Letter number 17
Date: 28-30 May 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
I hope you will have received my last letter for this is only a continuation of it. I think at the end of it Sir George Brown & I were marching into Kertch[.] we passed round a bit of marshy water, then came to some large enclosed buildings, one of wh I was informed by Col Gordon was a manufactory of shot & wd be immediately destroyed We entered the town between two handsome buildings of Greek architecture & whitewashed like all Russian buildings, no body was to be seen at first & the shutters of the houses were closed, but as we got in groups of Tarters were standing by the side of the street taking off their hats & smiling most obsequiously on every one whose eye rested upon them, A few Russians Greeks, & Jews making up the rest of the spectators.
There was a halt in the town during wh some of our officers managed to get acquainted with some of the inhabitants who cd speak French & I have been told since that they managed to make themselves much at home tho’ quite in a respectable manner. None of the men were allowed to leave the ranks, & they got nothing but a little water wh the people brought out to them. It was amusing to watch the struggle when a bucket of water was brought out, it was emptied in no time. Kertch is a beautiful place, the town modern & very regularly built, the situation is beautiful, reminding one of the pictures of Naples[.] In the rear of the centre of the town a projecting shoulder of one of the hills behind almost cuts the place in two, & half way up is a musuem built like a Greek temple while above it is a tomb called the “Tomb of Mithridites, but wh appears of most suspiciously modern construction.
After half an hours halt we marched on along a good road by the sea side till we came to a mass of buildings on the point of land wh terminates Kertch bay & wh is used by the Russians as a quarantine station. It was quite deserted, some of the buildings were blown up, others showed marks of the shot of our gun boats. I hoped we were going to stay here, for the heat was oppressive, the men parched with thirst, & choked with dust, but after a short halt we marched along the high ground, the line of coast round the quarantine point making us bend somewhat to the left. After a bit we reached a high bit of ground from wh cd be seen the whole of the army in advance. The country itself was beautiful, for it was a vast extent of grassy slopes covered with long coarse herbage wh in itself was a delightful prospect to eyes accustomed so long to the bare barren, red earth of the camp at Sebastapol[.] The descent to the sea was bordered with farm houses & villa’s in the midst of young plantations
Our Army was marching in columns in beautiful order, scarcely a man falling out from the ranks, On each side, & in front as far as we cd see the country was covered with stragglers, Turkish, & French but principally the latter, intent on plunder, We cd see the French rushing thro’ the plantations, & in to the houses, & coming out laden with fowls & geese, looking glasses, chairs, ladies dresses & every thing useful or useless that they cd lay their hands upon[.] As they got to the contents of the wine casks they got more outrageous, discharging their muskets right & left at fowls pigs & birds. Shots came whistling amongst us, & of course remonstrance with half drunken men was useless. Their own officers never attempted to interfere, On the left a lot of French soldiers were driving along a lot of milk cows & mares wh they had captured, I cd hear them speculating whether these cursed English were to share with them in the spoil, If any Russian force had come down upon us they wd have punished the French pretty severely, for the lust of plunder had quite destroyed all appearance of discipline among them;
Some delay occurred here, & while we [sic] all lying on the grass, broiling in the intense heat there came up a poor woman with her old Mother, wringing their hands, & complaining that the soldiers were carrying off her only cow. The General was near, & he at once ordered Hallewell to go with the poor people & endeavour to recover their worldly goods for them. In a short time she came back driving the cow, but meantime as the herd was obliged to stop we set to work to milk the cows; While I held Dr Alexanders horse & provided a cap, he milked the cows & each time the cap was half filled brought & filled it up with water & we shared it. This was repeated several times to the great disgust of the French soldiers in charge who swore awfully, but not hard enough to stop us. In the last dose we mixed a little brandy, on condition of sharing the tipple with the owner of the