Letter #120

‘The poor man and his donkey’ refers to Aesop’s fable, The Man, the Boy and the Donkey’, the moral of which is ‘please all and you will please none’. 

Admiral Edward Hawker, a member of the Plymouth Hawker family, was a retired officer whose comments on naval and military matters were published from time to time in The Times over the pseudonym ‘A Flag Officer’. He crops up again in letter 124. 

Fears of Russian aggression against British interests, especially in India, were being fuelled in early 1839. An army was on the march from the Punjab towards Kabul, while at the same time Russia was seeking to increase its influence in Central Asia. These were the opening salvos in the ‘Great Game’.

Barbados 14th March 1839

My Dear Kate

The General called last evening to intimate his intention of leaving this on tuesday next 19th inst by Spitfire Steamer, which vessel arrived in the Bay a few days since direct from Plymouth in 30 days, and as he observed, ‘well appointed with excellent accommodation &c &c, therefore we shll be very comfortable. Are you ready to start, Col?’ ‘I’m always ready, Sir.’ ‘Very well then, on tuesday we will embark and make our rounds commencing with Tobago, Trinidad, Grenada, St Kitts, Antigua, Vincent, Dominica, St Lucia and home. We will think of Demerara afterwards.’ In truth he does not wish to go there whilst Col Bunbury remains, and at the same time he is thinking of the fever amongst the troops which has broken out rather violently with the 67th, not officers but the men. In addition to the Islands named, I have little doubt if a good chance offers we shall touch in passing at Guadeloupe & Martinique. This trip will be a good wind up for my command here, and will expend the time I should otherwise be left to myself to grumble at not being relieved instanter. Col Ellicombe’s letter to you is civil enough, more courteously concocted than I could have expected, but it goes for nothing. I have recd an official from the Insp Genl of much the same tenor, stating that I am to be relieved so soon as an officer can be named to succeed me. We must bear the delay patiently. This is not a command to be trifled with and quitted to suit my own convenience for the value of a few months by throwing it up to fall into confusion. I should lose all claims I have obtained by a full period of service in this vile climate. It would tell for nothing were I to desert my post & just upon the eve of being recalled. The tour in contemplation will be of service for verily I feel pipped & I must confess that your letters do not as formerly renovate my spirit. I am much in the position of the poor man & his donkey, & having failled to please others must do my best to go straight to please myself. Your two last arrived together. Poor dear Kit, you seem woefully disconsolate and dissatisfied with all around you. I wish I could be with you at the time you expect & endeavour to set matters a little square. It is unfair Ellicombe stating they only lately knew I wish to be relieved, for his private note is dated early in Oct last, wherein he beg to remind me he would rather have my wishes made known to him direct in place of thro a third person. He has known my wish to be home at the expiration of my 5 years from the day I last saw him, and again when I was nominated to succeed Sir Charles Smith. Therefore it is only to suit his own purpose or arrangements for some of his friends. A few months will soon elapse, but the evil is that, after July, that is during the hurricane months, no person will be sent out, Aug, Sept, Oct, nor can I well get away, & after those months I must arrive in England at a very unfavorable season for a person who has resided in a tropical climate for more than five years. Never having during that period felt cold, however, I will not mind this to get home, & you must think of flannels & good fires and other means of keeping your old Col warm. I will not trust myself to reperuse your two dismal letters which reproach me right and left upon what I have no control over, but I cannot but smile at your taking nearly two sides of your paper respecting a black sert coming home with me. My dear good wife, what ails you? Were you dreaming with the pen in your hand? And to implore me not to do so ‘if a spark of love towards my family remained’. To cast such doubts where not a vestige of fact exist to support them, to say the least of it is ungenerous, and Philosophers would I guess add dangerous. You need be under no alarm, to use your own words, leaving out the ‘if’, I have ‘a spark of love & even compassion left for my wife & children’, no black sert will come home with me. So you were aware of Capt Tait’s motive in coming to see you – friendship for me his Col, and pure compassion for a deserted family for whom not a soul cared for – dear Kit – and what else did you expect? I cannot understand, nor can I what follows: ‘However it has had one good effect, it has brought us to the foot of the Cross, and there we find a saviour who will never leave us.’ Why Tait’s name is thus made use of or so identified with such an effusion from your good self is to me a mystery. I pray you keep all this, so excellent in its place, to the devote moments in your closet. It loses much of its serious effect when thus coupled on all occasions in a sheet of letter paper mostly filled with interesting subject on the private affairs of life so trifling in comparison. The pamphlet signed ‘a Flag officer’ has afforded me and others information and amusement. I sent it with the Secty’s reply in the Portsmouth paper to the Genl, who has returned them with many thanks. He knows Adml Hawker well. We are anxious to read his reply. Gloomy as it may be, I believe it true – all – not that the Russian are to take my wife or her daughters away from me; just they would find it a rough visit yet to old England. I am sorry to find that my family begin to think an innocent amusement, a dance, so unworthy an affair, & you deserve a good goosing for wishing to make me think you were dressed unbecoming my wife, for I am still as proud as ever of you. Nevertheless dear Kitty tells me you looked the best of all the party. By a letter from Mr Tinling, I find he went from Bermuda to Jamaica, is I suppose at home ere this with the arrow root – he states it is safe. The Hercules anchored here for few day, no communication under quarantine – 3 cases of small pox. Rose M will stir you all up with strife – I’ll answer for it. I have sent 2 or 3 boxes by the Fortitude for you, containing a variety of articles, Cocoa, Pepper &c &c & two Mousa Clubs, valuable, for the young nuns to defend themselves from the Russians. The Hammock & trimmings of feathers were sent to me as a present for you. They are rare from the Oronoco, so take care of them. Burn the paper of, being prepared to keep off moth & insects. Dear Gusto is, it appears, doing well, God bless him – no playing spoon or I cut him. You will have heard of Fred by this time. If he does not marry now, he will do so elsewhere, probably not so well, poor blunderer. Your poor heart has been broken in so many letters that I now have hopes of it. I shall write Gusto a journal of my Island trip & tell him to watch his inkstand – no moon – Cara a goose not to go to the Ball, no better. I think a visit to Adl Hawker would do you no good. Stay with Isabella & dance her frog dance. Who is Mrs Hickley? Some of the 67th just landing. My ‘family subdued’ – stuff, there’s more in them. ‘Every person’ knows every person’s business. You well know I cannot leave my comd. You yourself wrote Reid’s advice not to quit on leave – it would be ruin. Don’t listen to Tom, he is a great gossip & wants sense in that matter. Ford is a ruined man – the escape was Miss Wilday’s.

