The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans 1814-1815
Rev. G. R. Gleig, M.A.,
Chaplain-General to the forces;
Author of 'The Subaltern'; 'Story of the Battle of Waterloo'; 'Life of Lord Clive'; 'Life of Sir Thomas Munro', etc.
New Edition 1879
The following Narrative contains, it is believed, the only connected and authentic account, which has yet been given, of the expedition directed against Washington and New Orleans, towards the close of the late American war. It has been compiled, not from memory alone, but from a journal kept by the author whilst engaged in the enterprise; and as the adventures of each were faithfully noted down as they occurred, and such remarks made upon passing events as suggested themselves to his mind at the moment, the public may rely with confidence upon general correctness of the details. The issues of the expedition were not, indeed, of the most gratifying nature, but it is hoped that a plain relation of the proceedings of those to whom it was intrusted, will not, on that account, prove uninteresting; whilst nothing can be more evident than that the portion of our history which it embraces ought not to be overlooked because it is little conducive to the encouragement of national vanity. It was chiefly, indeed, upon this account, as well as with a view to redeem from an oblivion which they hardly merit, the actions and sufferings of a few brave men, that the Narrative now submitted to the public was written.
CHAPTER I. Cessation of Hostilities—Expected Embarkation for America—Encampment near Passages—March towards Bordeaux-Anglet. . .
CHAPTER II. Bayonne—St. Etienne—March through Bayonne, to Ondres
CHAPTER III. Les Landes—March to Bordeaux—Bordeaux—Macan—La Moe—At Sea
At Sea—St. Michael's—Villa Franca . . .
St Michael's—Ponto del Gada—At Sea .
Bermuda . . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER VII. America—The Chesapeake—The Partuxent—St. Benedicts . . .
CHAPTER VIII. Nottingham—Marlborough . . . .
CHAPTER IX. March to Washington—Bladensburg . .
CHAPTER X. Washington . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XI. Washington—Bladensburg—Marlborough-St Benedicts . . . . . .
CHAPTER XII. Alexandria—The Patuxent—The Patapsco . . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XIII. March—Attack—Halt . . . . .
CHAPTER XIV. March—Halt—Search—March—Rally—Halt . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XV. The Patuxent—The Potomac—The Chesapeake—At Sea—The West Indies . . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XVI. The West Indies—Port Royal—Kingston—Jamaica—The Blue Mountains
CHAPTER XVII. The Blue Mountains—Port Royal—Negril Bay . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XVIII. At Sea—New Orleans—Lake Borgne—Pine Island . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XIX. Pine Island—The Lake—Landing—March—Halt . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XX. Halt—Attack—Field of Battle-Hospital . . . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XXI. Advance—Attack—March—Attack—Retreat—Preparations . . . . .
CHAPTER XXII. Attack—Retreat—Pause—Attack—Re-embarkation . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XXIII The Camp—Preparations for Retreat—Retreat—Halt . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XXIV. The Lake—Mobile—Siege—Peace—Havannah . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER XXV. Havannah—Remarks . . . . .
THE BRITISH ARMY
WASHINGTON AND NEW ORLEANS.
A REVOLUTION must occur in the condition and sentiments of mankind more decided than we have any reason to expect that the lapse of ages will produce, before the mighty events which distinguished the spring of 1814 shall be spoken of in other terms than those of unqualified admiration. It was then that Europe, which during so many years had groaned beneath the miseries of war, found herself at once, and to her remotest recesses, blessed with the prospect of a sure and permanent peace. Princes, who had dwelt in exile till the very hope of restoration to power began to depart from them, beheld themselves unexpectedly replaced on the thrones of their ancestors; dynasties, which the will of one man had erected, disappeared with the same abruptness with which they had arisen; and the influence of changes which a quarter of a century of rapine and conquest had produced in the arrangements of general society, ceased, as if by magic, to be felt, or at least to be acknowledged. It seemed, indeed, as if all which had been passing during the last twenty or thirty years, had passed not in reality, but in a dream; so perfectly unlooked for were the issues of a struggle, to which, whatever light we may regard it, the history of the whole world presents no parallel.
At the period above alluded to, it was the writer's fortune to form one of a body of persons in whom the unexpected cessation of hostilities may be supposed to have excited sensations more powerful and more mixed than those to which the common occurrences of life are accustomed to give birth. He was then attached to that portion of the Peninsular army to which the siege of Bayonne had been intrusted; and on the 28th of April beheld, in common with his comrades, the tri-coloured flag, which, for upwards of two months, had waved defiance from the battlements, give place to the ancient drapeau blanc of the Bourbons. That such a spectacle could be regarded by any British soldier without stirring up in him strong feelings of national pride and exultation, is not to be imagined. I believe, indeed, that there was not a man in our ranks, however humble his station, to whose bosom these feelings were a stranger. But the excitation of the moment having passed away, other and no less powerful feelings succeeded; and they were painful, or the reverse, according as they ran in one or other of the channels into which the situations and prospects of individuals not unnaturally guided them. By such as had been long absent from their homes, the idea of enjoying once more the society of friends and relatives, was hailed with a degree of delight too engrossing to afford room for the occurrence of any other anticipations; to those who had either no homes to look to, or had quitted them only a short time ago, the thoughts of revisiting England came mixed with other thoughts, little gratifying, because at variance with all their dreams of advancement and renown. For my own part I candidly confess, that though I had just cause to look forward to a return to the bosom of my family with as much satisfaction as most men, the restoration of peace excited in me sensations of a very equivocal nature. At the age of eighteen, and still enthusiastically attached to my profession, neither the prospect of a reduction to half-pay, nor the expectation of a long continuance in a subaltern situation, were to me productive of any pleasurable emotions; and hence, though I entered heartily into all the arrangements by which those about me strove to evince their gratification at the glorious termination of the war, it must be acknowledged that I did so, without experiencing much of the satisfaction with the semblance of which my outward behaviour might be marked.
EXPECTED EMBARKATION FOR AMERICA.
Such being my own feelings, and the feelings of the great majority of those immediately around me, it was but natural that we should turn our views to the only remaining quarter of the globe in which the flame of war still continued to burn. Though at peace with France, England, we remembered; was not yet at peace with the United States; and reasoning, not as statesmen but as soldiers, we concluded that she was not now likely to make peace with that nation till she should be able to do so upon her own terms. Having such an army on foot, what line of policy could appear so natural or so judicious as that she should employ, if not the whole, at all events a large proportion of it, in chastising an enemy, than whom none had ever proved more vindictive or more ungenerous? Our view of the matter accordingly was, that some fifteen or twenty thousand men would be forthwith embarked on board of ship and transported to the other side of the Atlantic; that the war would there be carried on with a vigour conformable to the dignity and resources of the country which waged it; and that no mention of peace would be made till our general should be in a situation to dictate its conditions in the enemy's capital.
Whether any design of the kind was ever seriously entertained, or whether men merely asserted as a truth what they earnestly desired to be such, I know not; but the white flag had hardly been hoisted on the citadel of Bayonne, when a rumour became prevalent that an extensive encampment of troops, destined for the American war, was actually forming in the vicinity of Bordeaux. A variety of causes led me to anticipate that the corps to which I was attached would certainly be employed upon that service. In the progress of the war which had been just brought to a conclusion, we had not suffered so severely as many other corps; and though not excelling in numbers, it is but justice to affirm that a more effective or better organized battalion could not be found in the whole army. We were all, moreover, from our commanding officer down to the youngest ensign, anxious to gather a few more laurels, even in America; and we had good reason to believe that those in power were not indisposed to gratify our inclinations. Under these circumstances we clung with fondness to the hope that our martial career had not yet come to a close; and employed the space which intervened between the eventful 28th of April and the 8th of the following month, chiefly in forming guesses as to the point of attack towards which it was likely that we should be turned.
ENCAMPMENT NEAR PASSAGES.
Though there was peace between the French and British nations, the form of hostilities was so far kept up between the garrison of Bayonne and the army encamped around it, that it was only by an especial treaty that the former were allowed to send out parties for the purpose of collecting forage and provisions from the adjacent country. The foraging parties, however, being permitted to proceed in any direction most convenient to themselves, the supplies of corn and grass, which had heretofore proved barely sufficient for our own horses and cattle, soon began to fail, and it was found necessary to move more than one brigade to a distance from the city. Among others, the brigade of which my regiment formed a part, received orders on the 7th of May to fall back on the road towards Passages. These orders we obeyed on the following morning; and after an agreeable march of fifteen or sixteen miles, pitched our tents in a thick wood, about half-way between the village of Bedart and the town of St. Jean de Luz. In this position we remained for nearly a week, our expectations of employment on the other side of the Atlantic becoming daily less and less sanguine, till at length all doubts on the subject were put an end to by the sudden arrival of a dispatch, which commanded us to set out with as little delay as possible towards Bordeaux.