brandy. This seasonable supply set me up again as I had no provisions. Hallewells servant who was some miles in the rear having mine in his charge[.] Just as the milking was done the poor woman came up, but when she tried to pass thro’ the line of French soldiers, They refused to let her cow pass threatening the woman with their bayonets. We got savage at this & turned on them, & being very much in earnest made them see it was safe not to molest the poor creatures. The younger of the women terrified, & overcome with fatigue & excitement went into hysterics, & fainted & when the Dr had brought her round I cd not help laughing in spite of my anger at seeing them rush at their deliverers & attempt to kiss our feet. The embarassment of the kisses was very droll. To ensure their not being plundered after we left Dr Alexander wrote out a pass for them in French & English & signed it with a magnificent flourish of “Inspector General” after his name; As we got on, the disorder became greater, the stragglers were more drunk, the cries, & shouts more savage, the firing of muskets & the ping of shot past our ears were continual & it was evident that all control over the French army was gone, & that we shd have a terrible night
The army halted on some heights on the other side of wh was said to be the town of Yenikalé tho’ nothing was to be seen of it from where we were, except some Tartar cotteges, whose inhabitants had to look on quietly while the soldiers French, Turks, & English went in and helped themselves to every thing they wanted. There were 4 windmills just behind these cottages, built of wood[.] In ten minutes these were in ruins & nothing left but the stone bases on wh they were built. As the troops were taking up their quarters I began to think of looking for mine, It was near 4 & I had had nothing to eat since 5 in the morning, I was quite faint & wd have given anything for a bite of an old crust. Hallewell was off with the general[.] Col Gordon to whom I was attached was nowhere visible & Dr Alexander upon whom I relied for supplies & whom I had kept in sight during the day helping him when called to the assistance of men threatened with sunstroke of wh several cases occurred during the day was nowhere to be found, or heard of. I resolved to enter the town & look for General Brown’s head quarters as the surest way of finding my own.
Accompanying a picket of highlanders I went over the hill & down towards the sea entering thro’ the gateway at the port. the pathway of wh was choked with stones, & fragments of timber caused by the explosion of a magazine wh the Russians had set fire to before leaving. Scrambling over this we got onto a platform of level ground on the right of wh was a bank covered with the ruins of a great explosion. Seeing a large building before us, we went to it & found a hospital with the beds laid clean & comfortable side by side on a raised platform like a double desk running the whole length of the building [referring to original sketch] The pewter pots for the drink of the patients were ranged in order on a shelf quite bright, & as if just polished[.] I took one & went out to look for water, At the end of the terrace I found a well of beautiful water & had a good pull at it without troubling myself whether it was poisoned or not. There was a French picket & a couple of officers in the fort, but with that exception all was perfectly solitary. The gound was strewed with fragments of wood, & stone & the windows all broken by the explosion of the magazines. Close by the well was another long building. I did not enter it being on the look out for Sir George’s quarters, but an officer who did soon after, told me that it was another hospital & that he found there 4 Russian soldiers wounded & unable to move without food or drink, They held up their hands & made signs for help but it was night, before in the confusion any one cd be appointed to attend to them.
Going to the side next the sea I saw a new battery of 9 heavy guns 36 pounders beautifully made & pointed in the direction of our ships, They were spiked of course. The platforms on wh they were placed was scarcely finished, & it was evident that the Russians had been surprised in the midst of preparations caused by the countermanded expedition 3 weeks back. In front was a floating battery[.] Altogether there were 32 guns captured in the place, most of them quite new, & of beautiful construction. Going out of the fort I came to the town itself wh lies under the cliff & up its sides. There was a terrible scene. French, Turks, & I am sorry to say a few Highlanders were breaking into the houses, smashing the windows, dragging out everything portable, & breaking what they cd not carry away.
