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

Trevor arrived in Manaus in the closing years of an era. Since its foundation in 1669 the city had been isolated from the rest of Brazil and trade was largely with Europe and North America with small ocean-going steam ships making long journeys.

Trevor notes an 'aeroplane landing' field. At that time Brazilian air companies were moving an increasing number of passengers or cargo every year across all parts of Brazil . In 1940 the population was 106,000 and by 2010 had increased to 1.8 million And the landing field has been replaced by a splendid international airport working around the clock-----And still there is no road connection to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

Amazon products have become more varied and tax incentives have attracted investors creating thousands of jobs, many in manufacturing. In Trevors's day the grand 19th Century Teatro Amazonas dominated the skyline. Now it is dwarfed by tower blocks.

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
MANAUS (August 1941/August 1942)
What! Kill poor Archibald?


First impressions

Stepping off the ship on to a floating roadway, I wondered just what sort of a place I had come to. I could see no old buildings and the larger buildings were not only handsome but relatively modern.

I was met by the Manager

Charles V. Reade took me first to the Manaos Harbour Staff House, the bachelor quarters for the British unmarried staff. We went up the stairs and I was shown to my bedroom, a large room with ceiling fan and mosquito net covered windows. From here we walked to the office. It was a longish room one side of which facing the street had windows reaching from the floor to the ceiling with metal railings as protection. Seated at my desk, I could watch passers-by. On the opposite side of the road were the dock warehouses.

A short way away from the Booth Office was the tram terminus, a modern concrete shelter. All the trams start and end here. Between 5 and 6 pm there was always a crowd of young men standing around watching the people get on and off the trams. The trams are of the toast rack type and when there are more passengers than seats available, people would cling to the sides and back so from a distance it would appear as a pile of struggling humanity being swiftly borne along by means of a pole connected to an overhead wire. The most interesting ride was to Flores. After leaving the tram shelter, the tram passed through the residential part of the city, then past straw roofed huts and along a track cut though the forest, over several small streams, past some factories and the aeroplane landing field to end at a small bar near to the Bosque Club. After dark, the trip was even more interesting as when passing along the part cut through the forest, one can hear the thrill chirping of the crickets combined with the singing of the wheels of the tram on the rails. Fireflies would flit in and out of the tram like little lights. Two small round green lights against a black background would point to some animal or other its eyes caught in the lights of the tram.

Manaus has two seasons

It seemed to rain a lot whilst I was in Manaus although officially there are only two seasons, a dry season from June until November and a wet season from December till May. One of the inhabitants said to me "Manaus has two seasons, a wet season and a wetter season." I found Manaus rather warm and sticky and my clothes quickly had a musty smell and my shoes became covered with a green mould. However on the 24 June, the temperature suddenly dropped from around 90 C to about 60 C due to a change in the air currents sweeping off the Andes Though not really cold, we noticed the difference and put on our English winter coats. The cold didn't last and by next day we were sweltering once more. [Ed: a cold front known locally as a 'friagem' affects Manaus a couple of times a year with drops in temperature of up to 10 C The cause is cold wind from southern South America sweeping north across Amazonia and along the Andes mountain chain 1,200 miles 2000+kms to the west].

Thunderstorms were fairly frequent and extraordinary spectacles to watch. In the daytime, the sky becomes overcast, the birds wheel and turn with rapid motions and the air seems as though charged with electricity. An eerie stillness hangs over the place. Small sounds become greatly magnified and one seems to be suffocating. Then all of a sudden a blast of wind blows through the streets sending clouds of dust billowing over everything. The surface of the river is lashed into a fury of white horses. Then comes a terrific crash and even in the bright sky, the flash of lightening illuminates the town. This is followed by a cloud burst as though the bottom had fallen out of a huge tank. Rain pours down sweeping down the streets. Everything is blotted out. The noise is deafening and just when one thinks the end of the world has come, the rain ceases as though turned off by a tap. The sun comes out and one senses a smell of freshness in the air. If one is caught out in the rain, it is useless running for shelter. One will get soaking wet anyway.