It was on the evening of the 14th that the route was received, and on the following morning, at daybreak, we commenced our march. The country through which we moved had nothing in it, unconnected with past events, calculated in any extraordinary degree to attract attention. Behind us, indeed, rose the Pyrenees in all their grandeur, forming, on that side, a noble boundary to the prospect; and on our left was the sea, a boundary different it is true in kind, though certainly not less magnificent. But, excepting at these two extremities, there was nothing in the landscape on which the eye loved particularly to rest, because the country, though pretty enough, has none of that exquisite richness and luxuriance which we had been led to expect as characteristic of the South of France. The houses, too, being all in a ruinous and dilapidated condition, reminded us more forcibly of the scenes of violence and outrage which had been lately acted among them, than of those ideas of rural contentment and innocence which various tales and melodramas had taught us to associate in our own minds with thoughts of the land of the vine.
MARCH TOWARDS BORDEAUX
Regarded, however, in connexion with past events, the scene was indeed most interesting; though to a stranger fresh from England—a man, we will suppose, of retired and peaceful habits, I can readily imagine that it would have been productive of much pain; for on each side of the road, in whatever direction we cast our eyes, and as far as the powers of vision extended, we beheld cottages unroofed and in ruins, chateaux stripped of their doors and windows, gardens laid waste, the walls demolished, and the fruit-trees cut down; whole plantations levelled, and vineyards trodden under foot. Here and there, likewise, a redoubt or breastwork presented itself; whilst caps, broken firelocks, pieces of clothing, and accoutrements scattered about in profusion, marked the spots where the strife had been most determined, and where many a fine fellow had met his fate. Our journey lay over a field of battle, through the entire extent of which the houses were not only thoroughly gutted (to use a vulgar but most expressive phrase), but for the most part were riddled with cannon-shot. Round some of the largest, indeed, there was not a wall nor a tree which did not present evident proofs of its having been converted into a temporary place of defence, whilst the deep ruts in what had once been lawns and flower-gardens, showed that all their beauty had not protected them from being destroyed by the rude passage of heavy artillery.
Immediately beyond the village of Bedart such spectacles were particularly frequent. It was here, it may be remembered, that in the preceding month of December there had been fighting for four successive days; and the number of little hillocks now within our view; from under most of which legs and arms were beginning to show themselves, as well as the other objects which I have attempted to describe, sufficiently attested the obstinacy with which that fighting had been maintained.
In the bosom of a man of peace it is very conceivable that all this would have excited feelings exceedingly painful; in ours, such feelings were overborne by others of a very different nature. If we gazed with peculiar interest upon one hovel more than upon another, it was because some of us had there maintained ourselves; if we endeavoured to count the number of shot-holes in any wall, or the breaks in any hedge, it was because we had stood behind it when "the iron hail" fell thick and fast around us. Our thoughts, in short, had more of exultation in them than of sorrow; for though now and then, when the name of a fallen comrade was mentioned, it was accompanied with a "poor fellow" the conversation soon returned again to the exploits and hair-breadth escapes of the survivors. On the whole, therefore, our march was one of deep interest and high excitement, feelings which did not entirely evaporate when we halted, about two hours after noon, at the village of Anglet.
MARCH TOWARDS BORDEAUX—ANGLET
We found this village in the condition in which it was to be expected that a place of so much importance during the progress of the late siege would be found, in other words, completely metamorphosed into a chain of petty posts. Being distant from the outworks of Bayonne not more than a mile and a half, and standing upon the great road by which all the supplies for the left of the British army were brought up, no means, as may be supposed, had been neglected, which art or nature could supply, towards rendering it as secure against a sudden excursion of the garrison as might be. About one hundred yards in front of it felled trees were laid across the road, with their branches turned towards the town, forming what soldiers, in the language of their profession, term an abattis. Forty or fifty yards in rear of this a ditch was dug, and a breastwork thrown up, from behind which a party might do great execution upon any body of men struggling to force their way over that impediment. On each side of the highway again, where the ground rises into little eminences, redoubts and batteries were erected, so as to command the whole with a heavy flanking fire; while every house and hovel lying at all within the line of expected operations was loop-holed, and otherwise put in a posture of defence. But upon the fortification of the church a more than ordinary degree of care seemed to have been bestowed. As it stood upon a little eminence in the middle of the hamlet, it was no hard matter to convert it into a tolerably regular fortress, which might serve the double purpose of a magazine for warlike stores and a post of defence against the enemy. With this view the churchyard was surrounded by a row of stout palings, called in military phraseology stockades, from certain openings in which the muzzles of half a dozen pieces of light artillery protruded. The walls of the edifice itself were, moreover, strengthened by an embankment of earth to the height of perhaps four or five feet from the ground, above which narrow openings were made, in order to give to its garrison an opportunity of levelling their muskets; while on the top of the tower a small howitzer was mounted, from which either shot or shell could be thrown with effect into any of the lanes or passes near. It is probably needless to add that the interior arrangements of this house of God had undergone a change as striking as that which affected its exterior. Barrels of gunpowder, with piles of balls of all sizes and dimensions, now occupied the spaces where worshippers had often crowded; and the very altar was heaped up with spunges, wadding, and other implements necessary in case of an attack.
I have been thus minute in my description of Anglet, because what has been said of it will apply more or less exactly to every village, hamlet, or cluster of cottages, within the compass of what were called the lines. It is true that neither here nor elsewhere, excepting at one particular point, and that on the opposite side of the river, were any serious intentions entertained of broaching or storming the place; and that the sole object of these preparations was to keep the enemy within his works, and to cut him off from all communication with the surrounding country. But to effect even this end, the utmost vigilance and precaution were necessary, not only because the number of troops employed on the service was hardly adequate to discharge it, but because the garrison hemmed in was well known to be at once numerous and enterprising. The reader may accordingly judge what appearance a country presented which, to the extent of fifteen or twenty miles round, was thus treated; where every house was fortified, every road blocked up, every eminence mined with fieldworks, and every place swarming with armed men. Nor was its aspect less striking by night than by day. Gaze where he might, the eye of the spectator then rested upon some portion of one huge circle of fires, by the glare of which the white tents or rudely constructed huts of the besiegers were from time to time made visible.
While things continued thus, the condition of the peaceful inhabitant of this district could hardly fail to be one of extreme discomfort. Of these the greater number had indeed fled on the advance of the British army, leaving their houses and effects a prey to the conquerors; but there were some who, having probably no place of refuge to retire to, remained in their homes, and threw themselves upon our mercy for protection. It is not requisite that I should now inform the reader of the strict discipline which Lord Wellington preserved in every division of his army; his first step, on entering France, had been to inform the people that against them no violence was intended; and the assurance thus given, was in no instance, at least wantonly, violated. But, however orderly the conduct of an invading force may be, their very presence must occasion a thousand inconveniences to those upon whom they are quartered; not the least distressing of which is, perhaps, the feeling of degradation which the consciousness of being in the power of armed foreigners can hardly fail to produce. Then there is the total destruction of all domestic comfort, which the occupation of a man's house by large bodies of soldiers produces; the liability to which the females, in particular, are exposed to insult from the common troopers; and the dread of vengeance from any delinquent on whom their complaints may have brought down chastisement, all these things must and do create a degree of misery, of which the inhabitants of Great Britain may thank God that they know nothing except by name. In the vicinity of Bayonne, moreover, the country people lived in daily and nightly expectation of finding themselves involved in all the horrors and dangers of a battle. Sorties were continually looked for, and however these might terminate, the non-combatants felt that they must be equally the sufferers. Nay, it was no uncommon ground of complaint among them, that even the total defeat of our forces would bring with it no relief, because, by remaining to receive us, they had disobeyed the proclamations of Marshal Soult, and were consequently liable to punishment as traitors.
A soon as the bustle of encamping was over, and my time absolutely at my own disposal, I took advantage of an offered passport, and proceeded into Bayonne. It will be readily believed that I entered this city with feelings very different from those of a common traveller. Having lain before it as a besieger for upwards of two months, its shops, its trade, its public buildings and places of amusement were to me objects of, comparatively speaking, little interest or curiosity. Its fortifications and means of defence were, in truth, what I was principally anxious to examine. Hitherto I could judge of them only from outward appearances and vague reports; and now that an opportunity offered of so doing with greater accuracy, I confess that my inclination prompted me to embrace that opportunity, rather than to hunt for pictures which I could not value, or fatigue my imagination by endeavouring to discover fine specimens of architecture amidst heavy and ill-built churches.
