18910320 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/ytc2-wq93


No 8                            Puerto Cabello, Venezuela

via N.York                                    20th March 1891.


My dear Mother,

Let me see, – I think I have a good many things to write about this time, though I have no very startling news to communicate.

In the first place, for the last ten days or so I have been working hard. George Y. would probably remark that this, in itself, is most startling news, but then he has always held most mistaken views as to my laboriousness, & because of the unvarying cheerfulness with which I always mopped “the sweat of my brow”, he absurdly maintained that the lines had fallen to me in exceptionally pleasant places, instead of advising, as he should have done, the indolent youth of the rising generation to consider my ways & those of the ant.[1]

In my last I wrote you about the German steamer that brought us, – Clark & myself, to Cartagena. I have always to think how far I came in my last report, so as to know where to begin.

The special reasons for my exerting myself in Cartagena were firstly, the presence of the other philanthropist Clark, who is inspired with the same benevolent & disinterested desire as myself to forward the cause of civilisation by supplying the natives with Belfast linens, & secondly, the fact that a return steamer which I had to catch was coming along in one week.

This boat was guaranteed not to leave before noon on Sunday last & for that morning a riding excursion was arranged by some young men whose acquaintance we had made. We were to start at 5.30 & ride up a hill about a thousand feet high, overlooking the town & from this point of vantage we were to see the sun rise. Clark came hammering at my door at five, & as I had been up till after twelve the night before – first playing scat, – & afterwards writing letters, I would willingly have obliged any Richard III who might at that moment have offered a good bargain for a mount. Mine would have been, with something more than Spanish politeness, “very much at his disposal”, & the sun might have risen without my assistance.

As it was, the other boys did not turn up till half past six & I spent the interval between writing more letters & blessing Clark for his childlike faith in Colombian punctuality on the altar of which faith he had offered me up a growling victim. I might have asked him, with withering sarcasm, if he was under the impression that I was to be Queen of the May, but these happy thoughts always come too late!

Finally we started, five of us, trotted through the town & out into the country. At the foot of the Popa, the-to-be-conquered-hill,[2] we took coffee with biscuits of the flint age and butter, – none of your modern stuff but from a tin brought over by the hardy Norsemen, reverenced as a relic by Columbus, & handed down from Father to Son, to be produced only on occasions of peculiar solemnity.

By the time we topped the mountain the dappled dawn was past & the sun was high in the sky; – still there was some satisfaction in the thought that Clark was after all not there to see him rise. That was consolation enough for missing it myself, & besides, you know, I am blasé in the matter of sunrises.

During the early part of the ride my charger persisted in screwing his mouth round, like a contortionist, trying to catch the side of the bit in his teeth. Not being familiar with the “ways” of horses, I was not sure what the result might be in our relative positions if he succeeded in chewing the coveted morsel, so I as persistently pulled it out of reach, whereupon ensued a pump-handle-like movement of his head – pretty but uncomfortable. After a little I let him have his own way & then we got on most harmoniously. When we passed a group of ladies I rode with “the easy grace that only comes with long experience”, as Mark Twain says about the putting on of gloves, – absorbed in the beauty of the scenery, one hand carelessly resting on the thigh, trying to seem as if I felt, in the saddle, like Brier Rabbit in the briar-patch into which his enemy, Brier Fox, had chucked him: – “Born & bred in a briar-patch, Brier Fox!- Born & bred in it!”

Clark was not so fortunate. He rode a spirited horse, & on the way home, it refused to cross the tram-rails, & in consequence got mixed up with the wheels of a carriage. He jumped off, mounted again, & then the horse reared, falling back, but fortunately clear of Clark who was pitched well out the saddle on the road, where he lit on his head. He might have been severely injured, but luckily, as he proved, his head is a hard one, & escaped with a newly developed bump. He then changed horses with another man & we reached home without further mishap, at about ten o’clock.

