Frederick English was an officer of the Royal Engineers who served in the British Army for most of the first half of the nineteenth century. Between 1834 and 1839 he was in the West Indies, separated from his wife and family. The 126 letters he wrote to his wife Kate can be found on this website.

To read through all the letters as though they were a book would take a long time; few readers would find it rewarding. So the letters are presented accompanied by a number of pages about people and places and the issues of those days, together with links to passages showing what the Colonel and the people around him were thinking and doing.

Frederick English was born in 1789, the second son of John English, a surgeon in Fareham in Hampshire and his wife Elizabeth. In his early teens, he won a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from where he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1807. In the following year he was in Portugal, where he took part in the battles of Roliça and Vimeiro and the evacuation at Corunna, famous for the heroism of Sir John Moore.

Back in England, he was posted to Ipswich, where he met and, on 10 January 1811, married Catherine, the youngest daughter of John Bleaden, the proprietor of the Old London Tavern in Bishopsgate, London. He returned to the Peninsula in time to be present at the battles of Orthez and Toulouse in the early months of 1814, and he remained with the army on the Continent until 1817, apart from spells back in Ipswich. He did not qualify for the Waterloo medal, but he was promoted Captain in 1815.

By 1820, English was in Fort George in north-east Scotland with a growing family. In 1823, he saved the lives of two fishermen in the Moray Firth, for which he was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Humane Society. 1826 saw him in Dublin working for the Ordnance Survey, which in those days was run as a military operation by the Royal Engineers. His next posting was to Weedon in Northamptonshire. Back in 1803, with the prospect of an invasion by Napoleon’s army, the government, realising that its stores of arms and ammunition were too concentrated in the south, built a depot at Weedon, well placed on the canal system, and ideal for movement of heavy goods. A posting here must have seemed like a career dead end, but perhaps the next move, early in 1834, proved even less attractive.

There was a large naval and military presence in the British West Indies, where islands had frequently changed hands between British, French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese, some of them several times, in the years leading up to Waterloo. There was also the spectre of slave revolt – in Haiti the French had been expelled in 1804 and a republic proclaimed; and a rising of slaves in Jamaica in 1831 had hastened progress towards emancipation in British possessions. But the most serious threat by far was disease – tropical killers not yet understood by medical science – which sometimes accounted for as many as six percent of an army unit in a year. In England, Scotland and Ireland, English’s family had accompanied him, but this time he travelled alone.