Letter #93

‘The Steam Bridge going to Southton’ was the new Woolston floating bridge carrying the road from Portsmouth to Southampton over the estuary of the river Itchen. Opened in 1836, a steam powered chain ferry was built in preference to a swing bridge to minimise interference with river navigation. Steam was used until 1967; it was replaced by a concrete bridge in 1977. English’s request for the plans suggests that he may have had an idea for building a similar structure in the West Indies, possibly at the mouth of the Demerara river – see letter 74 – but we hear no more of it.

Xmas day my dear Kate: I trust you are all passing the season joyously. If I were but with you, how happy it would make me. Within the last quarter of an hour I have almost decided in my own mind that it would be better you were here and could fancy each of the party enjoying this lovely morning & your various employments. At four I was awoke by Sambo & his snowball companions chanting most merrily on the high road passing Shot Hall & proceeding towards the town, & at each screech adding numbers to their party. From that hour until past six., fiddles, drums, tom toms or tong tongs have been tuning away. The morning was superb with a moon as bright as day, the sky deep cobalt, and each star so brilliant the eye could scarcely fix on the smallest, the sea calm and of the most exquisite ultra marine, the air delightfully cool but so still that hardly a leaf of the numerous tropical trees were in motion. To enjoy such a scene one need have those most loved around you, and much my dear Kate did I wish for you all to fill these tasty and spacious rooms. The first object that caught my attention on going past the servants’ rooms to bathe was Phillip, with a grave face at a dead point over a huge round of beef. ‘Hollo, what’s that?’ ‘The man has sent the beef.’ ‘I don’t dine at home – am engaged at Enmore.’ ‘What’s to be done?’ ‘Can’t you salt it?’ I have made myself agreeable to a jolly looking fellow here, the picture of health whom I always chat to when passing each other, my attention being first attracted by his truly English appearance. He is head butcher to an Establishment & has thought nothing could be so useful on Xmas day to another fat jolly looking Englishman as a fine round of beef. He has deposited the same in the Shot Hall kitchen. This long story shd not have appeared in black & white to cross the Atlantic, but the potter reminded me of home. I thought of you, of old Jane, all collected under such a circumstance, consulting, salting, &c &c. However, to close the tale, Phillip took Jane’s place & decided that as Capt Leith, Hon John Reed of Demerara, Lt Col Tyler, Mr Mic McClhery & Mr James McClhery, with whom I dine today, are to be here at ½ past six tomorrow, the said would be a capital dish – thus it rests. I had scarcely said ‘Very well, yes, that will answer right well’ when the Black man who takes care of the cattle & sheep was at my back. ‘Massa, anoder [word missing] lamb sar las night.’ What with duty and the variety of amusement I have cut out for myself, the days pass rapidly, but I do feel lonely at times, particularly this morning in wandering thro the rooms, I thought ‘When shall I pass a Xmas with my family?’ How busy Kate would be arranging the roses & distributing them to her friends, guarding the flower beds from Cara’s broods of chickens, which in their youthful state I allow to run at large out of the stock yard & are now in hosts. These and a beautiful tame Deer brought me from St Domingo with the land crabs that are penned to fatten would occupy much of that little cat’s time in the cool of the morning and evening. Annie & Isabella would I am sure take much interest in the English lady pigs bought from the Sovereign transport, family of six, & the others of various sizes, some bought, others presents. These, with the rabits, pigeons and Guinea pigs, would employ some of their time. Miss Parker would be scolding them all for going out in the sun, overlooking the museum, which has recd various contributions of Antigua, petrifications or incrustations, indian clubs &c &c. Isabella would of course be well amused in her endeavours to reestablish the two cats who have departed since the Newfoundland dogs, Nelson and Nero, took up their home here. Jane would enjoy a good grumble looking over master’s drawers. I have been intercepted dear Kate by the Hon John Reed’s carriage driving up. He is a very superior person and has been brought under your notice before when I went to Berbice to break up & sell the Sawmill Establishment. He has just returned with his family from England, found his father in law departed here leaving them two fine estates. These added to his own in Demerara make him a person of large revenue. He has said adieu & I now resume my scribbling. My dinner party will resemble somewhat of a pic nic, or as termed here a Maroon, for I must borrow silver forks and dishes of my kind hearted old friend Tyler, who I pay off with all sorts of good things when he entertains, from my crabbery, garden & net. Thus to make you laugh – the beef – I’ve just seen it – looks lovely, the Tomato for the soup, out of my garden, superb, the fish are, as Corpl Somebody R I Mines used to say, are in hembrio – I shll draw the net before daybreak tomorrow. The turkey is told off in the farm yard, & probably a Guinea fowl or two. I have just had a grumble to Mr Reed that you are not all with me. The Mess comes so high on the Stranger day that I mean, when forced to make a return, to call the Farm into requisition. Post time draws near, orderly informs me. I suppose you have returned to Catisfield unless Gusto is with you. I am delighted with his letter and intended to reply to it from Antigua, however that trip is posponed for a short time. In fact I think so many had applied for a passage that Capt Leith was glad to have some excuse for delay. Henry Naghten is very well and happy – remember me to his agreeable Mother. Poor Lt Owen comdg the Carron who I saw on board his vessel & bid good by to, is now, I believe, dead. When the Flamer touched at that Island, Antigua, where she went for repair, he was given over. Lt Tinling has returned with his steamer from thence after great exertions on his part and great credit gained; he has anchored here with his vessel and machinery renovated. He takes the next Mail to Jamaica. Am happy my comd money is settled. This will enable you at all events to draw a Lt Col double pay, and next year I intend to live for a little. My stock must keep me & I seldom go to Mess. [word missing] dinner does not agree with me – one has to dress in the middle of the hot day to be in time. A day or two after dispatching my last letter, the Harpy returned from Sierra Leone. I went on board to call on Lt Clement comdg on her departure. When alongside, the off who came to receive me looked so melancholy that I suspected something was wrong. So soon as on the quarter deck I asked for Clement. The answer was ‘dead, Sir, the Dr dead, another off also and 18 or 20 men & every man in the ship had been suffering with yellow fever. I do not know when I felt so shocked. They had only 15 hands, officers, boys & all, to bring the Brig in, and all looked like as risen from the dead, & poor Owen I regret sincerely. The fever is passing by at Demerara – I had a letter from Col Monins lately. Love to MOB, and how is Capt Tait, Col Reid & Gradon? – Regards to them. Nothing has occurred out of the usual routine. I have dined at several houses, the Govr’s and Genl, but there is no interesting matter to be obtained at those parties. Saddle &c not arrived. Love to Gusto, Fred & my dear dear Girls. Tell Kate to send me a plan & section of the Steam Bridge going to Southton. What has become of the double harness? Pack it and send it out here – it will sell well here if you don’t want it. On reading your troubles I exclaimed exactly as you thought I would: ‘Poor dear Kit!’ I now wish I was with you but hope all will go right my good Kit. Regards to my Uncle and Aunts & love to all, accept the most sincere from yours.

Fred E