That was on Saturday last. Since Thursday I have been able to sit down without much discomfort.

On the way to the Hotel I called at the agency of the steamer; it had not yet arrived, & would not, in any case, – so the agent assured me – leave till the following morning, so I had plenty of time to finish my correspondence comfortably & pack my trunks, besides having a good rest! But at exactly one o’clock, while I was enjoying an after-lunch cigar, & playing a game of chess with Clark I was informed by telephone that the steamer was in, & was to leave again at two! My trunks were all unpacked, the Hotel was on the outskirts of the town, & the steamer was anchored out in the bay; – & I had just one hour to pack everything & get there. For once in my life I was under the disagreeable necessity of being in a hurry. I sent Clark into town to arrange about a boat & to bring a cart with him for the baggage. I asked another man called Behrens, from Manchester, to get my bill, add it up, & pay it, – & I gave him my pocket-book for the purpose: – a touching proof of confidence, seeing it was full of banknotes (true, they were Colombian notes, & worth altogether about three pounds). Knowing exactly where everything had to go, I had all packed by the time the cart was at the door, – the donkey obligingly would go, – the boat skimmed quickly out before a strong breeze, – & at two precisely I was on board the Fernando de Lesseps.[3]

I would here remark that, no matter how great your haste, never fail to check the addition of your hotel bill, or get someone else to do it; – in fact, the greater your haste the more absolute necessity for this precaution. This time the sum was only three dollars too much. Nevertheless I cannot complain of high charges, the rate per day being 3/9 for board & lodging, & the whole account for nine days, amounting, with extras, to £ 2-4-5, – not much compared with Scotch Hotel-bills in tourist times, but quite enough for the accommodation given!

The Fernando de Lesseps is a French boat, & during the two days & a half to Puerto Cabello I had an opportunity of showing how thoroughly I was “insthructed in the game of parlez-voo”.”

Wednesday till Saturday were spent in Puerto Cabello & on Sunday morning I landed once more in Curaçao, where I now finish this letter.

As on a previous occasion, I was hospitably entertained, in the former place, by a German gentleman, a Mr Gruen, who does business with Dundee. He has a fine house, with a verandah shaded by vines & a garden bright with roses & tropical plants, in a little village beautifully situated among the hills, some five miles out of “The Port”, as the town proper is called.

We drove out to this village, San Esteban, in the afternoon about five, &, after an excellent dinner, a good night’s rest, a bath in the river, & an early breakfast of coffee & eggs, we drove into town again, much refreshed, the following morning.[4]

In my Puerto Cabello Hotel bill here is the following item: 1 sanguidié 12 cents. Not a bad shot at “sandwich”, that, phonetically – it might have been wider of the mark.

I expected to find letters from you here in Curaçao, but there are none so far. The New York steamer is due today, & “hopingly” (to adapt a word from the German) brings something.[5]

Best love to all



Curaçao      23rd Mar. 1891


  1. George Y. = George Young Kinnaird (b~1857, d 6th January 1921) (see Index to people). George Kinnaird & Co, linen merchants, Belfast; also collar & cuff manufacturers). Father of Elizabeth Kinnaird (b~1895).
  2. The top of the La Popa hill, which gets its name based on its shape similar to that of a poop deck, offers the best view of Cartagena.
  3. The Ferdinand de Lesseps was a French Line steamship built 1875 at Glasgow by A. & J. Inglis, originally as the "Stad Haarlem" for the Royal Netherlands.
  4. San Esteban is a picturesque town located fifteen minutes from Puerto Cabello, with a much cooler climate, which is why, in past centuries, prosperous merchants were established, most of them of foreign origin. There are still vestiges of a formidable architecture of its impressive mansions, among them, it is worth highlighting the one built by the engineer Muñoz Tebar for the wealthy Dane Julio Sturup, later acquired by General Vicencio Perez Soto and today turned into a Museum.
  5. The German word is "hoffentlich."


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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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