It is not my intention to attempt any scientific or technical review of the works which a very natural curiosity tempted me to examine; partly because I confess myself little competent to the task and partly because, were the contrary the case, I am inclined to believe that such a review would not prove very interesting to the public in general. Enough is done if I endeavour to impress my reader with as many of the feelings which I then experienced, as may be done by detailing them; and, at the same time, enable him to form some general idea of a place before whose walls no trifling quantity of British blood has been spilt.
The city of Bayonne stands, as everybody knows, upon the Adour, about six or eight miles from the point where that river falls into the sea. On the southern or Spanish bank, where the whole of the city, properly so called, is built, the country, to the distance of two or three miles from the walls, is perfectly flat and the soil sandy, and apparently not very productive. On the bank the ground rises rather abruptly from the brink of the stream, sloping upwards likewise from the sea, till you arrive at the pinnacle upon which the citadel is erected, and which hangs immediately over the town. Thus, though the Adour in fact separates the city from the suburbs and citadel, yet as the ramparts of the former extend to the water's edge on both sides, and as those of the latter continue the sweep from points immediately opposite, the general appearance presented is that of one considerable town, with a broad river flowing through the middle of it.
It will be seen, even from this short and imperfect sketch, that its situation gives to Bayonne, considered as a military post, a superiority over most cities; inasmuch as it affords peculiar facilities towards rendering it a place of great strength. On one side there is a plain, always accounted by engineers the most convenient for the construction of fortifications; on the other an eminence, lofty enough to command the surrounding country, and at the same time sufficiently level at the summit to receive the walls of a fortress, powerful at once from its position and regularity. But the great strength of Bayonne arose at this juncture not so much from its original defences as from the numerous outworks which had been lately added to it. It was along the course of the Adour, as the reader will probably recollect, or rather between the Adour and the Nieve, that Soult formed his famous intrenched camp. The right of this chain of stupendous works rested upon the city, the importance of which was consequently much increased; and as the capture of it would have occasioned not only the loss of a town, but the turning of the whole position, no pains were spared in rendering it as nearly impregnable as possible. That I may convey some notion to the minds of others of the nature of these works, I will describe the aspect which they presented to myself, as I rode from Anglet towards the city.
When I had proceeded about a mile and a half beyond our advanced posts, I found myself in front of the first line of defence. This consisted of a battery mounting three eighteen-pounders, upon the road, flanked by other batteries, one on each side; all so placed as that whichsoever of them should be attacked, it might be defended by a cross-fire from the rest. These were of course additionally strengthened by ditches and felled trees; but they were open in the rear; and though very formidable to an assailing party, yet, when taken, could have been of small service to the conquerors, being themselves exposed to the fire of the second line. The situation of the second line, again, was similar in every respect to that of the first, being, like it, open in the rear, and placed under the guns of the town. Thus, after having forced two powerful lines of defence, the besiegers would find themselves almost as far as ever from the attainment of their object, being then only arrived at the point where the labours of a siege could commence.
But the maintenance of Bayonne must at all times depend upon keeping possession of the citadel. The city lying upon a plain, and the castle standing upon an eminence immediately above it, it is clear that, were the latter taken, the former must either surrender or be speedily reduced to ruins. It is true that, by destroying the bridge which connects them, all communication between the two places would be cut off; but the distance from the one to the other being not more than half-musket shot, and the guns of the fort pointing directly down upon the streets and of the city, any attempt to hold out could cause only the destruction of the town, and the unavenged slaughter of its garrison. Of the truth of this the French were as much aware as their enemies, nor did they neglect any means which an accurate knowledge of engineering could point out, for the defence of what they justly considered as the key of the entire position. In addition to its own very regular and well-constructed fortifications, two strong redoubts were thrown up, on two sides of the fort, upon the only spots of ground calculated for the purpose; both of which, I was informed by my guide, were undermined and loaded with gunpowder, ready to be sprung as soon as they should fill into our hands. They had judged, and judged correctly, that if ever the place should be invested, it would be that the trenches would be opened and the breaching batteries erected; and they made every preparation to meet the danger which great prudence and military skill could suggest.
Bayonne, though a populous place, does not cover so much ground as a stranger would be led to suppose. Like most walled towns, its streets, with the exception of one or two, are in general narrow, and the houses lofty: but it is compact, and, on the whole, clean, and neatly built. The number of inhabitants I should be inclined to estimate at somewhere about thirty thousand, exclusive of the garrison, which at this time amounted to fourteen or fifteen thousand men; but as most of the families appear to live in the style of those in the old town of Edinburgh, that is to say, several under the same roof, though each in a separate story or flat, it is not difficult to conceive how they contrive to find sufficient room, within a compass apparently so narrow. Of its commerce and manufactures I can say little, except that I should not imagine either to be extensive. I am led to form this opinion, partly from having seen no shipping at the wharfs, and partly because the Adour, though here both wide and deep, is rendered unnavigable to vessels of any size, by a shallow or bar at its mouth. There was, indeed, a sloop of war close to the town, but how it got there I am at a loss to conceive, unless it were built upon the river, and kept as an additional protection against a surprise from the water. The shops are, however, good, particularly those where jewellery is sold; an article in the setting and adorning of which the French, if they do not excel us in really substantial value, undoubtedly surpass us in elegance.
When I had taken as complete a survey of the town as I felt disposed to take, I crossed the bridge with the intention of inspecting the interior of the citadel. Here, however, I was disappointed, no strangers being admitted within its gates; but as there was no objection made to my reconnoitring it from without, I proceeded towards the point where our trenches had been dug, and where it had been designed to breach and storm the place. To this I was urged by two motives, partly from the desire of obtaining the best view possible of the fort, and partly that I might examine the ground upon which the desperate affair of the 14th of April took place. The reader cannot have forgotten, that some hours before daylight on the morning of that day, a vigorous and well-arranged sortie was made by the garrison, and that it was not without hard fighting and a severe loss on both sides that the attack was finally repulsed.
Mounting the heights, I soon arrived at St. Etienne, a little village nearly on a level with the citadel, and not more than a quarter of a mile from its walls. From this point I could satisfy my curiosity to the full, and as the account may not, perhaps, be uninteresting, I shall describe, as well as I am able, the scene which here met my eyes.
The ridge of little hills upon which the fort and village are built, though it rises by gentle gradation from the sea, towards the spot where I now stood, is nevertheless intersected and broken here and there by deep glens or ravines. Two of these glens, one to the right, the other to the left, chance to occur immediately under the ramparts of the fortress, supplying, in some measure, the purposes of a ditch, and leaving a sort of table or elevated neck of land between them, the extremity of which is occupied by the village. On this neck of land the besieged had constructed one of the redoubts to which I alluded as having been lately thrown up; whilst on another table, at the opposite side of the left ravine, which winds round in the direction of the wall, as nearly as if it were the work of art, stands the other redoubt. Beyond this, again, there is a perpendicular precipice, the hills there abruptly ending; so that on two sides the walls of the fort skirt the extremity of a bare rock. It was along the outer ridges of these ravines, and through the churchyard of St. Etienne, that our trenches were drawn, the village itself being the most advanced British post; and it was along these ridges, and in the street of this village, that the action of the 14th of April was fought.
It is not my business, neither indeed is it my intention, to relate here the particulars of that affair. The French, having contrived, in a dark night, to elude the vigilance of our sentinels, came upon the piquets unperceived, and took them completely by surprise. The battle was maintained on both sides with great determination, and had it not been for the unfortunate capture of Sir John Hope and the fall of General Hay, the assailants would have had little cause to rejoice at the result: for though the loss of the English was certainly great, that of the French was at least not inferior. Yet the business was an unfortunate one to both parties, since, before it took place, Buonaparte had already abdicated, and the preliminaries of peace were already signed between the two nations.
I found the village, in which the fighting had been most obstinately maintained, in the condition of most villages where such dramas have been acted. The street had been barricaded, but the barricade was almost entirely torn down; the houses, trees, and church, like those we had passed upon the march, were covered with the marks of cannon and musket balls, whilst quantities of round and grape shot, of musket and pistol bullets, broken bayonets, swords, &c. &c., lay scattered about in every direction. Nor were these the only evidences of strife discernible. In many places—on the pavement of the street, in the churchyard, but above all, on the floor of the church itself, —the traces of blood were still distinctly visible. Beside the remains of the barricade there stood a solitary six-pounder, which had been taken and re-taken nine times during the struggle; and a sprinkling of what looked like a mixture of blood and brains still adhering to its carriage and breech, showed that it had never been given up without the most desperate resistance. The mounds, too, under which the dead were buried, presented a peculiarly striking appearance; for the field of action having been narrow, those that fell, fell in heaps together, and being buried in the same way, one was led to form an idea of greater slaughter than if double the number of graves had been distinguishable in a more extended space.
