Letter number 3
Date: 8 March 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Joseph Fenton letter-book, Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Austin
Thursday March 8th 1855 —
2nd March further on. [continuation of the letter 2 March 1855]
We are lying off the entrance to Balaclava with 4 other steamers & a brig. Waiting until we are bidden to go in. Having satisfied my curiosity as far as the telescope will do it I will proceed to satisfy yours. Turpeinus an officer has just passed us & given us the news (how true you will know better than I) that the Emperor of Russia is dead of an apoplectic fit the said news having come by electric telegraph from Vienna[.] There is a great speculation on board in consequence. Next we are told that there are 18 to to 20,000 English troops effective instead of 10 as the Times said. That they have had beautiful weather for the last fortnight & are going on very well. With the telescope I can see on the hill to the right of the entrance a range of wooden huts looking like a hospital, on the crest of the hill it is washing day & further back are a lot of tents mixed with huts, built & building. These are now hidden under the lower hills under which we are lying. All along the beach where the wrecks were can be seen planks & broken masts stretching for more than a mile[.] The hill where the hospital lies looks all trodden down [ — ] not a bit of green on it. Farther to the right the hills are covered with low trees which seem as if they could keep the whole army in fuel for months, I suppose they could not get at them for the Russians tho’ I can see no signs of the latter Gentlemen, My last letter left off at my arrival at Constantinople by moonlight & our casting anchor in the Golden Horn by the side of the Friedland a French 3 decker. There was a thick fog inside the harbour & a close smell suggestive of fevers so I turned in & was up betimes in the morning to see the sun rise on Mosque & Minaret.
After breakfast we called a caique & the Captn & I went on Shore to call at the English Naval Office. We came into a passage about a yard wide a wall on one side which was evidently part of a fortification & picking our steps along this in the midst of all sorts of abominations we passed through an arch into another passage about 2 yds wide with booths & shops on each side a gutter in the middle & horrible mountains of dirt every few yards. Sliding & stumbling along & wondering when we should get to a street we got to a corner where another passage crossed ours at right angles [ — ] down this was pouring a stream of people Turks, Jews, Armenians frowsy women with veiled faces & bare legs jaunty French soldiers English sailors & every minute a string of Porters with their loads slung on poles came swaggering by shouting “L’Guard” to clear the road upsetting people & being upset themselves; following the crowd we came down to the water side & found the men at the landing stage or steps of the Custom House[.] The said stage being a craggy wooden platform about the size of two dining tables [ — ] here we learned that the last passage down which we had come was the main street of Gallatta & retracing our steps we saw an English sign over a shop & there were furnished with a boy to guide us to our destination[.] Mounting the hill the passage got wider & not quite so dirty [ — ] at the top where Pera stands & where most of the Europeans live every thing was in comparison clean & I went to the Post Office not expecting any letters but on the chance that there might be but found none, then called at the Embassy to deliver letters of introduction but did not go in. Coming back we climbed up to the top of Galatta & saw the town at our feet & Stamboul at the other side of the Harbour [ — ] being now tired & hungry we returned to the ship calling at the Naval Office & there found Major Hackett under whom the Photographic corps were first placed when they went out. I made an appointment with him to go sight seeing in the Afternoon & then went on board.
At 2 I went with Hackett to Stampa’s a man who keeps an universal shop for treacle, knives, Bibles, & other groceries, he got us a Jew guide & we set off across the Bridge to Stamboul [ — ] we got horses on the other side of the bridge & rode up to the bazaar a place roofed in all alleys & passages with shops on each side the owner sitting cross legged smoking on one corner of his bench, The Turks may be grave people but they made plenty of noise & fun in trying to sell their wares[.] Dismounting to set to work seriously to bargain Major or ‘Banbashee’ Hackett as he announced himself to them wanted some red fur caps with gold embroidery & he went from shop to shop in the search accompanied by a crowd of fellows all eager to assist & share the plunder. When the caps were found the owner asked 2 pounds each for them whereat the ‘Banbashee’ stormed & shook his knobbed stick in the mans face & the clatter of tongues became great every body assuring us that the Turk would be ruined if he took half the money the Major offered. At last an officious spectator shook the man by the shoulder took the caps & handed them to us & in return took our money & placed it in the mans hand & in conclusion made us a present of some perfumes lying on the stall thus proving that in spite of our clever bargaining we had been done — I got a pair of velvet slippers & some otto [sic] of roses the genuineness of which I have my doubts. There were several women shopping in the bazaar [ — ] the way they cover their faces letting only their eyes be seen is very coquettish. The more so as if theirs is a good face the veil is of so transparent a material that the beauties it covers can be easily divined.