Victoriana in aspic

The customs of the people are more Victorian than in São Luís or Belém, possible because being 1000 miles up river, there is a sense of isolation. Young girls are not allowed out without a chaperone. When a girl becomes engaged, she immediately comes under the will of her fiancé and if he does not dance, then she does not dance. At a dance, an engaged girl may only dance with her fiancé though he may dance with whom he wishes. A single man will seldom enter the home of an unmarried girl. If he wishes to court her, he will stand on the pavement outside her home

Before the Second World War began many ships used to call at Manaus both from other Brazilian ports as well as from Europe. The Booth Line ran a Tourist Service with their Hilary. The tourists were taken on trips through the forest. The ships would bring foodstuffs,clothing, machinery etc going back with cargoes from the Amazon Forest such as Brazil Nuts, Rosewood Oil and Timber. However since the start of the War, few vessels apart from river steamers came and as a result there was a shortage of many items including sugar.

One day a Lloyd steamer arrived from Rio Grande do Sul with a cargo of meat and, to my delight, bacon. Immediately I bought several rashers and on the Sunday morning when there was no maid or cook, I fried my bacon on a little frying pan over a Primus Stove.[Ed: kerosene flame] Suddenly a lot of little maggots popped out of the bacon and fell on to the surface of the frying pan where they were immediately frizzled up. I thought that they must be full of bacon fat and therefore good to eat. But then I had second thoughts and decided the bacon itself was quite sufficient!

Archibald the parrot

Shortly after I arrived I bought a lovely green parrot from a man near the docks. I named him Archibald and kept him in my bedroom tied with a piece of string from his leg to one of the bars of the window. Then one early morning he woke me up by biting my ear quite hard. He had eaten through the string and so got loose. I was furious so after breakfast I told the cook to catch the parrot and prepare him for my lunch. "What kill and eat poor old Archibald. How can you be so cruel?! Any way I insisted and the cook served him up roasted. But the meat was so tough and stringy that I was not able to eat any. I suppose it served me right. Watch Trevor telling this story

The English Colony

The English colony was very different from those on the coast of Brazil. There were a number of married English couples whose husbands worked at the Manaus Harbour Company., Amazonas Engineering Company . T.J.Dunn & Company , the Telegraph Company and Higson & Co.. They were very clique and so and so could not be invited if so and so was there. Bachelors consisted of an Engineer, Weller, working for the Harbour Co, Lorimer who worked for T.J.Dunn and myself apart from the young son of C.V.Reade. As a result, I was very much on my own. It was difficult to find someone to play with at tennis. I knew very few Brazilian families so went to few dances. However, from time to time the Harbour Engineer would invite me to accompany him in his speed boat to fish. To fish is not quite the right word. We would go out into the Rio Negro after dark, rig a kind of a sail and leave a lighted lantern hanging in the middle of the sail. Very soon small fish would be leaping out of the water, hitting the sail and falling to the bottom of the boat!

Another time we took with us a local fisherman. We would sail close to the bank of the river shining a torch. When the light lit up two bright spots, the fisherman would call out " Jacare " (alligator) Then whilst my friend steered the boat alongside the alligator, the fisherman would throw a noose over the beast's head whilst I had to put a noose over its tail. Then, pulling tight the two nooses, we steered the boat rapidly alongside the bank. The fisherman jumped out and killed the alligator with a blow of his machete. The tail was then cut off for us to eat next day. Only the tail part is eaten or so I was told.

The OOBC Rowing Club

Tne day I was approached by a Sr. Jones. He was the senior manager of the Brazil Nut Shippers, Higson & Company . "How would you like to join the OOBC Rowing Club. We go rowing every Sunday morning. It sounded a good idea so I said "Yes." " Well met me tomorrow afternoon at the Bar at the corner of Joaquim Ribeiro for your official enrollment". Apart from Jones, the only other person present was the other manager of Higson & Company , a Sr. Russell.

