Letter number 14
Date: 18 - 20 May 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
I have just received your letter of the 4h of May which you say is to be the last. I hope there will be one or two more since it will be 10 days yet before I have done.
I leave General Bosquets to day, shall be a day at General Barnard’s a day at Sir R England’s & then go to Head Quarters where I have very little to do. I begin to see an end of my labours and I am right glad of it for I am very weary. The physical labour has become extremely exhausting since the commencement of these excessive heats. When I close my van door perspiration starts from my forehead and before the plate is prepared is running down my face and dropping like tears [ — ] it is impossible now to do any thing after eight o’clock in the morning; The water in the cistern of the van gets so hot that it is not pleasant to put one’s hand into it; as for the sides of the van next the sun, it burns the skin to touch them, I have all the portraits I want but Lord Raglan’s and Genl Canroberts.
The last 2 days I have been stationed with my van on the field of Inkerman: To take the pictures I wanted I was obliged to go to the very front but I manage to get the van so placed that I am seen by only 2 of the Russian batteries. I worked without interruption at first but when the guard was relieved in the different forts on our side they began to fire. I was in the one of the French batteries when the first shot came. I was looking for a place to put the cameras on for a view of the ruins of Inkerman when I saw a flash on the heights opposite. I knew it was too late to get out of the way so I stood still and listened to the whirr of the ball[.] I could hear it growing louder and louder and coming right towards me and but can recollect that as it approached close I felt that it would not touch me & that it was too high. Before I was quite sure it was going past I heard it a couple of yards over head and saw it strike the hill behind the battery. I did not lose much time in getting to my van which was sheltered from the shot of that battery but in a minute after one of the batteries which could see us opened fire on the relief which happened to be behind us in the same line so that all the shells and shot went past or over us; After firing at the men going away till they were out of range they gave the van a parting salute which went a little to the right just over where we had picketted Hecla, nearly finished his career & buried itself in the hill side without doing any more mischief than sadly disturbing the equilibrium of my nerves;
In the afternoon it was too hot to photograph so I went down the ravine, sat down under a rock and made a sketch in watercolours. While at work I heard a rustling in the bush close by and there came gliding by a serpent about 6 feet long. Seeing me he got frightened and went away at a great pace. The ravines of Inkerman are full of them but I believe there is no harm in them. When I had about half finished my sketch I heard a bullet whistle past about 20 yards from me. A few minutes after there came another rather nearer and then a third[.] The fourth passed uncomfortably close so I took the hint and walked off. All the time I was there, there was a continual popping of rifles between the 2 sides of the valley[.] I did not think I was within range where I was or I should have kept further back; As it was I believe I might safely have sat still the distance was so great; I have got capital stereoscopic views of the valley of Inkermann:
Two days since there was a grand dinner at Genl Bosquet’s there were five or six generals. [Camon?], Mezran & the famous Pelissier who burnt the Arabs in the cave in Africa: There were bouquets of wild flowers gathered by the soldiers for the occasion and the dinner was very handsome capital champagne and liqueurs. General Pelissier went away early half screwed but when half a mile off, he sent his orderly back to ask Genl Bosquet for one of the bouquets “There are none”, said the General, but as soon as the orderly was gone he made one of his aide de camp’s mount on horse back take two enormous bouquets and gallop off to reach the generals tent before he could himself arrive and await his arrival with the flowers with the message that he could not permit himself to send a bouquet by the hand of an orderly; General B- was as anxious about the success of his little scheme as if the siege of Sebastopol was to be advanced by it and was delighted when the officer returned triumphant; I brought out Joe’s box of cigars for the occasion and very much appreciated they were, so much so, that I have seen none of them since: These are very good fellows, they have taken as much care of me as if I were one of themselves, I feel almost sorry to leave them.
I am going to dine with the general tomorrow night in order to accompany him to the theatre: The soldiers have made a sort of stage and they are going to give an entertainment to morrow night[.] I have got one of the play bills and a curiosity it is:
Edmund is expected every day. I have called twice on Corbett lately but did not see him. the last time I put up my horse and made his servant brew me some drink “Give me some drink Istanius” or Paddy as the case may be in the universal cry now. Hallewell is in a state of despair; he has discovered that a box of champagne will only last three days, now that the hot weather has set in & is teasing himself to invent a drink which shall be as good as champagne and not so ruinous; By the time you get this you will be seeing Capt Pender. Treat him civilly, for he has assisted me in every was [sic] that was possible for him to do. He brings you £200 I have got nearly as much to bring home myself; I shall sell every thing that I can before I leave so as to have as little luggage as possible; I have sold one of my horses already. Hecla I have kept in spite of my resolution to sell him, he stumbles constantly, and two days ago I made a summersault over his head, after a vain effort to keep him up but in other respects he is so good a horse and gallops so well that I have not been able to part with him: It is absolutely necessary to have a good horse here the distances are so great and the country so rough:
I do not know that I have any thing new to tell you, we can do nothing for the heat; Perspiration is the order of the day. Officers and men wear white cotton caps with side flaps some are enquiring for green veils; I was at Balaclava yesterday and went to the sale of the goods of Mr Upton (son of the builder of the Sebastopol fortifications) previous to his departure for England. The auctioneer was one of my railway acquiantances and tried to made [sic] me buy a chest of drawers to begin house keeping with here [ — ] as everybody knew everybody else there was a good deal of fun. The Sardinians are at Balaclava in considerable numbers, they are fine looking men and seem to have all equipments [sic] in first rate order. The country is more thickly studded with tents every day, and every day the the preparations of the Russians to resist the army when it begins its march are becoming more complete. I shall be very glad to leave them to fight it out and to return to my quiet nest in Albert Terrace. It wont be long now — kisses to my bairns,
Sunday May 20th I have left Bosquets and am with General Barnard for a day or two; This morning not being a working day I set off with young Barnard at 6 for the sea side 7 miles off; Having reached it, we picketted the horses and climbed down the rocks to the water and had a most delicious bathe and got back to breakfast at 10: —
The heat of the last few day [sic] has been something that you can scarcely imagine; The officers from India seem to suffer the most from it. The whole country is covered with a thin hot mist and there is nothing green to rest the eye upon and no shelter. At night the sun seems to set in a red hot sea; There has been a good deal of cholera about but they say it is disappearing. I send by this post a parcel of portraits to Agnew and a letter; A cloud of smoke has just risen into the air with a loud report followed by several smaller ones[.] It is either a magazine blown up or the explosion of a mine. It seems to be in the Russian lines but at this distance it is hard to tell exactly where: I have seen several of these blow up lately.
I am now going to Head quarters to post this and shall perhaps ride down to Balaclava if I have time[.] At ½ past 5 I am engaged to dine with Genl Bosquet and to go with him to the theatre afterwards, There is to be a comedy in 5 acts with a “seven course tragedy” in 7 acts with several interludes “chaule’s par un sergent anglais”; General Canrobert has resigned the command of the French army to General Pelissier the next in seniority and has begged permission of the Emperor to be allowed to resume the command of the former division. He says that he finds himself unfit for the chief command and wishes to resign before he has made some great blunder; Pelissier is said to be man [sic] of great energy and every body expects that he will set the army in movement in a very few days