People in the West Indies

Mr Albany was the proprietor of a plantation in Demerara with whom English became friendly. Letter 22 has an account of a visit to his home, with a little about the sugar industry. Letter 24 tells of a steam engine Albany is using, allowing a substantial reduction in manpower. Letter 38 reports that he and his family have returned to England. 

Captain Henry Briscoe RE, an Irishman, arrived in Barbados in May 1837 with his wife, six children, servants, a dog, a canary and a grand piano (letter 77). Sadly, by August he had died of yellow fever (letter 86). 

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Bunbury 67th Regiment arrived in Demerara in May 1836, grown fat since English had last seen him in Ipswich (letter 55). Promoted to Colonel, he became Governor of St Lucia in 1837 (letter 73), and, ‘now so stout that he can hardly stand’ (letter 98) Acting Governor of British Guiana on the death of Sir James Carmichael-Smyth. 

Major-General Sir James Carmichael-Smyth Bt became a colonial governor following a distinguished military career, in which he had served in the Royal Engineers from 1795 to 1828. He had been on Wellington’s staff at Waterloo, and in 1823 he was commissioned to report on military establishments in the West Indies. He was transferred from the governorship of the Bahamas to British Guiana shortly before English’s arrival. A determined opponent of slavery, he had outlawed flogging female slaves in the Bahamas. He was firm in implementing the Emancipation Act in British Guiana in the face of hostile opposition from planters. Historians paint him as a successful governor, skilfully handling a difficult situation, so why did English, and, he claimed, most others, dislike him? The nickname ‘Sir Comical’, perhaps coined by Sir Charles Smith (letter 22) suggests pomposity – ‘overbearing haughty conduct’ (letter 68) – but his interference in engineering matters, not surprising in view of his long and distinguished record in that field, must have been the prime cause of friction. English’s loyalty was to Sir Charles Smith, who had long been at loggerheads with the governor (letter 70). Moreover, Smyth tried to force English into garrison duties and transferred land belonging to the Board of Ordnance, neither of which he was entitled to do, and he caused English to spend a lot of his time building an extension to his residence.

Smyth died in office after three days’ illness on 4 March 1838, aged 59. 

Right Reverend William Hart Coleridge was the man picked to steer the Anglican Church through the troubled waters of slave emancipation. A nephew of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was consecrated first bishop of Barbados and the Leeward Islands in 1824 and held that office for eighteen years. Traditionally, the Anglicans had ministered to the white population, while local opposition to slavery had been led by Baptist and Methodist missions. It was not unknown for an Anglican clergyman to be a slave owner, and, in 1710, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had been bequeathed the Codrington estates, including hundreds of slaves. In 1827, following a petition from his parishioners in St Lucy’s, Barbados, the Revd W M Harte was found guilty by magistrates of misdemeanour for ‘inculcating doctrines of equality’ and administering Holy Communion to slaves. The bishop secured a royal pardon for him.

On 1 August 1834, the day of emancipation, Coleridge addressed a congregation of 4,000, three-quarters of them freed slaves. He wrote: ‘Such was the order, the deep attention, and perfect silence, that you might have heard a pin drop’. Sadly, there is no first-hand account in the letters – English was in St Lucia.

Coleridge and English were of an age, so, with similar views on the burning issue of the day, it is not surprising that they became friends soon after the Colonel’s return to Bridgetown in May 1837 (letter 83). Letter 107 tells of the party given at Shot Hall for the Coleridges as they left for home leave in August 1838.

Coleridge’s legacy was a transformation of the church’s ministry to include all races. The number of clergy was doubled, and the numbers of schools and pupils increased tenfold. 

James Crichlow was a planter with whom English was friendly. He was the attorney, or estate manager, for an absentee owner, Sir Francis Ford Bt. Captain Tait was interested in his daughter; he sent her a dog (letter 96). 

Colonel Diggens had been known to the Englishes in an earlier posting. He had been barrack master in Barbados, but was now retired and had fallen on hard times. English found him ‘reduced to a state of wretchedness by his own imprudence, drinking & extravagance’ (letter 6), and in letter 15, ‘I called on Col Diggens and found a miserable broken down gentlemanly person with a host of black brats crawling about, not his own.’ 

Baron D’Yvoley was a French planter in St Lucia who invited English to spend a weekend on his estate in May 1835 (letter 33). St Lucia had changed hands between the French and British many times since the first European settlements in the seventeenth century; it was ceded to Britain after the fall of Napoleon in 1814. The French community remained, and, as an aristocrat, the Baron may well have felt safer there than in revolutionary France. However, he returned to Bordeaux, where he also had property, in June 1835. 

Lieutenant-Colonel George Graydon, RE: ‘We fancy here that Graydon will be the man’, wrote English in February 1839 (letter 118), when he was more than ready to come home and looking out for someone to relieve him, and he was right. He had been a Lieutenant-Colonel since 1829, and had apparently been CRE Portsmouth. His time in Barbados would be short: he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of St Lucia in 1841. 

Sir Dudley St Leger Hill CB was installed as Lieutenant-Governor of St Lucia in July 1834 (letter 15). English described him as a ‘consummate noodle’ (letter 19). 

