Letter #6

letter 6

Never having been visited by Columbus or settled by the Spanish, Barbados had been a British colony since the first settlers found it uninhabited in 1624, only four years after the landfall of the Pilgrim Fathers. Its prosperity depended on sugar, which had been introduced in the seventeenth century, but which came into its own in the eighteenth. The planters were mainly of British origin. British troops had been stationed on the island from time to time since the seventeenth century, often as part of an expeditionary force for the colonisation of other islands. The only successful invasion was by the Commonwealth navy in 1651, when the island had declared allegiance to the Stuarts. There had been a permanent garrison since 1780. Bridgetown was the best fortified British garrison in the area, and Carlisle Bay was a key base for the Royal Navy. The Commanding Royal Engineer was a very important person, hence his splendid residence, Shot Hall.

                                                     Barbados 19th April 1834

My Dear Kate

I have just heard that a vessel bound to Bristol will depart from hence today. Upon the chance that it is true I shall start a few lines to report that I am well and begin to endure the heat better every day, but for the few first after landing I felt as if expiring night and day. The everlasting moisture I experienced was weakening in the extreme and most certainly it must be the most unbecoming thing to the male sex, it is bad enough in the more gentle. In fact were it not for the cold bath I think melting would be the consequence. I think in my last letter I stated that a full sized Iron 24 pounder fires close to my quarters at sun rise about ¼ before 5, upon which up I start, kill all the little warmints Blacky Edward and his master can find. You must know that the wind always sets one way – The Trade – and that the mornings and evenings are cool. From bed I bathe, take coffee, shave and dress, then over to Capt Tait’s quarters to breakfast, feed the tame Lizards & catch the wilder ones for the tamer fish, all of which requires little exertion. I then hide myself from the sun as long as it is in my power to remain quiet. However, the restless material I am made of will not admit of my taking much rest. I unpack & I repack until at last the heat overpowers & the Field Bed, now promoted to a sopha, receives me, & a napping I go as long as the vile musquitos will leave me to rest. At 12 a crust with porter, spruce beer or wine and then an attempt to write or read which generally terminates in the sopha again. However, I am shaking this off. We have had some rain today which has cooled the air & I feel now as if I could exist. The day before yesterday my tour of duty as Fd Officer commenced. Capt Tait mounted me and your unfortunate husband was nearly melted having to visit 11 or 12 guards under a broiling sun and on the roads from one to the other as white as lime can make them. The reflection you may suppose is distressing in the extreme. However, Capt Fred, as MOB calls me, was not to be so easily done – he will take a good frying before he knocks under. The night visit was more agreeable & I got over my duty with the reports attendant upon the tour better than I could have expected. Monday it comes again. The evening after dispatching your letter announcing my arrival I rode with Capt Tait about three miles on the sea shore to visit a sick Col & a Barrack Master. I did not go in but on our return the conversation turned upon his state, the difficulties he was in &c &c when it suddenly struck me from the description of his having been a gay Dragoon that it must be your old acquaintance Capt Dixings or Dickens or Diggens & so it turned out to be poor fellow, reduced to a state of wretchedness by his own imprudence, drinking & extravagance. The next time I ride out I shall call on him. The evening before last I was at a tea turn out – it shall not be so called as they always give supper. However, it was at Mrs Lacy’s the Comd Officer of Arty’s lady. The Col is absent on his inspection tour, her two daughters are nice girls. There was some singing & not bad but so faint that I began to think the heat which was excessive caused such warbling notes. One thing I am confident of – that no person could exert themselves to sing one of Kitty’s Nightflyers. Oh how I wish I could just cut this concern and be amongst my warblers again. Quadrilles were danced but I stole away having to go the rounds. They are an agreeable family. I have called on Lady Smith but have not seen her. Mrs Kay says she is a very lively person & good looking. She talks of joining Sir C Smith at St Lucia. If so he will most probable not return here for some time & may remain. Time will show. I have made up my mind to like everything if I can in order to get over this trip with spirit. You must consider this as only a chance letter & be content as I was not prepared to find a ship starting so soon. Kiss my dear girls for me & regards to Miss Parker. Let me know how my good friends at Catisfield are and shake them all by the hand bestowing kisses where expected. No packet has yet arrived & of course no letters. When you are in haste to write to me don’t send them to our office for fear they may be detained.

I shall loose my chance of the ship. A Negro waits to take my letter to the Merchant Office so adieu my dear Kate take care of yourselves. I hope to hear you have all been gay. Are the boys well? Write all you can.

Catisfield, close to Fareham and about three miles from Wickham, was the home both of English’s maternal aunt Martha O’Brien and her stepdaughter Mary, and his uncle and aunt Hawker, brother and sister-in-law of his late mother. 

Capt Dixings or Dickens or Diggins: there are several references to this unfortunate officer in the letters. He had been Barrack Master in Barbados, and had retired locally. See letter 82.