1825-1828: HARRY SMITH ACCOMPANIES HIS REGIMENT TO NOVA SCOTIA–SIR JAMES KEMPT–HARRY SMITH PARTS WITH HIS OLD REGIMENT ON BEING APPOINTED DEPUTY QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL IN JAMAICA–HE HAS TO DEAL WITH AN EPIDEMIC OF YELLOW FEVER AMONG THE TROOPS–APPOINTED DEPUTY QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL AT THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE.
SHORTLY after this, my Corps was ordered to embark at Belfast [30 July] for Nova Scotia on board three transports, the Arab, the [Speke85], and the Joseph Green. I had the command of two Companies and a half in the last ship. When we arrived on board, with the quantity of baggage, etc., the ship was in a wild-looking state. The Captain and the agent came to me and said, "We are ordered to go to sea to-morrow, but this is impossible from the state of the ship; it is of no consequence, if you would give us a certificate to this effect; the day after to-morrow will do quite as well." "The devil it will," says I, "when you are ordered. Have you everything belonging to the ship's stores on board?" "Everything." Johnny Kincaid was my subaltern, so I said, "Johnny, at daybreak in the morning turn out all hands, and prepare a certificate for my signature at eight o'clock if required." Eight o'clock arrived, and no man-of-war's decks were ever more ready for action–our baggage all stored below, our soldiers' arms and everything else arranged, and I told the Captain, "Now, you see, I need sign no certificate. We Riflemen obey orders and do not start difficulties." We were under way in no time. This Captain Lumsden was an excellent fellow; some years after he took Sir James Stirling out as Governor to Swan River and touched at the Cape, when I had an opportunity of returning some of his many acts of kindness.
Our voyage was much like other voyages across the Atlantic, but an odd circumstance occurred. Although each ship sailed from Belfast separately and at an interval of two days, mine the last, we were all three sailing into Halifax Harbour the same day [1 Sept.?], in the very order in which we left Belfast, and anchored within a few hours of each other. Our dear old friend, Sir James Kempt, the Governor there, was delighted with this odd re-union, and laughed and said, "I see my old comrades, whether separated by sea or land, get together in the old way, however distantly extended." In Halifax we were soon found by our other dear old friends, the 52nd Regiment. They had more old soldiers in their ranks than we had, having embarked for America two or three years before us; and oh, the greeting with us all, and the happiness of the old soldiers at meeting my wife again! They were inquiring after her horse Tiny, her dog, etc., and expecting all were alive as when we had parted at Bordeaux in 1814.
If ever happiness existed in this world, we may claim it for Halifax when the Government was administered by Sir James Kempt. Society, by the force of his example, was the most agreeable thing imaginable. Government House was princely in its style; we had private theatricals, races, sham-fights, regattas, and among all our varied amusements (to which were added in the winter four-in-hand and tandem driving-clubs, and picnics at the Half-way House), harmony the most perfect prevailed between civilians and officers, soldiers and sailors. (Our noble fellows of the Navy were commanded by Admiral Lake.)
We had a great re-union of Governors there one year; Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General of North America, Sir James Kempt, Governor of Nova Scotia, General Sir John Keane, Governor of Jamaica, Sir Howard Douglas, Governor of New Brunswick, and Colonel Reid, Governor of Prince Edward's Island–a regular court of magnates–and never were people more happy than all. For some time I had the command of the Regiment, Colonel Norcott that of the Garrison. I afterwards accepted an unattached half-pay majority, expecting to be brought in again, and I was appointed A.D.C. to my dear and valued friend, Sir James Kempt. I thus learned much of the administration of a Government, which was afterwards of the greatest possible use to me when administering a Government myself. I had often witnessed Sir J. Kempt's ability as a soldier; but I cannot avoid saying he perfectly astonished me and all who knew him as a statesman and a ruler. Evincing such temper, such a clearness of judgment, such discretion and most uncompromising justice, he soon carried with him the Colony. The House of Assembly, and even the Whig opposition, admired his talent and never opposed any of his great acts, while, by his amiable manners and kind, though unostentatious, hospitality, society was cemented, and indeed, what the word implies, social.
