3, 8 and 19 July and 7 August 1815

Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mary Hays, at the Penningtons, Bristol, 3, 8 and 19 July [and 7 August 1815].1

Barbadoes  July 3d 8th & 19th [1815]

            After believing that you my dear Mary, as well as every one also in England, had forgotten me I was relieved from that painful apprehension by the arrival of your kind affectionate and cheerful letter. It is a long time since I have had one from you expressive of such calmness & evenness2 of spirits and feeling. I am sure therefore that notwithstanding the disagreeables of the Lady Resident your removal to Clifton has been of material service. Your picture of all that passes within doors was highly amusing – of all that you saw & of all your out-door associations, highly gratifying. Continue I pray you to give me a constant description of every thing that <–> surrounds or interests you and let me thus enjoy as much of your society as wayward Fate has left me the power to enjoy.

     You will no longer have to complain of my not writing sufficiently in detail for some of my voluminous epistles must long since have reached you. I half suspect one might be lost in the Montrose Packet but the other must have come to hand. I cannot exactly say whether I have written twice or thrice since the short letter you acknowledge & my uncertainty on this point would not surprise you if you knew how totally my memory is annihilated and how constantly I am bewildered with a multiplicity of occupations almost beyond my power of performing. Since I wrote last Mrs Rutherford has brought us a second little boy3 & in the first week of her confinement had an illness from the effects of which she is but now recovering. At the very period of her danger we were rob’d robbed by two of our Servants & beside the loss we sustained I had all the inconvenience of increased household claims without due assistance. I never underwent more fatigue for night & day I was the same yet except weariness I had no bodily complaint & on the whole I think my health is mended since my residence at Barbadoes. The only complaint which materially annoys me is a Giddiness in my head at times, which ^that^ I take to be owing to certain ^natural^ changes which are not yet decided in my constitution. Of the prickly heat, however tormenting, I do not speak as a disease, because it belongs to the fermentation caused by the climate in the blood or juices & is looked upon as a preservative from worse evils. My old complaint has never returned & considering the exertion & exhaustion I undergoe daily I must allow that the climate has been beneficial to me. Nothing is so common here as old Ladies of from 80 to 100 years of age. The men shorten their period by intemperance & sensuality. I do not I assure you wish to be one of these great Grandmothers. I do not love life the better as I extend my acquaintance with it. Yet I should like to live & have health enough to revisit England, dear England, when I can do so without being an incumbrance on the sympathy of my friends in behalf of my undecided prospects. I have the satisfaction to assure you that greatly as my first dislike of the Climate induced me to fear this some interruption to the success of our plans I can no longer doubt the accomplishment of Mr Rutherfords fairest prophecies. We have now 37 pupils – one boarder, at £100 pr Ann, though we have only opened our boarding school a fortnight, a second expected this week and several others spoken of as coming. We have removed into a very fine house for the accommodation of boarders, & from the calls of enquiry and cards sent for it is not being unreasonably sanguine to expect that our school room before the expiration of this year will contain 50 scholars. Beyond that number I do not mean to go nor would it be possible without sending to England for assistance. Already I have not from ½ past 6 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon an interval of rest unless I take it from the performance of some prescribed duty. Elizas long indisposition has rendered her unable to take any ^material^ share in the school business for she had not indeed strength enough to encounter the difficulties occurring in the management of the household. We have however at last fortunately got a superintending Servant, & if his honesty which we have at present no read reason to doubt, equals his activity he will prove a treasure. Already Mrs R is relieved from many claims & as her strength encreases her assistance will greatly lighten my shoulders of their burthen. Our removal has been attended with much expence on account of necessary purchases but our income is equal to all we expend now, & will after this coming quarter leave an overplus. Perhaps you will be frightened & be inclined to doubt our prudence when I tell you that the rent of our new dwelling is £300 pr Ann  Enormous as that sounds it is considered to be very cheap; for large stores belong to the house, so well situated that we have already let one for £100 pr Ann & have another equally valuable for which we have had proposals. Houses are at a high rate & very difficult to be got. The Island has, as I dare say you know a most extraordinary population for its size & the Town is of course crowded with inhabitants. I should prefer living in the Country but our day school bringing in nearly £800 pr Ann is too valuable to be relinquished. Our new House is not connected with any other building & its spacious lofty rooms draw such a current of air ^through them^ that I have ceased to make an outcry about the heat because I do not feel half the annoyance I did. Perhaps the <–> ^toil^ I undergoe deadens my susceptibility of heat by leaving me no unoccupied moment to lament it. We dine at ½ past 4, & by the time I rise from Table the exhaustion of my days labour takes its empire & though I may have made a thousand wise resolutions of taking up my pen to address a dear Friend, I am incapable of the effort, & after inertly enjoying the evening breeze in a Balcony for an hour or so, lounge to Bed & hold a war with the Mosquitoes till ½ past 5 the following morning. What a new kind of life is this to me – Altogether new – My pale yellow daughter with her two babes, full of the strongest most apprehensive most timid of motherly solicitudes is a new creature to me & Orlando too, tall erect manly – thinking & acting for himself & managing the business of a considerable mercantile house with sober steadiness, his fading color testifying his fatigues are all strangenesses with which at times my heart refuses to become familiar. As I open my whole heart to you I will tell you that I have felt great uneasiness & misery lest he shd acquire a habit of drinking. When we first arrived he was cautioned against the water of the Island which is accused of a tendency to create swellings of the Testicles. For my part I doubt the fact & cannot believe that the pure unadulterated water which agrees so well with the females who generally drink nothing else can be solely injurious to the male community. It is however generally credited & even Mr Rutherford who is restless in all physical enquiries dashes his glass of water with a ^very^ small portion of rum. Orlando was advised to do the same & that which at first he murmured at became pleasing. The heat induced thirst & in the hurry occasioned by his business his quantity could ^not^ be always measured with due restriction. I remonstrated perhaps too angrily, & not aware himself how the fatal habit was encroaching he thought me captious & unreasonable. He saw others drinking pints to his spoonfuls & could not sympathize with my terrors. I had intended to have asked you to write to him on the subject but now I beg you will not notice my having spoken of it for we had, one evening, a cool conversation in which he promised to leave it off & for three weeks past has not tasted rum, mixing his water with sugar in lieu of it. I would not now seem to complain of him especially as he has been maintaining an arduous situation with great propriety. I believe I mentioned that his employers are two partners, one of whom resides here & the other in Dublin. How much Orlando must have acquitted himself to Mr Hoziers satisfaction I leave you to Judge, when after little more than three months service, he has left Orlando the whole management of the business while he himself is gone on commercial speculations to other Islands – Such a proof of confidence in ^the prudence^ of a youth just 17, has astonished every body. A merchant told me the other day that he believed no other house had a Clerk so young so active & so fit to be trusted. And closely has he abided by his trust, undergoing excessive fatigue and tormented at the same time with prickly heat & terrible boils. To him who was always free from eruptive disorders these things are great evils – His color is almost faded & in another year I suppose he will look as sallow & sickly as his poor Sister does. What she has lost herself she seems to have given to her children for they are fine healthy creatures. The eldest Pat, two years old the last day of this month, is a noble little fellow. Dark complexion’d with fine eyes & beautiful brown hair curling over his & head, & open forehead, he resembles the children of the old painters – Subject to no one eruptive complaint that abounds here among children his glossy soft skin & his sturdy limbs render him lovely, while the infant, fair & delicate with soft blue eyes is & pretty features is a beautiful babe as I ever saw. He was born on the 1st of May.

