Victims of fraud, 1873
R. Andrew Nickson, in his Historical Dictionary of Paraguay, 1992, states that Robinson, Fleming and Co. were unscrupulous underwriters who recruited a total of 888 poor people, living in London, to farm in Paraguay. They arrived in three groups between November 1872 and February 1873. From the letter it seems that the company failed soon after.
According to Nickson, 700 were left stranded in Itapé, Departamento Guairá, and 140 at Itá, Departamento Central. A total of 162 died within a year, and the survivors either moved on to Argentina, though a few returned to Britain. This fiasco was a factor in causing Paraguay's bad image as a fit destination for Europeans thinking of emigrating to South America.
The author of the letter, Tom Shrewsbury, with all his family were rescued and taken to Buenos Aires, where they established themselves successfully. It is there that he died in 1874, aged 43, of cholera. The text is reproduced here, with its original spelling, and by agreement with the letter's last owner, Jorge Federico Shrewsbury of Australia. I have broken it up into paragraphs.
Ascunsion. September 18.71
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
they are now going to send us to Buenos Ayres to go to work in the Camp and do the Best we can. those that like to go will Receive Rations for 6 months only the Rations will be as much mutton and Mandioca as we can eat but no tea coffee sugar or anything else. So that the Majority which is 800 to 150 are against it on account of the Children as it is it would make your hearts Bleed to hear them ask for a Piece of Bread and Butter which Butter nor Bread they have not tasted since we left England saying nothing of a little sugar which is as great a luxury as you can give them.
Every mothers son of us has been oblidge to sell Every thing that would fetch money to buy food for ourselves and Little ones tilly and baby and myself were all laid upp together with the fever but they call it Choo Choo (malaria) here for 16 Weeks tilly in a bed by herself baby on the tile floor myself in the Hammock no Doctor no medicine only what we got from the natives, bathering with them for a little meat or Rice or any article we had to dispose off.
I cannot Enter in to the quarter of the treatment we have had to put upp with or Else you would have had a Letter from us before this the time we Received your Letter which i find was written the 2nd of May must have been Kept back as Plenty of the Colonists have not received answers from England till Long after I did.
we were Put on our ground the 17 of April in just such another place as Epping Forrest or ten times thicker wooded where Each man had his 40 acres to clear before he could think of doing any thing Else some tress Messuring from one to 8 yards round not saying any thing of wood Binding which is Entangled from one tree to another
myself young tom and Bob and three other young fellows did manage to clear and burn 9 yards frontage before i got laid upp with sickness but some of course did more some less some none at all on account of thirst water was not come at able(sic) for three miles and that at a well that myself and two others were digging for 11 days and got down 17 feet before any appearance of water at all. at all Events it was some satisfaction to us to see it well day but it was Perfectly Red and muddy but very Nice and Cool after standing a few hours to Settle it was all right but not clear at all Events we all sayed it was as good as been Milked or nearly so.
Dear Brothers and Sister we very often Envy you all sitting comfortably at your Rashers of Bacon or a nice Haddock. good god it makes my teeth water to write about it but it cannot be helped yet a while.
Dear Bob tell the old lady her brother is still in the colony but he is Expected here in Ascunsion in a day or so we have been a long way apart from Each other close upon 100 miles that is the Reason i have not seen him. tell her i sent his letter on with the Bullock Carts that took upp the Stores
we will leave Ascunsion on the 24 for Buenos Ayres Please Direct your Letter to me in care of British Consul or the Post office will be the safest. yes. Post office and as Early as you can, as i shall not Leave till i hear from you again in case being sent somewhere Else
i will as soon as i pick upp my strength a bit more try some of the River Plate Boats if i do i shall stay and settle in Beaunos Ayres wages are pretty fair i have been told but on the other hand Evey thing is very Dear boots especially wich will be quite a treat to wear again.
tis now 4 months since i have been with out the children i pity most when they are run out which will not be long
Little tilly grows a fine girl and getting quite Stout and very Pretty the Natives say she is Mucho Lindo Mucho Lindo Esta Mustacha boner a Keil Caramboo which all means she is very Pretty with Long white hair.
It will not do to send my Letters through Flemmings and Robertsons or any thing Else as i Can assure you but Call on them yourself if you have not heard about the Smash and they will tell you the same
they turned the agents out of the House at a Little Place Called Seta where me and tilly and the Children were sent to when we were taken with the Choo Choo because they could not pay the rent i had to Leave for the same purpose they gave me till the Friday following so as to get out by Saturday so that i was compelled to walk to Ascunsion me and five others to see the Council (Consul) about it he told us then that the company had failed and that we would all have to Come to Ascunsion as no more Stores would be served out to us.
For three weeks and 4 days were we with out food of any discription what ever. So that we were all compelled to sell Every thing that would fetch money to Live on and to Pay for our Luggage to Convey them 30 Miles which Cost me 22 Dollars Beleive me My Dear Brothers and Sisters it nearly Drove me mad out of all my cloths i have Just a Change besides what i stand upwright in.
i hope you may by the time you have read my letter be sure that i see my folly in not looking out for myself it has been a hard trial for me to see after all the wants and attend on 7 of us and thank god i hope to See better days with a little Care and Study i ham in hopes to recover myself.
Dear Brothers and sisters I must now Conclude with all our Kind Love to you all hopen you will write by return of post as there are 4 Mails Leaving Europe Per Month one from Southampton Dº Liverpool Dº London Dº Havre france.
Kind Love to Aunt Reeves aunt Leonare uncle and the same to yourselves and my Sisters and Brothers in Bermondsey from us all we remain yours affectionatly.(signed) T. Shrewsbury