Having now accomplished my wishes as far as I could, and beginning to feel somewhat fatigued with strolling about, I adjourned to an hotel in the city, from whence, in the evening, I went to the play. The house was poor and the performance miserable, consequently there was no great inducement to sit out the whole of the piece. After witnessing an act or two, therefore, I returned to the inn, where I slept, and at an early hour next morning rejoined my regiment, already under arms and making preparations for the continuance of the march.
MARCH THROUGH BAYONNE—TO ONDRES
As it would have been considerably out of our way to go round by the floating bridge*, permission was applied for and granted, to pass directly through Bayonne. With bayonets fixed, band playing, and colours flying, we accordingly marched along the streets of that city; a large proportion of the garrison being drawn up to receive us, and the windows crowded with spectators, male and female, eager to behold the troops from whom not long ago they had probably expected a visit of a very different nature. The scene was certainly remarkable enough, and the transition from animosity to good-will as singular as it was sudden; nor do I imagine that it would be easy to define the sensations of either party, on being thus strangely brought n contact with the other. The females, indeed, waved their handkerchiefs, whilst we bowed and kissed our hands; but I thought I could discover something like a suppressed scowl upon the countenances of the military. Certain it is, that in whatever light the new state of affairs might be regarded by the great bulk of the nation, with the army it was by no means popular; and at this period they appeared to consider the passage of British troops through their lines as the triumphal entrance of a victorious enemy.
_____ * The bridge here alluded to was thrown across the Adour by the Duke of Wellington at the commencement of the siege. It was composed of a number of small fishing vessels fastened together with cords, and planked from one to another, the whole firmly moored about three miles below Bayonne. Whether the daringness of the attempt, or the difficulties surmounted in its completion, be considered, the construction of this bridge may be looked upon as one of the most extraordinary actions of that extraordinary man. —————————————-
As soon as we had cleared the entrenchments of Bayonne, and got beyond the limits of the allied camps, we found ours in a country more peaceful and more picturesque than any we had yet traversed. There were here no signs of war or marks of violence. The cottages were covered with honeysuckle and roses, the gardens were blooming in the most perfect order; the corn was growing in great plenty and richness, and the vines were clustering round their poles like the hops in the gardens of Kent. It is impossible to describe the feeling of absolute refreshment which such a sight stirred up in men who, for so long a time, had looked upon nothing but ruin and devastation. It is true that with respect to grandeur, or even beauty, the scenery through which we now travelled was not to be compared with the sublime passes of the Pyrenees, or with many spots which we had beheld; but in truth, a hamlet uninjured and tenanted by its own rude peasantry, a field of Indian corn exhibiting no wasteful track of foragers, nay, a single cottage with its flowers and evergreens budding around it, was at this a more welcome object to our eyes than the wildest mountains or most romantic valleys displaying no habitations except white tents and no inhabitants except soldiers. For my own part I felt as if I had once more returned into the bosom of civilized and domestic life, after having been for many months a wanderer and a savage.
The road along which we proceeded had been made by Napoleon, and was remarkably good. It was sheltered, on each side, from the rays of the sun, by groves of cork-trees mingled with fir; by which means, though the day was overpoweringly hot, we did not suffer so much as we should otherwise have done. Our march was, therefore, exceedingly agreeable, and we came in, about noon, very little fatigued, to the village of Ondres, where the tents were pitched, and we remained till the morrow.
THE dawn was just beginning to appear, when the bugles sounded, and the tents were struck. For the first few leagues, our route to-day resembled that of yesterday, in almost every particular. There was the same appearance of peaceful quiet, the same delightful intermingling of woods, corn-fields, vineyards, and pasture; but we had not proceeded far, when a marked difference was perceptible; every step we trod, the soil became more and more sandy, the cultivation less frequent, and the wood more abundant, till at last we found ourselves marching through the heart of an immense forest of pines. We had diverged, it appeared, from the main road, which carries the traveller through a rich and open country, and were pursuing another through the middle of those deserts and savannahs which lie towards the coast; a district known by the name of les Landes. There was something, if not beautiful, at least new and striking in the scenery now around us. Wherever the eye turned, it was met by one wide waste of gloomy pine-trees; diversified, here and there, by the unexpected appearance of a modest hamlet, which looked as if it were the abode of some newly arrived settlers in a country hitherto devoid of human habitations.
Were I to continue the detail of a long march through these barren regions, I should soon fatigue, without amusing my reader: I shall, therefore, content myself with observing, that day after day the same dreary prospect presented itself, varied by the occasional occurrence of huge uncultivated plains, which apparently chequer the forest, at certain intervals, with spots of stunted and unprofitable pasturage; upon these there were usually flocks of sheep grazing, in the mode of watching which, the peasants fully evinced the truth of the old proverb, that necessity is the mother of invention. I do not know whether the practice to which I allude be generally known, but as it struck me as very remarkable, I shall offer no apology for relating it.
The whole of this district, as well where it is wooded, as where it is bare, is perfectly flat, containing scarcely a knoll or eminence any sort, as far as the eye can reach. In addition to this, the vast plains where the sheep are fed, many of which extend two or three leagues in every direction, produce not so much as a fir-tree, by climbing which, a man might see to any of its extremities: and the consequence is, that the shepherds are constantly in danger of losing their sheep, as one loses sight of a vessel at sea, in the distance. To remedy this evil, they have fallen upon a plan not more simple than ingenious; they all walk on stilts, exactly similar to those with which our school-boys amuse themselves; the only difference lying here, that whereas the school-boys' stilts are with us seldom raised above ten or twelve inches from the ground, those of the French peasants are elevated to the height of six or eight feet.
When we first caught a glimpse of these figures, it was in the dusk of the morning, and for awhile we were willing to persuade ourselves that the haze had deceived us, by seeming to enlarge bodies beyond their real dimensions. But when we looked at the trees, we saw them in their own proper size, nor could we suppose that the atmosphere would have an effect upon one object, which it had not upon another; yet there appeared to be no other way of accounting for the phenomenon, unless indeed this wild country were the parent of a race of giants, for the men whom we saw resembled moving towers rather than mortals. I need not observe that our astonishment was very great; nor, in was it much diminished when, on a nearer approach, we discovered the truth, and witnessed the agility with which they moved, and the ease with which, aided by the poles which each carried in his hand, they would stoop to the ground, pick up the article, and stand upright again. But if we admired the skill of one or two individuals, our admiration rose to a still higher pitch when we saw crowds of them together, all equally skilful; till they informed us that the thing was not an amusement, but universally practised for the purpose I have stated.
Besides this, I know of nothing in the customs of this isolated people at all worthy of notice, unless, indeed, it be their method of supplying themselves with lights. Being completely cut off from the rest of the world, it is not in their power, except when once or twice a-year they travel to the nearest towns with their wool, to purchase candles; and as they have no notion how these can be made, they substitute in their room a lamp, fed with the turpentine extracted from the fir-trees. The whole process is simple and primitive: to obtain the turpentine they out a hole in the tree, and fasten a dish in it to catch the sap as it oozes through; and as soon as the dish is filled, they put a wick of cotton into the midst of the liquor, and burn it as we do a lamp. The light is not indeed of the most brilliant nature, but it is at least better than none; and as they have fir-trees in abundance within their reach, there is no danger of their oil being quickly exhausted.
MARCH TO BORDEAUX
In this manner was an entire week expended, each succeeding day introducing us to a repetition of the same adventures, and a renewal of the same scenery, which had amused us during the day before; nor was it till the morning of the twenty-third that we at last began to emerge from the forests, and to find ourselves once again in a more open country. At first, however, it cannot be said that, with respect to beauty, the change was greatly for the better. Upon the borders of the deserts there is a little village called Le Barp, where we spent the night of the twenty-second; from whence, till you arrive at a place called Belle-Vue, the country is exactly in that state which land assumes when nature has begun to lose ground, and art to gain it—when the wild simplicity of the one is destroyed, and the rich luxuriance of the other has not yet been superinduced. So far, therefore, we proceeded, regretting, rather than rejoicing, that we had quitted the woods; but no sooner had we attained that point, than there burst upon us, all on a sudden, a prospect as gloriously fertile as ever delighted the eyes of a weary traveller.
