11 December 1814
Eliza Fenwick, Bridge Town, Barbados, to Mrs. Hays, at Pennington’s Esqr, Hotwells, Bristol, 11 December 1814.1
Bridge Town, Barbadoes,
Decr 11th 1814.
My dear Friend,
I wish I could be assured that the apprehensiveness of your affection has not been disquieted by the long interval that stretches itself between the periods of your now hearing from ^me^, for I never awake in the morning but the thought of your probable alarm and uneasiness recurs most painfully to my mind. December is now passing on, & most likely it will be Feby before this comes to your hand – It was in August that you had my last letter and remembering, as you will infallibly remember, how much earlier I had tidings of Eliza after she left her native shores, I cannot but dread the fears that may be awakened in your mind, or the conjectures you may pass
of on my silence. But voyages differ – Eliza’s was boisterous & swift – ours was calm, placid, & tardy. We were called on board by the signal guns early at Day break on the 23d of August & set sail, but the wind shifting & the fleet being very large the Commodore hoisted signals for returning back & we cast anchor again in St Helen’s bay, Isle of Wight, the same evening. Three times in the course of the ensuing week we set sail & returned, nor did we finally put to sea till the 1st of Sepr. We lay three days at Cove, and 8 days at Madeira nor did we even see the Island of Barbadoes till the 28th of Ocr. Yet the weather was uncommonly fine the whole way, with the exception of one 24 hours, as we crossed the Bay of Biscay, which our Captain called merely a little rough, but which from the dreadful sickness the rolling of the vessel occasioned, seemed to me tremendous. All beside was bright sunshine & light winds & many vessels of the Fleet being very slow sailors, our ship & others, who could have made the voyage in half the time, were obliged to keep back lest they shd outrun the Convoy. This is an inconvenience often attending sailing in fleets, but the security is an indemnification. It was a tedious dreary length of time to me. The first three weeks I suffered dreadfully from sickness – the rest of the voyage I was relieved from that suffering but was still utterly unable to do any thing for my amusement I could neither read write or work & the days & nights crowded on with a lassitude beyond description. Orlando too found it very tedious though he had many resources – in his flute, learning how to work the ship, & playing at draughts with, or hearing ^of^ the miseries of french captivity from Mr Nichols, our only fellow passenger, a young man returning to his Mother at Barbadoes after being nine years & half in a french Prison. The only parts of the voyage I remember with pleasure were first, our casting anchor at Cove, which gave Orlando & I the opportunity of paying a hurrying visit to Lee Mount where we were received with equal astonishment & delight. I am very glad that we went there for something of sullenness in Mr Honner when we met in London had created a suspicion in my mind that in ceasing to serve I had lost their friendship. I wronged them particularly Mrs Honner, & from the first to the lowest of the family their evident pleasure in seeing me again gave me a sincere & commendable satisfaction – The second agreeableness of the voyage was of an inferior nature – it had nothing to do with feeling it was only a gratification of taste at sight of the picturesque & romantic Island of Madeira. We had also a gratification of appetite there for though the anchoring of such a large fleet had the immediate effect of raising the markets yet we could buy 30 fine peaches for sixpence and 40 delicious figs for a coin of half that value. Pears apples & oranges in the same proportion but the grapes were somewhat dearer. The indescribable fertility of the Island in fruits of every species almost, its romantic mountains &c afford great pleasure to the stranger but no English eye can look on the squalid wretched appearance of the lower class of ^the^ Portuguese inhabitants without disgust. Of the higher classes I had no appearance ^opportunity^ of judging, but we saw crowds of fat thriving priests & friars; & the splendor of decoration in the churches equalled descriptions I have read but surpassed any thing I ever saw before. As I have already told you we reached Barbadoes, our land of promise, on the 28th of Ocr – My meeting with Eliza with her husband & her child I will not attempt to describe[.] No my friend you heart so alive to all the refinements of genuine feeling will readily conceive how much that hour seemed to reward me for all previous suffering. Yet the delight, pure & holy as was its source, did not exist without its alloy. I was shocked at the alteration in Eliza. She had been very ill with a bowel complaint brought on as was supposed by too pertinaciously suckling her great boy without any mixture of food. The Her strength her flesh were wholly gone, her cheeks as colorless as the paper on which I write & the color ^hue^ of her skin changed from its brown to a ghastly yellow. I do assure you with the strictest truth that had I met her in any street or in any room in England I should not have known her till she spoke. Orlando had exactly the same impression. She looks somewhat better now, or I am more accustomed to the change. Her heart & her principles are still the same, or perhaps improved. Her spirits have not constantly their former vivacity because the debility she feels checks them & because she has annoyances & fatigue in the management of our little household that the mistress of an English family with even the worst of English servants can form no idea of. Our domestics are Negroes hired from their owners & paid what seems to me an exorbitant rate. With our ^small^ family we are obliged to keep three or if we wash at home four, & with that number, one third of the work Eliza does herself & another third is necessarily left undone as she cannot do more than her strength will allow. They are a sluggish inert self-willed race of people, apparently inaccessible to kind & gentle impulses. Nothing but the dread of the whip seems capable of rousing them to exertion & not even that, as I understand, can make them honest. Pilfering seems habitual & instinctive among the domestic slaves. It is said they are worse slaves & servants in this Island than in many others because there is less severity made use of – It is a horrid system that of slavery & the vices & mischiefs now found among the negroes are all to be traced back to that source. Bounded as my present experience is I could say much more on this subject but will defer it to return to myself – a dearer theme I trust both to you & to me.
