Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade - LightNovelOnl.com
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We saw also the triumphal arch of Bonaparte, in the Place de Carousel, stripped of its four matchless Venetian horses. The stately pillar in the Place Vendome was also deprived of the effigy of him who erected it.
In short, every thing was done by the Bourbons at this period, sanctioned by the Allies, to obliterate even the very remembrance of such a character as Bonaparte. We visited also the splendid manufactory of china at Sevres--the National Museum of Antiquities--the Royal Library, and the Theatre Francais, to witness Talma's performance of Hamlet, with various other places of curiosity, too tedious to notice here; and, finally, the catacombs, the repository of millions of human bones.
Here it is where man is taught to remember what he is--a worm--a shadow that departeth--even a vapour, which appeareth for a moment, and then passeth away for ever. Oh, how does all human greatness dwindle into nothing, while you stand viewing these silent memorials of our frailty!
The myriads of generations that have passed away, multitudes of whose bones are collected in this vast, dark cavern! Now how noiseless those who perhaps once shook the world with alarms! I love to meditate on this sad scene, which, if duly considered, teaches the soundest wisdom. How apt are we to be allured by the gay fantastic follies of an hour, to forget that we must soon, so very soon, take up our abode in the dark and silent tomb! Oh! to be ready, when called upon, to descend into the house appointed for all living! But though these meditations may be pleasing to myself, they may not be so to my reader. I will therefore leave this dark, deep, and capacious charnel-house, and once more ascend with him to the light of the sun.
We had not remained long in Paris, till there was a grand review of the Emperor of Russia's Guards, and which took place in the Place of Louis XV., immediately in front of the Tuilleries. Nothing could exceed the uniformity and the steadiness of these Northern warriors. There were troops of all armies amongst them; the Cossacks, the hussars, the artillery, the grenadiers, and the regular infantry, all vied with each other in their endeavours to please their beloved Czar. Here were all the great ones of the earth assembled to witness this imposing spectacle; exhibited, no doubt, as much as any thing, for the purpose of showing the French the power of those who now held them in subjection.
But that arbitrary power which is so intolerable to the ideas of an Englishman, was here exhibited in all its native deformity. A Colonel of one of the regiments, whose movements did not please the Emperor, was, without the least ceremony, taken from the head of his regiment, and rammed into a common guard-house, where an English officer was on duty.
He hesitated to receive him, until assured that such was the custom in the Russian service, and that it was the Emperor's orders.
My battalion was soon after removed from the brigade it was originally posted to, and joined another, stationed on Montmartre. Here the adjutant and myself were quartered on a proprietor of the pits out of which the famous plaster of Paris is dug. These pits are situated on the side of this hill, facing the city. From hence I often took a fishing, or a shooting, or a coursing excursion. The first was generally confined to the Canal del Ourq, in which I found pike, perch, and tench. I never was very successful, however, both from the vast numbers of fishermen which frequented this water, and from the scarcity of fish. Partridges and hares were abundant in the neighbourhood of Paris, but we had not a good dog among us. We obtained leave from the Duke of Orleans to shoot in one of the royal preserves, the Forest of Bondy. In our coursing expeditions we were more successful, sometimes bringing in to the amount of seven hares in a day. This would be looked upon almost as poaching in England, but in France it was otherwise; they know nothing of coursing there; and nothing could exceed the beautiful country round Paris for that sport; it was a dead level generally, without a hedge, sometimes for miles together, and a rich corn country, so that hares abounded.