Instead of boundless forests of pine, the whole face of the country was now covered with vineyards, interspersed, in the most exquisite and tasteful manner, with corn-fields and meadows of the the richest pasturage. Nor was there any deficiency of timber; a well-wooded chateau, with its lawn and plantations, here and there presenting itself, while quiet hamlets and solitary cottages, scattered in great abundance over the scene, gave to it an appearance of life and prosperity exceedingly bewitching. Had there been but the addition of a fine river flowing through the midst of it, and had the ground been somewhat more broken into hill and dale, I should have pronounced it the most enchanting prospect of the kind I had ever beheld; but, unfortunately, both these were wanting. Though the effect of a first view, therefore, was striking and delightful, and though to the last we could not help acknowledging the richness of the land and its high state of cultivation, its beauty soon began to pall. The fact is, that an immense plain, however adorned by the labour of man, is not an object upon which it is pleasing to gaze for any length of time; the eye becomes wearied with the extent of its own stretch, and as there is no boundary but the horizon, the imagination is left to picture a continuance of the same plain, till it becomes as tired of fancying as the eye is of looking. Besides, we were not long in discovering that the vineyards were unworthy to be compared, in point of luxuriant appearance, with those of Spain and the more southern regions of France. In this neighbourhood the vine is not permitted to grow to a greater height than or four feet from the ground; whereas in Spain, and on the borders, it climbs, like the hop-plant in England, to the top of high poles, and hangs over from one row to another, in the most graceful festoons. In spite of these objections, however, no one could do otherwise than admit that the change we had experienced was agreeable, and we continued to move on with greater alacrity, till it was evident, from the increasing number of seats and villas, that we were rapidly approaching the vicinity of Bordeaux.
Nor was it long before the towers and buildings of that magnificent city began to be discernible in the distance. Prompted by I know not what impulse, we almost involuntarily quickened our pace at the sight, and in a short time reached the suburbs, which like those of most French towns, are composed of low houses, inhabited by the poorest and meanest of the people. Here we halted for a few minutes to refresh the men, when having again resumed the line of march, we advanced under a triumphal arch, originally erected in honour of Napoleon, but now inscribed with the name of the Duke d'Angouleme, and ornamented with garlands of flowers. Passing under this, we proceeded along one or two handsome streets, till we reached the Military Hospital, a large and commodious structure fitted up for the reception of several thousands of sick, where it was arranged that we should spend the night.
The city of Bordeaux has been too often described, and is too well known to my countrymen, in general, to render any particular account of it at all necessary from me; and were the case otherwise, I confess that my opportunities of examining it were not sufficient to authorize my entering upon such an attempt. The whole extent of our sojourn was only during the remainder of that day (and it was past noon before we got in) and the ensuing night; a space of time which admitted of no more than a hurried stroll through some of the principal streets, and a hasty visit to such public buildings as are considered most worthy of attention. The palace of the Duke d'Angouleme, the Military Hospital, the Theatre, and the Cathedral, are all remarkably fine of their kind; whilst the public gardens, the Exchange, and fashionable promenades, are inferior only to those of Paris itself.
I have said that our sojourn in Bordeaux was limited to the short space of a few hours. We could have wished indeed to prolong it, but to wish was needless, for at an early hour next morning we were again in motion, and proceeded to an extensive common, near the village of Macau, about three leagues from Bordeaux, where we found a considerable force already assembled. Judging from the number of tents upon the heath, I conceive that there could not be fewer than eight or ten thousand men in that camp, the whole of whom, we naturally concluded, were destined for the same service with ourselves. The sight was at once pleasing and encouraging, because there could be no doubt that such a force, ably commanded, would carry everything before it.
In this situation we continued, without the occurrence of any incident deserving of record, till the 27th, when an order arrived for the officers to dispose of their horses without delay. This was necessarily done at an enormous loss; and on the morning of the 28th, we set forward towards the point of embarkation. But, alas! in the numbers allotted for the trans-Atlantic war, we found ourselves grievously disappointed, since, instead of the whole division, only two regiments, neither of them surpassingly numerous, were directed to move; it was not our business, however, to question the wisdom of any measure adopted by our superiors; and we accordingly marched on in as high spirits as if we had been followed by the entire Peninsular army.
The remainder of our journey occupied two days, nor do I often remember to have spent a similar space of time with greater satisfaction; our route lay through some of the most fertile districts in France, passing Chateau Margaux, famous for its wine, with other places not inferior to it either in richness of soil or in beauty of prospect. The weather was delightful, and the grapes, though not yet ripe, were hanging in heavy bunches from the vines, giving promise of much wealth to come; the hay season had commenced, and numerous groups of happy-looking peasants were busy in every field; in short, it was a march upon which I shall never look back without pleasure.
LA MOE.—AT SEA
The close of the first day's progress brought us to a village called La Moe, beautifully situated within view of the majestic waters of the Garonne. Here, for the first time since we quitted Bayonne, were we quartered upon the inhabitants—a measure which the loss of our tents rendered necessary. They received us with so much frankness, and treated us with so much civility, I had almost said kindness, that it was not without a feeling of something like regret that we parted from them. The second day carried us to Pauliac, an inconsiderable town upon the banks of the same river, where we found boats ready to convey us to the shipping, which lay at anchor to receive us.
To embark the troops in these boats, and to huddle them on board two dirty little transports, occupied some time, and the provoking part of the business was, that all this trouble was to be gone through again. The men-of-war in which we were to cross the Atlantic, could not come up so high for want of water; and on this account it was that transports were sent as passage-boats to carry us to them. But the wind was foul, and blew so strong that the masters would not venture to hoist a sail; so we were obliged to endure the misery of a crowd in a small vessel for two nights and a day; nor was it till past noon on the 31st, that the regiment to which I was attached found itself finally settled in His Majesty's ship ———— of 64 guns.
THE land army, destined for the invasion of the United States, which took shipping at this period in the Garonne, consisted but of three battalions of infantry, the 4th, 44th, and 85th regiments; the two former mustering each about eight hundred bayonets, the last not more than six hundred. In addition to these, there were two officers of engineers, a brigade of artillery, a detachment of sappers and miners, a party of artillery drivers, with a due proportion of officers belonging to the Medical and Commissariat departments. The whole together could not be computed at more than two thousand five hundred men, if indeed it amounted to so great a number; and was placed under the command of Major-General Ross, a very gallant and experienced officer.
The fleet, again, consisted of the Royal Oak, of 74 guns, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Malcolm; the Diadem and Dictator, two sixty-fours, armed en flute; the Pomone, Menelaus, Trave, Weser, and Thames, frigates, the three last armed in the same manner as the Diadem and Dictator; the Meteor and Devastation, bomb-vessels; together with one or two gun-brigs, making in all a squadron of eleven or twelve ships of war, with several storeships and transports.
On board the Royal Oak were embarked the General, with his staff, and the artillery; the Trave and Weser were filled with the 4th; the 44th were divided between the Dictator and the Thames, in the first of which ships were also the engineers; the 85th occupied the Diadem; and the rest were scattered through the fleet, partly in the men-of-war and partly in the transports.
As soon as the troops, with all their baggage, were finally settled in the vessels allotted for their accommodation, the signal was made to weigh; but the wind being adverse, and the navigation of the Garonne far from simple, it could not be obeyed with safety. Every thing, therefore, remained quiet till the evening of the 2nd of June, when the gale moderating a little, the anchors were raised and the sails hoisted. The tide was beginning to ebb when this was done, favoured by which the ships drifted gradually on their course; but before long, the breeze shifting, blew directly in their sterns, when they stood gallantly to sea, clearing the river before dark; and, as there was no lull during the whole of the night, by daybreak the coast of France was not to be discerned. All was now one wide waste of waters, as far as the eye could reach, bounded on every side by the distant horizon; a scene which, though at first it must strike with awe and wonder a person unaccustomed to it, soon becomes insipid, and even wearisome, from its constant sameness.
The fair wind which carried us out of the Garonne continuing to blow without any interruption till the 19th of June, it was that day calculated, by consulting the log and taking observations, that the Azores, or Western Islands, could not be very distant. Nor, as it turned out, were these calculations incorrect; for, on ascending the deck next morning, the first object that met our eyes was the high land of St Michael's rising, like a collection of blue clouds, out of the water. With such a prospect before us our consternation may be guessed at, when we found ourselves deserted by the breeze which had hitherto so uniformly favoured us, and lying as motionless as logs, under the influence of a dead calm.
