Letter #43

John Oldfield was English’s contemporary at Woolwich. He had been present at Waterloo, and was now Commanding Royal Engineer in Newfoundland with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. The two were exchanging letters; meanwhile their sons were fellow cadets. 

With the Great Reform Act safely on the statute book, the Whig administration turned its attention to the cities and towns of England and Wales, which were governed by corporations under charters often centuries old. The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 replaced these with more democratically elected town councils. 

British Guiana consisted of three former Dutch colonies, each based on a river flowing into the Atlantic: Berbice in the south-east, Demerara in the centre, and Essequibo in the north-west. The seat of government was at Georgetown, so named after George III in 1812, at the mouth of the Demerara. The trip to Mahaica and Fort Durban took English to the south-east; the tour now planned is to sail in the opposite direction past the estuary of the Essequibo to the former Dutch settlement at Capoey, then up the Pomeroon river. 

Mrs Naghten was a family friend in England and an absentee plantation owner. In letter 18 English mentions letters of introduction she has given him. Her attorney is the manager of her estate. ‘The young man’ is her son, to whom we shall be introduced shortly.

Demerara 8th Oct 1835

Nil desperandum my dear Kate, your last letter – 29th Augt recd yesterday – was a little gloomy, but ere this and long before you see this letter, I trust that some of the clouds will have disappeared. It matters little if Fred’s Regt go abroad now or twelve months hence. As to a violent General’s threats on a parade made without command of temper, they will not produce such hasty measures at the Horse Guards as he wishes to put in force. The chances are that the 35th will move in their turn and not before. If they do, Fred will benefit by the promotion so much the sooner, which will undoubtedly take place by sales &c to avoid foreign service, and if to the W Indies, it is not a twentieth part so bad as represented round the fire side of our friends in Europe. Augusto has passed I hope – my fears are not very great on that score but it may be otherwise. Still, I will not brood over the prospect of such a disappointment. If Gusto gets fair play he will pass. I must confess I am vexed to find he is in that idle lad’s clutches, young Oldfield. I observed to you before what Capt Macaulay said of him, however, age & getting up the list may have improved him. The last packet I expected would bring loads of interesting intelligence, Brevets &c. With respects to that, I think you are a little premature in desponding. That somewhat must be done for both services, Navy and Army, no doubt remains, and that our unfortunate Corps cannot be expended by old age & infirmity stands to reason. Why, in a very short period of time, the RAs or the REs will not have a man to command with a leg to stand on or an eye to lay a gun with. I am not unhappy one way or the other about it. Otherwise, that it might take me home if 25 were given, but I cannot help thinking it will end in something better than report & that a short promotion will be granted, but whilst Corporation Bills &c &c are so much the subject of John Bull’s and Lady Bull’s thoughts, what can the Army expect? Yesterday I was gratified by the Wickham newspapers, and since I wrote on the 25 or 26 Sepr, I have recd three files: 30 July, 13th August & those of yesterday 30th Augt, & I do assure you it has made another man of me, and in spite of the sameness of this place I have felt as gay as the heat will admit of. 9th: I closed my gay fit rather abruptly my dear Kate. Yesterday several persons strolled in and interrupted me, moreover I ascertained that the vessel reported as about to sail would not leave Demerara until Sunday. I will read over your three letters again before closing this, but must digress a little from my first intention of replying line by line to each, particularly to the last wherein you have given up all hope and admonish your sinner of a husband on the speculation that he merits it. What would I give my dear good Kate to have a laugh not at you but with you in your serious moments? No eldest son at Xmas, no second son in the Art or Genius can’t pass & shan’t pass, no Brevet, no husband at home to comfort me, no married daughter &c, consequently no grand-children, in fact, no, not nothing but despair for four and twenty hours, & then I trust some of these miseries will be developed and your able pen be dipped in a flowing ink. What rubbish, as dear Kitty so frequently remark after I have laughed heartily at compositions. It would occupy volumes to write you all the remarks that I have made or casual occurrences since I last wrote. My time is rather limited from circumstances. The end of the quarter you know is alway a busy time, and in this country where we ought to be at our ease, wizeacres put up their thick heads to give us ten times the work both bodily & mentally to keep us in health, thus kill men and officers by the measure. Fancy the 69 being paraded the day before yesterday – for health and exercise. I was driving with Mrs Whyte & witnessed it at 4 oclock, the most enervating hour of the day. To march out several miles in full costume, drums & Band, the poor Devils did not return until past six, when the officers had to dine heated, & the men of course run to the Canteen to drink bad Rum, the first step to their graves. & so it goes on in each Colony according to the caprice of