Towards autumn, we had two or three reviews of the British troops; these were splendid exhibitions of the tactics of our great General. But though the army had the appearance of a fighting army, I do not think it equalled the Russians in point of regularity and uniformity; with them the whole army is nearly dressed alike, especially the infantry; while the variety of our facings, and other distinctions of regiments, detracts greatly from the appearance of the army as a whole. Here also the crowned heads of Europe assembled in this city, paid us the compliment of their presence, the Emperor Alexander inspecting most minutely every regiment and division as it passed him. The Austrians and the Prussians also occasionally showed themselves in bodies, but I do not remember to have seen a general review of either of these armies; indeed neither of them had a large force in or near Paris, they being mostly at some distance from the capital, I believe. But we were often delighted with the Austrian Emperor's band, in which there were no less, I believe, than seventy performers, and all these the very first-rate musicians. We also had horse-races occasionally, that is, among the English officers; at one of which I witnessed poor old Blucher receive a hurt, from which he never recovered. Near the winning-post, the course was roped in, which the brave old fellow, as he came galloping down, all life, from the city, did not perceive, and coming up against them with great force, he was thrown from his horse, and unfortunately broke his arm. He lingered some time afterwards, but never got well of it, till death released him. We had two English boxers over there also, to amuse the people; they only sparred of course, with gloves on; and I rather think they realized a good deal of money by these exhibitions. Balloons also were set up from the gardens of Tivoli, with various other sources of amusement, so that to recount them all would only tire out my reader; suffice it to say, that in Paris, with plenty of money, and with an inclination to enter into all the gaieties of the place, no city on earth, I believe, is so fruitful of the means of pleasure and dissipation; but they leave a sting behind, which far outweighs these momentary gratifications; and if I was asked which I considered the most sinful city in the world, I would without hesitation say Paris.
Towards December arrangements were made for the army leaving Paris, and going into cantonments on the north-eastern frontier; but the remainder of the troops above the number required for the army of occupation were ordered home to England. My battalion was among the latter number; and, accordingly, we left the French capital on the 3d December, and marched out to St Denis, that famous burying-place of French royalty. From thence we passed near Beaumont, through Noailles to Beauvais, thence through some small villages, where we halted for the night, and on the 11th reached Abbeville.
On the 14th we quartered in Montreuil-sur-Mer, and on the 20th reached Calais, where we embarked for Dover. We landed at the latter place on the 22d, and the next morning proceeded to our old quarter Thorncliffe.
All warlike proceedings having now terminated, I made application for, and obtained, leave of absence to revisit my wife and my family, whom I had not seen for four years. I need not describe my feelings on once more beholding those I loved, and the reader will best appreciate them by placing himself in my situation. But I had not long enjoyed this pleasure till I heard that my battalion had been ordered to Ireland. I confess I did not much relish the information. When my leave expired I started for that country, and endeavoured to procure a passage across to Dublin; first from Maryport, in Cumberland, but without success. I then tried Workington, next Whitehaven, but was equally unable to get off from either of these. I then moved on to Liverpool, and took my place in one of the packets; but, after waiting several days, I was obliged to start for Holyhead, the only place from whence I was able to proceed to Ireland. All this disappointment and fatigue, together with some sad punches which a large woman in the coach had given my wife with her masculine elbows, so preyed upon her health and spirits, that three days after our arrival in Dublin she breathed her last. She had been in delicate health for a number of years, of an affection in the chest, but she complained mostly of this woman's elbows, which she said had injured her much. It will easily be conceived how afflictive such a dispensation must have been to him who had to bear it. But God does all things well; and even in the midst of our severest chastisements, we should view Him as a kind and tender parent, who only chastens us for our good, and who does not willingly afflict the children of men. A part of the battalion had arrived in Dublin when the melancholy event took place, almost all the officers of which favoured me by their presence at the funeral. I had her buried in St Mary's churchyard, Mary being her own name.
We remained in Dublin for twenty-seven months--a longer period than any other regiment I believe; and here I think I may truly say I acquired the first knowledge of the only way of salvation; for although born and reared a Christian, and having, as the reader may recollect, been brought sensibly to the knowledge of myself as a condemned sinner, I had as yet no distinct knowledge or apprehension of the nature of the Christian faith; and I think I may, under the blessing of God, attribute my earnest search after a sure foundation of hope to the reading of Doddridge's "Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," and to the truly evangelical sermons I heard from the many eminent preachers which fill the pulpits of this capital, but more particularly to the Rev. Mr Matthias, chaplain to the Bethesda Institution. My narrative will contain nothing interesting from this period to the general reader. I will, therefore, generalize as much as possible. From Dublin we marched to Birr, in the King's County; and while here, it was determined upon by government to reduce the battalion to which I belonged, which was carried into effect in January 1819; but as I was then the senior quartermaster of the regiment, I was ordered to join the 1st battalion of the corps at Gosport, which I did in February. Here we remained till September, when the Radical war called us to the north.
We embarked on board the Liffy frigate and ---- corvette, in about three or four hours' notice, on the 18th of that month, and landed at Leith on the 28th, whence we marched to Glasgow, the seat of this unhappy disturbance. I need not describe the Radical war, it being well known.
