18900724 See an image of the original letter here, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/rt7t-dn61


No 15                 São Paulo, Brazil

24th July 1890

Rio de Janeiro 27th


My dear Mother,

My last was from Santos, which place I left on the 18th, the journey by rail to São Paulo takes only three hours & a half, & yet it is worth while coming from England to Brazil to make it.

São Paulo lies some 3000 feet above the sea level on a plateau, or rather in a shallow basin among the hills. The train, after leaving Santos, winds for some little distance along the river, & then stops as if to take breath for the climb up the mountain range. Here we leave the engine behind; the train is divided into two parts, & part one, after being attached to a special break van with a powerful vice over each rail, is hooked to the end of a wire rope that comes down on small wheels in the middle of the track, & is pulled quickly up a long & dizzily steep incline, disappearing round a curve. Mid-way there is a siding where the half of our train passes the half of the return train. Then our turn in the second half comes; we are hooked to the wire rope, provided with a break van, the wire tightens & up we go.

I assure you that the ride is not one to be recommended to nervous people. On such an incline it looks as if no break could possibly be of the slightest use; the wire rope seems terribly slender & if it should snap…………………………………!

Half-way up we pass the remainder of the return train, & at the top there is a level platform where we are unhooked & we take breath again. Here there is an engine house & a powerful fixed engine with large drum wheels round which the wire-rope passes, one end of the rope being fastened to the ascending & one to the descending carriages, the weight of the one counterbalancing that of the other. This is only the beginning of the climb; there are three other such stages, one after the other, before we say good-bye to the wire ropes & are taken charge of by a new locomotive on the higher level.[1]

When we started from Santos at 4 in the afternoon the air was very warm, almost sultry. Up above we could see the evening clouds slowly gathering round the hill-tops. As we rose the air became cooler, the clouds seemed to change slowly into mist, gradually thinner & thinner as we approached & passed through it & when we came into the clear air above the mist seemed to change into cloud again, spreading out, in the evening light, like a grey-white sea, through which the higher peaks & mounds rose like little islands.

A few yards distant, on either side of the line, the impenetrably dense vegetation began, spreading all over the hills in an unbroken covering. Trees, every branch & every fork of which formed a resting place for innumerable parasites, while festoons of climbing plants bound them together like tangled cords; many varieties of palms, with a thick under growth of fern, cactus, aloes & spear-like grasses of all kinds, every here & there a little mountain cascade tumbling down to join the river which wound through the plain far below, the whole landscape varied in light & shadow; – all formed a scene which no description can convey any idea of.

From São Paulo to Rio, a thirteen hours’ journey, the country is also very fine, but not so wild as that between the former place & Santos. About three hours before reaching Rio, when the line begins to descend there are some beautiful panoramas: – deep winding valleys & beyond successive ranges of hills, each one less distinct than the one before it, – the nearest dark green, the furthest dim purple.

This part of the country is the most thickly populated & the best cultivated. The white cottages dotted over the hills, look very picturesque in among the trees. On the plantations, the deep-green coffee trees or shrubs, standing on an average, about two yards high, are planted at regular intervals, & the ground about them kept free from weeds. The crop is now being gathered in. There are also vines, orange tree, & bananas; – in fact soil & sun between them will produce anything.

Both in Santos & São Paulo I had a very good time. At the former place, Mr Lange, of the firm of Lion & Co, who act as agents for Dundee, came in a small boat to the steamer to receive me & had a room prepared for me at his house, but I missed him & went to the hotel.[2] He introduced me to the German Club, a very nice place, where they have excellent German beer & sandwiches & we spent the evenings there very pleasantly, playing whist.

In São Paulo I also met with much kindness from Mr Lion. He had a cousin from Hamburg staying with him for a few days & was entertaining him, so I came in for two bachelors’ dinner parties & some delightful drives in the country.

At one of the dinners I became quite chummy with a nice old gentleman, Senhor Commendador Antonio Manoel Alves, grandfather-in-law to Mr Lion (who is married to a Brazilian lady). The Commendador gave me his card & promised to send me some tobacco of his own cultivation.

At São Paulo I received, via Montevideo & Rio, your welcome letters of 9th, 16th, & 23rd June, & I was very glad to have your news.

I also have to send my thanks for another letter from Annie, who is having, as I expected she would, a first rate time at Paris, & a very amusing letter from Olga. – “Sauntering sneer” & “copious smile” are lovely, the first is about the best thing of the kind I have heard.

You seem to have had a very jolly tennis-&-high-tea party. I wish I had been there; I should enjoy something of that kind very much now.

So Dora Sinton is off to Switzerland; what a jolly trip we had to Scotland about this time last year![3] I am afraid it will be too late for another one this year. However we shall see.

I arrived at Rio on the evg. of the 25th. I had to rise at 4.30 to catch the 6 o’clock train, an uncomfortable start.

I am staying at the Hôtel des Etrangers, very comfortable. Mr Martin Ree is at the same hotel & I saw him the evg. I arrived. Poor man, he has had a very bad accident. He was in the country & must have exposed himself to the sun, took some kind of attack or became dizzy & fell heavily, breaking his jaw on both sides. He is now rather better and goes out to the garden, but his head is all bandaged up & he can only speak slowly & with difficulty. His nephew is here & fortunately he has many friends to look after him.

He purposes going soon North to Bahia & Pernambuco & later in the year down to Buenos Ayres.

I expect to be here for about a fortnight & shall then go on to Bahia & Pernambuco, & home. I shall postpone till my next any description of Rio, for it deserves a letter to itself.

The last telegrams announce a revolution in Buenos Ayres.[4] I hope it may be speedily successful. If so it is about the best thing that could happen. Further news will be anxiously awaited by all interested in the Argentine Republic. The present (or late?) Government is utterly corrupt & incapable, & almost any change would be an improvement. It is only a pity of the poor wretches of soldiers who are obliged by their officers & political leaders to shoot one another down.

I must stop now. It is already past the breakfast hour & I am very hungry – my appetite is still reassuring, & my general condition eminently satisfactory. I hope you can all say the same of yourselves.

Best love to all


  1. The cable train journey from Santos to Sao Paulo: In 1859, a group of people led by the Barão de Mauá convinced the Brazilian government that it was important to construct a railroad connecting São Paulo to the seaport at Santos. The main purpose of the project was the transport of the coffee grown on the inland plateau to the Atlantic coast for export. The biggest difficulty was the task to overcome the steep east slope of the 800-meter high Serra do Mar, which was considered to be nearly impracticable. The São Paulo Railway consists of three parts: 1. The 20 km (12 mi) long adhesion railway at the coast from Santos to Piassaguera near Cubatão 2. The 8 km (5 mi) long steep grade from Piassaguera to Paranapiacaba 3. The adhesion railway on the plateau from Paranapiacaba via São Paulo to Jundiaí. The first system used to climb the steep grade between Piassaguera and Paranapiacaba was a four-section cable railway with stationary steam engines, in use from 1867 till 1970. At each section, the wagons were attached to a steel wire rope with the help of a specially fitted brake van. JMcC talks of “break vans”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Paulo_Railway_Company
  2. I cannot find anything about Lion & Co, nor Mr Lange, nor Mr Lion. There was however a Ludwig Loewe & Co in Brazil, German importer of firearms
  3. Dora Sinton: see Index to People
  4. “Revolution of the Park” in Buenos Aires, 26th-29th July 1890. Crushed by the government – president Miguel Juárez Celman resigns.


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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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