Letter #17

Written from St Lucia 

Major-General Robert Pilkington was the Colonel Commandant of the Royal Engineers. In letter 30, English mentions a note he had received from the General on his posting to the West Indies. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Grene Ellicombe was at this time Assistant Adjutant General of the Royal Engineers, a powerful role as the right hand man of the Colonel Commandant with jurisdiction over the postings of officers. He later became Colonel Commandant with the rank of General.

The offices of Barrack master and Commissary have long been abolished in the Army, their roles being combined in that of the Quartermaster. The former was in charge of accommodation; the latter controlled stores, including food, and transport. 

26th Augt 34

The English Mail Boat should be here tomorrow my dear Kate, therefore I must write with all possible dispatch to prepare letter for yourself and Miss Isabella who undoubtedly has a great claim to as long a story as Annie received and thinks of such value. I am fearful that my letters will be more than usually heavy from this dull wretched place, for poor Fritz has left his master this morning and is buried under an Almond tree at the back of my quarters. He has been very ill with distemper for a fortnight but I had hopes he would recover until yesterday. His loss I shall feel much for he was always with me and the only living creature I could fancy had any regard for me in this out of the way place. However he is gone & I must content myself with puss and her expected family. Your last packet of letters quite delighted me and I have been so amused with your abstract that I carried it about in my pocket several day. In fact had I not deposited it in the Desk, nothing but paper shreds would have remained. You are very correct, but must not calculate the sert allowance, it having been paid here by the Commissary Department since I came out. The bills on the agent which I have drawn amount to 75£, out of which I have paid Mess Entrance, bought ponies, and several other sums which were required at my first coming out and are not current expenses, therefore I am in hopes that you will have sufficient to cover all your demands without any trouble or vexation as I shall not draw again for some time. The last mail brought a letter from Cox & Co requesting the Extra Pay returns from 12th Feby to the 12 April. I shall forward a second set tomorrow, but did send them off by the first vessel that left Barbados or soon after I landed. Probably the private letters by the same ship never reached you, or our Pall Mall people have mislaid them. The official announcement of General Pilkington decease came by the same boat that conveyed your acceptable packet. It was delivered by the Clerk of Works after I had been asleep some time. I thought the old gentleman had arrived by the knocking he made at the window blinds. However, I was soon out of bed and read away nearly the whole night. I expected that the treacherous old Genl would not last long since I came out here, indeed Hustler told me as much. It has been remarked that he has done the same in several cases to other officers. The interest of the present man Sir F Mulcaster would be of the utmost importance undoubtedly but I do not think he would order me home until I had served in this country a sufficient length of time to entitle a tour of home service. However there can be no harm in stirring him up, as my good Uncle will renew the acquaintance and bring my name under his notice. In a letter from Sir Fred Smith to his brother, it is reported that Sir H Elphinstone is to remain in his command. If this is the case no changes will take place which I regret for a little is required in our Corps. I have recd two letters from Col Oldfield who fancies you & my dear girls are here. His enquiries are numerous and the good little man is as usual all heart and soul. He informs me that Harry Jones is appointed to superintend the rebuilding of a Palace at Constantinople for the Ambassador and that Capt Ward has been sent to Malta ‘A’ Lt Lloyd who was on the survey is the Sub at Newfoundland. Have you any news of a Brevet or what military news can you pick up either from old Fred or on your trips to Portsmouth? You should write a note to our old friend Mj Mair and Capt Nicholson and beg of them to take an early dinner passing the day at Wickham & get Mr Hawker to meet them. He, the Mjr, is too sensible a person to lose the acquaintance of. Remember me to all Depot friends. Mr Bordes’s brother shd be with the 77. I forget whether they went to Portsmouth or not. You may suppose there is considerable difficulty in collecting any matter that can entertain you from a spot where every day is the same over and over again, and on several occasions when I have been writing to you the extreme heat has perfectly enervated all my spirits. The principle thing that keeps one wits together is the bathing and constant pursuit after something or other, never to give way or be lazy, however so disposed. I am constantly on the move, screeching to the utmost of my voice at the Black Labourers, or scolding all I meet for employment and to put a little energy into them if possible. I forgot to tell you that I bought 2 armchairs & 4 plain, very neat cane bottom, and a sopha from Mr Robinson. Altogether with my field bed & old Fort George curtain cover my tables, extra do you mind – for I use the cream coloured cloth I brought out as my best, have a stripe blue cotton over them, being two pieces of common gown material sent out here for the Black women’s taste. It looks exceedingly neat and has become the fashion, in fact the officers and Lady Smith purchased it all up. ‘Will you have a piece of Shaddocher’, not the produce of this Island