Reminiscences of my 60 years in South America
Trevor Stephenson 1915 - 2015
Arranged by Tony Morrison


Trevor was enjoying the life of a young man. On his short break in England he met a young and vivacious girl and decided to return to Brazil via her home in Canada - adventure and fun ruled his heart and he ran out of money - but that is a story told in My Canadian Interlude - next

But Trevor's destination was the Booth Company office in Belem do Pará or simply Belem, then a city of 200,000 is on the Para river. Just 100 kms from the Atlantic Belem has been a port for over three centuries and is known as as the ' Gateway to the Amazon River'

Schoolboy to Apprentice 1931-1936
Maranham 1936-41
Parnahyba 1937 -1943
Homeward Bound 1938
Tropical Troubles 1942
Para 1938/1939 1943 /1945
Amazonian Interlude 1941
Manaus 1941-1942
War time diary 1942
Back to Brazil 1943
Iquitos 1945-1946
Brazil for the second time 1947
On a coffee fazenda 1952 -1953
São Paulo Alpargatas 1953 - 1957
Crossing the Continent 1956
Lima 1957 -1963
Working for myself 1964-1990
Belém do Pará 1938-1939 & 1943-1945
"Put down that 'phone, you idiot"

Twenty three and not a care in the world

My three month leave, my first since working in Brazil, was coming to an end. At a party I met a pretty Canadian girl named Barbara Rowley. When I told her I was shortly going back to Brazil, she suggested that I return via Montreal and New York adding that I could stay with her parents. I liked the idea so I decided to go to the offices of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co to enquire about passages. The Duchess of York was sailing from Liverpool and I reckoned that if I sailed on her and spent a few days in Montreal I would be able to catch the Benedict from New York and arrive back in Brazil within my time limit.

The price the clerk quoted me for a first class fare was far too much as I had spent quite a lot during my holidays. However, when I mentioned that I worked for the Booth Line and would be returning to my post in North Brazil, he told me that if I obtained a letter from Booths that I was their employee going back to their North Brazil Agencies then they would grant me a 50% discount. Delighted at the prospect, I immediately went to the Booth office and proposed to the manager, Mr Deyes, that he wrote such a letter. I was not expecting his reaction.

"My dear boy, we cannot possibly do such a thing. Booths never request favours from other firms. Why don't you return on one of our vessels to Brazil which will cost you nothing.?" I replied that for personal reasons I wished to travel via Montreal and that if I could not get a discount, then I would travel steerage. Mr Deyes almost exploded. "Travel steerage! Whatever next. You would be letting the side down. Remember your family, the firm, your friends."

So in August 1938 I travelled on the good ship Duchess of York in steerage class. Actually the accommodation was very good. I had a 4 berth cabin all to myself down in the bowels of the ship. The food was very good, actually better than on the Hilary and we had space on deck where we could enjoy the fresh air and the view. Even saw some icebergs. THE REST OF THE STORY IS MY CANADIAN INTERLUDE TO READ NOW

And so back to Earth

The next day I embarked on the s.s. Benedict and the following morning we arrived at Philadelphia [USA]. Then on 2nd September we set sail for Brazil. The weather was perfect as I wrote in my diary at the time

"I have been up on the promenade deck reading and sunbathing. The sun is shining and there is a gentle cooling wind. The sea is like highly polished glass and the ship seems to be the only disturbing influence. Its bulk and momentum shattering the crystal water into thousands of fragments. The only sound is that of the soft strains of church music floating idly around the dazzling white deck of this noble ship coming from that marvellous invention of man, the radio. I have no further desire to read. My one wish is to lie perfectly still and quiet and let my thoughts wander like a beauteous Morpho blue butterfly flitting from flower to flower. All the while the ship is gently moving with a slight seasaw movement almost imperceptible to the human being. Then, at midday, the silence was shattered by the sound of eight bells.[12.00 hrs[ I descended to my cabin. There on the table rest the remains of two half eaten plums and a third so far uneaten. My clothes are scattered around in disordered array tho' their very colour and arrangement adds to the charm of this floating home of mine for the next 9 to 10 days. Happiness truly is upon me solely because of these wondrous works of nature which I see all around me."