            I recollect perfectly that in struggles & pecuniary difficulties I used to think every ^any^ place would be paradise where I could secure a living. The means are now abundant but Barbadoes is not my paradise. Eliza enjoys the heat & the fruits with a thousand other things that were at first absolutely hateful to me, though now I can tolerate many ^of them^ but were there no other objection the endless trouble & vexation that Black servants involve you in renders domestic comfort unattainable. While I kept house for Eliza during her confinement I was several times almost mad with the provocations their dirt, disobedience & dishonesty caused me. One who robbed us to a considerable amount boasted to her owners other slaves, that she knew I would not suffer her to be flogged & ^therefore^ she knew better than to work when she was not made to do it. You would be astonished to hear me scold. I do so I assure you & that with a vehemence which on reflection surprises & pains me. Yet every instance of kindness remonstrance persuasion4 or gentle reproof are so determinately scoffed at by the greater part of this wretched race, that an excessive propensity to indolence can alone preserve any degree of equanimity of temper. Next to the Negroes the intolerable & numerous tribes of insects are great annoyances – Above all the little red ants who surround you in swarms & who against whose abuses the domestics must ever be on the watch. Leave a small loaf or a cake on the Table unless it is fenced round with water in ten minutes it is possessed by thousands & tens of thousands; & you see a regular line from the bread down the leg of the table, across the floor & up the wall to some almost imperceptible crevice from whence some are issuing & others returning with their prey. Every article of provision must be placed in small reservoirs of water, or in some suspended closet which by a process of tarring & chalking the ropes cannot be reached ^travelled over^ by the indefatiguable little torments. They visit your beds to hunt after the eggs of bugs which they destroy but they bite very sharply themselves. Bugs are not more offensive here than at home but much more numerous. The Cock-roaches or winged beetles I have not yet learned to see running about, without fear. Other people sit quite composed but I start away & call out for their destruction when they come near me. The spiders, some as large as a moderate sized saucer, I rather like than otherwise because whenever they do make their appearance they are in pursuit of the Cock-roaches & are very ready to sweep up a million of Ants by the way. The Land crabs which are great plagues in some dwellings we have had none of in either of our houses nor had I ever seen one till the other morning when at the house where I give private lessons 3 times a week to a young Lady whose health is in a bad state, one walked into the drawing room & across it to the gallery with perfect unconcern. Speaking of that house reminds me that the mistress of the Mansion is on her death bed. I shall have a loss in her. She shewed me every civility in her power & of all the persons I had seen I felt most inclined to select her for a friend. They are a very rich family but unfortunate in their family children. It is a strange perplexing Enigma this life, yet it takes us a long time to find out that we cannot understand it.