Leaving the bazaar we rode to St Sophia’s Mosque & dismounted & descended the steps under the Porch & prepared to march boldly in but we heard a cry of horror behind & some fellows came forward & made all sorts of signs & speeches for us to go back[.] Major H— told me however that the Sultan had given orders for the free admission of English & French so we blustered (or rather Hackett did) in return who seemed to like the exercise & they tried for what was after all their real object “Backseeish” but in vain & at last withdrew their opposition only informing us that we must take off our shoes [ — ] this was no inconvenience as the whole floor of the Church is covered with the richest Turkey Carpets. I am not going to give you a discription of the Mosque[.] I was much pleased with it & though it is so vast & richly ornamented it is at the same time remarkably light & airy [ — ] the traces of the Christian Church are yet very visible, there was an old Turkish fellow sitting cross legged on one side surrounded by a circle of other men all squatting to whom he was expounding the Koran [ — ] as far as I could judge from what his tone & manner indicated he seemed to be talking sensibly [ — ] there was no attempt at unction such as you see among the Roman Catholic ecleastics [sic] the audience were very attentive & occasionally joined in some kind of response. Remembering that in their way they were worshipping God I feld unwilling to keep my hat on but they would have thought it disrespectful to have taken it off
leaving this place we rode back to Pera & dined at [Messieurs?] Hotel & slept there as I was told it was unsafe to go down the narrow streets near the harbour after dark [ — ] the next day I called again at the Embassy & delivered my letter from Prince Albert. Lord Stratford was ill in bed but he sent me a very civil message & I had an interview with Lady Stratford whom I found very busy superintending the departure of Miss Erskine & of the Sisters of Mercy to Balaclava [ — ] getting down into the Port I found the ship ready for starting & soon we were steaming up the Bosphorus, a beautiful sight it was steaming by Mosques, palaces, pretty villages, & places famed in history. Rounding a projecting point where stood a very beautiful villa given laterly by the Sultan to his son in law [ — ] there were some Turkish ladies at an open window who returned our salute with a right merry laugh, further on a Barque that had the folly to stand across our bows had a narrow escape of destruction it was only by the ready energy of the Captain that they were not overwhelmed [ — ] as it was the jib caught their mainsail & took it off with mast & yard as it if were a spiders web. In Benos bay we found the Bell Pool the Prince de Joinville’s frigate a very handsome vessel [ — ] at a quarter to 4 we were in the Black Sea & soon found the difference of temperature, towards sunset a thick fog came on [ — ] the vessel seemed sailing through infinite space nothing ahead nothing all round, next morning it was dull & wretched my breakfast would not stop in its proper place so I lay down all day & thought ruefully of things in general.
This morning I was up by day light for land was in sight & speculation was afloat as to whether we should not float into Sebastipol by mistake [ — ] after waiting outside the harbour for some 3 or 4 hours in obedience from a request not to go in without further orders [ — ] we got impatient so did 2 or 3 other steamers & all three quietly steamed in & after a scolding from the Port Captn got, after some hours work squeezed into their places [ — ] no one I think ever saw so many vessels crowded together in so small a space as in this little harbour [ — ] it is said there are 150 here now & the Captn of the Port who succeeds in preserving any approach to order must be a man of ability [ — ] before the ship got to her berth I went on shore & landed on a real stone jetty getting knee deep in mud & then stepped on to a rough stone road which we [sic] will be in time a good maccadamised [sic] one [ — ] on either side of this road however there is plenty of evidence of what a filthy swamp the streets must have been a few weeks back[.] The Post Office was just in front the ground floor of which was a stable & the upper floor accessible by stone steps outside. This is the way in which the best houses are made.