but Grenada. Alexander has this moment brought one about the size of a child’s head with a biscuit for my lunch. I have given up Porter at this time of day until I find it absolutely necessary or when my friends are so pressing I cannot resist. Capt Grubbe has been moved to Dominica and tho Mjr Clark, much such another slow coach as his late brother, joined about 10 days since, his wife, child and whole turn out looking miserably pale and wretched. The brothers married sisters, thus we have a nest here at present, for Mrs Clark the late Col’s widow has come from Barbados to sell off her goods. The sale was yesterday and collected some few idlers from Castries. For the want of better amusement  I attended and altho I felt at first shocked to see the poor man’s, & I may add, his wife’s kit all exposed, for he died much in debt, still after the noise commenced the curious set of people met and exhibition only to be witnessed in the West Indies. I soon recovered myself and entered into the thing. First 4 Art decanters, very neat indeed, were knocked down to Capt English. There I must tell you fearing you may abuse me & regret it I sold again to a Mrs Berril, a flirting little lady that I do not admire and have somewhat offended by not attending her parties when asked. However away went the bottles then I bid away right and left but always managed to get out the right side at the critical moment. It ended in my purchasing six teaspoons for 34.6 and a tin tea kettle, not a copper one with a hole in it as at Fort George. The spoons I wanted very much, for whenever any of my numerous acquaintance breakfasted with me, my two had to go round and sometimes the handle served for the eggs. For my kettle I cannot say much nor do I think Alex Charley or long legged Munro will admire it. Mr Berril is Attorney Genl, a good humoured, fat vulgar sort of a being. Madame much younger, and the one hating the other most cordially. In truth the little society there is can hardly be more uninviting. I have not joined in it yet. I may possibly after a time for a change. There is also a Mrs Henley, very plain but talks away pleasantly enough. The new Govr & these people are becoming exceedingly thick. He is not very attentive, but I feel so perfectly independent and hold back until he has had his run with all the snobs – these he seems at present to cotton most with. We shall get on very well by & bye. I have been with him this morning to set the old store keeper in order, who has been in the habit of getting his own way too much – it is here as at all other stations. The Engineers has a voice in almost every transaction, & from my being Senior Respective Officer Artillery & Engineers Comdg, there is much jealousy. The Govr is a weak man, vain of his Government & delighted with the novelty of being His Excellency. No head piece, and coming after Sir C Smith who kept every one in his place, you may fancy how all have advanced on this poor man to obtain a smile, who were perfectly in the background during my chief’s administration. I must say Sir Dudley is exceedingly well tempered and wishes I shd think to oblige every one. He is all bustle and activity which is much required here. Now mind – all I have drawn is 75£; this is the 26th and I certainly shall not require more of them until the middle of next month. Thus my bill could not be presented as we draw at a month after sight until about the end of Novr or even middle of Decr, and I should only draw for a small amount. The allowance for serts pays them and my washing which is now performed by my Arty Corp’s wife, who also buttons & sews up the falling stitches for 5 Dollars at 4s.4d pr month. Then you must understand that I use a quantity of linen generally twice a day. Oh how happy am I to think this – I did not bring you all out to this country. I verily believe it would have killed me. I should have fretted so at seeing you all so miserably put up. Not that I can complain as a Batchelor, for my little cottage is perfect luxury – but I never indulge either on my sopha or my hammock except for a few minutes before dressing for dinner in the latter to get cool. I must now look over your letter & reply to all queries. Tell the dear Girls, not leaving out the young things and Miss Parker, that I cannot sufficiently express on paper how pleased I am with their letters. It is extremely kind in the latter to take so much trouble. The Estimates are all off now, therefore I hope to answer some of her amusing accounts of you all. As to Miss Kit’s they not half long enough. Regard & love to the whole not forgetting Jenny, Old Horse & Fritz, Macaw & Tortoise. I rejoice a little at your account of Annie but dare not give way to reflect on her case. I continue well indeed, never was better, but you will have to order me a wig or two when I return – my hair is getting very very thin. I am now looking over your last report, therefore the next page or two will be rather disjointed. Your are perfectly right in taking Annie to town again, & you can do so with such facility that there can be no question about it & I trust that your finances will be adequate for all your plans. Gowns, which I hope you will not get rid of &c, & you cannot think how happy it makes to find you are getting on so well & join in the fun that is going forward – it never would be fair to keep yourselves retired altogether. Genl P did treate me with treachery and Ellicombe was at the bottom of it; he is a miserable but we must submit and hold our prate. This got over puts me, as an old officer, on a perfect footing with all the Corps. They have done their worst, therefore, as you remark, a letter from Mr Hawker in any case can do no harm. Ellicombe will be paid off some day. Mum. The Smiths’, I saw at once, was uncertain approbation