Arrival in Belém

The voyage progressed and finally on 14th September we arrived at Belem do Pará. Charles Booth Junior came off to the ship to meet me. He informed me that the sub-manager, Mr. Harrison, who was on leave in England, had been taken seriously ill and therefore I was to take his place in Pará instead of going on to Maranhao as I had expected.

The office was in an old Portuguese mansion built on the side of the river bank facing the river on Rua Gaspar Viana. Just inside the massive wooden front door was a magnificent wide wooden staircase leading to the upper floor where was the office. Being built on the river bank, the back office was on the ground floor. Stairs led to the first floor where was the Junior Staff House. This consisted of a large living room with billiard table, dining room, two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. There was also a small airy room under a sky light which we used for taking breakfast.

I had not been there long before I began to explore the staff quarters. In the breakfast room was a large cupboard fitted into one wall. I opened it to find it with several completely empty shelves. Then I noticed that the wooden panel at one side seemed to be loose. I pulled it away and was amazed to find a narrow flight of steps inside the wall. Being curious, I climbed up the steps and found myself at the top in a small, very dusty room. There was a small window in front of which was an old chair, also covered in dust and a lovely brass telescope trained on the river. I mentioned this to Atahualpa Purcell who was sufficiently interested to ask me to accompany him to this room. It was his opinion that the room must have been used my his father when he was Manager of the Agency towards the end of the 19th century to monitor the arrival of Booth vessels.

Close to the docks a large building was being built. I was told that it was to be the new Booth Office and senior and junior staff quarters when finished.

Every afternoon it seemed to rain in Para and it was the custom to arrange to meet someone 'before' or 'after' the rain. It certainly refreshed the city as it was inclined to be very warm and sticky between 1 pm and 3 pm.

I was not given any information as to what I was supposed to do so the first day I just sat at Mr. Harrison's desk going through sundry papers. Then Mr Macrae threw a bunch of bills of lading to me saying "Check the freight rates and calculations". A few days later, the telephone on my desk began to ring. I lifted the receiver to hear someone talking in Portuguese. As I didn't understand a single word, I said "I don't understand. Speak English, please." Then the door of Atahualpa Purcell's office opened and an irate General Manager shouted at me "Put down that phone, you idiot, I am speaking to an important shipper and you keep saying "I don't understand"

That did it

In Maranhao we only had one telephone and very seldom received or made calls. I put the telephone in one of the drawers of the desk and shut it. A little while later, Atahualpa was passing my desk when he exclaimed "I thought there was a phone on your desk!" A pause and then I said, rather sheepishly, it is in the drawer as I am scared of telephones." He was not amused.

Two months later, Mr Charles Good arrived for his 6 month spell as General Manager. I knew Mr Good very well for he lived in Meols and I was friendly with one of his daughters. He invited me to have lunch one day at the Senior Staff House, This was situated on Rua Sao Jeronimo, a lovely tree lined avenue with tram lines down the centre. It was the custom to always have Portuguese red table wine at the Senior Staff House. The lunch was delicious. There was roast sucking pig. At the Junior Staff House, I used to have a short siesta always after lunch but this day I had to accompany all the managers back to the office. There Mr Good asked me to take down a letter he wished to dictate. He started of with the name of the firm to whom he was writing, then he said "Dear Sirs." The next words I heard were "Yours faithfully". I turned to Mr Good saying "That is a peculiar letter you have written. "Dear Sirs", then "Yours faithfully". Mr Good looked puzzled. "But I have been dictating for almost 20 minutes. What have you been doing in the meantime?" "I'm very sorry, Sir, but I have heard nothing more." There was a pause, then Mr Good repeated what he had said. When I left the room to type out the letter, he gave me a rather peculiar look.