I have spoken of
my the pleasures of my arrival I must now speak of subsequent pains. We had but a few days to enjoy each others society in comfort when I fell alarmingly & dangerously ill. They say my own imprudence was the cause. I was strictly enjoined by Eliza & Mr Rutherford to close the Jalousies of my chamber windows when I went to Bed, but the heat was oppressive to me beyond endurance & I could not believe that the night air balmy & refreshing as it felt was dangerous so I opened my Jalousies to inhale the breeze & to gaze as I lay in bed, on stars more brilliant & luminous than I had ever seen before. This indulgence I am told produced an inflammation in my blood. I was very bad. The Physician who was called in as well as my terrified family deemed me in great danger but I recovered & have repented bitterly my not taking advice, not only on account of the suffering & weakness I have brought on myself but in behalf of the dreadful expence I thus created for Mr & Mrs Rutherford. Medicine & medical advice is enormously dear here. The Physicians of celebrity receive a Jo, or two guineas, a visit & I was visited twice in the 24 hours while my disorder was at its height. I am now nearly well & my greatest inconvenience is an extreme dimness of sight which renders the writing this letter a painful effort. I had just pass’d the crisis of my disease when the fleet sailed by which I intended to have written to you. Eliza had in her desk a half written letter to Miss Lamb to which she added a line saying I had arrived & had been dangerously ill & forwarded ^it^, by the fleet, but her time as you may suppose between me and the school & the household was too fully occupied to allow her to attempt a letter. The Barbadoes Packet sailed from hence the very day before our arrival so that opportunity of writing to you has not been favorable, but not willingly neglected. I write now by the Island packet which goes round the Islands to collect letters & may not make England these three months. The heat is to me almost intolerable & I have a secret fear I shall not be easily enured to bear it. Eliza finds it even cold & Orlando is quite cool while I am melting at every pore. Our prospects, I am assured, are excellent & one of the wealthiest men of the Island told me yesterday the only danger was of our having too large a school. Eliza and Mr Rutherford are no less sanguine on the subject, but the dearness of living & the hideous expenses of servants create fears in my mind. Perhaps my reduced state from bleeding blistering & pain may subject & bow down my rage & therefore take no notice of this suggestion for even before it reaches you my spirits & hopes may revive. Orlando is quite well but I was misinformed in London respecting the ease of placing him in a commercial house here. There are at this moment six young men ^of good families here^ waiting from for a probable vacancy in a ^great^ merchants office & another merchant to whom I brought letters tells me he is not only overstocked with young Clerks several of whom have given £100 premiums for their admission but that every mercantile house he knows is in the same predicament. Numbers have poured from England on this speculation of late & together with the natives have blocked up every opening. This sinks my spirits a little. A trial is now making to get him into a Government office. The law he himself positively rejects & he judges rightly. When I write again perhaps this anxiety may be over.
It is with real pleasure I tell you that nothing can be more kind considerate attentive & affectionate than Mr Rutherfords conduct to us both. He is an admirable husband too & has both taste & talent. More of him hereafter – It is time I take my leave with every kind & affectionate remembrance from Eliza & Orlando.
I long to hear from you – to know whether Clifton is likely to be a place of rest. Write me a very very long letter. It will be most welcome & precious to her who is ever gratefully & affectionately yrs
Address: ^February fourteen 1815^ |
For London | Mrs Hays | at Pennington's Esqr | Hotwells | Bristol
[to the side is written "S. Scott"]
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 161-65; not in Brooks, Correspondence.