But the complaints to which we had begun to give utterance, were speedily changed again into rejoicings, for before mid-day the breeze once more freshened, and we approached every moment nearer and nearer to the object of our wishes. As soon, too, as we contrived to double the projecting headland which had attracted our attention in the morning, our course became productive of much interest and pleasure. We had neared the shore considerably, and were moving at a rate sufficiently rapid to prevent further repining, and at the same time slow enough to permit a distinct and calm survey of the beach, with the numerous villages, seats, and convents that adorned it.
The island of St. Michael is mountainous, even to the very edge of the water, but the heights, though lofty, do not present a rugged or barren appearance. Here and there, indeed, bare rocks push themselves into notice, but in general the ascent is easy, and the hills are covered to the tops with groves of orange-trees and beautiful green pasturage. Like other Portuguese settlements, this island abounds in religious houses, the founders of many of which do not appear to have been deficient in taste when they pitched upon situations for building. There was one of these in particular that struck me: it stood upon a sort of platform or terrace, about half-way between the sea and the summit of the mountain; above it were hanging woods, whether natural or artificial I cannot say, broken in upon here and there by projecting rocks; and round it were plantations of orange-trees loaded with fruit, and interspersed with myrtles and other odoriferous shrubs. Being greatly pleased with the mansion and the surrounding scenery, I naturally inquired from the pilot (for one had already come off to us) as to its use, and the quality of Its owner; and from him I learnt that it was a convent, I forget of what order,—a piece of intelligence which was soon confirmed by the sound of bells distinctly audible as we passed.
In this manner we continued to coast along, being seldom at a greater distance than four or five miles from the land, till we came opposite to a small town called Villa Franca. Here, as the wind threatened to die away, several others and myself agreed to go onshore: a boat was accordingly lowered, and we pushed off from the ship; but the operation of landing did not prove to be altogether so simple as we had expected. An immense reef of rocks, some under water, others barely above it, but none distinguishable till we had almost run against them, opposed our progress; and it was not without considerable difficulty, and the assistance of the country people, who made signals to us from the beach, that we contrived to discover a narrow channel leading up to the strand.
Having at length so far attained our wishes as to tread once more upon firm ground, the next thing to be done was to find out some inn, or house of public entertainment, where we might pass the night, a measure which the increasing darkness rendered necessary. In this, however, we were disappointed, the town of Villa Franca boasting of no such convenience on any scale. But we were not on that account obliged to bivouac; for the Alcalde, or mayor of the place, politely insisted upon our accompanying him home, and entertained us with great hospitality; nor, in truth, had we any cause to regret the unsuccessful issue of our inquiries, since, in addition to the good cheer with which we were presented, our host, being an intelligent person, did not fail to render himself an agreeable companion; and what contributed in no slight degree to the facility of our intercourse was, that though he assured us he had never quitted St. Michael's in his life, he spoke English with the fluency of a native. Among other pieces of information we learnt from him that the reef which impeded our progress towards the land, had formerly been an island. It appeared, he affirmed, one morning, in the most sudden and extraordinary manner, as if it had been thrown up by an earthquake during the night, and having continued so long above water as to embolden a single family of fishers to settle upon it, it disappeared again as suddenly as it had come, leaving no trace of its existence except the rocks which we had found so troublesome. Whether there be truth in this story, I cannot pretend to determine; and yet I see no reason to doubt the word of a man of respectability, who could have no motive whatever for deceiving us. But this was not all that we learnt from him respecting the reef. He declared that previous to the appearance of the island, the water in that very spot was unfathomable; and it was not till after it had sunk, that a single rock stood in the way to prevent the largest ship of war from anchoring within a stone's throw of the beach.
Finding our new acquaintance so civil and obliging, we naturally informed him of our intention to proceed next morning to Ponto del Gada, the principal town in St. Michael's, and requested his assistance in procuring some mode of conveyance; but we were startled by the intelligence that nothing of the kind could be had, and that there were not even horses or mules to be hired at any place nearer than the very town whither we were going. This was rather an alarming piece of news, for our boat had left us, the weather was too hot for walking, and the distance to be travelled full fifteen miles. Had we been prudent enough to detain our boat, the matter would have been easily managed, because we might have sailed round to the point where the fleet was to anchor; but this was no longer in our power, and being rather unwilling to pursue our journey on foot, we were altogether at a loss upon what course to determine. Whilst we thus hesitated, the Alcalde suggested that if we would condescend to ride upon asses, he thought he could obtain a sufficient number for our party; a proposal with which we gladly closed, prudently determining that any mode of being carried was better than walking. Leaving the arrangement of this affair, therefore, to our obliging friend, we retired to rest upon clean comfortable mattresses spread for us on the floor; and on waking in the morning, we found that he had not been negligent in the charge assigned to him. Our party consisted of five officers, with five servants, for whose accommodation we found ten asses at the door, each attended by its driver, who wielded a long pole tipped with an iron spike, for the purpose of goading the animal whenever it should become lazy.
It was not without a good deal of laughing that the cavalcade, after bidding adieu to the hospitable Mayor, began to move forward. Our asses, of no larger size than ordinary English donkeys, were uncaparisoned, at least with bridles; and the saddles were neither more nor less than the pack-saddles upon which goods are transported to market. For our own comfort, therefore, we were obliged to sit a la femelle, and having no command over the heads of our steeds, we were content to be guided by the hallooing and punching of the drivers. In spite, however, of these inconveniences, if so they may be called, I shall never cease to congratulate myself on having been of the party, because the ride proved to be one of the most agreeable I remember at any time to have taken.
The road from Villa Franca to Ponto del Gada quits the water's edge, and turns, for a little way, inland, carrying you through a region as romantic and beautiful as can well be imagined. There are here no level plains, no smooth paths over which a landau or tilbury might glide, but, on the contrary, a rugged and stony track, sometimes leading down the face of steep hills, sometimes scaling heights which at the distance of a mile appear to be almost perpendicular, and sometimes winding along the side of a cliff, and by the edge of a fearful precipice. Except when you reach the summit of a mountain, the road is in general shaded by the richest underwood, hanging over it from above; but the whole aspect of the country is decidedly that of a volcanic production: the rocks seem to have been cast up and torn asunder by some prodigious violence, and hurled, by a force which nothing but a volcano could possess, into the most grotesque and irregular shapes. It is no uncommon thing to pass under a huge crag, leaning almost horizontally over the road, and bedded in the earth by a foundation apparently so slight, as to appear liable to fall every moment, precipitating the enormous mass upon the luckless wretch beneath. Nay, the very colour of the stones, and the quantity of what bears every resemblance to vitrification, scattered about, all tend to induce the, belief that the main island owes its formation to the same cause which doubtless produced the smaller one that has now disappeared.
It is not, however, to be inferred from the above description that St. Michael's is nothing but a barren rock; far from it. There is, indeed, in this direction at least, a fair proportion of that commodity; but tracts of cultivated ground are not therefore wanting. I should not certainly suppose that the soil was remarkably rich in any part of the island; but it produces the fig, the orange-tree, and a grape from which the inhabitants make very tolerable wine; and there is excellent pasture for sheep, and a competent supply of grain. But that in which the Azores, and St. Michael's among the number, particularly excel, is the extreme salubrity of the climate. Lying in nearly the same degree of latitude with Lisbon, the intense heat which oppresses in that city is here alleviated by refreshing sea-breezes; by which means, though I believe there is no occasion at any season to complain of cold, it is only in the very height of the dog-days, if then, that a person, not actually engaged in violent exercise, is justified in complaining of sultriness.
The trade of St. Michael's, as far as I could learn, is confined exclusively to fruit: the fig and the orange are the staple commodities; and being both very abundant, they are, of course, proportionably cheap. Into the praise of a St. Michael's orange it is unnecessary for me to enter, because it is generally allowed to be the best with which the English market is supplied; but of the excellence of the St. Michael's fig, I am not sure that my countrymen in general are so much aware. It might be, that not having seen a fig for a considerable lapse of time, my appetite was peculiarly sharpened towards its good qualities, but it struck me that I never before tasted any so highly flavoured or so delicate. Besides these, they sell to vessels putting in, as we did, for water, some of the wine made in this and the neighbouring islands; but the quantity thus disposed of must be too inconsiderable to entitle it to be classed among the articles of merchandise.