       Since I began this letter I have witnessed the first severe thunder storm. I have heard a few frightfully loud claps before but this lasted from 5 in the Afternoon till 2 the next morning in all its most terrific grandeur. I hear of no damage except the washing away a small bridge of which the rain alone was guilty – Also since I commenced writing for I can only write by snatches, two other boarders have come in – I wish we could transport our school to Clifton & take you for another resident. I do not fear you would like us. Mr Rutherford & you would be sociable directly. But wishes are vain things & the Atlantic will still roll between. One of our boarders is a relation of Mrs T. Dunkin.5 Orlando & Mr Rutherford spent three days not long since with Mrs T Dunkins brother at his home estate. He professes to know nothing about his Sisters; he is very handsome but gets into frequent scrapes by too much of the spirit of London Brahmism.

Augst 7th

            A month has elapsed since I commenced this letter & the only packet that has arrived left the Island again in 12 hours. It happened on a day when a crowd of chances concur’d to swallow up every instant of my time & I was compell’d to wait for the next which is now a fortnight past its time. Our school now contains 42 Scholars. We expect a fourth boarder speedily. We are indeed very prosperous for Orlando has made a large stride towards his own advancement in life by his management of Mr Hoziers business during his absence. Mr H— has since his return intimated to him, that in the course of another year he will probably open another house in one of the Leeward Islands & giving him the management add his name to their firm. As a further proof of his confidence he has this very day embarked Orlando on board a Schooner charter’d for the Purpose, & sent him to Martinique to Dominique, to Antigua & finally to Guadaloupe to settle accounts for the house, with the principal Merchants of these Islands. This will prove a pleasant excursion to him in the variety of objects & manners he will see & will introduce him in a favorable point of view to the persons with whom it is probable he will have much commercial intercourse. Mr Hozier appears resolved to be a friend to him & I hear from various quarters of the advantageous terms in which he speaks of Orlando & his services in the business. Thus my dear Mary our experiment has been attended with the happiest results & I recollect with some shame how perversely I looked on every thing when I first arrived & how little I relied on the prophesies of what has actually come to pass. It must have been some physical infirmity that Jaundiced all my perceptions. The heat was at first insupportable to me It is now several degrees hotter & I seldom complain. I have now copious perspirations & am relieved from that burning sensation which was agony. This is our summer The days are intensely hot but the cool air of the nights is indeed delightful.

        My poor friend that I mentioned in the earlier part of this letter is dead. I attended, as is the custom in this Country, her funeral. She was a most amiable & interesting woman. I little supposed when I was introduced to her at Christmas & instantly knew that I must prize her beyond a common acquaintance that I shd so soon drop a tear on her grave. Strange chequerd life is this we wander through & find no resting place.

       Public events have been so various & wonderful as almost to deaden surprise. Mr Rutherford & I are full of desire to know what has been the fate of that extraordinary & misjudging man for this packet has only brought us the various floating reports concerning ^him^ & the occupation of Paris by Lord Wellington & Blucher.6

      Farewell my dearest Friend. Eliza & Mr R— unite in presenting a thousand kind remembrances to you. Her health is very much amended but she has great fatigue with her household occupations & the care of her babes. Two of our best servants are ill & the others true negroes will do nothing without been [sic] watched & driven. Orlando has been gone a week to day is the 14th. We shall not see him till [next] Month at earliest.

       I linger & am loth to say a last God bless you may dear friend

                                    prays yr affectionate

                                                E. Fenwick


About Xmas I shall endeavour to send some money to England with an order for the repayment of yr kind loan. We have much as you may suppose to purchase which once bought is our own & not to buy again. We use our cunning in money rather than incur debts.


Address: October twenty one 1815’ | London | Miss Hays | Pennington's Esqr, | Dowry Square | Hot Wells | Bristol

[to the side is written "S. Scott"] 

Postmark: 21 October 1815



1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 171-78; not in Brooks, Correspondence.

2 eveness] MS

3 Thomas Rutherford. He and his older brother, William, would drown together on 12 April 1834 on Lake Ontario, where they were living with their grandmother, Eliza Fenwick, and their younger sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Orlando. 

4 persuation] MS

5 Thomas Dunkin married Mary Olton, a name mentioned in a previous letter (24 May 1814), but most likely that Mary was a relation of Dunkin's wife then living in Barbados, possibly the wife of her brother who is mentioned above. 

6 Reference is to the Battle of Waterloo, Belgium, which occurred on 18 June 1815, and its immediate aftermath, the final battle in the Napoleonic Wars and the end of Napoleon's rule. He was defeated on that day by British and Prussian forces led by the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher, the latter's forces having been severely damaged by Napoleon on 16 June 1815. More than 50,000 lives were lost that day on both sides. Wellington later became Prime Minister of England; Blucher died a few years later.