18921227  See an image of this letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/xwqg-h666


Rio,                                           27th December 1892


My dear Mother,

Since writing you 18th/ Dec. by “Clyde” I recvd your dear letter of 28th Nov. & the pretty Xmas-card sent two days later. I was also very glad to have letters from all the family. They arrived very timely on Christmas-eve.

You ask who the B. Aires Wallaces are. Mr W. is partner in the firm acting as agents for Lamport & Holt, the large shipowners.[1] Mrs Wallace was a Miss Gilling-Lax. Her sister lives with them. The Gilling-Laxes come from some place in Wales, where they had a nice country-house (according to photographs they showed me) & where they were apparently the “big” family of the district. Wallace himself is a decent little man; his wife & sister-in-law are exceedingly nice, & we were always glad to go to their house. They asked us often for dinner, whist, picnics, & so on. That reminds me I have to send them a New Year’s card.[2]

Thanks for the “flour” suggestion. I’m afraid it won’t do. I should look like a baker out for a holiday. Besides I don’t give a cent what colour my complexion turns, so long as it isn’t black or too yellow, nor if it peels from time to time.

The card you sent me is a very pretty one indeed.

Well, I spent Christmas most pleasantly, – lighting on my feet as usual. I went up to Petropolis with Mr Allen on Saturday afternoon & returned on Monday morning.[3] On Xmas-eve we had a quiet family dinner – Mr & Mrs Allen, Captain & Mrs Williams (Mrs Allen’s father & mother) & Allens brother, all of whom live in the house.[4] Afterwards we drove round to the Landsbergs – Mrs Landsberg is Mrs Allen’s sister – who live near in a fine villa, though not such a palatial residence as the Allens.[5] They had a children’s party in the afternoon, & had re-decorated the Xmas tree from which we all got some little souvenir. There was a little dancing – cards – billiards – conversation & refreshments.

On Christmas day there was a grand dinner at Allens. We sat down, 16, to table at abt. half past 7 & rose at a quarter to 11. I took Mrs MacKinnell in to dinner & had Mrs Landsberg on my left & ours was the merriest corner of the table. Mrs MacKinnell I like very much.[6] Mrs Landsberg is young & handsome, & very lively. The table was beautifully decorated with ferns & flowers on amber silk I think, & lighted with candles in handsome silver “sticks”, & there were lamps round the room. Each guest had his place marked by a card bearing some suitable quotation hand-painted on chamois. I enclose mine. It is a pretty idea & it started the conversation vigorously right away. Please keep this card for me.

Mrs MacKinnell was told to “Eat, drink, & be merry.” (the sequel was left out), but there were other happier quotations. The only unmarried lady present was given “sweets to the sweet”. The compliment was a little extravagant as “the sweet” was no longer in the first bloom of youth & she had a marked squint, but she seemed quite pleased. I can’t give you the menu for I really don’t remember what we had, – only that the succession of dishes seemed endless & all excellent (Mrs Allen pays her cook – an Englishwoman – £ 70 a year!).[7] At all events we wound up with the customary roastbeef, turkey & ham, plum-pudding, & mince-pies. After the soup there was a kind of liqueur-ice – a punch “romaine” is that ? – & the wines were all of the very best. Sherry, Hock, Bordeaux, Sparkling Burgundy, Champagne, & Port, – of brands & age to make a kernoozer’s teeth water. Then coffee as they know how to make it in Rio & a good Havana, – & you will allow he must have been an odd mortal who wd  not have felt at peace with himself & the world.

In addition to being Xmas-day it was the anniversary of the Allens’ wedding, – they were married in 1888. Everybody’s health was drunk & there were supplementary toasts – “absent friends”, – “sweethearts & wives” (with the usual small jokes). There was great fun over the crackers & the bran pie from which everyone drew a little present, the ring falling to young Allen who was feeding “the sweet” with American candies on the end of his fork.

Afterwards Mrs Allen sang “Love’s old Song” & Mrs Landsberg “Connais-tu le pays?” from Mignon, & to-gether they sang two duets. It was a great treat, as they both have very much better voices & training than the average drawing-room singist.[8]

So ended a poor exile’s Christmas.

Next morning we missed the train, but, thanks to Mr Allen’s two good boys & a light victoria, we overtook it at the next station two miles further on, where the carriages are separated to be taken down the steep decline on the cog-wheel railway.[9]

The MacKinnells have asked me to visit them at Petropolis; the Youles where I dined & played whist last night (being Tuesday) have invited me to a dinner-party on New Year’s eve & to stay over-night, & Murley Gotto, whom I saw y’day, asked me to stay over Sunday with him at Tijuca.[10] I hope I shall some day be able to make a return for so much kindness, & if not, a sort of sense of justice will oblige me, if ever I am in a position to do so, to show a corresponding friendliness to young fellows away from home.

Murley Gotto is an amusing fellow. I said to him: “So your brother has gone home to be married.” “So I heard on my arrival” he replied. “There are two girls at home who believe themselves engaged to him. He has taken home a ring & some diamonds they tell me. If they don’t do for one they’ll do for the other.”