I find, however, that I am entering upon subjects in which I am but little versed, and digressing from my narrative. Let me return, then, to self, that beloved idol of all travellers, and state that, after we had ridden about six miles, the road, which had hitherto conducted us along a narrow glen, where the vision was intercepted on both sides, now carried us to the summit of a lofty mountain, from whence we enjoyed the satisfaction of an extensive prospect, both of the sea and of the interior. Looking towards the former, we beheld our own fleet bearing down majestically upon Ponto del Gada, and fast approaching the anchorage. Turning our eyes inland again, we were delighted with a view of mountain and valley, rock and culture, wood and pasturage, intermingled in the most exquisite degree of irregularity; but what principally attracted our attention was a thick dark smoke rising slowly from the summit of a high hill that bounded the prospect. Our curiosity being excited by this phenomenon, we inquired from our guides into its cause, and were informed that the mountain in question was a volcano, and that at its base and along its sides were hot springs of water, of a temperature sufficient to boil an egg in three minutes. This piece of intelligence confirmed me in my former opinion relative to the operative cause in the production of these islands; though, indeed, had such evidence been wanting, I should have equally concluded, either that they were thrown up, in their present form, from the bottom of the sea, or at least that they were torn asunder from one another by the force of fire. It must be confessed, however, that mine is the opinion of one who has devoted little of his attention to geology; but I would by all means advise the disciples of Werner to come hither, if they desire further helps in the prosecution of that very interesting and practically useful study.
DESCENDING the mountain, on which we had paused for a few minutes to feast our eyes and satisfy our curiosity, we arrived at a small hamlet, or rather a group of two or three hovels, as romantically situated as it is possible for the imagination of man to conceive. They stood at the further end of a sort of recess, formed by the hills, which are here broken into a circular valley, cut off, to all appearance, from the rest of the habitable world; behind them rose a towering crag, as perpendicular as the drop of a plummet, from the top of which a little rivulet came tumbling down, giving to the scene an appearance of the most delightful coolness, and amusing the ear with the unceasing roar of a waterfall. From the very face of the cliff, where there seemed to be scarcely soil enough to nourish a thistle, numerous shrubs and dwarf trees protruded themselves; whilst above it, and on every side of the area, the hills were covered with wood, interrupted now and then by the bald forehead of a blackened rock. In front of the hamlet again, there was an opening sufficient to admit the most delicious glimpse of the ocean; and through this the stream, after boiling for awhile in a little basin, which it has excavated for itself out of what resembles the foundation of the cliff, makes its way, brawling over a clear pebbly bottom, till it joins the sea.
This paragon of valleys burst upon us as such scenes, to be witnessed with advantage, ought to do, without the slightest warning or expectation. The road by which we approached it, being completely shut in with wood, and winding considerably to aid the descent, brought us out nearly at the gorge of the vale, so as to throw the hamlet, the cliff, and the waterfall into the background; and as the whole was of such extent as to be taken in at one glance, the effect was striking beyond anything of the kind I ever witnessed. It is but natural to suppose that we had no desire to hurry through such a glen as this; and seeded not the additional motive which the weariness of our donkeys afforded, to persuade us to a temporary halt. Giving the animals, therefore, to the care of their owners, we dismounted, and went into some of the cabins, the inhabitants of which appeared to be as simple as the situation of their abodes had prepared us to expect. The men were all goatherds, and the women seemed to be as idle as their countrywomen in Portugal, sitting at the doors of their houses, surrounded by groups of half-naked and filthy-looking children. If it be fair to judge from their dress and the furniture of their hovels, they were miserably poor, though perfectly contented; they did not ask us for money, but astonished, I suppose, at the glaring colour of our coats, they were very inquisitive to know who we were and whence we had come. The English, the French, and the Portuguese seemed to be the only three nations of whose existence they had any knowledge; and having been assured, in answer to their first question, that we were not French, they immediately added, "Then you must be English." They did not appear, however, to be without some degree of cunning, for as long as we paused in replying to their query, they were silent; but no sooner had we answered in the negative than they launched forth into the most violent invectives against the French; convincing us that the animosity of the mother-country towards its barbarous invaders was not more implacable than that of the colonies.
Having loitered away half an hour in this romantic spot, and distributed a few dollars among its inhabitants, we remounted our steeds and continued our journey. The remainder of the ride carried us through scenery very similar to what we had already passed; the only difference was, that the nearer we approached to Ponto del Gada the more frequent became the spots of cultivation, the width and smoothness of the road improving in proportion; till at last, when we had attained the brow of an eminence, from whence the town with its port and bay were distinguishable, we looked down upon an extensive valley, richly covered with fields of standing corn. Quickening our pace, we soon entered the capital of St. Michael's, and were conducted by the drivers to a good hotel, kept by an Englishwoman of the name of Currie, where we found every accommodation which we could desire, at a very moderate expense.
PONTO DEL GADA
As we had started at an early hour from Villa Franca, the clocks were just striking ten when we alighted at Mrs. Currie's hotel; consequently, there was a long day yet before us, in which we might see everything that was to be seen in the place. Having discharged our muleteers, therefore, who seemed overjoyed at the receipt of one dollar a-piece, swallowed a hasty breakfast, and made ourselves somewhat comfortable, we lost no time in setting out upon a stroll of examination and discovery.
Ponto del Gada is, on the whole, rather a neat town, containing from twelve to fourteen thousand inhabitants; but being built, especially in the outskirts, without much regard to compactness, it covers more ground than many places of double the amount in population. It stands upon a little bay, formed by two projecting headlands, and can boast of a tolerable harbour excellent roadstead. In its immediate vicinity the country a more uniformly level than any I had yet observed; the vale extending to the distance of four or five miles on every side, had ending in an amphitheatre of low green hills, which resemble appearance, the downs as they are seen from Eastbourne in Sussex. The whole of this flat is in a state of high cultivation, being cleared, perhaps too completely, of wood, and portioned off into different fields and parks by hedges and stone walls. Judging from the appearance of the crops, I should conceive that the soil was here of some depth, as well as fertility, the whole valley being covered with wheat, barley, and Indian corn. And in truth, if the aspect of the country beyond the downs, where rocks tower one above another in rude and barren grandeur, furnish a legitimate criterion by which to determine respecting the general fertility of the island, I should be almost tempted to believe that the whole industry of its people has been expended upon this spot, simply because it was the only one capable of rewarding it. I was assured, however, by the natives, that such is not the case; and that, in the interior, and towards the opposite coast, the rugged magnificence of mountain scenery gives place to a more profitable though less picturesque champaign.
The principal streets of Ponto del Gada are paved, and kept once cool and clean by a. constant sprinkling of water, which is the business of two or three men stationed at pumps within obtain distance of one another, to scatter over them. Of the by-streets little can be said in praise, they being, like those of other Portuguese towns, composed of mean cottages, unpaved, and extremely dirty. There is, however, an air of elegance given to the town, particularly when looked at from a distance, by the intermixture of orange-groves among the houses; the largest of these, wherever they happen to stand, being, in general, surrounded by extensive gardens, all of which are abundantly stocked with that graceful and odoriferous plant. Add to this the number of towers and spires with which its numerous churches and convents are supplied, and the first aspect of the whole may be conceived to be extremely striking and imposing.
As soon as we had taken a hurried survey of the streets, the next object of attention was the religious houses. In these there was but little to admire, the architecture being of the plainest kind, and even the chapels as much wanting in ornament as can be imagined. There were, indeed, in most of them some trifling attempts at carved work and gilding upon the roof, a little stained glass, neither rich nor ancient, in the windows, and a few tawdry pictures suspended above the altars; but the general appearance was decidedly that of buildings which did not even aim at beauty or grandeur. The monks we found a good-natured, obliging set of men, very willing to give us any information in their power; by one of whom we were fortunate enough to be conducted through a convent of Augustine friars. Into their mode of living it is not to be supposed that we could obtain much insight. It seemed, however, to be less indolent than that of some convents which we had visited in the old country, and approached proportionably nearer to a college life among ourselves; though it must be admitted that the fellows and undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge have a better notion of both comfort and elegance than the Augustine friars of St. Michael's. Of the nuns we of course saw nothing, excepting through the grates. We found them full of curiosity, and eager to know as much as they could learn of the world from which they were excluded; but quite as fond of flirting as any set of young ladies at a boarding-school. It was amusing to observe their mode of begging, for all the nuns in this part of the world are licensed beggars. The younger and fairer members of the sisterhood came to the grate first; chatted, sung, and presented us with artificial flowers, and then retiring, made way for the old and the ugly, who requested a little money for the good of our souls and their bodies. To solicitations thus expressed it was impossible to turn a deaf ear, and the consequence was, that we soon discovered it to be quite as expensive an amusement to flirt with a nun, as with any other belle in London or elsewhere.