"You have to buy drinks for us both and then you will become a member of the OOBC" Curious I asked "What does OOBC stand for?" Jones answered "Our Own Bloody Club" as we don't want to have anything to do with other rowing Clubs. Then Jones gave me a set of Rules, one of which was "Skiffs are on loan and must be returned in a better condition than received." Another was "No strong drink allowed whilst rowing" Not owning a skiff, I was a 'Humble Member' without the right to question any rule or statement of a Member.

We used to set off after breakfast from the docks and row up the Rio Negro to a small beach backed by the bank some metre high. A bamboo pipe had been laid from a tiny steam allowing water to pour out. We took turns sitting under the pipe with the water pouring on to our head and over our body.

I decided to write

In view of the lack of amusements, I decided to write a history of Manaus obtaining the collaboration of the Authorities including the Interventor, past Governors, the Chamber of Commerce, and an forest tribesman whom I befriended and some local Brazilian friends. The Interventor, Alvaro Maia, offered to have my work translated in to Portuguese and published but the entry of Brazil into the War put paid to that.

I discovered that the Amazon region held a vast number of plants and trees which provided medicines, food, water, building material and even a type of gasoline sufficient for all the needs of the forest people and caboclos [riverside dwellers] of the region. Amongst such plants were.....

Trevor's notes made back in the 1940s give an idea of how natural plant materials were used in those times...More about these plants can be found on the web and

" Alecrin - Rosemary A sweet smelling plant used instead of bath salts. Small quantities placed inside drawers and cupboards prevent clothes getting a musty smell. Some of the mulatas - dark coloured girl, pin little pieces in the hair.

Andiroba / the name means 'bitter oil' - crabwood tree - The forest people boil the seeds of this large tree, then place them on an inclined plane in the sun. An oil runs out which they collect and is burnt in containers to give light. The oil can also be used to prevent insect bites.

Apocynea The sap from this tree can be used to join together wood and rock.

Caraipé The bark of this tree is burnt, then ground into powder and used mixed with clay by the frest tribes to make earthenware pottery.

Carana This tree has large fibre leaves which can be stripped into long fibre threads which are then used to weave into the making of hammocks.

Itaubaraba The leaves of this plant can be used in the place of soap. When rubbed between damp hands an abundant foam is produced. It also has germicidal properties..

Jarina. -vegetable ivory palm This is a palm tree which bears nut pods containing irregular shaped nuts about the size of a walnut. These are known in England as "Ivory Nuts". The outer shell of the nut is a light grayish brown, smooth but slightly brittle. Before the kernel is ripe, it is in the form of a transparent jelly which turns into a hard substance as the kernel ripens. The nuts are shipped to Belém do Pará and to southern Brazil where the kernels are cut into slices and made into buttons.

Louro Nhamuhy This is a tall tree with a yellow wood and is nature's petrol [gasoline] pump. The base of the tree is hollow and here collects a clear oily liquid. When a hole is bored into the tree at the base, the oily liquid pours out and can be set on fire. It has a smell something like that of turpentine. If a motor boat on the river runs out of kerosene or diesel, this oily liquid can be used and the engine will restart. The forest people use the liquid as lamp oil.

Muirapuama This is a bush about 6 feet tall [1.6m] The branches are erect and topped by smaller branches in the shape of a cock's comb. The forest tribes shred the roots and the branches into small slips which they roll into cigarettes and smoke.

Muiraqueteca or the cipó-caboclo This is a species of vine. The leaves can be boiled and used as a foot bath to relieve foot ailments. Long creepers hang down like round pipes."

Brazil Nuts

Then of course there are the famous Brazil Nuts which grow on very tall trees. The nuts or kernels are closely packed into a hard shelled pod about the size of a large grapefruit. At one end is a small hole filled with a fibre plug. Just after the flood waters of the Amazon have receded, the pods fall to the sodden ground and become half buried. The fibre plug decays and eventually the pod disintegrates and so more Brazil nut trees grow.

