Letter #83

Here we have the first indication of the friendship between English and the Rt Revd William Hart Coleridge, Anglican bishop of Barbados and the Leeward Islands. Coleridge, a nephew of the poet, had been in the West Indies since 1825, working to reposition the established church in the anti-slavery camp. Historically, the Church’s mission had been to the white population, and any change was resented by the plantocracy – see, for instance, the case referred to in the commentary on letter 23. The position was made more difficult by the fact that the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was itself a slave owner through the Codrington bequest of 1710, which included plantations with hundreds of slaves. Moreover, some clergy owned slaves. Coleridge was also a pioneer of education; by the time he left in 1842 there were 7000 children in schools in Barbados. Schomburgk, in his History of Barbados, paid this tribute: ‘The great and beneficial improvements which took place after [Coleridge’s] arrival are perhaps unparalleled in the history of the colonies’. 

The hurricane described here was the severest experienced by English during his years in the West Indies.

Shot Hall, Barbados 28th July 1837

It stricks me my dear Kate that my letter of this date may contain matter of more than ordinary interest to yourself and my dear girls, whom I have no doubt are around you anxiously endeavouring to obtain the first peep at the news from Barbados. Your letter of the 12th May came by the last Packet and cleared up several subjects of which I was in ignorance, particularly respecting Augustus, who I trust is more settled and in comfort compared to the description he gives in the letter you enclosed with the 13th June dispatch, which entertained me exceedingly, almost as much as your affront about the scolding, as you term it, that I gave you in my letter of the 19th April. It has escaped my memory to what you allude, but am confident it was not written in that temper. On reference to my journal I find that a letter was sent off on the 9 or 10 of May, consequently the Packet due when you wrote – 13 June – would convey the intelligence of my having reached this place and taken the comd. Every day since I landed my health has improved and on dit that your old husband has grown young again. Epaulettes, did you say? In a perfect fever are you my dear wife about them. What must I be then, who have no chance of getting any until next Xmas when the Seringapatam is expected? You have done for the best, but always send by Packet or merchant vessel – they are more certain as to time & destination. My badges are those of a Capt, but I suppose I look antiquated or conduct myself as a Col – all stile me as such, even the Bishop where I dined the other day, and like both his Lordship and Mrs Coldridge, the latter exceedingly, & a merry lively woman she is. You state that my excellent uncle saw Sir F Mulcaster in town, but do not give me what he said in Mr Hawker’s application. The fact is I cannot give up the Comd hastily, it is so good a thing, which they are aware of, that if I were to do so no other would be open to me for years probably. I have returned myself for the 1£ pr day Comd money as Sir C Smith had by document I found in the office. It was granted particularly to the Comd Engr in the W Indies to cover his expences in making tours thro these Colonies. If they make no objection to this, but keep it to yourselves, your finances I think may be far more easy my dear Kate, for altho my first 8 or ten months will be more than usually expensive, still a return must be consequent, thus I hope to make my cattle, sheep, hay and coconuts nearly keep me, and may calculate up 35 or 2£ pr day nearly as your share by and by. You ask me why I requested the articles were to be of the handsomest – it was not to attack you on the score of sending any thing shabby, but the trades people send off anything for the West Indies, and the wear of a second rate, altho handsome, pr of epaulettes, or work of any description, is materially different in this climate. I much want a uniform Bridle, Bit, gold laced Saddle cloth, saddle & holsters with Blue rosettes & front pieces, all of the handsomest. Don’t be offended dear Kit, but the saddle cloth shd be full sized and the lace rather broader that usually given – according to the order it looks shabby. This morning on a sudden thought I started all my baggage & took possession of Shot Hall where I am now writing, the paint being dry without any disagreeable smell. The room now in my occupation is what my predecessor used as the dining hall & a sweet pretty room it is, 38 ft by 17, adding to bow of 10 ft towards the sea with three windows to the ground opening on a lawn & garden. The floor newly painted, indeed the whole room, but the former in squares of black & white marble to correspond to the Halls that open from it, laid with real marble. The room is stone colour, picked out with light blue – it was not my taste but I do not dislike it. This [sketch] is a sorry attempt of the bow or bay end of the room. My steel pen will not work and time is too precious. I was sure you would like Capt Tait – remember me to him & say I met young Mr Critchlow at Mr Dean’s dinner yesterday, he comdg the bodyguards here. Regards also to Reed. I told Mr Critchlow that a packet would be with his friend in the country near this about Xmas. Another Brevet – oh no dear Kit, that will not be I think. The Queen’s accession to the thrown never will be forgotten here – such a week of excitement I never have witnessed unless with the Army in the field, but I must go to diner & will write all this tomorrow morning.

