Letter #121

The Bocas strait separates Trinidad from the coast of Venezuela. English spells it ‘Boags’. 

The Governor of Trinidad, Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, had died on 8 March. 

Trinidad had been ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, having been previously colonised by the Dutch, Spanish and French. Following a disastrous fire, the first British Governor, Sir Ralfe Woodford, employed the architect Philip Reinagle, to design a new town on a grid pattern, with squares, both Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and paved streets and footways. No wooden buildings were allowed. San Fernando is 25 miles south of Port of Spain; the surrounding area is called the Naparima Plains

Her M Steamer Spitfire at Anchor
1½ mile from Port of Spain
Sunday 24th March 1839

This fine steamer came into Carlisle Bay about the 14th inst, and being given up to the Genl’s disposal for his tour round the comd, he decided to embark forthwith, thus all haste was made to take in her coals and water, and we started from Shot Hall on the 19th under a salute of great guns, colours flying, guards of honor, bands playing & all the garrison officers drawn up on the wharf to say ‘by by, Sir Sam’, laughing in their sleeves at the prospect of getting the ‘cat out of the way’. The party at my quarters was as usual, the élite of the staff who assembled there and remained until the boats were reported ready. I am determined my good dear wife that you shall not have cause of complaint that the description is not sufficiently detailed, as latterly all the letters I have worked so hard at have failed in conveying my wishes to amuse you. Well, to continue dear Mrs Kit, you know when I get to sea my spirit rises in spite of all crosses. On the 19th evening just as we were departing, in came the Pandora packet. The General, however, very wisely, would not wait for the letters. Had we done so the steamer must have been delayed 5 or 6 hours, and his remark that the Admiralty might change their minds and the Packet bring counter orders which would send the Spitfire on another service, made him more anxious to steam away. It did not matter much to us, as the Pandora would drop our bag at this Island (Trinidad). Our movements have been so rapid that it chanced we got here before the packet. The letters all came in the General’s bag last evening. But I must return & go on regularly with this report to head quarters Wickham. We had a beautiful passage to Tobago. I shd add that We applies to the Genl, Lt Cols Grant and English – CRA CRE – the Principal Medical Officer Dr Draper, Major Harpour, D Judge Advocate & Acting Aid de C-Milty Secty Capt Considine, D Comsy Genl Filder, D Assistant Adjt Genl, Capt King, and my confidential officer Capt Rutherfurd. We reached Tobago about 12 oclock on the 20th. All the officials paid their court from the shore and some of the party – not your old gentleman – being fatigued with the sea sickness of the past night, it was the following morning when the troops were to be inspected &c. Having office business to transact, Rutherfurd and yours, without some of the staff, went ashore early & very soon discovered that the landing was an affair of no joke, to wit, the water was shoal, the swell heavy, each unfortunate had to be carried on shore by one of the boat’s crew. I started first, and having had some practice at Walton, at the ferry and in the highlands, I mounted according to rule and reached dry land safe, notwithstanding spurs & sword. Poor Rutherfurd made a spring, daring youth, and upset his sailor who made a stagger, when both took a bath, much to the amusement of the lookers on. Rain had fallen, and the soil being of loose reddish marl, we were soon up to the ankles in mud. With the assistance of several raw boned wretched horses, the first party reached the summit of a very steep small mountain on which Fort St George is situated with its Barracks, Hospital & the rest of its Establishment, finding the Engr Department in fair order under the care of a Lt Reilly, Assistant Engr. Owing to torrents of rain the Genl did not land until the evening, which he did under the usual compliments & popping of guns. He arrived in a light carriage of Lt Governor Darling’s, actually dragged up at the slowest possible rate a pr of horses could place one leg before another. Fortunately all went right and we returned to dine on board the Steamer, declining the invitations from the Mess and Genl Darling’s. The Island of Tobago, as to its scenery, is extremely pretty, but it is a wretched place in every sense, not one of our party wish to see it again. Still, the officers quartered there appeared satisfied & to prefer it to some others. Here I again met Lt Rodwell RA. You have mentioned his name in some way in the letter I recd last night. I don’t know him but to say how-dee & not likely to know more. What with memoires, plans, reports &c &c and being constantly in the Genl’s company, I assure you I have but little time to myself. Still, I endeavour to steal a few moments for sketching. On the 21st we dined on board as I have stated and had some very pretty music on deck where our table is always laid under an awning. The performers were some of the young officers belonging to the ship who are a superior set and draw uncommonly well with their Capt or Commander Lt Shambler, & he is a good hearty sailor like person giving satisfaction to all our party. At day break on the 22nd, away went the Spitfire. With wind & current in our favor, a run of about 20 miles or somewhat more brought us abreast of Trinidad. The beautiful outline of its coast made us all exclaim with unusual sensations of delight and ecstacy. It is undoubtedly very fine & the passage thro the Boags to Port of Spain was charming. I made a sketch which you will I trust soon see. On these small Island which form several passages in to the Gulf, are two or three