Letter #22

He doesn’t say so, but this was probably English’s first experience of travelling by steam ship. The Royal Navy had a few by this time, but as there was as yet no worldwide network of coaling stations, they used sail whenever practicable. 

British Guiana (now Guyana) must have had a very different feel from Barbados. It had been colonised by the Dutch for nearly 200 years when the British occupied it in 1796 while the Dutch were busy trying to keep the French out of their home territory. British rule was confirmed in 1814, after which the three colonies of Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo were united as British Guiana. There were still Dutch planters and traders, and many places were known by their Dutch names.

 Interference by Sir James Carmichael-Smyth in RE matters will become a constant theme. He had served as an RE officer in several theatres and had been present at Waterloo, so no doubt he felt he had a right to be heard. Sir Charles was appointed by the Master-General to command the Engineers, but Sir James was the senior officer. While his unpopularity is easily understood, it should be remembered that he arrived in British Guiana as the Emancipation Act was about to come into force with the prime task, as English points out in letter 45, of overseeing its implementation in the face of opposition from many of the planters. 

The anecdote about Captain Ramsey and the Black Joke refers to service in the West Africa Squadron. Following the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, the Royal Navy patrolled the coast intercepting slavers of other nations and freeing the slaves. Those freed often chose to go to the British colony of Sierra Leone where they had a better chance of avoiding re-enslavement. HMS Black Joke was itself a prize gained on the West Africa station.