29 July, Saturday morning: when walking on the sand at the end of the garden about seven this morning, the signal was made for the Packet Lyra, three days or more before her time. The letters are not yet distributed, but will I think in time to be acknowledged & before the English Mail is made up at 2 today – she sails this afternoon. But to give you an account of the 23, 24, 25 and 26th Inst – 23rd at Breakfast time a Ship of War with the Pennant ½ mast was observed making for the Bay & the news that William the 4th was gathered to his fathers was soon spread. Shortly after the news was known, minute guns were fired from the ship and the salute to Queen Victoria. On shore we gave the minute guns, the salute being defered. During our dinner, a noble little middy 12 years old and about two feet nothing came to our mess with a file of newspapers with Capt Nixon’s comp. We were all delighted with the little manly fellow. This day ended in numerous surmises & conjectures anxiously looking for the orders of the following days’ movements. The same evening I rode to Enmore where all the Navy & Army meet, and there was introduced to Capt Nixon, an old friend of Charles’s. He and his officers were engaged to dine at our mess on Monday. All this day we were kept on the alert, every instant or sound of bugle expecting to be turned out. The Navy bucks dined with Col Tyler & others to meet them and a jolly feast they made after their voyage. Some very gentlemanly young fellow & the Capt who took his breakfast with me, a lively pleasant sort of a chap. The orders came out this evening for full dress at King’s House, fire, smoke, powder, Govr Genl, Staff, officers of Garrison, civil, military, un-civil or un-military, Council &c &c, in short all the world of Barbados to congregate at ¼ to 12. The salutes over & authorities sworn in, we dispersed to meet again at ½ past 5 – Grand parade of all the Garrison. How is this man come from the post office but no letters from Wickham? Many official but no private – this is truly vexatious. After fagging in a broiling sun all the day, we mounted to enjoy a sultry evening for 2 hours when I started to dine with Col Tyler to meet a Col Turner and his lady landed from a trading Steamer & on their way to Jamaica. He is to fill Adjt Genl’s or Quart M Genl’s berth there. We set in the gallery late chatting when the fire Bell was heard at a distance. The servants immediately run in stating that Bridgetown was in a blaze. I had ordered my horse for homeward steering and was in my saddle in a minute when a good Gallope soon brought me, one of the first of the Military, into the thick of it, when of course, aided by detachments rapidly arriving of jolly 76, 65 and 36 with Engines & R Artillery, we did exert ourselves, and probably the greater portion of the town of little England was saved at the expence of 5 or 6 houses, some of them good uns. This cost me a red jacket, a glorious wetting, much thirst and loss of a few hours’ sleep, but on the whole did one more good than evil. On my return, it was about 3 oclock, we had had much rain all night, and I had observed to my sert when dressing for dinner, ‘Does not that sky look like a hurricane?’ It was wild and sultry & there was not a breath of air scarcely. In a half sleep I heard the fire bell again, but concluding it was merely the old one breaking out with the breeze then rising, and no turn out sounding, I dropped off until again awoke by the most terrific & continued thunder, not a single clap or two but constant rolling – I must not extend my description or the paper will fail. The rain fell in torrent & the wind encreased until trees fell, houses were barricaded and all expected to see them levelled. However, about 11 or 12 oclock the gale was more moderate. During this period almost every vessel was driven on shore to the number of 22 or 23, amongst others I am sorry to say poor Tinling’s fine steamer is one – she actually dragged the Duke of York’s mooring with her. The Merchant’s steamer went to sea & escaped as Tinling would have done, but in preparation for the Packet was mending his boiler & could not get the steam on her at the moment. One hour later & the repair would have been compleated. It is hoped she may yet be got off, having a fine sandy beach to lay on. The others all went on the rocks, many went to pieces immediately. Luckily the Gannet rode it out altho she was evidently dragging her anchor fast, and the Ringdove sailed out tuesday evening about 5 oclock. One large Merchant vessel only rode out the gale. Another, the Britannia, sprang a leak and could not be saved from sinking by the pumps, full of sugar. She has been towed on shore by the steamer that returned when the gale subsided. By the bye, the Packet rode the gale. The Garrison were again turned out and waded along the reef of rocks to the edge of the surf which broke over the masts of the unfortunate wrecks leaving to our view the poor fellows who were still alive clinging to the rigging. After numerous trials and many casualties such as bruises &c, the soldiers continued to cast a line to the three last of the poor sailors who were nearly exhausted & they were got ashore amidst thundering cheers as loud or more so than the vile breakers that were tumbling on the rocks. Every description of cargo, cordage & timbers – oh, such a scene such as ever I have heard, of wrecks, but fancy if you can, a bay crowded with lost ships, many tumbled one upon the other. I fear many lives have been lost & property to several 100,000£. The Govr Sir Gregor did his part like a soldier &, mounted with some few, remained all day in the surf at the very edge of the breakers at the most dangerous part of the reef, urging the men to exertion. He did not leave until the last man was got on shore. His situation was the more perilous from the spars, casks & wreck thrown past by every swell or waves that struck the vessels on shore. I thought his horse would have been carried away. I hear there are flowing thanks to the Army for their assistance at the fire, I have not yet seen them. Capt Pierson, now in the 89th, formerly at Demerara in the 86, I mentioned him, swam ashore & returned for his wife with a rope & plank, saved her but lost his all. I introduced him to the Storekeeper whose lady has clothed her & they now stay there. It is still a dismal scene. You will be fatigued with reading such a long account. I still hope to get a letter from you as the orderly state all the letters are not given out. Send me garden seeds, particularly lettuce, onions, all sorts of sallad &c &c. I breakfasted on my porcelain this morning for the first time. Love to my dear children & regards to my Uncle & all at Catisfield. The Box for me & one for Mr Critchlow have just been delivered from the Packet to the care of Capt Plumridge RN. I have opened the top only. The Blue rosettes shd be dark, the co of our facings. Thanks, thanks, no time to spare. I like all the presents much but have no space to add more. All well 30th July. Your aff Fred.

