Letter number 10
Date: 24 April 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
April 24h 1855
I have just received your note announcing the departure of the lenses & a day or two before Hawkin’s note, You may depend upon it I shall not stop a day longer than I can help & hope to have done my work in 3 weeks from this.
The last week I have been up at the front living all the time at Sir John Campbells who has treated me just as if I were one of his own staff. I have got portraits of him, Genl Pennefather, Barnard & Garrett, Capt Maxse & Lord Burghesh with several others while up there. Yesterday after finishing the last picture of the Panorama I got Sir John to lend me a couple of mules to take my caravan down to a ravine known by the name of the valley of the shadow of Death from the quantity of Russian balls which have fallen in it. I had been down to the caves where our men lie in the day times when on duty in the trenches 2 days before to choose the best view, If you remember I went there with Wilkinson & our progress was stopped by a ball. Since the siege reopened it was very dangerous to go down there as all the balls from the redan, the barrack battery, & the Gordon battery that are fired at Chapman’s battery that go too high come over into this valley. Though the firing still continues & is at times (especially from 8 to 10 in the morning) & from 3 to 4 p.m. very warm there have been latterly lulls in which the ear is left at peace & when I was in the valley on Saturday not a shot came over.
We were detained in setting off & so got down just about 3 PM yesterday. I took the van down nearly as far as I intended it to go & then went forward to find out the chosen spot. I had scarcely started when a dash up of dust behind the battery before us showed something was on the road to us, we could not see it but another flirt of earth nearer showed that it was coming straight & in a moment we saw it bounding up towards us. It turned off when near & where it went I did not see as a shell came over about the same spot, knocked it [sic] fuse out & joined the mass of its bretheren without bursting. It was plain that the line of fire was upon the very spot I had chosen, so very relunctantly I put up with another reach of the valley about 100 yds short of the best point. I brought the van down & fixed the camera & while levelling it another ball came in a more slanting direction touching the rear of the battery as the others but instead of coming up the road bounded on to the hill on our left about 50 yards from us & came down right to us stopping at our feet. I picked it up put it into the van & hope to make you a present of it. After this no more came near though plenty passed up on each side. We were there an hour & a half an [sic] got 2 good pictures returning back in triumph with our trophies finishing the days work but taking the van to the mortar battery on the top of the hill in front of the light division.
Stephen will want to know what has been done by all the gunpowder that has been burnt here the last fortnight. Well the faces of the Russian batteries are a good deal pockmarked & doubtless some guns dismounted, but the forts are not silenced & will not be if we fire at the same rate for 6 months.
The Russians seem as if it was their plan to fire just enough to make us exhaust our ammunition it is evident they have no fear of our taking the south side & they are now as busy as ever constructing new batteries on the north side. In the middle of last week every one was at Cathcart’s hill looking out for the explosion of a great mine which the French had driven under under the Gordon fort. The time was announced for 4 p.m. & as I had private information of the fact I was ready with my camera at the precise time but no event coming off I shut up & it was announced that it was postponed till 6½[.] Long after that time the hill was covered with officers & soldiers. We had gone down into the cavern to dinner & peeping out about nine found an active discussion going on as to whether the mine had exploded or not, general opinion saying, “yes”, — Any how there was a very sharp musketry fire soon after lasting for about an hour & we heard next morning that the French had taken the battery & then retreated from it not thinking the position tenable. A night or two afterwards the English attacked & took one of the rifle pits which the French tried to take on the 23d of March & where they got so complete a licking. Our Men took & held it & worked so hard in connecting it with our trenches during the night that next morning the Russians were forced after some resistance to abandon the rest, —
I was at Balaclava that night & coming up early in the morning found every officer I knew looking very grave for the Col of the 77th regiment, Egerton, who was much liked had been killed & a Capt Lempriere also a young & very [minute?] officer of whom Egerton was very fond. Hallewell tells me that Lempriere was shot dead in the attack that Egerton took him up & said “I’ll carry my poor boy into the trenches” then came back & was shot through the mouth & brain. They were buried side by side next day[.] All the Army seems to long to take the field & have done with this constant & useless frittering away of valuable lives —
When they do go out to attack the Russians it will be a very different affair from Alma. The Russians have got accustomed to licking the French & dont care for them, There was a very pretty scene here some days since. Omar Pasha turned out his troops for a reconnaisance towards Tchorgoum [Tchorguna] accompanied by French Cavalry. We did not know of it but saw puffs of smoke rising from the passes of the hills beyond Balaclava which at first we thought must be wreaths of mist, as it was morning. I called up Sir John & with our glasses we made out three lines near the crest of a hill far off, the top line firing volleys of musketry at something on the further slope. — I met them coming back at night, but every day has brought something to interest or excite & there is so much worth telling that I can only just mention what occurs to me & generally it is the latest impression which you get in my letters & wh for the moment effaces its predecessors.
There are two things I have enjoyed while staying with Sir John 1st lying in bed at night with the tent door open listening to & watching the incessant fire of shot, shell & musketry. Again about 7 there is often a pause & then while breakfast is getting ready I pick out a nice stone to lean against & lie down & listen to the larks overhead & watch the dreamy looking town which is at that time generally ½ bathed in mist. An occasional white puff shows that they are watchful eyes in the quiet place & sometimes 2 opposing batteries have a little duel all alone & I establish myself as self appointed arbiter of the event giving equal praise to the Malakhof when it drops a shell neatly in the rear of our batteries or to Gordons battery when it makes the dust fly in an embrasure of the Malakhof. The town may I believe be taken bit by bit as they are trying to do, but it will take an awful time & cost a terrible waste of life, Everyone almost here has made up his mind that there will be peace & seems to be getting home sick. This would disappear at once if there was a chance of taking the field
Hallewell has no more champagne, it is sad, but he tries to console himself and me with “porter cup”. I shall live with him for 2 days from Wednesday. Tomorrow I dine with Sir Richard England, a very grand individual. He is called Richard of England. He is good looking but pompous & gave me the very useless information that I was to come as I was, ie, in flannel shirt, innocent of linen or shirt collar, there being in fact no choice in the matter. I go from there to Inkerman heights thence to Genl Bosquet afterwards to Lord Raglan’s from there to Canroberts & if Omar Pasha be there finish with him but if he does not return from Eupatoria, whether [sic] he returned yesterday with part of his force. I shall go down to Balaklava & pack up & be off by the first vessel that I can get permission to go by. Anxious as I am to get back & longing for the repose of my glass room at the Museum I will never leave my work half done here. Since I got your summons I have been trying to work against time & as usual time has beat for I brought in a touch of fever & knocked up both Sparling & William.
2 pair of my blankets & the 3 waterproof rugs have been stolen by the navies [sic], while journeying up to the top of the hill. It was partly through William’s thoughtlessness but he could scarcely be expected to distrust men with whom he was told he might leave every thing safely; — Corbet [sic] is getting better but he has been very bad with fever. Mind you tell me how Mrs Joe & the baby go on I want to hear all about it. Kiss my little girls for me. Tell Annie there are 2 nice little Russian boys here called Alma & Inkerman shall I bring her one of them. I am getting very impatient to get home now that I see some prospect of an end to my labours I have made great progress the last week. Good bye honey. Keep your courage up, play the piano, that [sic] plenty of exercise & go out occasionally in the evening.
I have received all your letters, but the 2nd. Write for 4 days after you receive this then write once to Constantinople & Malta & just send a line to Gibraltar to say that you are all well so that if I go that way, I may hear of you.