On another occasion, Mr Good asked me if I thought I could take down a letter in Portuguese. "No problem, " I replied without giving it a second thought. I took down the letter writing the words I didn't understand as near as I could to the sound. As the letter didn't mean sense to me, I took it to a Sr. Gouveia, an old but very learned Portuguese. "Please help me", I asked him, "Mr Good has given me this letter to type but I don't know how to spell certain words". Mr Gouveia wrote the letter out in his beautiful handwriting and I dutifully typed it out. When I handed the letter to Mr Good, he read it and remarked "I never knew I could write such a flowery Portuguese" then he looked at me. I felt I could not lie so I confessed what I had done.

I got the opinion that the firm were not too happy with my work for on 13th February 1939, I was despatched back to Maranhao. My next spell in Belem do Para was in May 1943 when I arrived from Parnahyba serious ill. When I finally left hospital, the firm decided to keep me in Head Office. I suppose to make sure that I really was better and not liable to have a relapse. This was one of my best periods of my time with Booths in Brazil. We had already moved into newly built offices with both Staff Houses on the top floor. On the first floor were the official offices of the British, Colombian and Venezuelan Consulates.


Continuing in Belém

A German submarine

In August 1942 a German submarine sank seven Brazilian merchant vessels so Brazil immediately declared War on the Axis. The United States was invited to set up bases at various Brazilian sea ports including at the air base of Val de Caes in Belem do Para. The British Government also sent a small number of air force personnel to Belem as well. Then, although it is not widely known, Brazil despatched a brigade of Brazilian troops to Italy where they fought under General Mark Clark. However, at the same time Brazil was becoming very nationalistic. Many foreign firms were taken over including the Port of Para and the Amazon River Steamship Company as well as the Amazon Telegraph Co.

Booths were put in charge of attending to the American troop ships which called in at Belem to take on stores and water before proceeding to Africa. There was a large PX store at the air base and at the suggestion of a US officer whom I knew, I went there and purchased two pairs of army issue khaki trousers and shirt. To this latter I attached my "wings" which I had earned at the Aero Clube de Parnahyba.

A trip to the Police

Around 1944, the British companies Para Tramways and Para Light & Power were being harassed by not being allowed to put up their tariffs in spite of spiralling inflation. As a result we were experiencing black outs and trams suddenly stopping. Both firms were constantly being violently attacked in the local press. Once Booths had a voyage with lighters being towed to Iquitos to fetch cargo for the war effort in Europe, held up by red tape for so long that in the end the cargo was shipped by some other line. The Authorities even tried to stop tug and lighters taking cargo from Parnahyba to Tutoya for shipment to a steamer for Europe alleging that it was 'cabotagem' or coastwise traffic. Strict exchange control was in force as well as censorship. One day I got into trouble. I had written to my father telling him that everyone now had to pay a percentage of their salaries for some savings scheme and that this would be repaid at the end of the war with interest. I added that it was just a wheeze for the Government to get more funds. I was taken to the Police Station and charged with having insulted the Government. Judging that the Officer in charge was not well up in English, I replied that on the contrary I had praised the Government for having thought up such a wonderful idea. "Wheeze", I said, was another word for "Brilliant Idea" I was released but took care to mind what I wrote in future. Incidentally, the guy at the post office who denounced me was the son of our cook!

Dances and German Intruders

The US Air Force took over the Grande Hotel and the ballroom was used nightly for jitter-bugging by the soldiers and airmen. As an unofficial member of the US Forces I was given my USO membership card which meant that I too could go dancing although I never did manage to jitter-bug. Belem was full of American airmen and when a troop ship called and the troops had a welcome day or two ashore whilst Booths arranged for food and water to be put on board, Belem seemed to be full of Americans in uniform.

One day we heard a rumour that a German submarine had entered the Amazon river and was on the surface when an American plane appeared. Before the Americans could drop any bombs, the submarine fired first and downed the plane and then disappeared. We never heard whether this was just a rumour or not.

My 21st Birthday

On my 21st birthday, a banker friend of my father had given me a small roulette set and his scheme for winning. He told me that I had to stick very strictly to the rules and as a result would almost always win a small amount but never lose more than CR$50.00 I decided to try this out in Belem as a Casino had opened. Father's friend was correct. I won CR$20.oo and still had my original CR$50.00. After that, when not at the cinema or dancing at the Grande Hotel, I would go to the Casino, play for a while, then take my winnings and buy some beer. I never became rich but at least I paid my expenses in food and drink.