establishments at this season for catching Wales. The point & high lands of the Spanish Main are clearly seen. At 4 oclock the Spitfire anchored about a mile off Port of Spain. It was extremely sultry but the mountain above the town & the whole landscape was most delightful. The following morning the disembarkation took place, expending some powder as usual, Horses and carriages being prepared by the Colony Secretary. All hands proceeded to the inspection. This finished, I joined the Genl who was to receive an Address at the Council chamber. This he replied to in a short but much to the purpose speech, returned to our Steamer to dine & sleep. It was proposed to land & go to church the next morning, but the overpowering heat at that hour of the day & the Budget having come to hand, the General was so knocked up that all remained on Board. In the evening some of us went on shore but dined on Board. I made a visit on an old acquaintance, the Controller of Customs. The only place to be tolerated from the intense heat was on the quarter deck of our ship. We have been so constantly on the move that I forgot to remark that the Genl landed in the evening and proceeded with Capts Considine, King & myself to St Ann’s, the Governor’s residence which is much neglected & looked miserable, notwithstanding many superb trees. The preparations for a Sale contributed in some measure, Sir George having died about three week since. Sir Henry McLeod is appointed from St Kitts. From Government House we went to call on the Secretary, & called on Mrs Turnbull, a daughter of the late Sir James Mackintosh. The poor lady & her children looked miserable – fine little fellows, but the climate, which is undoubtedly bad in this Island, was making the whole party a prey to its fevers &c & they had just lost a fine boy. We had not time to go over the botanical garden – I hope to do so tomorrow, Wednesday. Yesterday I dined with the D Comsy Genl of this place, a Mr Bishop, & in the evening went to a small party to hear some Frenchmen play and sing – it was well worth hearing. Returned with some of the party to our ship. In the morning all the staff went to the outpost, St Joseph’s, to inspect. I went in the carriage with the Genl, King & Considine. It was well worth the drive to see this sweet scenery. I made a small sketch, but we had much to endure from heat and dust, adding the horses gibbing several times, the distance about 7 or 8 miles. It was here the mutiny took place amongst the Blacks when their leader & others were shot. We refreshed ourselves here & returned when I had to jump out & bamboo the horses. Called on the Catholic Bishop & walked to the principal street, church &c. It is a well laid out town by Sir Ralfe Woodford, the best I have seen in the W Indies, but exceedingly triste. This morning at six the steamer started across the Gulf & we are now on our return to Port of Spain after Inspecting San Fernando & its detachment. It is also called Naparima. I made a sketch & a very pretty place it is. Tomorrow we complete all reports & purchases & start for Grenada, expecting to arrive the same night. I found Major Victor looking very ill & much reduced from fever. He had applied for leave but his letter passed me. However, I told him it could not be granted, but had no objection to recommend a medical board & to second his views. It is useless to keep a poor fellow to linger his life out here & at the same time unable to do his duty. I have therefore managed the matter for him, & the order for leave & proceedings of the medical Board are promulgated. This evening, poor fellow, his heart is opened & I see such a letter of thanks from him to Capt Rutherfurd this morning. His wife is an agreeable little woman. He will return home immediately. I wish they would send my relief – it is too bad to put me off with Ellicombe’s arrangements. The Mail will sail from hence thursday, therefore I shall close this until tomorrow, Wed morning. 27th March 39: all well, slept like a top, being at anchor. The Genl in high glee said this morning he never had so pleasant a voyage nor a more agreeable party – so far well. Major’s order is issued & I have appointed Capt Ansell & his wife with two pretty children to act as Assistant Engr – a good berth for them. Augustus’s letters are very amusing – regards to the dear fellow. You must recollect Miss Lyell or Leyell who used to be with Capt & Mrs Heathcott. He comdd the Sea Fencibles & Mrs H was her sister. I think the lady in question was an old Maid in those days, but very clever & agreeable. We depart tomorrow at day break & shall be at Grenada before the packet. If time will admit I shall write from thence. We are all writing under an awning on deck and there are so many officers on duty from the shore & so much business going on that it is with difficulty I can close this. I still hope Fred will not make a goose of himself & that the poor girl will not be sacrificed to a sub in a marching Regt. I trust my letter is dated properly & that you will put in all the omitted words. The next goose you give, Mistress Kit, I shall mulct you of one letter pr month. Mr Lang & your old Col agree perfectly as to climate & the W Indies. You seem too testy, Madam, about my quiz respecting the Marmalade. Young Bingham is sent to his H Quarters. I do not mix with the Artillery here. Col Grant seems a good enough sort of a person – he is on board. Again let me remind you that T Naghten is a weak & thoughtless talking fellow. Excepting as to his own consequences he can have but a vague knowledge as to facts that has passed respecting me & only from hear say. It is too ridiculous that his twaddle shd occupy a line ever in your letters. He never saw Sir C Smith & had better hold his tongue. I shd very soon cut him short on that score. He may yet get in to trouble by his gossip. Love to my dear girls & Mary OB &c & to all friends. Believe me, dear dear Kit your aff Fred E.