Alfred Betzold comes to Rio on financial business by “Magdalena”, due 11th Jany.[11] So Leppin tells me. Latter bewails high expenses in Brazil. Can’t do much business here just now though he did pretty well in the North. Doesn’t know where to go. Wanted to go to Rio Grande but affairs are son unsettled there. Has been here so long (I think nearly three months) that he must go somewhere. I feel sorry for the man. He doesn’t seem to have many friends. He was “quite sad” when he left Belfast & not a soul came to say good-bye. Very sorry he ever left M. & W. – Mr L. was always so good to him. (Better not repeat any of this.)[12]

This is a long letter, I don’t know how many other letters I have to answer nor when I shall do it.  Paciencia!       A great word but an unsatisfactory sentiment.

Papers say you are having great snow-storms. I hope your neuralgia is not troublesome. Here it still keeps cool (for Rio) & the public health wonderful. Death-rate 15 per thousand.

In Belfast it must be half as much more.

Mr Morley must feel his noblest feelings hurt at the want of gratitude on the part of the fenians![13]

Another revolution in the Argentine! – this time in the Province of Corrientes.[14] Sweet countries. Here they are issuing a few million more paper-money “to support local industry” & so raise the value (!) of the depreciated currency already existing, “so as to make a fresh loan in Europe on favorable terms.”  Enlightened financing!

Love to all.


  1. Lamport and Holt was a UK merchant shipping line. From its foundation in 1845 until 1975, the partnership was headquartered in Liverpool. It was in stiff competition with the Brazil Line in the coffee trade. Lamport and Holt would schedule its ships to leave Brazilian ports a few days before Brazil Line departures, and would even keep a ship stationed in Rio de Janeiro any time that a Brazil Line ship was in port. The company also waged a rate war against the Brazil Line with the result that it secured most of the Brazilian coffee cargoes to the US and left Brazil Line ships often sailing north only half-laden. In 1881 the Brazil Line again withdrew from the competition. Then in 1883 the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies awarded the Brazil Line a subsidy large enough to compete with Lamport and Holt. In 1890 the Brazil Line introduced two new ships. But UK-owned merchant houses, warehouses, insurers and banks supported Lamport and Holt, and the Brazil Line went bankrupt in 1893: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamport_and_Holt
  2. The Wallaces were Federick L’Estrange Wallace (b 1853 Brooklyn, d 1925 Buenos Aires), his wife Ellen Gwendoline Gilling-Lax (b 1860 Bedfordshire, d 1850 Buenos Aires), and Miss Gilling-Lax (referred to as “Miss Sealingwax” in earlier letters) one of the sisters of Ellen. See Index to People. The family actually seems to come from SOMERSET although Ellen and her sister’s parents (George Robert Gilling-Lax and Ellen Mary Roberts) were married in Pentraeth, Anglesey in 1835.
  3. Petrópolis, also known as The Imperial City, is a municipality in the Southeast Region of Brazil, inside the state of Rio de Janeiro state. It is located 68 km northeast of the city of Rio: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petr%C3%B3polis
  4. See Index to People. John Roscoe Allen (b 14th January 1856 Lancashire, d 10th August 1946 in Rio De Janeiro - buried in Cimiterio do Ingleses Gamboa). He married Grace Elizabeth Williams (b 1867, d 1923) in 1888. Their daughter Grace Muriel Allen was born in 1890. Captain John Smith Williams (b~1835, New Orleans ) and Laura Ursula Williams (b ~1844, nee Gilbert) were the parents of Mrs Allen and Mrs Landsberg. They married in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in 1864.
  5. Albert Landsberg (b 1851, d 21st November 1923) lived at Praca Liberdade, No 28, Petropolis. He was buried at the Cemitério do Cajú Município de Rio de Janeiro. Mrs Landsberg was Lucy Ethel Williams b 1869 (hence “young, handsome and lively”). She was married in Rio in 1886 (she was 17 – he twice her age). She outlived him quite a while and died in Rio de Janeiro in 1951. See Index to People
  6. Mrs McKinnel is American. See Index to People.
  7. In 1890 a British cook would make between £30 a year (in a modest house) and £300 a year (if a famous chef for a royal family). So £70 in Rio de Janeiro may be a reasonable salary.
  8. "Mignon" is an 1866 comic opera in three acts by Ambroise Thomas, based on a novel by Goethe. "Love's Old Sweet Song" is a Victorian parlour song published in 1884 from a collaboration by composer James Lynam Molly and lyricist G. Clifton Bingham. 1913 recordings by the soprano Olive Fremstad are available for both songs from the Library of Congress: "Connais-tu le pays?" https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-649316/ and "Love's Old Sweet Song"  https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-133342/.
  9. The victoria is an elegant carriage style of French origin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_(carriage)
  10. Tijuca is one of the most traditional districts of Rio de Janeiro and has the third-largest urban forest in the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tijuca
  11. Alfred Betzold, a linen merchant in Belfast originally came from Upper Saxony and was naturalized in 1871. The Belfast News-Letter of 8th September 1896 records that he later fell on hard times, "these bankrupts, Max Veitel & Alfred Betzold, carried on business at Fountain Street, Belfast, as linen merchants, and the case was listed for . . .”
  12. Ernest Leppin was a disgruntled ex-employee of Moore and Weinberg in Belfast. Regrets he hadn’t appreciated how good Julius had been to him. See Index to People.
  13. John Morley, a Liberal politician, Chief Secretary for Ireland, and supporter of Home Rule: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Morley
  14. "The rebels in the province of Corrientes, Argentine Republic, have defeated the provincial troops in a number of skirmishes, and have seized the towns of Mercedes and Caseros and the railway lines of the district." Indianapolis Journal, 28th December 1892: https://newspapers.library.in.gov/


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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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