The Company had a beach house in Chapeu Virado which we could use whenever we wished. Sometimes I would go with Macrae. We would take a river steamer to Mosqueiro where we would catch a small tram which ran along lines in front of the beach house. From time to time the tram would come off the rails. Then everyone had to get off and lift it back on again. The house had wicker chairs, a table and simple beds with mosquito netting. The bathroom contained two simple showers. A resident watchman lived at the back with his family. Suitably warned beforehand, the wife would prepare a simple meal of shrimps with rice followed by the eternal goiabada jelly, [guava paste] banana and cheese. We would swim in the brackish water in front of the house, then back for iced beer and lunch. Then a siesta followed by the return to the boat for Belem.

One day Bishop Evans of the Falkand Islands arrived to inspect the English church which was run by Padre Moss. The latter was an old time resident who earned a little extra selling paintings of moths and butterflies to tourists on the "Hilary". Atahualpa Purcell invited the two Padres , Macrae, the Booth Engineer and myself to spend the day there.

An odd marriage

Macrae was married to a Scottish lady from Abroath. She disliked Brazil. She would travel out once a year on the "Hilary" then spend some days with Macrea in Para. But when the "Hilary" returned from Manaus, she would hop on board and sail back to the UK. Then on one trip, she caught a fever and died. About the same time, the British Consul in Para also died. Not long afterwards, Macrea asked me to be 'best man' at his wedding to the Consul's widow. It was a small and quiet wedding. However, Padre Moss who officiated was getting very old and he started saying the burial service. In a loud whisper I had to say to him "You are not burying them but marrying them."

Very early in 1945, an auditor from Price Waterhouse came into town to audit the books of the Para Tramways. Atahualpa invited him to have lunch with us one Sunday. During lunch I happened to remark that it would be no use auditing our books since we didn't keep any. I explained that we only had a loose leaf Cash Book and at the end of each month, we sent the pages with the respective vouchers to Liverpool where the accounts were kept. The auditor was horrified saying that if the Brazilian Authorities discovered this, we would be liable for a terrific fine and possibly thrown out of the country. "What do you suggest we do?" asked Atahualpa. The auditor replied that first thing on Monday we should purchase a full set of accountancy books, have the Journal registered at a Notary and immediately initiate double entry bookkeeping. Atahualpa asked me if I thought I could look after the work. I told him I had obtained a certificate of bookkeeping in Hoylake in 1935 and had spent a year in the Accounts and Brazilian Accounts departments in Liverpool before I came to Brazil so I thought I could do the job.. I was taken off all my other work and I set to. Apart from setting up the Accountancy in Para I also had to give explicit instructions to the other Booth Agencies so that they could follow suit. This was a little difficult because none of the British staff knew anything about accountancy. However, eventually they all followed my instructions successfully.

The Auditor also pointed out that all salaries of the British Staff would have to be paid in Brazilian currency in Brazil. Atahualpa, Macrae and myself had a long talk about this and finally we agreed that we would take a certain amount in Brazil, more or less in accordance with general salaries in North Brazil, and the balance, kept secret, would be paid in the UK as before.

The end of the War - celebrations

On 7th May news was flying around town that the Germans had surrendered. The people of Belem went wild with delight. Rockets were fired off and groups of school children paraded through the streets, singing and waving the Brazilian flag for, of course, the Brazilians were in the war too. At the office we were still at work although little was done. Then at 4.10 pm The British Consul came into the office to advise that the Germans had finally surrendsered and that the war was finally over in Europe. However, this would only become official on the next day, the 8th May, as Churchill would only announce it officially on the 8th May. Atahualpa Purcell went up on to the roof and hung out the American, British, French, Polish and Booth flags. In the evening, Atahualpa held a party for all the staff a nd tenants of the building. There was a lot of excitement . Later that evening a meeting of the local Red Cross was held of which I was a committee member. It was decided that a dance should be held on the Saturday. Next day was an official holiday so at 5.30 Atahualpa held a cocktail party for all the Booth staff.