The day I was gazetted out, my old Company came in a body to ask me to allow them to give me a dinner, "that is, we don't expect your honour to sit down with us, but we will have a dinner, and you will drink with us a parting glass." I readily consented, and sat down with them, too, for a few minutes. Old Johnny Kincaid, who succeeded me as Captain, and my subalterns, were present, and the parting glass was drunk with that mutual feeling of strong affection which exists between officers and soldiers. I was a most rigid disciplinarian, but good conduct was as much distinguished by me as bad was visited, and I carried all with me.
I was not long permitted to enjoy this comparative repose, but was appointed [23 Nov.] Deputy Quartermaster-General in Jamaica. I speedily prepared to join, taking a passage on board a little brig for ourselves and our horses. I had a farewell dinner given me by the Governor and by the Admiral, and many of the kind inhabitants, and by every Regimental Mess, while the Regimental Order issued by Colonel Norcott speaks for itself.86
I had served twenty-five [twenty-one?] years in this Corps during the most eventful periods. It had never been on service but I was fighting with some portion of it. No officer had ever posted it so often on outlying picquet, and I had fought where it had not been; thus were severed no ordinary or transient ties.
The day we were to leave we can never forget. Sir James Kempt sent for me to his private room. I saw his warm heart was full. He said, "Harry, I am going to exact a promise of you. The climate you are going to is one where life and death so rapidly change places, it would be folly to rush into unnecessary danger, by exposing yourself to the effects of the sun or leading that life of violent exercise you have ever done. My desire, therefore, is your promise never to go out snipe-shooting or to ride any more races, in a tropical climate at least." Of course I promised. He then said, holding a letter in his hand, "Here are some notes for your guidance in Jamaica, and as you have paid three times more for your passage [than the allowance?], there is a note enclosed which makes up the difference." The tears rolled down his gallant cheeks, and I left the room in the deepest affliction.
On descending to the ball-room I found every gentleman of Halifax and every officer of the garrison awaiting to accompany us on board. Sir James, taking my wife under his arm, led the procession.
As I was with Sir James, three non-commissioned officers, one Rifles, one 52nd, and one 74th, came up and begged to speak to me. They said, "Your Honour, the whole garrison are turned out and in column in the street. There's the head of it to carry your Honour on board." By Jupiter, there they were, sure enough, in a column of sixes, one file Rifles, one 52nd, one 74th. They had a chair in which they seated me, and carried me after the procession of officers on board. These compliments at the time are impressive, but when we look back remind us of the pain of parting, and that many who were then most loud in their shouts of parting acclamation are long ago mingled with the mortal dust we shall all add to. The little brig was weighed immediately. All officers who had sailing boats accompanied us to the mouth of the harbour, and thus we parted from faithful friends, veteran comrades, and three of the most renowned Regiments of the Duke's old Army, and in a few hours found ourselves alone on the wide Atlantic, with a crew of one captain and seven sailors, and one quadrant the only nautical instrument on board. But as we were all in all to each other, so were we still in possession of the world. This quadrant the captain would leave about the deck in a careless manner when taking his observations. I almost worshipped it, and therefore watched over it accordingly. We had a very favourable passage, and dined every day on deck but one (for our cabin was not that of the Royal Oak), and ourselves and horses reached Jamaica in twenty-eight days all right. Soon after we landed, the crew, all but one man, an old German carpenter, died of yellow fever, and in the harbour commenced one of those awful visitations to the island which sweep off hundreds.
We landed at Kingston, where Sir J. Keane's house was prepared for us. The Governor was at Spanish Town, but came in with his generous warmth of heart next day to entertain us. Our worthy friend, Admiral Fleming, of Cumbernauld House,87 was in naval command. Mrs. Fleming was with him, so that, although in a new world, we were among faithful old friends.