The inhabitants had all fled with the exception of the Tartars, & a few Russians, among whom was the priest; from the treatment of those that were left it was lucky that they had. Disgusted with the sight, & unable to help it except by pitching into our own men, I hunted for the general’s quarters but cd not find them. I now went back to camp in search of Dr Alexander but cd not find him. He had been sent for to look at 2 of our men who had been shot by the stray French bullets. One of them was shot dead, & the other was badly wounded in the head, I heard that he had got a room in the town, so begging a bit of biscuit from some officers of the 42nd & receiving from them an invite to take my chance with them if I cd not find my own supplies I went down again, & found his quarters, but not himself. they were at a house on the beach only one story high as are most of the houses here. Turks & French were passing by thrusting their heads through the broken windows & trying to get into the courtyard wh was defended by the Drs servants. I saw that the Dr wd have quite enough to do to take care of himself, so got my fur blanket & set off with it up the hill again. On the way I met Hallewell who had lost his servant & looked somewhat bewildered so I thought it best to make sure of what quarters I cd get, & went up to my friends of the 42nd
They had got dinner ready, some soup that you wd have emptied into the slop pail but wh was very greedily devoured, cold salt beef & a piece of cold chicken all diluted with ration rum & brackish water, We then had a pot of good hot tea made & as the sun set went down to the bottom of the cliff & had a good swim. There were no tents to sleep in & so we made a kind of canopy by stretching a plaid over a table top set on edge & fastening the four corners to sticks driven into the ground[.] Our blankets were laid on the ground under this, and after some rum & water, & a pipe we turned in thus [referring to original sketch] You will easily recognize which is me by the striking likeness. It was very comforatble except that we were overcome with ants, and that now and then a bullet whistled past. I know that my slumbers were very sound. Once I got up, & stript to shake the ants off but in the morning I lay till near six, dozing and watching the soldiers at work, and enjoying much my open air bed. During the night the French set some houses in the town on fire, and a fatigued party of English had to go down to put it out, wh they did by pulling down the houses on each side;
When I got up I went down to the cliff and had another swim then came back, and got breakfast, cold pork, biscuit, and essence of coffee. After breakfast I went down to the sea again to see the soldiers bathe: They went in by regiments [ — ] fine fun it was to see their delight. When the officer with them thought they had been in long enough they were called out by sound of trumpet and another regiment took their places; A friend happened to come by who had not bathed, so I went in again with him & then made my way to Dr Alexander’s quarters and wrote you my first letter from Yenicale interrupted by Frenchmen stopping at the windows, looking in, and speculating whether I was a fit subject for their plundering propensities, and by Turks who were even more distinctive than the French, and more difficult to get rid of. One of these last who sent a whole window frame in showers into the room, I rushed out, hammered his stupid head, & handed him over to the English guard.
While I was writing Dr Alexander came up & told me that the same work had been going on all night & that he had been obliged to move to more sheltered quarters. I finished my letter to you, took it to head quarters to post. Col Gordon was there, and sent for me to say that they had arranged for me to live in the same room with himself, Col Airey, & Hallewell and asked me to take some sketches of the place for Lord Raglan. I got my sketch book, and set to work & by 5 had made a decent sketch of part of the fort, we then ie. All the staff went to bathe & I took my third dip, & then came in to dine; Ration beef & ration rum made up the repast, Hallewell grumbling hard at being put on short allowance of fluids; we all 4 slept in the same room, & Col Browning in the next. Fleas were abundant; Next morning the same fashion was observed in bathing before six. I made another sketch in the afternoon, & rambled about looking at the place.
It is decided that the army stops here a few days to erect works for the defence of the place wh the Turks are to remain & occupy[.] The small steamers are all gone into the sea of Azoph looking out for information, & for prizes of wh several have been already taken, the value of this place to the allies is immense as they now cut off all supplies coming to the Russians from Asia, and down the sea of Azoph can from here make attacks upon any part of the Asiatic coast of the Black sea or the ports of the sea of Azoph. It is possible they may send an expedition to Anapa, but the uncertainty is so great, & my anxiety to get home so strong that I have this morning applied for a passage back to Balaclava by the first steamer that leaves, & one will have to go soon to carry dispatches. The trip has gone [sic] me a great deal of good[.] I am quite well & strong again, my face as red as a soldier’s jacket, I wont finish this till tomorrow — probably I shall go in the same boat as it as far as Balaclava —
Kamish Bay May 30th
We have just dropped anchor here, I left yesterday in a little steamer that took us down to the Royal Albert where I waited till 12 at night while admiral Lyons wrote his despatches to government — You will learn by the paper the result of the expedition, so I will say nothing about it. I left Hallewell, & all the rest in high spirits looking forward to a cruise to Anapa; He had just got 2 cases of wine & was lifted up accordingly, for till yesterday we had nothing but ration rum & salt pork, but yesterday the Tartars brought in 500 sheep
Good bye, the post is just going off I’ll hasten home now