Girls, Girls... and more...

Saturday was the Red Cross Dance in the Teatro de Paz. I was asked to do something so I went up on to the stage and gave a recital of "Albert and the Lion". The rest of the time I enjoyed myself dancing with as many of the girls as I could including with my favourite, Helen Pickerell. Later she asked me for the words of "Albert and the Lion" I was very struck with Helen but unfortunately I had a lot of competition and even worse, I was shortly afterwards sent to Iquitos in Peru , almost 2000 miles upriver so I never saw her again but she always remained in my thoughts and in later years we kept up a correspondence with each other. Such is fate!

After I had been successfully doing the accounts in Pará and had managed to get the Agencies to properly set up their accounting, Liverpool office wrote out that they were worried about certain things which were going on in Iquitos. It seems that the manager, J.W.Massey, had requested permission to visit Lima for two weeks to see what Agency husiness he could get for the company. When Head Office asked him who would be in charge of the Agency during his absence, Massey replied that a Miss Aurora would be taking his place. Liverpool were puzzled over this. A search of the list of staff employees in Iquitos turned up that Aurora was the cook at the staff house! They requested Atahualpa to investigate. He asked me to accompany him to Iquitos with a stop at Manaus [Ed:often seen as the centre of the Amazon] to see how they were doing with the new accountancy, and then go on to investigate things in Peru.


At the last moment Atahualpa was unable to go so. The Iquitos manager, J.W.Massey, was authorized to go to Lima for up to 4 weeks. In his place T.G.Parson was to be transferred from Manaus to Iquitos for that time and I was to go there as soon as I could hand over my work at Belem, to remain for two months and make up my report. Finally I handed over and left on the 18th June for Iquitos.

My Canadian Interlude


Upon arrival in Quebec in the early hours of 18th August 1938 , I was awakened by a loud speaker calling out that all passengers had to assemble in the smoke room at 7am. By the time that I'd got there it was 7.30 am only to be told that passengers for Montreal were not required. After breakfast I went to my cabin to pack my new cabin and wardrobe trunks when a steward knocked at the door to say that the Immigration Authorities were looking all over the place for me and the ship could not sail until they had checked me. I went upstairs and after looking at my passport stamped it giving me 2 months in Canada. This surprised me for I thought that British subjects could come and go freely in the Commonwealth. Obviously I was mistaken.

We sailed at midday, steaming slowly up river through green fields until at 10 pm we anchored by the Jacques Cartier bridge. The town of Montreal was all lit up and looked delightful and fairylike with the cross on Mont Real shining in the sky. Next morning after breakfast, I hurried down the gangplank to the Customs shed. An officious looking Customs man came over. "That your baggage? Untie the rope and open them up for examination" I was annoyed. Here I was, a British subject, visiting a Commonwealth country, sharing the same King, in transit to Brazil and the man wanted to examine my baggage! I looked around for a more amenable Customs Officer. Then I saw a youngish looking one so I approached him saying that I was passing through on my way to my work in North Brazil. I added that this was the first time I had ever been in Canada and I had come to stay with my girl friend. "I expect she is waiting at the exit for me to arrive. Can you please pass my luggage quickly. He smiled, put a cross on my luggage and said "Way you go and best of luck" and he winked at me.

Barbara came rushing

At the exit, Barbara came rushing towards me giving me a huge hug and a beautiful kiss Then she introduced me to her father, Mr Rowley. Getting into his car, we drove to Barbara's office as she could not get her holidays. Then Mr Rowley drove me to their apartment in a large building facing Mount Royal. Mr &Mrs Rowley had a very successful sandwich business serving all the large offices in the city.

Later I met Barbara's elder sister, Marjorie, who was working as a chemist at a local Hospital. As all the family were working, I was left in charge of the flat...I got up around 10 am, made my breakfast, then read or made up my diary until lunch time when Mrs Rowley sent me up a packed lunch. Afterwards, I would wander round town seeing the places of interest until 4 pm when I called for Barbara at her office and we went to have milk shakes or ice creams. After dinner at the flat, Barbara and I would go to the cinema or a theatre.