As Quartermaster-General, my first attention was directed to the barrack accommodation, furniture, utensils, etc. The barracks at Upper Park was a Royal Establishment in every respect; the buildings were most beautifully provided, capacious, and built on arches with a current of air passing beneath; they had a bath-room, etc. The barracks in every other quarter of the island were Colonial Establishments, the buildings at many execrable, and the barrack furniture, bedding, etc., horrible. The soldier's bed was a blanket, though the very touch of a blanket in a tropical climate is disagreeable; and this, laid on the floor, was his all: a wooden floor certainly, but full of bugs, fleas, etc., to an incredible extent. So soon as I laid my report before Sir John Keane, he was most desirous to effect an improvement. We turned to and framed a statement to the Horse Guards (the Duke was then Commander-in-Chief), and in a few months every soldier had a bed, sheets, iron bedstead, etc., and every other requisite.
Still the troops did not escape the yellow fever, of which the seeds, as usual in its visitations, had first germinated among the shipping (where the mortality was fearful). The disease spread to our troops–first to the Artillery at Port Royal, then to the 84th at Fort Augustus, next to the 22nd Regiment at Stony Hill (in both cases to an appalling extent), then partially to the 33rd Regiment at Upper Park Camp, the Royal Barracks. In about six weeks we buried 22 officers and 668 soldiers, out of the 22nd and 84th Regiments principally. Sir John (now Lord) Keane was up the country, and I had a carte blanche to do what I thought best. I therefore, in conjunction with the Acting Inspector-General of Hospitals, resolved to move the 84th from Fort Augustus to a bivouac at Stony Hill. Tents were sent up and huts were in progress. So soon as they were ready I marched the corps, and from that day the yellow fever ceased; there was only one admission afterwards. The day previously to the march of the poor 84th, I went down to Fort Augustus and paraded the Regiment. Only two subalterns were fit for duty, and although only sixty men were in hospital, seventeen died that day. The admissions into hospital were not so great in proportion as the mortality, one in four being the average of deaths. The Regiment was in a perfect state of despondency (it consisted like the 22nd Regiment, of young fresh soldiers recently arrived from England); but I cheered them up. I wheeled them into line a time or two, formed close column, and told them, whether a soldier died by yellow fever or on the battle-field, it was all in the service of his country; that I should move them to a healthy spot the next day where they would leave the yellow fever behind, and now three cheers for his Majesty! The poor fellows were all alive again in no time. When we consider that every officer but two was sick, that already upwards of two hundred out of six hundred of their comrades had been buried, when death in this passive shape lay hold of them, it is not to be wondered at that a young (or any) Regiment should be appalled.
In Jamaica, while this yellow fever was raging, I have ridden thirty-five miles in the sun and gone sixteen miles in an open boat in one day, and been for a long time in the wards of different hospitals, where sickness and death in every stage was progressing around me. It is an awful sight to the afflicted patients in the large wards of a hospital, reduced by sickness to the excess of debility, to see the men on either side probably dead or dying, and there is no remedy and very little power of at all alleviating such a calamity. Many a man who would live if in a solitary room, dies from the power of imagination on the debilitated frame. Then, again, when a man has lost the fever, the surgeon is obliged to discharge him, because he requires the accommodation for recent admissions. He goes to his Company, his appetite has somewhat recovered, he eats heartily, a relapse ensues, he goes to hospital and dies to a certainty. It is rarely indeed that a case of relapse recovers. To obviate this, I established convalescent hospitals. I had various difficulties to contend with, but the success of the institution was an ample reward for labour, and established a precedent since equally advantageously acted on.
Nothing can be more capricious than these epidemics in tropical climates. On the very day twelvemonth that I paraded the 84th and seventeen men died, Sir John Keane made his half-yearly inspection of the corps at the same place, Fort Augustus. There was not a man in hospital and only one man out of the ranks; he paraded in the rear of his Company, being lame from a fractured leg.
The poor 22nd Regiment at Stony Hill suffered equally with the 84th; the Colonel, the Major, the Paymaster, and five officers died in a few days. The Adjutant's room, next the Orderly room, possessed the mortal seeds of the yellow fever. Every one who sat to write in the room was knocked down and died in a few days; in consequence I prohibited the use of it. Major Stewart, a most excellent officer, though not obedient in this instance, treated the prohibition slightingly, wrote there two days, on the fifth he was buried.
