Letter #42

The Survey was a branch of the Royal Engineers in which English had been employed in Ireland. Colonel (later Major-General) Thomas Frederick Colby was its Superintendent from 1820 to 1847. English’s low opinion of him is unexplained; historians have hailed him as the architect of the modern Ordnance Survey. Mapping had begun in Scotland soon after the battle of Culloden. Priority was given to Scotland and Ireland, then during the Napoleonic wars to southern England – the areas where demand for accurate maps for the military was strongest. The triangulation of the whole of the British Isles was still incomplete at the time of these letters. 

This letter illustrates the importance of keeping one’s place in the pecking order for both father and son. Both English and his wife appear to know the order of seniority in the Army List by heart as they speculate on who will leave the service and hasten promotion for the rest. In Augustus’s case, he must maintain a high position in his class in order to keep his place in the Academy. Neither seems to be doing very well at this stage.

Demerara 24th Sep 35

The sight of your handwriting again my dear Kate was quite exhilerating but still the Wickham dispatches of the 1st August are not forthcoming. The Mail boat came into the River yesterday about 12 oclock which was due here about the 7th inst with the letters from England of the 1st August. She sailed from Barbados on the 12th inst where they have suffered severely from a most destructive gale or hurricane. It took place on the 3rd inst about 10 or 11 oclock in the day, so far fortunate but its effects have been dreadful &, from the loss of the Mail boats or their being driven to sea, all communication has been interrupted. If my dispatches are not too cumbrous I shall enclose Capt Tait’s letter which I recd yesterday. It will afford some amusement & an account, in part, of the damage sustained at Barbados. I wrote you an account of the violent weather we experienced on our voyage here. The sky looked so terrific that we all expected rough times, but fortunately escaped as I have already described, but the mischief was going on at Antigua. The Capt of the Duke of York made the remark that there must be a hurricane somewhere & so it has proved. Thus my dear Kate your letters recd yesterday are the first accounts I have had from Wickham since my arrival, and if I have written more out of spirits than usual, this is the cause principally. At the same time I like not the place or rather stile of going on here. Another Mail is due which I trust will bring up the letters in arrear. There is no end to pothers here – if I sit down to write, ten to one but Govr’s Council sends for me & on arrival I find it’s to discuss some question already worn out. He is and always was an irregular bore. A messenger has just put his ugly black fiz into the room – ‘Sar the Store keeper him sen compliment, will you come open the Tenders for Canteens, em waiting’. I fear my letter will be late in consequence. Just returned after hurtling to the Storekeeper’s and back & having decided in favour of a Mr Allt as Canteen holder of all the Posts in place of Duchess Donegal, a blasé woman first brought under my notice for beating, helped by her sister Miss Betty Case, a tall strapping colored lady & Mess woman to the 86th Regt, within a triffling chance of her life, a very common occurrence I understand amongst the ladies here when a little jealousy inspires them. Mr Allt will often I guess be named in my letters, being a useful sort of person. His character &c may therefore as well appear at once as a broken down gentleman, how or from what situation I know not, well connected with respectable relations on this side the Atlantic & trying to turn a penny in every way. Contracts to supply canteens, has formed a Horse sharing establishment, in fact has somewhat to do with every pursuit that will help recruit his finances, has more monkeys of variety and officers at his house than any other mechanic in the place, is skilled in turning, stuffing birds, boating &c – enough of Mr Allt. As yet I do not like this place, but I think it is in great measure owing to the damp that is cast throughout on all that would be gay by the constant bickerings between the Governor & his people. Probably he is not altogether wrong and thus both parties are in fault, but so it is & undoubtedly he always was and is still most unfortunately disagreeable in his manner. Tait has a joke that I am to be on his staff – he will never ask me & I am very sure I shall not accept anything under him but for base lucre. We get on very well, his dinner parties are formal, wines bad, lots of Insects tormenting & a gold laced coat assisting to make one feel in utter despair. He tried to cajole me into becoming a public accountant on the expenditure for Colony Barracks. Respecting the repair of these buildings there is now a question. He would not write himself but made his Brigade Major do so, enclosing an order from himself for the sum granted to be paid to me by the Colonial Receiver Genl. I was too old a soldier for this, moreover he knew that the Board objected to take the Barracks over, consequently I returned his bill declining the affair altogether, with a letter full of Your Excellency & with due submission to Your Excellency. It will delight me to quit his clutches and this horribly expensive place. Lady Smith is exceedingly agreeable and her son, a good humoured youth just got into the 86th Regt here, but poor woman she is wretched here – no society, only one or two hideous – Fred’s term – officers’ wives to speak to and nearly devoured by vermin of all descriptions. The Brevet is just possible but I doubt its being given, nevertheless if our people are allowed to sell again, something might turn up to bring us together again my dear Kate. I pray it may be so for nothing can make the separation endurable. The quarter here is excellent consisting of two good rooms in the centre of the house & 3 bed rooms above, but there are