Saturday morning, we all went in the Rowley's car to Lac Superieur situated in the mountains where the Rowleys had just purchased a perfect log cabin with 100 acres of ground covered in trees. They also had a boat, boat house, private beach, pier and a waterfall. The log cabin had 8 rooms downstairs and a large room upstairs. We spent the whole weekend there, swimming in the lake, playing badminton on their private court or splashing about in the waterfall. In the evening of Saturday we all went to a road house where we danced until midnight. I caused a lot of amusement when Barbara asked me whether I would like to eat a hot dog. Never having heard the word before, I replied that I had eaten many strange things in Brazil but never had tried eating dog. There were roars of laughter from all present.

A regretful parting

On my last evening, Mr & Mrs Rowley took Barbara and myself in their car to see the French Quarter of the city. Then they took me to the station where I regretfully had to say goodbye. I had had a lovely and wonderful 10 days in Canada.

When I purchased my ticket for New York, the fare took almost all the money that I had left. I asked that the change, if any, be given me in US dollars. I received exactly One Dollar!

I went aboard the Pullman train and promptly lay down on my bunk and prepared to sleep until we reached New York. Alas, my desire was rudely shaken. The train left the station at 10.30 pm and fifteen minutes later I was awakened by the ticket collector who wanted to see my ticket. Then, some time later, the train reached the frontier with the USA at Rouses Point. It was 29th August. A Customs man came aboard and wanted to see what I had. Fortunately he accepted that I had nothing to hide. I was just dropping off to sleep when an Immigration Officer entered my compartment. He wanted to know where I would be staying in New York. I said that I did not know. "You must know", he insisted," where you will be staying". I repeated that I had no idea. I added that this was the first time I had ever been to New York so how was I to know the names of Hotels, Boarding Houses etc. He tried again asking whether anyone would be meeting me. I said "No". Then he wanted to know how long I would be staying in New York. "Only until my ship, the "Benedict" sails" "And when will that be?" Again I replied that I had no idea. He scratched his head, thought for a moment and then asked "How much money do you have? I reached for my wallet and pulled out the One Dollar note. "This is all I have", I announced. I thought he would explode. "You cannot go to New York with only a one dollar bill!" "Why not?" I asked. I said that it was possible to travel around the world with only a One Dollar bill if one knew how to do it. Then he said that he would throw me off the train and send me back to Canada. "Can't do that as I am not a Canadian citizen." Finally he stamped my passport allowing me two months in the USA. He left the compartment muttering to himself.

New York on a dollar

Upon arrival in New York, I boarded a taxi saying that I wanted to go to Battery Place. As we seemed to be taking a long time, I told the driver to take the shortest way as I only had one dollar. He slammed on the brakes. "Did you say you only had One Dollar?" "Yes, that's right. One Dollar." As he seemed to be speechless, I informed him that I was on my way from England via Canada where I had gone to stay with my girl friend, on route to North Brazil. He had restarted the taxi by now and for the rest of the journey I told him about my adventures in North Brazil. When we arrived at Battery Place, I handed him the One Dollar bill but he handed it back. "You will need it more than me. I have enjoyed so much your story that it was well worth the cost of the trip. But don't ever get into a taxi in New York without sufficient money or they will kill you!"

At Battery Place, I immediately entered the office of Booth American Shipping Corporation where I met the Manager Mr Gardiner. He introduced me to all the staff including the Assistant Manager, Mr Eland. I was given a wonderful reception with Mr Gardiner saying that I was the first person from the Booth Agencies in Brazil to visit New York. He and Mr Eland were very interested in learning about how we did business in Maranhao. At lunch time, Mr Gardiner told me that I would be staying at the Harvard Club and, after taking me there, we all had lunch at a very splendid restaurant. In the afternoon I visited various places of interest including the Empire State Building, the NBC studies, Harlem and the Cloisters. Outside the NBC studies I saw a group of people lined up so I joined them and found myself being filmed for some new talkie film or other.

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