Letter number 11
Date: 29 April 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
April 29h 1855
I have been trying very hard to get back by the Hecla which leaves this week, but have found it impossible & am almost exhausted by the fatigue which I have gone through in making the effort.
I am at Hallewells quarters still, not having yet been able to get a sitting from Sir G Brown of whom all his A D C’s seem as much afraid as if he were the Polar bear himself.
After leaving the valley where the shot are so thick I took the van round the head of the next ravine & up the hill to the rear of a mortor battery and as the spot is forbidden to everyone but staff officers & people on duty[.] I had a little quiet for a few hours each day having hard work however in carrying my slides with the collodion plate backwards & forwards from the van to the camera. The views here were not very good pictures as nobody being in front I could make no foregrounds & the town is so far off that in itself it is no picture. All the sketches seen at home err in making it seem too near & in making the details too large in order to obtain distinctness.
There has been little firing going on the last week[.] An occasional shot from the advanced batteries & several shells well aimed from a mortar battery or from a ship in the second creek have formed the principal part of the days amusement. At night the firing has generally been brisk but with little result except great waste of French powder[.] Every morning sees some fresh work commenced or finished by the Russians, sometimes a new rifle pit is made in the night, sometimes 2 or more are connected together by a trench so as to form a kind of advanced battery, & sometimes one detects the beginning of new works on the other side of the harbour. The hills beyond are getting dotted over with white tents & the sides of the hills roughened with the burrows in which they live[.] Their principal burying ground too is getting rapidly peopled, they do not bury as we do in single graves but make large pits which they fill with bodies & then heap over with earth.
Our sick are I believe on the increase, there have been several cases of cholera last week principally in the light division which seems to be placed in rather an unfavourable situation. The English forces have been augmented by the arrival of Lady G Paget & Lady Stratford & her two daughters & I met them yesterday riding with a very large escort of light dragoon officers & staff swells along the heights overlooking the plains where the cavalry charge took place. There have also arrived several new regiments, & lots of horses for the artillery & cavalry. Our fire must be getting much more numerous, all seem to be expecting the order to advance into the interior the expectations of peace having grown small. As to taking the town on the present system, it is a perfect farce. The mamelon the most advanced of the Russian earth works is as neat in its external finish as if ball or shell had never touched it. The French make much fuss & seem to attack every night but one generally finds each morning that the Russians have made some slight advance towards them instead of being gradually driven into the town. Our men keep what they take & waste no powder but they cannot advance till the French have delivered them from the danger of being taken in the flank.
Were it now [sic] for the great longing I have now to be off & the too great fatigue which I go through in consequence my time passes pleasantly. I have dined at Sir R England’s & enjoyed my visit. dined the next day with Genl Pennefather, & his staff & the day after with Col Borton & Wilkinson. At Hallewells I fed with him & Col Airey the Brother of Genl Airey we get on uncommonly well, but when they provoke me I make onslaughts upon the uneducated condition of the British officers & especially upon the incompetency of the staff. Col Airey I like much, he is very quiet & dry in his manners, he was one of the hostages given by the British just before the massacre of Cabul & has told me some very interesting things about his life as a captive. They keep me too long waiting for breakfast which they do not take till 10. Hallewell is up at 6 has a cup of coffee & rides up to the look out, (where my van has been) to report on the events of that night. He is so fat he does not know that he is sleeping on a board but I cant say I like it, however fatigue is a capital softener of a rough bed. There is no sleeping after the sound of the reveillée at daylight so that we turn in soon. I trip [sic] my boots coat & waistcoat, he lies down in boots & spurs. Sparling lives in my tent & I am told lives a luxerous [sic] life, catering his way through my Fortnum & Mason stock, he has blankets & a bed, he has one of the horses of [sic] ride over on the tent being 2 miles from where the van now is.
Today Sunday it has been wet cold & dismal. After Hallewell or Ben as Sir Brown calls him, or Burster as he is generally designated had mounted his old Gloucestershire cart horse to go up the hill. I lay trying to get an extra snooze but I could not after repeated trials find out which was the softest part of the board so began to read. Walford, his man came in & consulted me about the best & most appropriate attitude for his own portrait the promise that his promise [sic] is to be taken having been clearly taken for granted. Walford thinks he will be represented standing as a sentry with majors tent, the said tent being for the nonce promoted to the rank of a generals by a flag being planted in front of it, then he will have on a coat with 3 good conduct stripes (he has only 2 at present, but makes so sure of getting another that it is as well he says to put it in the picture.
I am sadly bothered with applications to take portraits, this after all is my chief hindrance. If I refuse to take them, I can get no facilities for conveying my van from one locality to another. If I take only those that the public care about, I generally find that they have no time or dont like humbug or want their horses taken & not themselves. As for sketching I have given up that idea altogether. I could not do any thing without being here much longer. After breakfast today I walked over to Genl Bosquets. I had left my letter with him the night before. He was at breakfast with his staff so I went to find out an artist whom I had heard of as being in his suite a Mr [Roté?]. He has been here about as long as I have & has made a few pencil sketches & memorands, but has done little in colour [ — ] he declined taking any views or portraits for Mr Agnew saying that he was sketching with the intention of making pictures on his return & therefore could not part with what he might succeed in getting. the Genrl Bosquet received me very kindly & invited me to mess with himself & staff when I go to his camp which I intend to do in a couple of days. He is a fine looking man with a broad brown face full of good temper. Afterwards I rode down to Balaclava, there was no church parade on account of the rain. Instead of finding William there he had gone up to the camp to amuse himself thinking I suppose that as it was Sunday & he was not required to work he was at liberty to leave his post[.] Hallewell was in the town too & called for me to ride back with him, but I had fallen asleep quite worn out with hard work & when roused felt very loth to ride 8 miles through the mud & rain, so turned in again till tea, since which I have written this note which by its rambling incoherence must bear the marks of being written by a man only half awake. I am sorry to say that the Hecla leaves this week, it has been quite a home to me & I shall be very sorry to say good bye to her & her captain[.] He has promised me to call at No 2 & I should like you to ask him to dinner & get Stephen & Adye to meet him. I have taken him everywhere in my calls to deliver letters so that he can tell you all the news. I shall probably send some money home by him. I have got a likeness of Adye on horseback & another seated. The officers of the 88h came up the other day. I told Col Shirley that I would do anything for that regiment that he wished & he got them all together & some of the soldiers & I grouped them badly enough but as well as I could where everybody wanted his own portrait to be taken in full. Two days since Ismail Pasha commander of the Egyptian troops came to me & I made some good groups of him & his suite. There was a Nubian slave & a cofit pipe bearer whom I coveted[.] I have their images. I am getting surfeited with good pictures now & want sadly to get back but must complete my task.
Of course you wont expect me to sleep in a bed when I get back. I shall begin by sleeping at the top of Primrose hill & hiring some one to fire off squibs all night to prevent me from feeling the silence painful. By proper precaution perhaps I may be got to sleep in the house in a fortnight’s time, provided it is upon the landing with all the windows open.
Tell Annie there are two Russian boys here who both would like to come to England which will she have Alma or Inkermann, such are their new names. One is an orphen the other has or had his parents in the town. They went out nutting last autumn & were taken, cried sadly but now would cry to go back.
Give kisses to my bairns & be sure of the best love of your loving husband.