18901019 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/c5pt-8h20


S.S. Magdalena

Sunday 19th Oct. 1890


My dear Mother,

We are now drawing near Lisbon, so I want to have a short letter ready to send to you overland.

We have had a splendid voyage so far – perfectly calm the whole way – the heat was not so oppressive crossing the line this time as on the outward trip.

I think I wrote you that I was having a good time in Pernambuco. I found it quite the pleasantest place, in a social way, on this coast, there is a large English colony, & strange to say, it is not split up into cliques, as is mostly the case with English people living abroad. There are several boarding houses, where the unmarried men live, & these, as well as the better houses of the English families, have tennis-courts in their grounds. There is also a club with two good courts, & people play every afternoon. They can rely on the weather in Pernambuco, & as they can practise all the year round, they are mostly capital players. Mr Midgely, the “parson”, whom I mentioned before, is a very energetic player, & holds his own well against the younger men. I went one afternoon to his boarding house & had about an hour & a half good tennis.

One invitation I had that rather surprised me. It was from Mr Bilton, the manager of the London & Brazilian Bank, to dinner & whist, to meet Mr Midgely to whom I fancy I was indebted for the invite. It was a very pleasant evg. indeed.[1]

Mr Bilton is a very nice man, & Mrs B. is handsome woman & capital hostess, her only failing being that she always calls Mr. B. “Hubby”. They have a comfortable house some miles out of town alongside the railway.

The “Magdalena” is one of the Company’s newest boats, – steams 14 knots, is very steady & comfortable. She is almost full up but with my usual good luck, I have a cabin to myself. A Brazilian was put in with me, but I got round the purser, & had the native “shunted”.[2]

The voyage has been uneventful, – leaving Pernambuco on Saturday 11th we passed next day Fernando Noronha, an island used by Brazil as a penal station. An odd rock towers up towards on end like a lighthouse.[3] On the following Thursday we arrived at St Vincent of the Cape de Verde Islands, & coaled, but all the Portuguese settlements quarantine vessels from Brazil 10 months in the year, so we were not able to go ashore.[4] After the heavy rains a slight carpet of green covered the valleys so that the jagged masses of lava did not present the same barren appearance as when we passed south.

Early on Sunday morning we sighted Palma, the most westerly of the Canaries, but heavy masses of cloud hanging over the island prevented us from having a glimpse of the Peak of Teneriffe, lying some 40 or 50 miles to the eastward.

On the way we have had lots of companions in the shape of whales, flying-fish, dolphins, & Portuguese-men-of-war. One flying-fish came in at a porthole & lit in a cabin. Another skimmed past the chief engineer’s nose as he was standing on deck one night, rather startling him.

The passengers are all “nobodies”, – the only one who has any claim to be considered a “somebody” is an Argentine politician, going on a financial mission to Europe. In that happy Republic, when the President wants to provide for any of his friends & has not an office disposable, or when he wants to get rid of a troublesome supporter, he sends him on a financial mission to Europe, that being understood as a six-months’ holiday at the expense of the state.

Notwithstanding their insignificance the passengers are, on the whole, a very pleasant set. There are one or two families, a crowd of young men, but no pretty girls. By way of amusement we have had whist daily, of course, & some chess. A Christy Minstrel Troupe was organized & gave a very presentable performance.

The crew got up a rival show, & rather eclipsed the passengers’ entertainment. There is a huge young Brazilian girl (age 14, weight about as many stones) hammering on the pianofifty, as our Christy “Bones” called it, just over my head, & I must run away. I think we shall be in Southampton on Friday – home Sunday!

Best love




  1. Mr Bilton (see Index to People): Mr W H Bilton – the “hubby” of Mrs B – they were both on the passenger list travelling from Southampton to Pernambuco in May 1897.
  2. The SS Magdalena was indeed a very new steamer. Ship Name: Magdalena. Years in service: 1889-1921. Funnels: 2. Masts: 3. Shipping Line: Royal Mail (British).
  3. Fernando de Noronha was an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, part of the State of Pernambuco. In the late 18th century, the first prisoners were sent to Fernando de Noronha. A prison was built. In 1897 the government of the state of Pernambuco took possession of the prison. Between 1938 and 1945, Fernando de Noronha was a political prison: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_de_Noronha
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Vicente,_Cape_Verde


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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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