Here my health began to be much impaired. The affection of my chest, occasioned by the rupturing of the bloodvessel at Cadiz, produced most distressing effects upon my general health. I consequently obtained leave, and returned home for a few months.
During my stay at home my dear father departed this life; and I had thus the melancholy satisfaction of witnessing the last sad scene, and of paying the last duties of a child to a beloved parent. He was not, as I mentioned at the beginning of my narrative, a religious man when I left home; but towards the close of his life I have every reason to believe he was a sincere penitent, and a believer in Him through whom alone our sins can be forgiven; and I have a well-grounded hope that he is now enjoying eternal felicity in heaven, whither I hope myself to come through Him that loved me, and washed me from my sins in his own blood, and to whom be praise and glory for ever. Amen.
I joined again in the spring, and remained there all that summer, during which I had many pleasant fishing excursions into the country. I visited the falls of the Clyde, and proceeded to some a considerable distance higher up, where another officer and myself caught abundance of trout. I also took a trip into the Highlands of Argyleshire, where I had excellent sport. But at the approach of winter I was again obliged to leave Glasgow, the damp atmosphere of which, together with the smoke of the numerous steam-engines employed in its manufactories, fairly drove me out. I again went home for the winter; but during this period this battalion also got an order to embark for Ireland, and I joined them in Belfast in January 1821. From hence we marched in the spring to Armagh, where I had the high privilege of becoming acquainted with a sincere and pious clergyman, one of the reading vicars of the cathedral; and I trust I benefited by this favourable opportunity. From Armagh we marched to Naas, the country to the south having become much disturbed by the Whiteboys, as they termed themselves. We did not remain long at Naas, but were pushed on to Kilkenny, where I first became acquainted with that truly Christian minister, the Rev. Peter Roe, a gentleman well known in the religious world. I am proud and happy that I ever had the privilege of knowing him. May God prosper his pious and unceasing endeavours to benefit the souls of his fellow-creatures!
We did not remain long, however, at Kilkenny, but moved on to Fermoy, and thence to Newcastle, in the county of Limerick, the cradle of the Whiteboy insurrection. Here we were for a time actually shut up as in a besieged town; and no individual belonging to the army durst attempt to move out without a sufficient number being together, to deter the misguided peasantry from attacking us. Innumerable were the murders that were committed about this neighbourhood at this time; and one's blood runs chill to think that these miscreants, when taken and brought to the gallows to atone for their crime, protested their innocence with their last breath, although hundreds around them could attest their guilt.
This Rockite war gave us considerable trouble, and it was not for a long time after that it was finally put down.
We remained in Newcastle till September, when we marched to Rathkeale, in the same county. Here we continued stationary till October 1823, when we marched again for Dublin. I had thus an opportunity of again hearing my favourite preacher; but the place was always so crowded that it was seldom practicable for strangers to obtain seats.
From Dublin we marched to Belfast, in September 1824, where we continued till July 1825, when my battalion was ordered for service in Nova Scotia. The orders of the army being now for only six companies out of the ten to go abroad, the other four remained at home, to form what is termed the depot. Application was made for me to remain and act as paymaster to this body; but it having been decided that quartermasters could not act as paymasters, according to the new regulations, this boon was refused me, although I had acted four times before. This is to be attributed to the ill conduct of many of my brother quartermasters who had obtained paymasterships during the war, but who generally did not conduct themselves as men of honour and integrity ought to do, and many were consequently dismissed from the service. It was perfectly correct for those in authority to consult the good of the public in all appointments of this nature, but it was hard on those who were thus made to suffer for the sins of others,--nay, this ineligibility of quartermasters extended farther than to the appointment of acting paymaster. They have since 1817 been precluded from holding the situation of full paymaster, however well recommended they might be. I was a second time recommended, in 1820, by Lieutenant-General the Hon.
Sir William Stewart for the paymastership of his own battalion, that is, the one in which I was serving, but received the same answer from the Secretary-at-War, that quartermasters were ineligible to the situation.