The pods are collected and at a Brazil nut shelling factory run by Higsons & Company. young girls are employed breaking open the pods and so releasing the kernels which are then shipped to the outside world. Until the start of the War, a big campaign was carried on in both the USA and the United Kingdom to get more people to eat the nuts. From personal experience, I warn anyone not to eat an unripe Brazil nut for they are very laxative!


One of the principal products of Amazonia is Rubber. The rubber trees are scattered about the forest so the rubber gatherers known as seringueiros usually tap a given quantity of trees either for his own account or paid by the rubber company. Each morning the seringueiro will visit each tree in turn. With a special knife he makes an obligue gash in the bark about 12 inches in length [30 cms] and some 6 feet [1.6m] from the base of the tree. At the bottom of each gash, a gourd or tin is suspended. Then in the afternoon, the seringueiro returns to the trees and collects the latex in a bucket. Back at his hut, he builds a fire of "urucuri" nuts and over this fits a funnel shaped chimney so that the smoke pours out of the funnel.

Over the fire, he suspends a long pole from the roof of his hut. Around the middle of the pole he fixes a strip of old rubber, then pours the latex slowly over the strip of rubber and as it congeales, he pours more turning the pole slowly all the time. Next day he continues the process until he has produced a ball or pele of rubber about 3 feet in diameter.[80cms] These peles are then taken to Manaus where they are cut in half to remove any stones placed there to increase the weight and so collect more payment, also to remove any defective rubber.

Rubber was first introduced in to Europe in 1736 by a French explorer called Charles Marie de la Condamine. He went to Amazonia and wandered about amongst the forest tribes. He discovered that the people were using the sap of a tree to make shoes so he took some of the sap back with him to Europe calling it Rubber. Little interest was shown however until a Mr Mackintosh [ Ed; as a variation Macintosh] tried covering cloth with the liquid mixed with naptha. The result was the raincoat or macintosh.

An American Mr.Charles Goodyear on the other hand, experimenting in about 1838 accidentally dropped some rubber into a pot of boiling sulphur which or so it is said was on the kitchen stove. He removed the sticky mass and seeing that it had combined with the sulphur he thus discovered vulcanized rubber. Then came the motor car and the need for rubber tyres which caused a boom in the search for rubber.

The rubber boom resulted in hundreds of Englishmen, Germans and other Europeans arriving in Manaus. Export houses opened up staffing the senior positions with those of their own nationality. Steamship companies from England started arriving including The Booth Steamship Company. Manaus was full of foreigners. Many of the Brazilians rushed into the interior to collect rubber as high prices and wages were being paid. Such exodus was serious for the city as few were left to clean the streets, slaughter cattle in the slaughterhouse, attend to the market etc. Portuguese and Italian immigrants flowed in to take over these jobs. Foreign Traders set-up businesses selling imported goods at a high price making colossal profits . Those that were married, and those that were not, lavished jewellery on their wives and mistresses. No one walked if he could help it and the sight of prosperous foreigners and traders driving in their carriages, a large cigar in their mouth was no uncommon sight.

Eduardo Ribeiro - the expansionist Governor

The Customs revenue in 1911 was the highest for any port in Brazil. At the end of the 19th century Manaus was lucky to have as Governor the wise and far seeing, Eduardo Ribeiro. He laid out wide avenues, had constructed the famous Opera House and the Custom House amongst other buildings In 1902 he awarded the contract for the Manaus Docks won by the Booth Company. Due to the large rise and fall of the river, the Manaus |Harbour Company built a floating roadway based upon that in Liverpool.

