to was Margaret, his eldest child. George Kinnaird (b ~ 1854) was married in 1892. His wife Letitia was 16 years younger. George's eldest daughter Margaret Kinnaird was born in early 1893 (he was the ripe old age of 39) soon to be followed by her sister Elizabeth H. Kinnaird (a close friend of JMcC’s 4 daughters) born 2nd June 1894. George ended up having eight children; including son John Loewenthal Kinnaird (b 19th April 1896).
  4. The Brazilian expedition was led by Mr A. Taylor, assisted by Mr. W. Shackleton. "The members of the expedition to Brazil will leave Southampton by the Royal Mail steamer on February 23 for Pernambuco, arriving at the latter place on March 12. They will take passage by the local mail steamers to Ceara, at which place they will arrive about March 20." More from this account from Nature of February 2, 1893, is reproduced below.
  5. Cariru (Talinum triangulare) is a herbaceous plant very common in Tropical America; it reaches up to 60 cm in height. In the Brazilian Amazon region, it is a traditional plant used in different ways in local gastronomy, and it plays an important part in the culture of Amazonian people. Both leaves and stalks of this green can be consumed: https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/cariru/
  6. The majority of pipes sold today, whether handmade or machine-made, are fashioned from briar (French: bruyère). Briar is a particularly well-suited wood for pipe making for a number of reasons. The first and most important characteristic is its natural resistance to fire. The second is its inherent ability to absorb moisture. The burl absorbs water in nature to supply the tree in the dry times and likewise will absorb the moisture that is a byproduct of combustion. Briar is cut from the root burl of the tree heath (Erica arborea), which is native to the rocky and sandy soils of the Mediterranean region. Briar burls are cut into two types of blocks; ebauchon and plateaux. Ebauchon is taken from the heart of the burl while plateaux is taken from the outer part of the burl. While both types of blocks can produce pipes of the highest quality, most artisan pipemakers prefer to use plateaux because of their superior graining: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_pipe#Briar
  7. Edward Sprague Rand (b 1834 Boston, d 1897 Para): "American horticulturist. Born into a wealthy family in Boston, Edward Rand graduated from Harvard in 1855. He thereafter devoted his life to the study and cultivation of tropical plants at his home in Glen Ridge near Boston, especially collecting orchids and rhododendrons. Rand made several trips to Brazil to collect plants and wrote a number of books on the orchids of South America and on cultivating plants in greenhouses. He died while in Brazil." https://plants.jstor.org/stable/10.5555/al.ap.person.bm000006844
  8. The Weinberg family home. See "Weinberg" in Index to People.
  9. For Mr Power and Mr Duff, see Index to People.
  10. Singlehurst, Brocklehurst & Co: Merchants and Shipowners at Liverpool, and merchants at Pará, Brazil. See Letter from Maranhão 3rd April 1893


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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.

Share This Book