Letter #102

Captain Basil Hall RN was a popular travel writer. His Schloss Hainfeld, in which the Countess of Purgstall appears, was published in 1836.

Barbados 15th May 1838

Have this moment laid aside Schloss Hainfeld or A Winter in Lower Styria by Capt Basil Hall. You will exclaim my dear Kate, ‘Of what interest is that to me?’ However, the interest on my part is far greater because I estimate the writing to Kate much above the reading Hall’s episode & visit to the Countess of Purgstall, a trifling book only considered worthy of remark in my opinion from the severe dressing he received at the hands of the Reviewers. However I guess you will read it after this or there’s no curiosity left in my dear family. Your last letters dear Kate were charming – what an extraordinary change in the spirit of writing & conversation. The opening spring of old England must work on the minds and digits of the winter fire pokers & toe roasters. Such a change in the stile had the effect of making me feel in unbounded good humour and boyant spirit. I do not think I have felt so gay and light hearted for months as I did after reading your last packet. Try on my good wife & let the next be equally lively, with an account, I trust, that Isabella and other winter invalids are convalescent and upsetting Kate’s flower beds. May 15th: The seeds you sent were excellent, particularly the lettus and beet root. The latter has often been enjoyed by the Genl who is remarkably fond of it. And now my dear Kate let me tell you a wee tale that will raise you curiosity to a high pitch and the following letter to this will be looked for with extreme anxiety. Names and other particulars must as yet remain a secret. ‘A secret’, all my dear party at Wickham will exclaim, ‘what fun – only think Mamma, a Secret!! Well now, do let us hear the secret!!!’ No, no, my life, I can not divulge all at once, it must serve at least two letters. However, to commence, you cannot intercept me. On Wed last I attended the Governor’s levée at Sir S Whittingham desire to meet him there & consult with his Excellency respecting the model I have had made for renewing the Pier Head at Bridgetown, but this is not the story, but I must have my own way. I was recd most graciously and passed rather an agreeable morning. On the Thursday morning very early I got this: ‘My dear Col, the Gen wishes to see you tomorrow at 10 oclock precisely on particular business so do not fail to come at that hour, yours very truly, H Bates, Unionville, Wed evening.’ Accordingly your old man mounted his long tail & found himself in the presence at the time appointed, first of coming, but not a hint was given of the matter about to be broached. Presently Col Maxwell 36th walked in and after some time the Depty Judge Advocate. ‘Hello’, say I to myself, says I, ‘what on earth is now going to pass?’ Now dear dear Kit, keep the cream of this to yourselves until my next account reaches you. ‘I request, Gent’, says the Genl, ‘I am about to require your services on a matter for which I form you as a committee, that must be kept secret until the necessary measures to ensure every chance of success have been put into action.’ On this we read the Dispatch from the Govr enclosing a correspondence from the Government at home stating that reports had been recd that treasure to a great amount in an iron box had some years back been secreted by a party of soldiers for which many thousand £ had been offered for its recovery. Nothing had ever transpired respecting either the sum lost or what or whence it amounted to or come from. The particular points that marked the spot where it is supposed to concealed was given as being the confession of the only living soldier of the party to a Catholic Priest in Scotland, whose name is given. Since the first offer to make the discovery he has died about the end of last year, thus the Solicitor has become the soul person that could give any intimation of this extraordinary and misterious affair. From an anecdote that I have once heard since in the West Indies, I verily believe it will, if found, turn out to be the Iron chest lost as related to me in that short tale. The Genl and Govr having made choice of the committee, the whole affair is transferred into our hands as a military body and already we have commenced not only our researches but written report of proceedings. Matters occured on friday which prevented our march to explore the country, but on Saturday, after the heat of the day passed we mounted at Shot Hall – fortunately it was a moonlight night – for after much perseverance just at dusk we hit upon the exact spot or locale as indicated in the confession or rather instructions from home. Their could be no doubt of it, we exclaimed – I did at the top of my voice – ‘This the place I’ll swear’ and doubtlessly it is the very spot visited by a confidential person sent out last year by the Priest & his solicitor, but who took alarm from its vicinity to habitations, & fearful of discovery, returned without attempting to excavate. In fact a single person would be mad to make the attempt as he would either be taken up as deranged, or if successful, as connected with the parties who took the Iron chest into their own keeping. Well, we returned much pleased at our success & the interest it caused us, we dined together &, heartily fatigued by our 5 miles out and 5 home &c &c retired to bed. I slept sound & thought not of hidden treasures. Some of the party, however, told me that they were dreaming of the affair all night. For my own part, I am not sanguine as to the recovery of this money stated to be in doubloons, half Do & other valuables. Say not a word dear Kate of all this until you hear again. Such a strange tale might get into the papers before the official reports reached home, but I do not hesitate to give this account without divulging any part of the secret to amuse & make you enjoy every conjecture that has been passing in our brains as the whole will be developed tomorrow or next day. Tonight, a party of picked men as a guard with a supply of poudre & shot, bold fellows, with camp equipage & a body of military workmen well supplied with all sorts of tools, march for the point we have described to their leader & take possession of the ground. We shd follow at 3 or 4 in the morning & commence operations. Not a soul as yet can suppose what is going forward. If found, it may be a good thing for us, if not, a fine laugh will ensue – nous verrons – but that there is truth in the tale I cannot doubt. I hope it will amuse. I want Isabella’s little worsted stand for my ink – thanks to her. The sopha stripe is made up & looks superb, I keep it for best. Remember me most kindly to excellent Tait, his name is highly respected here. Capt Rutherfurd dined with me yesterday. We had a chat until ½ past 10 oclock over our tea, commencing from the date we were in Edinburgh. He is a great comfort to me, being so well informed & steady. We carry on together right well & talk of the pranks of our children. He has just brought in a load of officials for sig &c &c. I have left the Mess, that is, I used to pay my share of the expenses, but was so much engaged, either out to dine or on duty with the General that I rarely attended. Their horrid hour of 4 oclock – in truth it made me ill. At last I declined paying unless at Mess. In fact they were a disagreeable lot. I was determined to shake off the expense of paying for their entertainment. We have had some warm letters passing, but old Story, the Col of Artillery, I think I’ve given such a wind up he won’t attack me again. The question respecting the quarters is decided & Lt St George has made a bad business of it. They are only to be occupied with my consent. It is best to let the R Engr alone. I seldom dine at home, when so my farm produces most generally the provision for the table, better & at a reasonable rate. Col Maxwell has just drove up as mad as a Hatter on the treasure affair.