I cannot but feel keenly the degradation to which the ill conduct of certain individuals has reduced that situation, which formerly was only like a step towards the more lucrative and more respectable one of paymaster; but, as I said before, we must not murmur at the dispensations of Providence, however severely they affect our worldly prospects; and no doubt all this was done by the direction of Him who cannot err. However, I have great reason also to be thankful to Lord Palmerston, notwithstanding my disappointments as above stated; for he--taking into consideration the injury that the present quartermasters had sustained, in consequence of the ill conduct of the individuals before noticed, and their consequent deprivation of all prospects of farther promotion, however eligible in other respects they might be, and however exemplary their conduct--brought in a bill in the session of 1826, to allow these officers to retire on _full_ pay after twenty years' service in the army, provided their health was such as to render them incapable of farther service. This could not formerly take place till after thirty years' service. I have, therefore, abundant cause of gratitude to that Right Honourable Lord, for his kind remembrance of us on this occasion, as well as for his kindness in permitting me to avail myself of the benefit of this act; and I have on this, as on all other occasions, abundant cause of thankfulness to the Great Disposer of all events, not only for what He has permitted me to enjoy, but for what He has withheld from me; for He only knows what is really good for me, and I doubt not will give me always that. I may with great truth declare, that goodness and mercy have followed me all my days, notwithstanding my seeming disappointments, and which I believe were inflicted on me solely for my everlasting good. To Him, therefore, be praise and glory for ever.
But to return. Having been disappointed of obtaining the acting paymaster's place, I remained with the depot in my capacity as quartermaster till the spring of 1826, when I received an order to be ready for embarkation to join the battalion in Nova Scotia. Accordingly I embarked, with four other officers, at Liverpool, on the 14th of June, on board the Robert Burns merchant brig, and reached Halifax after a rather tedious passage, in which we encountered some roughish weather on the 22d July.
I scarcely need say any thing of Halifax, which, being one of our oldest colonies, must be well known to almost all my readers. Neither was I there a sufficient time to enable me to enter into a minute description of the town or country: suffice it to say, it appears to be a town built mostly of wood along the face of a hill, on the left-hand side of the harbour, reaching close down to the latter, which is so deep, capacious, and sheltered, that I question whether there is a better in the world: a seventy-four can lie close alongside the wharfs. The town contains, I understand, about 13,000 inhabitants, composed of settlers from different countries, but chiefly English, Irish, Scotch, and Dutch.
There are a few negroes, a part of the slaves taken from the Americans during the late war having been located here.
The colony is not so flourishing as it was during war, as it was then greatly supported by the immense number of ships and troops which always were stationed here. The country round Halifax is barren in the extreme, except a very small portion, where hay is generally grown. It seems incapable of cultivation, being little else than rock, with forests of stunted pines, &c. growing upon it. In some parts of Nova Scotia, however, there is excellent land, which yields a great return for cultivation; and were it not for the severity of the winter, which in this country is both long and severely trying to weak constitutions, it would, I doubt not, be an excellent country to which to emigrate. The waters in every direction afford abundance of fish, but not of the best quality. There are portions of two tribes of Indians occasionally in the neighbourhood of Halifax. I forget their names; but the men of one tribe are exceedingly tall, being seldom below five feet ten inches, and many reaching to six feet three inches. The men of the other are in general short. Both tribes are fast diminishing in point of numbers. They are greatly addicted to the fatal vice of drunkenness, whenever they can command the means of becoming so; and in Halifax it is no difficult matter, for the abominable rum which is sold here may be had almost as cheap as ale in England.
These unfortunate wanderers have hitherto resisted all efforts to induce them to settle and cultivate the land, although many of them are _good Christians_, their progenitors having been converted by the Roman Catholic priests while the French held the country.
The woods, &c. in the neighbourhood of Halifax contain little game of any kind. There are a few what they call partridges, which, I believe, roost on trees; but they have more the appearance of grouse than the partridge of England. There are some woodcocks also in the season, but they are rather scarce. Snipes also, and several species of plover, may be met with occasionally; but you will seldom be able to fill your game-bag with any thing. There are some hares of a very small description, little larger than our rabbits; but these are rare. Bears also, with a few other wild animals, occasionally show themselves; but in winter, I am told, a deathlike silence pervades the whole face of the country, as if every living animal had totally deserted it, and I believe with all the winged tribes this is actually the case.