Red ink starts here

You wish to know who I sat next to at dinner parties. They are so few of late and always composed of the same persons that I never remark particularly as the subject of the conversation is generally on Mily subjects. The companions that always dine with me are Tiger & Rover on my right & Nero the Newfoundland dog on the left as regularly as the day comes – in truth all is expended that would be a novelty from this. My next will be from Trinidad or St Kits. The Artillery are here, a great improvement from the last. Lt Col Grant appears a good humoured person & we are likely to get well on together, the Lts equally so. Lt Rodwell of Ipswich landed with them. He is gone to Tobago. I have much that I could write to you but must close for post time is approaching. Why did you go out to dinner in a Pack carriage when it would done your own good to air it? Are you actually going to give up all the vanities of this world & to that extent allow your good & chattles to fall into decay? Bustle about a little, Mrs Kit. Young Bingham has been sent back to his Hd Quarters, the best place for him, he is all Cubbish. I am on better term with the Genl than ever but I keep distant enough. I have nothing to ask of him but he has much of me. Mj Fenwick is a plodder, but is better here than a wild boy. I have introduced you to all the persons I know in Barbados. The Alleynes leave this in June. They passed the day here on Monday. Mrs Alleyne wished for some advice about her 2d son who wishes to go into the Army & wanted to know how to get him made an Engineer. They go to Cheltenham. First he sold one of his Estates for 22,000£, regretted it & repurchased it at the loss of about 2000£. Adieu dear Kate, love to my children & regards to all and believe me your very afft

Fred English