Besides the churches and convents, amounting in all to not fewer than nine, there is a fort erected for the protection of the harbour, which we likewise endeavoured to see, but were prevented by the sentinel at the gate, who refused us admittance. The disappointment, however, was not great, as it was easy to perceive, from its outward appearance, that the fort could possess few points worthy of observation; and, indeed, we attributed the reluctance evinced in admitting strangers to its utter uselessness as a place of defence.
To describe all this occupies but a small portion of time; but to see it was the laborious employment of an entire day. Wearied out at length with my exertions, and not feeling much rewarded, at least for the latter part of my trouble, I returned in the evening to the hotel, where, as the ships were still at anchor, taking on board water and fresh provisions, I ventured to spend the night.
Having thus discovered that there was little in the works of art, and a great deal in those of nature, throughout St. Michael's, to interest the traveller, a friend and myself determined to set off next morning on a visit to the volcano. With this design we ordered asses, for asses are the only animals for hire, to be in readiness by daybreak; and finding them in waiting at the time appointed, we took a guide with us and pushed forward in the direction of the dark smoke. The mountain with its crater being distinctly visible from Ponto del Gada, we took it for granted the distance between the two places could not exceed twelve or fourteen miles; but, on inquiring of our guide, we learned that the nearest road would carry us at least twenty-seven miles from the town. This was at once a startling and unpleasant piece of intelligence, affecting our arrangements in no trifling degree. To proceed was dangerous, because, mounted as we were, to go and return in one day was impossible; and, if we remained so far from the shipping during the night, the fleet might sail v before we should be able to get back. On the the other hand, to give up our design, and quit a country where a volcano was to be seen, without seeing it, appeared rather a mortifying prospect. After weighing for a few minutes the chances on both sides, I shall not say with the utmost impartiality, curiosity finally prevailed over apprehension; and, in order to prevent any further repentance and consequent change of mind, we put our donkeys into a gallop, and hurried on as fast as they could carry us. But the speed of the asses and our own venturous determination proved, after all, equally unavailing; for, on gaining the summit of the downs, and looking back upon the fleet, we beheld, to our great sorrow, the signal for sailing displayed at the topmasts of all the ships. Mortified at our disappointment, and at the same time rejoicing that we had got no farther on our journey, we were compelled to turn our asses' heads, and to retrace our steps towards Ponto del Gada, where we found everything in the bustle and confusion of a re-embarkation. The beach was covered with sailors, soldiers, bullocks, and casks of fresh water, hurrying, and being hurried, indiscriminately into the boats which had arrived to take them off. The townspeople were running about upon the strand, some offering their skiffs to convey the officers on board the ships, some helping to swing the bullocks into the barges, and others shouting and hallooing apparently from the disinterested love of noise. In short, it was a scene of great liveliness and bustle, perhaps rather too much so to be agreeable.
Seeing this universal eagerness to reach the fleet, we, like the rest, threw ourselves into the first boat we could approach, and in a short time found ourselves on board our own ship. But here a very tantalizing piece of intelligence awaited us, for we learnt that, in spite of all this show of preparation, the Admiral had not begun to weigh anchor; and that no intention of moving was entertained, at soonest, before the morrow. The opportunity, however, was lost; it could not be recovered, and we were obliged to submit as cheerfully as we could, though it was impossible to help regretting, what had at first been a source of consolation, the circumstance of our having caught a view of the signal at the time we did. But, as the event proved, all had turned out for the best; for on the day following the signal was again repeated; and by way of giving additional weight to it, the Admiral began to shake loose his topsails. Nor did it prove, like that of yesterday, a false alarm. By mid-day, the victualling and watering being complete, the fleet immediately began to get under weigh; and, as the wind blew fair and fresh, before dark the mountains of St. Michael's could be seen only like a thin vapour in the sky. Next morning nothing but the old prospect of air and water met the gaze, as we stood our course, at a rapid rate, towards Bermuda.
The voyage from St. Michael's to Bermuda occupied the space of almost an entire month, the first having been lost sight of on the 27th of June, and it being the 24th of July before the low shores of the last could be discerned. It was, however, a passage of more interest and productive of more variety than that from Bordeaux to the Azores. We had now arrived within the influence of the tropical climate, and were not unfrequently amused with water-spouts, and other phenomena peculiar to warm regions. The flying-fish, likewise, and its pursuer, the dolphin, afforded at least something to look at; whilst many idle hours were whiled away in attempts to catch or strike the latter with harpoons. In these we were not always unsuccessful, consequently we enjoyed several opportunities of watching the change of colour which that fish undergoes whilst it is dying; and though the description generally given of it is certainly indebted in some degree to the imagination of voyagers, I must confess that the transitions from blue to purple, and from purple to green, with all their intermediate shades, are extremely beautiful. When the fish is in the water, it is by no means remarkable for brilliancy of hue, and as as soon as it is dead it returns to its original colour—a dingy sea-green; but whilst it is floundering and flapping upon the deck, it is impossible to say what is its real appearance, so many and so different are the hues which it assumes. Nor did we escape without the occasional occurrence of a less agreeable species of variety; I mean squalls, thunder-storms, and whirlwinds. As we approached Bermuda, indeed, these became too frequent to excite any interest beyond an earnest desire that they would cease: but while we were yet a good way off, and the incident rare, they were witnessed with more of admiration than terror.
Besides these amusements with which nature supplied us, we were not backward in endeavouring to amuse ourselves. Being now pretty well accustomed to the atmosphere of a ship, we began to consider ourselves at home, and to give balls and other public entertainments through the fleet. One of these I shall take leave to describe, because I am sure it must interest from its novelty. On the 19th of July, at an early hour in the morning, a signal was made from the Royal Oak, that the Admiral would be happy to see the officers of the fleet on board his ship that evening. Boats were accordingly sent off from the different vessels, loaded with visitors; and on mounting the gangway, a stage, with a green curtain before it, was discovered upon the quarter-deck. The whole of the deck, from the poop to the mainmast, was hung round with flags, so as to form a moderate-sized theatre; and the carronades were removed from their port-holes, in order to make room for the company. Lamps were suspended from all parts of the rigging and shrouds, casting a brilliant light upon this singular playhouse; and the crew, arrayed in their best attire, crowded the booms, yards, and fore part of the deck; whilst the space from the mainmast to the foot of the stage was set with benches for the more genteel part of the audience.
At seven o'clock the curtain drew up, and discovered a scene painted with such taste as would not have disgraced any theatre in London. The play was the 'Apprentice,' with the 'Mayor of Garret' as an afterpiece, performed by the officers of the ship and of the artillery, and went off in high style, applauded, as it deserved to be applauded, with the loudest acclamations. The quarter-deck of a British line-of-battle ship has often enough been a stage for the exhibition of bloody tragedies; but to witness a comedy and a farce upon that stage, and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, was delightful from its very singularity. When the performance came to an end, the stage was knocked down, the seats removed, and everything cleared for dancing. The music was excellent, being composed of the band of the Royal Oak; and the ball was opened by Admiral Malcolm and the Honourable Mrs. Mullens, in a country dance, followed by as many couples as the space would permit; the greater number of officers dancing, as necessity required, with one another. In this amusement every person, from the Admiral and General, down to the youngest ensign and midshipman, joined, laying aside for the time all restraint or form of discipline; and having kept it up with great spirit till considerably beyond midnight, a blue light was hoisted as a signal for the different boats to come off for the strangers, and each returned to his own ship highly gratified with the evening's entertainment.
By employing ourselves in this manner, and by keeping up what is emphatically called a good heart, we contrived to pass out time agreeably enough. As often as the weather would permit, and the fleet lay well together, we made parties of pleasure to the different ships; when the wind was too high, and the fleet too much scattered for such proceedings, we remained at home, and amused ourselves in the best way we could. Some of the captains, and ours among the number, were possessed of very tolerable libraries, the doors of which they politely threw open for the benefit of their military guests; and thus, by reading, fishing, and boating, we were enabled to make head, with some success, against the encroachments of ennui. It must be confessed, however, that in spite of strenuous efforts to the contrary, that determined enemy of all idle persons was beginning to gain ground upon us, when, about mid-day on the 24th of July, a cry of land was heard from the mast-head. All eyes were immediately turned in the direction to which the sailor pointed, and as wind blew fair and moderately fresh, no great length of time before the same object was distinguishable from the deck. A signal was immediately hoisted for a pilot, who lost no time in coming off to us; and before dark we were at anchor opposite to the tanks in Bermuda.