Red ink starts here

The Packet did not sail yesterday owing to damage from the hurricane. I suppose thus I have had time to look over the contents of the box. The Epaulettes are just the thing, the shirts look exceedingly good – I have not yet tried them. The Net will answer very well & will last longer than the patent net, but I fear it will be warm. The ginger bread nuts in tin excellent, those in paper dehor and nearly damaged the other things. The purse I admire & value exceedingly. I filled the ends with 2 dollar pieces immediately. The Black handf I wanted but you do not purchase the right sort, the Blue Black glazed – the colour alway comes out with perspiration and stains the shirt and neck. They do not last. I got two opposite the Royal Exchange which I have still. I cannot enumerate all the little presents, but Miss P’s soap, the little piece of china now filled with Pomgranate blossoms, the watch guard, the drawings, the Braces, much wanted, but the ends should be broad, 1½ inch. The strippers, drawings and hearts ease & particularly Trig’s hair & Crab’s Do, all, all very acceptable & I feel much obliged. I sadly want a gay gentele piece of Furniture to cover my sophas & Muslin for drawing room curtains such as we had at Weedon. We pay so extravagantly dear here & of such bad quality. Thank the Miss Gardiners for their kind assistance in my behalf. Kiss the dear for me all round – how I shd like to do so myself! The letter from Barbara & sisters said or conveyed so much about Fred that I suspect one is rather more than fond of him and sealed it probably that you might not quiz her; more likely it was accidental. I am anxious to learn he has arrived safe. If Sir F Mulcaster said so much to Mr Hawker, the chances are that I shall get a good berthe on my return to Europe. How often I wish for you. After breakfast I went thro the grounds to collect flowers and though for a moment some my dear dear party were going to decorate my rooms. The orderly has come for this letter so adieu dear Kate. The arrival of the Box has in some measure made up for the disappointment of not receiving letters. When the Preserved Ginger does arrive, make my Coz’s eyes water with it but not their sweet mouths. ‘Hee Massa Buckra, wot dee mak of dat?’ Tomorrow I dine with 65 Regt to meet the Genl & wed at Adjt Genl for the same. We have had much feasting of late. My farm increases rapidly. Again adieu

And believe me

 Your afft Fred

The last part of this letter, from ‘The Packet did not sail yesterday…’ is written in red ink between the lines of the first two sides, suggesting it was added on 31 July.

The king died on 20 June; the news reached Barbados in 33 days. 

Trig – see letter 52 – and Crab were dogs at Wickham. 

Buckra is a word used by slaves to mean a white person.