The women here are remarkably fair and beautiful, and, generally speaking, are, I believe, as virtuous as at home; but among the lower orders, whose virtue is so frequently assailed by the temptations which a large naval and military force always brings with it, like our Portsmouth, and other places of a similar description, the scenes of vice and abomination are extremely disgusting. A great many of the unfortunate blacks before mentioned are included in the number of these unhappy prostitutes.
The places of worship in Halifax are both good and pretty numerous.
There are two churches, two or three Presbyterian or Scotch churches, two Baptist, two or three Methodist, and one or two Roman Catholic places of worship.
I did not remain here long; for, finding that my broken and debilitated constitution could not possibly withstand the severity of a winter in this climate, I was ordered to be examined by a board of medical officers, who recommended my return to England without delay.
Accordingly, on the 20th of September, I embarked on board the Borodino transport. We sailed on the 22d, and on the 25th encountered one of the severest gales I almost ever witnessed. It carried away every sail we had set, and swept away our jolly-boat from the quarter. I often wished I was once more snug in England, and my hope was, I should then tempt the sea no more. That same all-gracious Being who had so long watched over me, and had brought me in safety that far on my journey, He also brought me to my native land once more in peace; for on the 13th of October I landed at Portsmouth, having been only three weeks in returning from, while we had been nearly six in going to, Halifax.
I immediately set off for London, where, having reported myself to the Secretary at War, I was ordered to be examined by the Director-General of Hospitals as to the state of my health, and with a view to avail myself of the benefits of the act of Parliament before mentioned, and being prospered by Him who has always been better unto me than I could possibly deserve, I have been permitted to set myself down in peace in this my own native village for the remainder of my life, having the unspeakable privilege of being surrounded by many kind and dear relations, who vie with each other in their endeavours to render me comfortable and happy, and where I can in serenity watch the gradual approach of that enemy which my Saviour has overcome for me, and which, my hope is, He will deprive of all his terrors, as I trust he has done of his sting, and that, when I shall have continued my appointed time in this vale of tears, I, as well as the reader of this narrative, shall be taken to Himself, to dwell with Him for ever.
The following are copies of fifteen testimonials addressed to the late Quartermaster Surtees.
No. 1.--FROM LIEUT.-COL. DUFFY.
_Birr, 24th January, 1819._
As you are on the point of removing to the 1st battalion, I take this opportunity of expressing my entire satisfaction at the very regular and orderly manner in which your department has been conducted during the time you have been placed under my command; and it will give me great pleasure should an occasion occur where my testimony to your gentlemanlike conduct can be of service to you.
I remain, Dear Sir, Very faithfully yours, J. DUFFY, Lt.-Col. Rifle Brigade.
Quartermaster Surtees, 1st Bat. Rifle Brigade.
No. 2.--FROM MAJOR TRAVERS.
_Tuam County, Galway, 19th April 1820._
With feelings of most sincere regret I read your letter to me, which I received yesterday, and lose not a moment in complying with your request, which, should it prove to be of any use to you, I am sure will be productive of the most heartfelt gratification to every one of those concerned, whose opinions of you are, as they always have been, of the highest description. Your conduct, both as a gentleman and soldier, has ever been such as to excite in the breast of your brother officers sentiments peculiarly favourable; and for myself, I have only to say, that few of my old acquaintances in the corps have had my esteem in a higher degree. I send you the sentiments of such of your old brother officers, in the shape of a certificate, as I could obtain, whose standing may have some influence in the procuring the accomplishment of your wishes, and regret that the dispersed state of the regiment prevents its being more general.
Dear Surtees, Yours faithfully, JAS. TRAVERS.
Wm. Surtees, Esq.
Quartermaster, Rifle Brigade.
No. 3.--FROM OFFICERS OF THE 2D BATTALION RIFLE BRIGADE.
The following testimonial is subscribed by us, in hopes it may prove beneficial to an officer who has so long supported the character which we are desirous to portray in the terms it deserves.
We certify, that Mr William Surtees, late Quartermaster in the Rifle Brigade, has been for a considerable number of years known to us in the regiment, and that for soldierlike and gentlemanly conduct, no person bore a higher character. He served in the situation he filled in the corps, particularly that of Acting Paymaster, for two considerable periods in the Peninsula, and with the expedition to New Orleans, with credit to himself, and satisfaction to his superiors, and, to our knowledge, obtained the general esteem and approbation of all his brother officers of the regiment who knew him.