In a short time this fearful epidemic disappeared, and the troops, five regiments in all on the island, were healthy. Sir John Keane proposed a tour of inspection throughout the island. He was to sail in his yacht, landing every night. I, having a terrestrial turn, drove my wife four-in-hand. The daughter of the Receiver-General, Miss Stevenson, accompanied us, the beauty of the island.
A very curious appearance presents itself nearly all round Jamaica. The coast is very bold, and ships to load sugar are navigated through sunken rocks within a few yards of the very shore. At a distance the ships look as if on shore, but they ride in perfect safety, the sunken rocks forming the protection of the harbour. To all these spots a road is made from the adjacent sugar estates, called a barcadero, from the Spanish embarcaro, "to embark."
The hospitality of the superb mansions we stopped at, the fortunate union with Sir John every night–for the sea-breeze blows so regularly he could calculate his arrival as by land–made this one of the most pleasant tours I ever made. Nothing can be more picturesque than the whole island, and its fertility exceeds anything I have ever seen; while its population (slaves) were more happy, better fed, less worked, and better provided for in sickness than any peasants throughout the many parts of the world in which I have been. Slavery there was merely nominal; the young were educated to a necessary extent, the able-bodied lightly worked, the sick comforted, the aged provided for. All had little huts, some very comfortable, according to the turn and industry of the occupants. All had a nice garden, and all were well fed.
After our tour we went to live in the Liguanea Mountains, in Admiral Fleming's Pen (as a country residence is there called); a most delightful spot, the climate luxurious, though enervating if you descend into the plains, which I did to my office regularly twice a week. In these hills you have constant thunder-showers; hence the gardens produce every European vegetable as good as in Covent Garden, and the fruits are unequalled.
While in this happy retreat, I received a note one evening from my worthy friend, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, to say the Duke, having been pleased with my exertions in Jamaica, had appointed me [24 July] to succeed my old friend John Bell (recently made Colonial Secretary) as Deputy-Quartermaster-General at the Cape of Good Hope. I never received any official communication of my appointment, and in forty-eight hours, bag and baggage, I was on board the Slany man-of-war, and under way for Nassau to Admiral Fleming, in the hope of some ship being ordered to proceed direct for the Cape, or to some intermediate port from whence I could take a fresh departure for my destination.
I was very fortunate in disposing of my furniture, carriage, buggy, horses, etc., particularly the latter, which I had brought from Halifax. They sold for three times what I had paid for them. They have an excellent breed of thoroughbred horses on the island, excessively dear, but for carriages the American horses are preferred.
Without egotism, our departure from Jamaica was as gratifying to us both as that from Halifax. Nothing could exceed the kindness of a vast number of friends, and I had a letter from every officer commanding a regiment.
85 I supply this name from Cope, p. 226.
86 "Colonel Norcott feels himself bound by every principle of public and private duty to express to Lieutenant-Colonel Smith and the officers and battalion at large his most sincere and deep regret for the loss of an officer who has served for twenty-two years with such indefatigable zeal, distinguished bravery, and merit, and now retires from its active duties on promotion and an appointment on the staff in Jamaica, but to resume in that situation the same persevering devotion to his profession, his king, and country.
"The Colonel knows how truly every officer in the Brigade participates his feelings and sentiments, and is assured of the lively and warm wishes of every non-commissioned officer and soldier for the welfare of one who, with every attribute of as good and as gallant an officer as ever lived, invariably united the most kind and peculiar interest for the comfort and happiness of the soldier.
"At the particular request of this officer, it affords the Colonel much pleasure to release from confinement to barracks, and punishments of every description, all soldiers now under their sentences; he only hopes, and is ready to believe, that they will prove sensible and grateful for Colonel Smith's kindness, shown up to the very last moment he remains amongst them, in addition to every noble and honourable feeling which all soldiers ought to show in the performance of their duty and conduct on every occasion, by a determination to relinquish every habit tending to injure the good of the service, their corps, and individual respectability, comfort, happiness, and future welfare.
"A. NORCOTT, Colonel.
"Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 4. [? Jan.] 1827."
87 See p. 336.