several extra rooms formed by a gallery all round enclosed with jalousies, and divided into several other apartments suited to the climate. The situation is cool by comparison with some others, but ditches, mud and flat country as far as the eye can reach in almost every direction to the extent of 5 or six miles inland. Cultivation has been going on & in fact is still proceeded with. You then come to the bush, a swampy Forrest that is impenetrable, full of all sorts of wild animals, Parrots, Monkeys, small tigers, deer, snakes of an immense size &c. Mr Jenkins & Capt Halliday saw one last monday up the river some miles, 15 ft in length, killed with a Deer in its interior which the Indians cooked & devoured, the deer mind you, according to orders. Your letter of the 18th July 1835 was only recd yesterday the 23rd Sept 35 at 2 oclock PM and much happiness it afforded. All the letters delighted me as you may suppose. The extract from the Portsmouth paper must undoubtedly have been sent by Miss Parker at the same time; it is actually news, and as a Naval Promotion will also give an army one I trust the scrap of Portsmouth intelligence, now stuck on my office table, may prove a fact. If the 4 Marine Cols are promoted, a Brevet to 1827 must be given which would be a rare sweep. I doubt it, notwithstanding the detail is so plausibly printed. You are in error: a Brevet of half 1825 would give me five steps including Sir John Jones, and if all those you think mad are to quit, why, send me out the Epaulettes by the next Packet. Your remark about Col Colby afforded me a good laugh – how does the Survey get on? He did not know how to move that intricate affair. It will, I suspect, if it has not already become so, dwindle to a miserable command from his misrule. I cannot feel in any despair respecting Augustus. At the same time it has astonished me his losing so many places, but trust it will open his eyes & that some may be recovered by additional exertions on his part. Constant assiduity is absolutely necessary if a boy is desirous of keeping his berth at the accademy. Mr Ambler has been somewhat of the Jew in his demand, I think particularly for an old scholar. However, it may push Gusto on in the half year & I hope pass him. I have some faith in Mr Ambler’s exertions. We must hope all will go right, having been so far fortunate with our sons. You must brush Fred up and keep him to his work in letter writing when he goes abroad. He will feel severely shd you pay him off & not write frequently. It certainly is the only comfort when from home at so great a distance. When my good friend Miss Parker writes to him, send my best regards. I thought he was to be Lt long since. My experience has taught me never to be very sanguine in these matters of promotion. In the Line there is so much jobbing and trafic in commissions in the present day that a man getting his step is all a lottery. I am sorry your finances annoy you and wish I was near you to set all right. Still it is to be hoped they will improve, and when your Lord and Master returns, all troubles of that description will have passed & be forgotten. If you are uneasy on the matter take a portion of the 200£ & I will sign another power to make up Fred’s purchase money. It frets me exceedingly to fancy you are at any inconvenience on that score. Poor Strangeways deserved a better fate. I understood it was a sorry match but he cannot be so very badly off – his pay alone would keep them. What a breakdown for the gay, the agreeable Strangeways. It is lucky for little Abram that I was not at Wickham when he called and interupted you. I would have started him in such a double quick that he would gladly have done his best to seek A bed nego. Writing of hampers reminds me that I must soon send off another collection to Wickham & some Arrow Root to Mrs Wainwright which I will not forget. I have now reread your letter so far. You acknowledge that your dinner has renovated your spirit and Miss Collins’ wedding cake is reported upon, then Oh! my sweet Barbara appears – what would I give to be one to squeeze her hand. In the ecstasy of getting home I might muster impudence to go even beyond if you were not present. Is it possible that Capt Hawker’s sons are so advanced? I always thought Wilmot’s letters too studied to keep up the correspondence long, nevertheless he is an excellent young fellow. Augustus has not forwarded his letter nor have I heard from Fred for some time. The Sketch is made & shall be sent by some opportunity. I succeeded in making the Govr’s organ play but could not tune it. We found an old fellow from Souffrier that touched it and it gave the Govr lots of exercise – he would work at the handle for hours together. Dating my West India tour from 12 Feb 34, I shall have got thro 20 months of it 12 Oct, this being the 25th Sept. The vessel did not sail yesterday, another leaves the river in a few days when I expect the Packet due will have arrived, & then I will reply to the rest of valued correspondence. Love to them all – I read their letters over & over again until the new dispatch reaches me & then commence anew. Kate’s plan amused me exceedingly. God bless you all. Regards to Mr Hawker, Aunts & OB. Best wishes & all that’s kind to Miss P. How is Jane?

Believe me dear Kate

Your aff Fred E

My horse is a beauty, is well & impudent. Toby the dog, Moses the monkey & Tickler, a huge fellow, are in health & very entertaining, tell my two young brats, but on my return they will be young women I suppose. Remember me to the Roche Court family in the height of my esteem


My adventures at parties & intended excursion into the interior I shall give to Kate, Cara or Miss P in a few days. I am very busy in putting the Engineers’ boat in order which is nearly new but has been totally neglected, as everything else that belongs to our Dept appears to have been in Demerara.

By the same mail boat that I recd your letters, I had one from Lt A G Hamilton RA of the most amiable tenure – he expresses much regret at my departure from St Lucia.