Colony House, Demerara Sunday 30th Novr 1834

A very few moments before starting to embark for this Colony I closed a hurried letter to you my dear Kate, which would leave Barbados last thursday. Today I learn that a vessel sails tomorrow for London & it is more than probable that this will reach old England before the former. However, I have no doubt both will be acceptable in intimating to you all my proceedings. I shall return to the moment of embarking, as I cannot relate my stories without beginning at the beginning. About one oclock on the 24th Inst, Sir C Smith and your loving lord took to the ordnance boat & in 10 minutes afterwards found ourselves recd by Capt Ramsay & his officers on the quarter deck of the Dee Steamer with much cordiality, and were each disposed of in a good cabin. The steam was all ready & away we went in spite of a foul wind. You all express a wish to know the names of my companions in each adventure, journey or voyage, therefore I generally name them. On this occasion the Gunroom had a Lt Steward 86, a wild youth, son of the Major now commanding that Regt, and Mr Holms, Collector of Customs at Grenada, who has already been named in my letter at the same time as uninteresting a little man as you can well meet with. From Capt Ramsay, with whom we, Sir C & he, messed, civilities were received, I might add, unbounded, but in truth he was exceedingly friendly, doing all he possibly could to make us enjoy ourselves. Altho the wind was foul, the weather was calm and we performed the voyage in 3 days, arriving in sight of land about 12 oclock on thursday, but I have to return to the Gun room, or some of your party who expect extracts from this letter and are now waiting for such news as may be herein, or as you are disposed to afford them. In the Gun room then, the 1st Lt was named Owen, a worthy old sailor of a certain age. I did not find out whether he had a Madame at home or not, I suspect he is single. Next comes 2d Lt Russell, a rattling good humoured young Scot from Edinbro, acquainted with Willy Forbes, a Doctor that toddled, a young sensible Master, whose name I do not at this moment recollect, with a fine old Jew as Purser – these formed the party all exerting themselves to be civil. One of the mids I took a great fancy to by the name of Percival, a manly little fellow and well connected. 1st Decr. Capt Ramsay knows Charles and some of the other officers have met him. I was interrupted yesterday, Sir C having required me to go out with him. You are accustomed to my disjointed stile of letter writing and will not care to receive one in scraps, but until I again settle in a quarter I cannot write steadily, being forced to catch an opportunity of seating myself at a window or other cool place if to be found – that is the question for this here is dreadfully sultry. Again I have been called away by my chief to breakfast with a Mr Albany at whose house we dine today. When I am to get my letter completed to you I know not. However I find that the vessel does not sail until Wednesday. Before that I shall be off for Berbice where I expect to remain a fortnight or until the sawmill is disposed of. I have only just returned after being out all day with Sir C returning visit & at the Ord Depot. He has gone to dress & I must follow. Tomorrow I hope that some time will be afforded me to write all that my paper will hold. When I stated that we made the land of Demerara, I should have explained that it lays so exceedingly low that the first objects you can distinguish are the tops of trees and the chimneys of the steam engines at the sugar estates. None of our crew has ever been on this coast excepting Sir C Smith, but from the distance we were obliged to remain from shore in consequence of extensive sand banks and the extraordinary rapid vegetation – trees actually starting up like magic. The coast was so altered in is appearance that he could not determine our position. It therefore became necessary to have a pilot so crack went a gun and signal hoisted. All this caused delay & we did not procure our guide until 2 oclock, and at about 5 just as our dinner was completed, the Dee cast anchor in Demerara river opposite Camp House, the present residence of Sir Comical Smyth, the usual appellation he is dignified with by Sir Charles Felix. Being only 500yds from the Ord Wharf, boats with Brigade Major Heath, officers &c soon came on board, among others Mr Ford, a fresh coloured good humoured looking youth in the bloom of health. It was too late to beat up for quarters this evening, particularly as we felt so comfortable in our steam berth. Friday morning we landed with Capt Ramsay, when by previous arrangement a carriage of Sir Com’s was in waiting and we all proceed to pay our respects to His Excellency, who recd us with his usual constrained manner, but invited the party to dine that day and the next or every day during our stay. Between ourselves, my dear Kate, he well knew the invite would not be accepted. Sir C F, having administered the Govt here for a time with great popularity, has of course numerous friends to visit, but I must not digress or shall lose my way & have to commence my whole story again. The remaining part of friday was passed in receiving loads of visitors at the Colony House where we have quarters given us by those in power so to do. It belongs to the Legislative Council and is fitted up with bed rooms & an Establishment of servants for such members as require the convenience when they visit Georgetown on Colonial business. Sir C F for reason which I hope some day the sooner the better to relate to you would not dine at Government house, therefore he provided transport through his friends and I went to represent the Corps in full fig – fancy having in this sultry of all sultry towns to dine out in my stuffed full dress coat. I got over it however, meeting Secretaries &c &c all in due form and ceremony. Lady Comical was exceeding friendly and I should add agreeable, has grown stout – rather – they have a fine lad as their son. A Mrs Gloucester, the Government Secretary’s wife, lately from Trinidad, knew all the Belfast people, therefore we got on well, but I nearly expired and was delighted to find Sir C F had sent a conveyance to fetch me to Colony House. Saturday morning we breakfasted with the 86th Regt & transacted business at the Engrs’ Office – your recollect Mr Fenwick of the 77, he is Adjt of this Regt & called on me. Lots of dinner invitation came rolling in, but I had again to go thro the misery of dining at Camp House. Sir Com enquired after you & seemed astonished that both our boys were settled. It was exceedingly slow & I returned home expended to my bed. Sunday we were going to church but Tenders arrived about the Saw mill at Berbice and we were employed all the morning afterwards. Dined with a Col Goodman, in some office here. The civility of the people here is beyond all you could fancy had you not been in Scotland. Horses, carriages &c are all at our disposal. On calling at Col Goodman, who by the bye is well named, he mentioned that an Elderly lady had arrived at the Colony by the name of Lady Kemmis or Kismes who had come from Madeira for her health, & that on hearing my name exclaimed that she knew Charles & Mrs E E or Louisa & the Miss Miles’s & would be delighted to see me. Accordingly after a long conversation with his wife & whom I rather liked, we started & found Mi Lady, the remains of a very handsome woman, sister, I understand, to Sir Willoughby Gordon. However, it was a curious coincidence that at that moment she was closing a letter to Miss Miles, Louisa’s sister. Poor soul, she appeared delighted to see a person whose name was familiar, not knowing a creature out here until Col & Mrs Goodman paid their visit. I begged that my good wishes might be conveyed in her letter & that I was in perfect health. I shall call today & get Miss Miles’ letter in order to enclose it with this as promised. In