In 1913 came the crash. About 1876 an Englishman Henry Wickham was commissioned by The Royal Botanic Gardens Gardens, London to obtain and bring back to England some rubber seeds. In all he gathered some 70,000 seeds and packing them in crates, declared them as specimens of butterflies, orchids and tropical plants. As soon as he arrived in England the seeds were planted in the famous hot houses of Kew Gardens. Two months later seedlings were shipped to Ceylon and later to Sumatra and Java. Thus began the rubber plantations of the East which in time greatly reduced the amount of rubber being purchased from Brazil as the price was much cheaper since the rubber trees were in plantations and so could be worked so much easier and produce so much more rubber. [Ed: The Wickham story has many variations]

Wartime rubber

In June 1942 a Pan American Conference was held in Rio de Janeiro after Brazil broke off diplomatic relations with the Axis Powers and a Trade Agreement was signed with the United States. Amongst other items, it was agreed that the American Federal Reserve would provide a fund of US$5 million for the development of Amazonian Rubber. The Rubber Development Corporation was formed and offices opened in Manaus. A number of Americans arrived with the idea of teaching the rubber gatherers how to tap the Rubber. In return they gave them food and implements apart from wages thus encroaching upon the presence of the regular traders who had been long established. This obviously caused a lot of ill feelings.

One of the RDC employees, thinking to speed up the collection of rubber, decided to offer the seringueiros twice the usual payment for each ball of rubber collected. He thought the seringueiro would work twice as hard. What he didn't reckon for was that the seringueiro promptly halved the number of balls of rubber. Why not? The money he received before was sufficient for his needs. If they paid him twice as much, then he need work only half as much and be able to rest a lot more!


Amongst the Fish and Reptiles to be found in Amazonas are some of the more unusual ones.

Here Trevor gives an idea of the way people in Manaus viewed the wealth of wildlife in the forest and rivers beyond the city. This was life Amazonia before the spread of scientific information

" Piranha Roughly a foot in length, they make up for their lack in size with a ferocious expression. Their mouths are full of needle like teeth pointing backwards. Should they detect even the slightest trace of blood, they 'go to town' in their hundreds attacking the unfortunate person or beast ripping out chunks of flesh. Within a very short time, they have ripped all the flesh off a man or beast leaving just the bare bones.

Pirarucu One of the largest freshwater fish. It is dried and sold as a type of Portuguese 'bacalau' or dried cod. The fish can reach 8.5 feet 2.5m in length and weight up to 100 kilos.

Manati is known as the 'cow fish' because it has two human like breasts with which it suckles its young with a type of milk like substance flowing from its teats. Its fore fins have fivc finger like appendages giving it a sort of human hand appearance. The fat is used for lighting.

Electric Eels are about 6 feet in length. When they wish to eat they switch on an electric current and any small fish in the vicinity will receive an electric shock sufficient to stun them. The power of the electric current is sufficient to knock a man unconscious.

Jacare or Alligator These are slaughtered for their hides. They have short mouths different from the long mouths of crocodiles. They reach a length of 10 to 15 feet. Their eggs are 4 inches long.

Monkeys They are often to be seen in the street with a piece of string or cord tired from its waist to their owner. They always look half starved with two pitying eyes turned towards the onlooker as though imploring to be cut free.

Monkey meat is occasionally sold in the market though not very popular as most people seem to have the idea that by eating a monkey they are behaving like cannibals. Certainly the sight of someone busily gnawing a perfectly formed wrist and hand, even though of a monkey, is enough to put even the most hardened person off his food. Again monkeys howl and cry in such a human manner if wounded that many a hunter has sworn never again to shoot a monkey after hearing a wounded one cry.

Amongst the various species is the Guariba, the largest monkey in Amazonia. It is about 65 cms in height, with a large head, very long tail.[Ed: This would be a Howler monkey genus Alouatta - ]

The Cairara monkey has bald head and a scarlet face and fair skin and in known locally as the "English Monkey" [ Ed: Cacajao calvus - Bald Uakari]

Of the various types of snake, the most noticeable is the Giboia, a boa constrictor which can measure up to 30 feet in length. They only eat occasionally but when they do they will swallow anything up to the size of a cow. It will silently slide up to the cow which is busily chewing the cud, curl itself around its body, then contract squeezing the poor old cow until it is dead. Then the snake practically dislocates its jaws and slowly swallows the cow little by little. To do this it moves to a convenient place where it can enjoy the cow over the following weeks. If the cow has horns which it cannot swallow, it will allow these to decay until they fall off.