[Red ink begins here.]

Ah! mad as a hatter. Now Capt Rutherfurd and Capt Graham 70th Regt, the Rogues, have finished their English letters & come to torment me. Fortunately I have nearly come to a close & have started them to the shady boat house at the end of garden with a cigar each & now I will read over your letter. Best love to MOB & thanks for her scraps. Gusto’s letters delight me – I laugh over them heartily. I’m quite well again. Remember me to Sir Francis. I never liked L Smith, and as to writing that he was a depraved minded fellow, it was not worth the trouble when scribbling to you. On thursday we have a grand day here, Fd day & Queen’s birthday. Today I dine with Sir Samford Whittingham, only himself & Aid de Camps. Tomorrow treasure hunting. Thursday a display at the 36 Regt and friday with the Governor, all these affairs you think I like – I detest them but in my situation I must attend on such occasions. So a Brevet on the 21st of June – well, it will give me a good lift towards the Major Genl with 400 pr Ann, but if you can get me Plymouth & my name advanced for an order, I shall say you are a clever fellow. I hope sincerely they will not keep me here over my time. Capt T as a son in law? It is a subject I never contemplated. Is there any such a chance? What think you? Regards to my Uncle & Mrs Hawker & the Portsea party. We expect Capt Leith, Seringapatam, here again. God bless you dear Kate. Love to my dear children, regards to Miss Parker, Jane.

And believe me yours aff Fred E