the short visit I made, the good Lady appeared ladylike & had lots to say – how extraordinary that I should have stumbled upon one of Louisa friends. At Col Goodman’s we passed a merry dinner party & were overwhelmed with attentions. Sir C F is so exceedingly liked by all. The customs here differ with those in Barbados – we dined ½ past 6 or 7, consequently we were later to our pillows. Yesterday we breakfasted & passed nearly the whole day with a very pleasant family – but Sir C in a loud voice is now exclaiming ‘English, ho ho! Come away to breakfast’ and to breakfast we went, again to Mr Albony’s. I have already written so much respecting attentions paid to us that you will become weary of the same account over and over again. The names I give, in the event of your meeting persons acquainted with any of these people. Yesterday I think I have before stated that we breakfasted and dined at the above named Merchant’s, or rather I should call him a Proprietor. His lady is an exceedingly nice person & the family consist of two rather pleasing girls staying there, her sister, a Miss Benjamin I believe, and his niece. At dinner, all the principal heads of families, that is the gentlemen, were present, and in the evening some ladies joined and cards were introduced. For my own conduct I cannot add much in praise, for I was so fatigued it was with the utmost difficulty I could keep my eyes open. Their living is excellent, almost splendid, with every sort of wine in profusion. The ladies at this colony have a more healthy look than any I have seen in Barbados, but still appear to suffer considerably from the excessive heat. I understood at Breakfast this morning that all the Mammas were to dine today & the young fry to join in a Quaddrille this evening, therefore I shall be enabled to give you some account of the sex before I finally close my letter. I find that there is no enjoyment to me in these meetings, they only make me wish for home more and the society of yourself & those around you. I believe it was this that occupied my thoughts yesterday evening & prevented any exertion more than the fatigue I had experienced. Several of the Navy were of our party, amongst others Capt Ramsay, who I like more each time I meet him. It was this officer who distinguished himself in a small vessel on the coast of Africa named the Black Joke with some 20 men & one long gun opposed to a large Spanish slaver of 12 guns & 80 odd in crew, which ship he took after being hand to hand with the enemy on their deck boarding & on which occasion he was dreadfully wounded. This Colony is by far the most wealthy I have seen & I immagine is so of all the others, as they can load sugar every day, it being made here all the year round. The soil is so extremely rich that it grows and ripens the cane crop after crop without manure. This I am informed is the case. The River is now full of vessels waiting their cargo, and one or two leave Demerara every week, whereas at the other Colonies they cannot begin to load until Feby or March. The Town is really beautiful and most striking to a stranger, the houses being almost all constructed of wood with a covered gallery round the 1st story, with vines or creepers over lattice work. They are not united, but have gardens with every sort of Tropical tree growing between each. Thus the contrast between the green of many shades & the white has a most foreign effect. It is of great extent & some of the Public buildings are very handsome. The Engineers’ quarter is good, but like Camp House, intollerable infested with Mosquitoes & Sandflies, so much so that there is no rest day or night. You cannot possibly picture to yourself the misery they occasion. Mr Ford has been rather unhappy, fearing I should turn him out, but I have told Sir C F S that I have no wish to remain at this station. This has set the little man’s mind at ease & I think he will be allowed to remain in possession. I could not find in my heart the spirit to turn him out after having made himself so very comfortable, enough so that it looked like preparation for a Madame, but by directions of Sir C, I have had some conversation with him on this tender subject which has led to his remaining at the station for a time. One ostensible reason for my not wishing to take this command is Sir Carl Smyth being here, very unpopular, in fact hated and detested by nine out of ten, and meddling more than he has a right to do in Engineer matters. I might contend the point and have vulgarly to express it, a regular blow up which he never would forgive. A young officer must knock under & refer to Comd Engr matters that I should have to decide & take the responsibility of prudence. Whisper: ‘English, don’t be seduced by its beautiful appearance and tolerable good quarter to fix yourself here’. I may be wrong but so my fate decrees. 3rd Decr: No doubt I have written lots of rubbish but you and my lassies will excuse all errors. The heat at times when writing is so oppressive that I feel conglomerated both in head & hand. Still I never felt better in my life. We part company today I believe, that is Sir C Smith departs in the Steamer for Tobago & Trinidad and about friday or saturday I start for Berbice to get rid of the saw mill, to which point I intend making my way by the Dispatch, Government boat belonging to the Colony and of which I have the offer so soon as all is complete. I am to return here & on to Barbados or more probably Trinidad as Sir C said yesterday ‘You may have this, or Trinidad if you like it better’. As to Climate, the one is as good as the other, & if I eat drink and sleep as heretofore it matters little to which I go. Yesterday our dinner party consisted of gentlemen with the exception of madame. Major Stewart of the 86 set on one side of your loving lord, Capt Halliday the other. Mr Owen, of a certain age, that and some mids, one a Mr Campbell, a fine young man, around the evening hosts of Ma’s & young people with some officer, made up the Quadrille which was danced to a very good Piano. The evening went off pleasant enough. Mr & Mrs Fenwick were there. I now am about to go to the same Chateau for breakfast. Met Mr Ford and have enclosed a few lines which he requests you will give to his aunts. It was most amusing your alarm about the slaves – the Colonies are so perfectly free from any tumult of that description that we never think about it. At the present moment they are perfectly quiet, & will I have no doubt remain so unless some of these blockheads of Governors plant the seed of insubordination in their minds, which is not unlikely in their ill judged zeal, as it is termed, in place of allowing the matter to work its way. No more money drawn, but should have so to do in another month. Sir C told to work my way back to Barbados when I had completed my arrangements by Trinidad if I liked so to do. The spring leg is at work again. I must now conclude but you will soon receive another letter, either from hence or Berbice in reply to those I had from Wickham before I left Barbados, but which I cannot find time to read over. Tell the children that I saw some Indian families yesterday of a Redish brown color. The ladies had a kind of dress but the others nought, and this morning I saw at Mr Albony’s a Pique cat & some large Tigre skins of animal killed on their Estates. The frogs here are as large as a small Rabit. I cannot write to dear Kitty this turn but will in a week or so. My birds for the lassies increase gradually – there are many extraordinaries here had I time to collect them. I was exceedingly amused with the joint letters from those dutiful nieces of mine at Roche Court – regards to them. I cannot send more this turn. Sir C is off to embark, so again adieu. Love to the dear children, Fred and Augustus when you write. Regards & thanks to Miss Parker for her letters. How is Jane? Not forgetting all that kind to Mr Hawker & Mrs & Aunt OB with my faithful wife Mary

Your afft
Fred E