Major-General Sir Evan John Murray MacGregor replaced Sir Lionel Smith as Governor of Barbados and the Windward Islands in 1836. He had served in the Peninsula and India, where he had been severely wounded, and he had been Governor of Dominica and Antigua. English found him easy to work with: ‘A long chat there on various subjects, very agreeable’ (letter 91), and praised his handling of the relief work at the hurricane of 26 July 1837 (letters 83 and 87). The contrast between the report on the prison in Bridgetown by Sturge and Harvey, who visited it in November 1836, and the report of Captain Pringle one year later suggests that Sir Evan championed a more humane approach to the treatment of the local population. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Eaton Monins 69th Regiment arrived in Demerara with his wife in February 1836 to take command of the Regiment. His troops suffered severely from fever (letter 82), the Colonel himself was laid low (letter 94), and by letter 106 they had been moved to Barbados. His return to England is reported in letter 115.

Captain John Watson (Johnny) Pringle RE, an old messmate who had known the Englishes in Ireland (letter 110), appeared at English’s quarters at breakfast time one day in October 1837 (letter 89) on a mission to report to the home government on the state of prisons in the West Indies. His report was published as a parliamentary paper in 1838 (see Further Reading). 

Captain James Hunter Rutherfurd RE, an officer English had known in Scotland, was transferred in 1838 from Grenada to be Resident Engineer, and English’s deputy, in Barbados (letter 90). They got on well in both work and leisure, both having left their families in England. Rutherfurd was a member of the party touring the islands with General Whittingham in March and April 1839. In the following month he became ill, and was given permission to return to England on the same ship as the Colonel. 

Lieutenant-Colonel (Colonel from 1837 and later Lieutenant-General) Sir Charles Felix Smith, RE had been Commanding Royal Engineer in Bridgetown since 1823. When English arrived in April 1834, Smith summoned him to St Lucia where he was Acting Governor (letter 8). Smith had passed through Woolwich five years earlier than English. He was knighted for his service in the Peninsula, where he was injured. He was also army commander in the West Indies until the arrival of General Whittingham. He groomed English to succeed him, which he did in May 1837 (letter 77). Smith became CRE Gibraltar; in 1856 he was appointed Colonel-Commandant of the corps of Royal Engineers. 

Major-General Sir Lionel Smith Bt was Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Windward and Leeward Islands from 1833 to 1836, when he was transferred to the Governorship of Jamaica (letter 60). The reference to him as ‘now the Governor Genl of all the Colonies’ (letter 36) is misleading; it may refer to his command of the army. Letter 54 suggests that he was unpopular with both civilians and the military.

Lieutenant Leicester Viney Smith RE: at first English liked this young officer (letter 8), but he soon found him irritating: ‘he is a bad wretched animal to say the best of him’ (letter 111). He took part in amateur theatricals (letter 81). He left the West Indies in April 1838 (letter 99). 

Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Ford Whittingham, known as Sir Samford, though seventeen years his senior, was English’s closest friend in the West Indies; they breakfasted and dined together frequently. Whittingham had served with distinction in both the Spanish and British armies in the Peninsula for which he was knighted. He had been Governor of Dominica from 1819 to 1822, after which he was in India until 1835. He arrived in the West Indies in February 1837 leaving his Spanish wife and large family, apart from his son and ADC Ferdinand, in England. English was in Demerara so they did not meet until May: ‘I have to attend the General Sir S F Wittingham’s Levée’ (letter 77). At first, English felt the challenge of a new broom: ‘The General keeps us all on the move here. I shall have some battles to fight to establish my authority’ (letter 79, English’s emphasis), but they were soon meeting frequently and informally, and English was very much in the General’s confidence: ‘I am become as one of the Genl’s family, that is to say I dine with him & his two ADCs twice or more pr week’ (letter 104). He accompanied the General on two tours of the islands in February 1838 (letter 97) and March 1839 (letters 121 and 122). ‘The Genl has proposed himself to breakfast to bring his own Maps of India around – Cabul, Herat &c, and to have a regular morning’s chat over the Military affairs at this moment so interesting in that country.’ (letter 124) This event, as English was preparing to leave for home, suggests that the General knew that he was about to return to India. He left the West Indies a few weeks after our Colonel to become Commander-in-Chief, Madras Presidency, where he died in 1841. In the box containing the letters to Kate, there is a letter from Whittingham to English dated just after letter 124, recalling naval and military operations against the French during the Napoleonic Wars, and inviting opinions ‘as regards the necessity of combined operations in the defence of these Islands’. 

Doctor Whyte was the medical officer for the 69th Regiment at Demerara, and he had his wife and three young children with him. We first meet them when English stands godfather for the youngest, Frederick English Whyte (letter 41). In letter 45, English asked his daughters to make a garment for his godson, but it failed to materialise (letter 107). Whyte treated English when he caught a fever, probably a worse attack than he admitted in his letters home (letters 74 and 76). Seeing this family suffering from inadequate accommodation (letter 47) and frequent sickness, English arranged for them to be moved to St Kitts (letters 81 and 82). Letter 98 tells how the family, now with four children, were sent home with a shipload of ‘widows, invalids, orphans and sick’.