18900810 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/mfyq-k965


No 16       Rio de Janeiro

10th August 1890


My dear Mother,

I have been writing all day & feel about written out, but I don’t want to let this mail go without a few lines from me. Since my last letter of about a fortnight ago (a longer interval than usual) I had your welcome weeklies of 30 June & 7 July. I hoped to have had a later one but I suppose it has gone to Bahia or Pernambuco.

So Fred Boas has announced his engagement! Is the marriage to take place soon?[1]

You say you had a pleasant (small) family picnic at Newcastle, though I suppose to mention that now is like referring to ancient history; – you should make those little excursions oftener.

Em & Olga will now be at Kingussie or whatever that place is with the heathen name, & Annie very likely at home. The girls are having a good summer.[2]

I hope your troublesome cough has gone.[3] It would go very soon if you had a little of this sunshine here – the warm air just subdued to pleasant temperature by the cool afternoon breezes from the sea.

Mr Ree is much better, & now goes to town daily to look after his business; he still wears a bandage round his chin, but he can speak without difficulty & is quite another man from when I saw him first. We played a game of whist the other night – the first he has played since he left Belfast he told me. He had a letter from Mrs Ree who mentioned that Annie had just left Paris.

Last week I presented Mr Gotto’s letter to his brother who received me very kindly.[4] He is managing engineer of the City Improvement Coy who have charge of the town drainage. He took me for a sail among the islands of the Bay, on the Coy’s steam-launch. The famous Bay of Rio is said to be, after Sidney, the finest natural harbour in the World. It has a narrow entrance, with a great depth of water, & opens out into a wide lake sending its quiet little bays of blue water in among the high hills by which it is surrounded.

It is said to have a coastline of more than 100 miles, & scattered over its surface are some 300 islands, large & small, many of these studded with pretty summer residences shaded by palm-trees. You can perhaps form some faint idea of what a sail among these islands is! The hills all round rise steeply in the most fantastic shapes. One pinnacle of rock is called the Finger of God; another huge mountain – rock rising bleakly & precipitously at the entrance to the Bay is called the Sugarloaf; the other heights are mostly known by Indian names.

The City Improvement Coy. have a little island of their own for the manufacture of lime from oyster-shell & coral. Their man in charge, Mr Holliday, lives like Robinson Crusoe, – monarch of all he surveys, except that he has his wife (who looks like the real ruler) & a snug little house. But he is absolute master of the darkeys under him, & acts not only as their employer, but also as their guide, philosopher, & friend – banker & all the rest of it.

He has a youngster of five years, who wore, when we landed, but the meagerest of blouses, with the tails flapping in the breeze. This boy paddles (literally) his own canoe – a flat-bottomed little cockleshell – all about the island, in the most independent fashion.

Nervous mothers please note!

Mrs Holliday gave us a very nice cup of tea & some bread & butter & then showed us with pride over her island. They have a spring of the clearest water, a garden that produces everything from pineapples & mangoes to carrots & turnips, & a fish-pond with oysters growing thick all round the walls. What a place for a lonely eremite, if only the spring ran Guinness’s XX![5] In the garden there was a green pepper plant which excited my curiosity & I bit a berry in two & then —————  looked round for an iceberg to chew.

Next time I am told that green pepper is hot I shall take my informant’s word for it.

On our return from the island Mr Gotto took me home with him to dinner. Mrs Gotto received us. She is young and pretty and makes a very pleasant hostess.[6] They live, together with her brother, a Mr Osborne, in a nice little house on a hill fronting the entrance to the harbour. Mrs Gotto is a great stamp-collector & has an excellent collection. If Julie or Olga would send out some good exchange stamps to Mr or Mrs G. address  City Improvement Coy, Rua Santa Luzia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they would likely get some good old Brazilian stamps in exchange.

Mr Gotto has asked me to dine again with them & go afterwards to a dance at an English family’s, some evg. this next week, – he is to let me know.

I meant to write a “few lines” & I find myself on page 3 (my last half-sheet, & the candle burns low.  I have not written all I meant to write but other things have crept in, & what has been crowded out must wait for the next-train).

But I must tell you in any case of my bitterest grievance – the latest injustice to Ireland; – listen to my tale of woe: I have been asked to a ball tomorrow night & this morning I woke up with a conspicuous, & obnoxious, & shining, & altogether ridiculous little red spot right on the tip of my nose!!

With love,

Your woebegone & red-tipped-nosed


  1. Frederick Samuel Boas (b Belfast 1862, d 1957) married Henrietta O'Brien Owen (the same age as him) in Oxford in 1892. He had matriculated from Balliol College in 1881. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_S._Boas
  2. Kingussie - a small town in the Badenoch and Strathspey ward of the Highland council area of Scotland.
  3. Jane’s death certificate says she died in 1901 age 65 of Tuberculosis of the Bladder (could have been many another thing) – but could she have had “consumption”?
  4. Mr Arthur Charles Gotto who lived with his wife Margaret on the Malone Road in Belfast. He was the brother of Percy Murly Gotto, civil engineer b 18 April 1859, Rio de Janeiro. This refers to a letter of introduction to Percy Murly Gotto from Arthur Charles Gotto of Belfast. See Index to People.
  5. "Originally brewed as the XX version of Guinness’ Porter, Guinness Original is a direct descendant of our archival recipes, based on a beer first brewed in 1821, when Arthur Guinness II set down precise instructions for brewing his Superior Porter." https://www.guinness.com/en-gb/our-beers/guinness-original/
  6. This refers to Percy Murly Gotto (b Apr-June 1859, d 20th July 1935 in Stockbridge) who was a civil engineer and directed the Rio de Janeiro City Improvements Company founded in 1862 by his father Edward Gotto (see Index to People). Percy M Gotto was married in London to Jane T Gotto on 15 December 1888. Jane Tulloch Fiddes Murly Gotto (nee Laing) (b Glasgow ~ 1862, d 1934 in Romsey, Hants). Their wedding had been announced in The Belfast Newsletter of 20th December 1888. She was 28 at the time (and pretty!)


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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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