having looked in vain for some of the people to whom I had letters of introduction I strolled up the village to look about me & faith there was no want of things to make one stare[.] The emptying of Noah’s ark could not have been half so queer a sight. Had it not been for the long row of English graves at the head of the harbour one might have throught it a huge fair. First of all the railway attracted one’s notice it is open as far as Kachatroi [Kadekoi] a village rather more than a mile off. Navvies & Turks were working together loading waggons and emptying ballast & evidently on good terms with each other[.] Leaving the road to the right we followed a road wh crosses a stream & gradually ascends to Kadiski [Kadekoi] we were passed & met by an incessant stream of officers & Zouaves were loitering about with baggy breeches Turks with baggier & a little way out is a booth with a flag floating over it (“Crimean Army Funds”) It seemed to stand above in its glory for no one seemed to go near it. Not so the General Bazaar in wh a very brisk trade appears to go on Dutch cheese, Onions, soft soap “English pasture excellent quality” Liquids of a stronger nature seemed to be staple commodities
Here we fell in with one of the 17th Light Dragoons who pointed out the scene of the famous Cavalry Charge. While musing upon this up came some horses led & mounted — There said he is our regiment I counted them 13 in all ‘You dont tell me that these are all?’ All that we can mount he replied[.] These horses were a sad spectacle rough lanky, their heads down their tails worn to the stumps [ — ] most of them shewing great patches of bare skin [ — ] they seem to be too far gone to brought [sic] round by the present fine weather & plentiful supply of forage. The horses of the French officers that I met are all still in good condition sleek, & fat[.] Soon came by, a drove of mules ridden or led by Turks, Arabs, Maltese, & Blackies & concluded by a Highland lad half drunk mounted on a mule with toes stuck out & mouth reaching from ear to ear. Here [sic] grinned out as he passed Here’s the Royal Highland brigade
I saw no Russians but on a hill beyond the highland corps of Sir Colin Campbell were a group of fellows squatting down on the ground in front of a little church, who were watching us in the valley & were pointed out to me as Russians[.] It is said there are 40,000 behind the hills & some more further up the valley[.] Towards evening there were several reports of heavy guns over in the direction of Sebastipol wh made me very anxious to go & see what was the matter [ — ] no doubt I shall soon get used to them[.] It is said that the people in the town to whom Lord Raglan has communicated the report of the Emperor’s death do not believe it [ — ] other’s say that in consequence of it Menshikoff has sent off to St Petersburgh.
You see to what a strait we are reduced for news here. I expect to get my horses on shore tomorrow & if I can borrow a saddle shall ride to camp to arrange about my quarters[.] It will be some days before I can get to work the Post leaves tomorrow [ — ] it is now 11 PM so I must stop. Dont loose [sic] any chance of writing [ — ] letters from home are more than meat & drink[.] I wish I had time to write you better discriptions [sic] of what I see around me but to watch incessantly all that is going on, the frequent changes from the awful & grand to the intensely ridiculous the constant succession of startling novelties weary so much that I feel no energy to attempt a sufficient description of them. It is odder than 3 Bedlams broken loose[.] Many kisses etc etc etc from your model of a husband
Friday morning 7 AM
The dew fell so heavily last night that every thing exposed to it was soaked. Sparling has not turned up [ — ] he asked to go to his old regiment & if he returned last night he must have been unable to have got off to his ship[.] I think we shall have the horses disembarked this morning & if so I shall ride to camp[.] I am going to try to put them in the railway stables until my establishment is fitted up [ — ] at present I am fidgetty & nervous as I do not know whether all my boxes & apparatus will not have to stand by the water side like many other heaps of things now here[.] The wax & tape office to wh one of our party is destined have been short of ink & have had to manufacture it of soot & vinegar
8½ A M[.] I am off having so far done my duty to self & country by disposing of some salt fish & potatoes eggs & buttered toast & tea