but I made no advance, quite the contrary. L Viney has made a fool of himself and lost the Colonel’s confidence. He is clever but a vain jackass which will always be in his way. He is a most amusing companion and would keep a party in a roar when inclined to exert himself. He & his horse, with which I was tormented in my stables from the time I joined here. My Estimates – another bore – all went off together & have arrived in Barbados safe. By a letter from Tait, the Smiths have expressed themselves in very flattering terms when speaking of your loving lord. He says I am a great favourite of both Sir C & Lady S. This is as it should be, but depend upon it, I will not be led away or over flattered. I like them, Sir C particularly, he is a fine manly Comdg Officer. With him we could carry all the right way. My rations are valued only at 1s pr diem & go to the mess reducing it to 2s or 2.3 pr diem exclusive of wine, but I get corn for one horse which more than keeps two, and 1.6 pr diem for finding myself in Green Forrage whereas I have a large stock of the proper grass, Guinea Grass, at command in rere of my quarter. This, with 20£ a year for an office and what remains over after paying serts & washing, contributes somewhat towards Breakfast & Mess. The deduction made at home of 30£, odd £ for quarters. I foresaw that the garden and grounds would be an endless source of comfort to you all in my absence. Did dear Kitty dig the Carrot bed? I always understood that Lady Gardiner & her family were superior persons – offer my good wishes to them for their constancy and attention to the Lassies. Take care young women, I will not stand your driving about & going before magistrates with any Mr Birchals. You always attach yourself to some old gentleman or other & play giddy. You pretend that you were not aware that Mr Hawker was out. I shall write to him on the subject, but your old flirt can be of infinate use by writing to Capt MacCauly, who is Professor of Fortification & with whom I dined at Woolwich, requesting him to look into Mr Ambler’s mode of proceeding. His son was at the School & he patronises Mr Ambler rather – he might be of great use. Am very happy to learn that Miss Parker is so well – regards to her. So you have been at Whist, Madame – it is impossible at Fareham or in that neighbourhood to avoid it. The young men gamble too much out here. I can fancy Mr Jolliffe being much flattered by your attention – poor fellow, he was always kind to us as boys. It is fortunate you had the opportunity. I felt quite gratified on reading your account of his visit. Drum beating and not dressed. Dinner over as usual – a stupid affair. It is the most fatiguing part of this life meeting the same persons at all periods of the day. Mind I am answering your letter line by line, so don’t think my composition unconnected & abuse me. Fred’s account of the family at Far’m made me almost fancy I had walked there within a few days. He appears to have enjoyed himself. It will not surprise me to learn that Miss Coddington is staying at Wickham. I have written to the Master Genl about Augustus but not being on the spot is greatly against success in obtaining the appointment. By his letters he must have improved very much. He writes uncommonly well for a boy of his age. I can fancy Cary getting stout – it will be an improvement if the good child hold herself up. Does Cary follow up her taste for Botany? I have a Press making but there is no means here of getting the screws. Flowering shrubs are numerous in the woods but there are very few flowers. Mrs Ambler deserves great credit for her care. I have always understood that all the interior economy of the school depended upon her & that it was well conducted.  If we have ill success at the Ordnance Office, application shd be made immediately for the Military College. Augustus is a boy likely to obtain his Commission by working for it. Send Miss P out here for a change of air – if warm days will be of service, they are to be had here. Regards to Race if with you. Find out where my sisters are going – I should wish to know. Pray be kind to them. Your account as I have before remarked are as clear as possible. All I hope is that you will not be at any inconvenience. Think not I will not enter on the subject of Mr Abrams or Mr Beldam – had I been at home these trifling matter should have been arranged quickly enough. Lord Grey and Althorp appear to have managed matters suited to the wigs as far as I can judge, who have only looked rapidly over the papers, not having had time or feeling too warmly engaged with Mosquitos & being satisfied by reading the Heads of each paragraph. Kate’s description of the tea party is admirable – really, women are very stupid without men. You wish me to report what Lady S is like, but as her Ladyship is so unlike any other person I ever met I will not attempt to describe her until we meet. Her age I suppose to be 40 or more, but this is delicate ground to foot it upon. It may be less, but climate has such an effect upon her sex. Probably 34 or 5 or less or more, has been very pretty, is still comely, to me was very good humoured, but at other times can be wonderful, but I ought and shall alway affirm that nothing could exceed their civility to me. I don’t think Lady S hates women, she does not flirt but enjoys society. I would give an ear to hear my dear girls sing for one evening. The Master of the Band has arranged all the music that Kate has sent me and they play it on all occasions with the exception of the last song which I like much – Constant Ian. I shall leave this open until morning. Good night, God bless you all – fancy this written the day before you get it. Best regards to my good Uncle, Mrs H and love to Aunt OB & Mary skittish believe me your attached