every new Govr who arrives elated with his power. Mind you, in spite of these remarks, Sir Co & I get on well & he makes himself agreeable to all the Military, more particularly the Line, not to the Ord officers, his authority over the latter as an Engr Off is established, but some popularity is to be kept in view with the Regts, & he has just clear sense enough to act ac-cordingly. I have made a trip to Fort Durban after the Genl of that name & to Mahiaca since I wrote, both uninteresting posts, the country around as far as the eye could reach flat. The former will shortly disappear in the sea, it encroaches so rapidly. Tomorrow at seven I start in a Schooner to the Pomeron River to a wood cutting establishment belonging I believe to a Mr Carbury, where we rest for a day or two as our Hd Quarters, and proceed to the Fort of Kapuca or Copue, the extreme point of our possessions here or nearly so, but you shall have a faithful account of our adventures & I may add discoveries, for we – Lt Col Sir M Creagh 86, Capt English, Capt Halliday 86, Mr Jenkins 69th, Mr Allt & the host Mr Carbury – intend to explore the Pomeron River to its source if we can, and have laid in all the necessary ammunition for ourselves & to collect Deer, Parrots &c &c , Tiger, Cats, Alligators, Monkeys &c in which the sides of the Rivers abound. I intend to take it very easy & have packed my sketch book, intending to hear & look all but not not workey. As I shall be absent for a week or two, do not be unhappy if your letters are not so punctual as usual. We embark at 7 tomorrow morning. My letter must not be cut short & I shall reply to what comes uppermost, for it gets late. You are wrong about young Ford. I should have remained here on my first visit had I wished it. The station has been vacant since April or May last. I have been sent to take poor Thompson under my wing – it never was intended to leave a Sub here being the place of most consequence, in fact of more, after Barbados. Nevertheless I do not like it – too flat & uninteresting for me, the people partaking of the same. Tell Mrs Naghten that I dined with Mr Garnet her Attorney a few days since – a shrewd hand I guess – hospitable, I shd say exceedingly. Would you credit it, I rode in this climate dressed à la militaire 4½ English miles beset with every devil in shape of Mosquito & Sandfly at 4 oclock in the day to dine with this good man merely out of curiosity & 2ly respect for – don’t be jealous of – that interesting little Mrs Naghton, for in truth dinners are too numerous & 4½ miles out added to 4½ in with those friendly flies is no joke in this country. I was received uncommonly well, meeting half the country – called proprietors – Madame being the only lady, of Dutch extraction I shd think, an excellent soul. What square pies we had, just four times the size of this paper head & tail – very good people. But Mrs N has taken the right step, I only hope the young man has not been biased in his opinions before he leaves England. He will have a difficult game to play here amongst the old school, but every person having property in the Colony shd send an interested member of their family to look into it. I shall feel deeply interested in young Naghten’s progress. Living with all Army men, moving thro the different Colonies, heard the opinions of all parties discussed so frequently. If I do not this trip visit that spirit little woman’s estates near the Essequibo I shall very shortly. Your letter wherein you stated that Mrs Naghten looked very significantly – what a long word & my eyes are only half open – ask the little lady what her looks intended to convey. I’m at a loss unless they were, as Lady Keymes – an old fool – wished to infer. I only saw her twice; that I was ‘beloved by every person in Demerara’ – it’s all rubbish. I had very few lady acquaintances and you received accounts of all my adventures of any consequence, or that occupied my thoughts. I am rather on the look up here, in fact so I was at St Lucia – the Clergyman called! He never calls on anyone in Garrison. I have attended his Church several times, and a dinner may be the consequence. It’s an effort here beyond what you can picture to yourself – the heat is overpowering. I will now come to the finish for I am regularly done up, but if I do not now leave letter it may be three weeks before another chance may offer, as I shall be absent and such unhappy letters will follow, each keeping me in a fever. You complain of my not replying to queries in your letters. I never receive them until six weeks after they are sent off & am aware that 6 weeks or two months must elapse before my answers can reach Wickham, thus all interest would have passed. You must be content to receive, and with patience, all that is occurring or likely to occur to myself at the time I make up my dispatch. To bed I must go my dear Kate, therefore adieu. Love to my dear children, regards to Miss Parker, who shall have the promised letter, and with best regards to Mr Hawker, my Aunts & MOB. The Boxes must have been long since with you. God bless you all.

Tell the Chicks that Moses has been invited out during my absence, he is the amusement of all, notwithstanding everybody have the wretches, but Mr Moses rides my dog, never bites, is very intelligent & a perfect pet, handsome & very clean. All the time I lay & read in my Hammock, he sits at my feet talking in his way until Toby becomes jealous when a regular romp commences & an end to reading.

Your afft Fred E

Right well up to the 9th Oct 1835

I may say 10th I trust.

You seem to have offended Mj Wells – what an oddity you are my dear Kit.