Sucuriju is said to be the the longest snake in Amazonia reaching a length of 40 feet but it has to be confirmed. If it exists it is probably related to the Anaconda or Sucuri. "

Products and industry - beer....

Although there are few factories in Manaus, there is one very popular one. It is the Beer Factory owned by Miranda Correia & Cia which produces three main types
Cerveja Amazonense
Cerveja Sublime
Cerveja XPTO

This latter is very popular but inclined to be rather strong. Another factory, that of Andrade, makes
Xarope de Guarana
Champagne de Abacaxi (pineapple)
Ginger Ale
Tonic Water
amongst other less popular drinks. Of course from time to time when a Brazilian ship arrives from the South it brings supplies of the well known Antartica and Brahma beer and chopp

Forest tribes and ice cream

'Indians ....' There are over 400 different tribes in Amazonas. Of these the Purus are notorious for their savagery and are greatly feared by other tribes. Occasionally a half civilized Indian will be found wandering the streets of Manaus I met an Indian one day and in a mixture of Portuguese and sign language invited him to have an ice cream with me. We became friendly and he gave me much information about Indian folklore. Months later he returned to Manaus when he gave me a lovely Indian comb as a present for my having bought him a pair of trousers when he was here before. Most of the tribes wear little or nothing but some wear elaborate head-dresses and ornaments. The head -dresses seem to be a sort of badge of office, often consisting of beautifully matched bird feathers.

Ornaments are mainly necklaces possibly used as a protection against evil spirits and consist of animal teeth, beetle wings or seeds.
For killing wild animals, they use the blow pipe, a long wooden tube up to 10 feet in length. They use a dart like a small thorn dipped in a very potent poison known as Curare. They also use bows and arrows, mainly for shooting fish

I got to know very few Brazilians whilst in Manaus and I knew few local clubs . As a result I did little or no dancing and so knew very few Brazilian girls/ However, one day whilst I was in the local library searching for historical items for my book, a man approached me and asked what I was doing. When I told him I was writing the History of Amazonas, he invited me to his home. His name was Rezende and he told me he was a staunch monarchist and against the Republic. In his housze he has many pictures of Dom Pedro II and members of the royal family and a large Royal Flag of Brazil with the regal arms. He provided me with a lot of useful information.

My 'History of Amazonas'

I had now finished typing my History of Amazonas on my portable typewriter using a copying ribbon. Each sheet I then placed face downwards on to the damp clay of our copying machine. The clay was in an oblong tray about foolscap size. I then wiped the back of the sheet of paper with a piece of cloth. When I removed the sheet, there was print on the clay. Then I would place a\ clean sheet of paper on to the print, wipe the cloth over the back and when I removed the sheet, there was a copy of what I had written. In this way, although rather laboriously, I managed to take five copies of my work. This is how all copies of work were done in those days. One copy I gave to the Interventor, one to my father and others to friends.
The next job was to gather together all the photographs, drawings, maps etc and insert them where appropriate amongst the text. Then I took the whole work to be bound into a volume A4 size by 3 inches thick. When I gave the copy to Alvaro Maia, the Interventor, he said he would have it translated into Portuguese and then have it published together with the edition in English.

Then on 30 July a cable was received from Pará saying that I was to proceed immediately to Belém to catch the Benedict to return to |Liverpool.
I embarked on the Raul Soares which happened to be in port and I arrived in Belém on the 8th August, almost one year since I left Belém for |Manaus,

Whilst on the Benedict in formation was received that Brazil had declared War on the Axis. When I eventually arrived back in Brazil, I contacted Alavro Maia about my book but he replied that due to the War nothing could be done until after it had finished. By that time I was far away from Manaus and my book would need to be brought up to date. As a result it remains as an original work ready for reference purposes only..

The text and most of the images are © Copyright
For any commercial use please contact