Fred E

I wrote a long letter to Edward but it was mislaid when the ship sailed & I have torn it up. Wed morning 27th all right, Packet not yet in sight owing to the constant calms. The sea as far as the eye can reach to Martinique is like a sheet of Glass. You would be amused at the similar jarring amongst storekeeper & Barrack Master here with Fort George. On all occasions off they go to the Govr who, not exactly feeling at home yet, passes every thing, and after all it is referred to the unfortunate Engineer, who you may be sure means to have his berth well understood without suffering any humbug. They all try to draw me into a correspondence, but the old fox is not to be so trapped. Our storekeep is dead deaf and stubborn in the extreme. He lays a sort of claim to the Engrs’ Yard, Castries, which is immediately opposite his own. I have committed a great offence in not giving over a new store House which has just been completed in our yd & which former Engineers allowed him to occupy. He wrote me a long winder with many threats so I walked over to his office & bawled into his old pig head, ‘Possession is nine points of the law, you shall not have it’. I laugh now when I think of his astonishment and anger. He was pale with rage & in reply said, stamping mad. ‘You nor Sir Charles have no business whatever in that yard but to repair the buildings’. I am certain that had Sir C Smith heard him he would have kicked out of window. I am getting into a long story, but you can enter into these affairs having often heard the same sort of folly before at different stations, but the cream of it is the new Govr who is setting us all by the ears. I must be doing observes soon Iron Gun Carriage which have been stationary I understand for the last 5 years. Outside both yards the road to the town passing between the two. Order the Storekeeper who has already offended about a Sentry Box to have those Gun carriages put into the yard immediately. Old Blunderbuss, unaccustomed to meeting with any interference, hesitates, but, the order being repeated, finding our gate open, lawyer like, having commenced life in that trade, pushes his Iron carriages, or intended so to do, into my store yard in order to substantiate his immaginary right. I, being rather an early riser, hear of the old rogue’s tricks, in the promptness of action or indignation of feeling start à Cheval. My Clerk of Work first to old pokey & then to lock the Iron Gates. All yesterday & up to this morning I can see with the spy glass 5 or 6 huge Iron Gun carriage drawn up close to our gate. In the mean time I have been & explained matters to the Govr, who is in a towering rage and going to explode the poor Storekeeper. Then the Storekeeper, the Govr & the Barrack Master are having a regular shine about Sentry Boxes, Government and Colonial. Sir Freeman Barton was in the 2d Foot and must have been with them at Ipswich. He like a fool accepted when on guard on some occasion when the late King was visiting Portsmouth or other place, Knighthood in place of a Majority. It has ended in ruin and pride. Poor devil, he is out here as Barrack Master in ill health with a young wife who is wretched & amuses herself with flirting & has attached a young officer 70th to her hair.

Red ink begins here

I see little of them, but from his unhappy fate as an old officer was rather interested in making his quarter comfortable. Yesterday at the Govr’s I found this unfortunate had excited the Governor’s pity, gained his ear and got the good tempered busy man to write to Sir Charles Smith in order to obtain building for himself in direct opposition to [words illegible] which he had made himself in [words illegible] at the same time [words illegible] Morne Fortuné this [words illegible] refers the Govr to me as having the sole direction [words illegible] return to the Engrs. BM has lost his chance & looks in trouble there. I hope you will exert yourself & have a laugh at all this rubbish – it causes me great amusement. You never will get thro all this. I must now finish my letter to [word illegible] Louisa Macaw or I shall be in disgrace. God bless you all, regards to Mr Hawker & Mrs; I am happy he has let his house. Tell Jenny I want her constantly. I shall send a beautiful creeper seed home for Aunt OB in time for sowing. FE. No packet yet, ½ past 10 AM.

“Mr Birchal” is a reference to Burchell, a character in The Vicar of Wakefield.

L Viney is Leicester Smith (Viney is his middle name).