This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

1805 — a time of Napoleon's battles

This letter, dated 5 February 1805, is addressed to Major Dudingston, Elie, Fifeshire North Britain from G. Nicols in Winchester. It is interesting because many of the events mentioned in the letter refer to things connected with Napoleon's battles against the English.

postal marksThe postal markings on the letter are :-

  1. London morning duty date stamp in red, FEB 6 1805
  2. a poor smudged Edinburgh date stamp in red , of the type in use from 1801-1812 where the year was included between the month, in this case FE and the day '9'
  3. charge marks: first ''6' which would have been the rate to get the letter from Winchester the place of posting, to London. There, the clerk would have worked out the whole cost to Scotland, so crossed out the '6' and replaced with '1/1'.

A Stamp News reader has been exchanging information with me about postage rates, and we have agreed that this is correct for the overall distance of 501 miles from London prior to 12 March 1805. The mileage included the 62 miles from Winchester to London, then the 439 miles London to Elie in Fifeshire. The charge was 10d for up to 300 miles and then 1d for every 100 miles thereafter. It seems a bit mean to have charged the extra 1d when the distance was only one mile over the 500 — particularly as the road distances changed as the roads were improved.

The letter begins with a reference to Major Dudingston's son Charles

Duddingston letterWinchester
5th of Feby 1805

My dear Dudingston

I have this day a letter from Charles dated the 30th of Jany on board the Royal George East Indiaman at the Mother Bank — a copy of which I shall send you lest you should not have a letter of so late a date from him.

He then copied the letter :-

My dear Sir

I have a thousand apologies to offer for my silence and not sending you the money you were so kind to lend me but really I have been so hard pushed for Cash that I could hardly fit myself for the Voyage having had nothing from my Father, but I shall take the first opportunity of repaying you with many thanks. I have time for no more as the Boat is just off — we sail today.

Yours Sincerely Ch. D.

Note: By chance I found confirmation of this sailing date on a website of Maritime History, which had a report of the loss of the vessel Earl of Abergavenny in the English Channel. It states that she sailed from Portsmouth, on Friday 1 February 1805, in company with the Royal George, Henry Addington, Wexford and Bombay Castle, for the East Indies under Convoy of the Weymouth, 36 [guns], Frigate (an ex-Indiaman), and was destined for Bengal and China. The Mother Bank is a sandspit off Portsmouth where the ships were moored while they were being loaded with provisions and being made ready to sail.

The letter continues with comments about the young man Charles, and his being sent out to join the East India Company in Madras. It sounds as though he has been in some trouble, and at this time many young men were shipped off to India.

The letter being directed to me at my Daughter's prevented my getting it the day after it was wrote, however I am glad to find he had not the Money difficulties you apprehended, and that he went very pleasantly off, and I sincerely wish him a good Passage, Health, promotion and every thing you can wish him, and I trust his future prudence may make up for his early want of it, but great allowances are to be made for Lads who are taken from their Parents and friends at the early age Chas left you. I should hope Towny Hale will be of very great use to Chas he is Sir John Cradocks Right Hand and I am sure will do all in his power for your Son and his Cousin & he will have much in his power & I would recommend Mrs Dudingston or you writing to Major Hale on this subject.

Note: The next paragraphs show that it paid to know someone in a good position, an early example of not WHAT you know but WHO you know.

The family affection and gratitude should urge M. Hale to every act of kindness to Chas, a letter from either of you might have additional weight with him. Sir John Cradock will shortly be Commander in Chief in India and will have the disposal of many Lucrative employments, Civil & Military.

Note: Sir John Cradock had a varied and illustrious career in the Army, having joined at Minorca, commanded the 2nd brigade, and was colonel 2nd battalion 54th foot (1801-2). He was engaged in the battles of 8, 13, and 21 March 1801 in Egypt, against Napoleon. At the conclusion of the Egyptian campaign he was appointed to the command-in-chief of a corps of seven thousand men, and ordered to reduce the island of Corsica. The Peace of Amiens put an end to the expedition, but he was made a knight of the Bath, gazetted colonel of the 71st light infantry,a post he held till 1809. On 21 December 1803 he was appointed commander-in-chief at Madras, and a local lieutenant-general. However, he did not last long. His command at Madras was marked by the mutiny at Vellore.

When the mutiny was suppressed there were mutual recriminations among the authorities at Fort George as to its cause; Cradock threw the responsibility upon his subalterns for advising the changes, and on the governor for sanctioning them; the governor declared it was all the commander-in-chief's fault, and in the end, in 1807, the court of directors recalled both Cradock and Lord William Bentinck.

I met Major Hale last June in London at which time he spoke of your Sons in a most kind and affectionate manner, which Circumstance I mentioned to Chas as we were on a Tour round the Isle of Wight and I advised him strongly to go and see Major Hale soon as he could after his arrival in India and it is most likely he will land at Madras, the spot where Sir John Cradock commands at this time, from the great acquisition of Teritory we have lately acquired in India, there must be room for many new Employments Civil & Military and if any thing in the Civil line occurred Chas is quick at his pen and very fit an employment in either situations, and I hope his going to India will prove a fortunate Circumstance for him. I am sure he has only to conduct himself properly to ensure him the Friendship of Sir John Cradock thro' Major Hale. When you write to M. Hale, you may put your letter under cover to Lieut. General Sir John Cradock K. B. &c &c Madras East India.

Note: This is another reference to the France v England duel. Napoleon had aimed a more dangerous blow at Britain's empire in India. There were many prosperous French military adventurers in the native courts, and Napoleon hoped by their aid to stir up the Nizam and the Mahratta powers against England. In 1803, Lord Lake conquered Delhi and the Doab from the French mercenaries of Scindiah. The territory referred to came about as a result of Arthur Wellesley, (later the Duke of Wellington) the Governor-General's brother, who was fighting further to the south against Scindiah himself and the Rajah of Berar. His successful campaigns ensured that the two hostile princes were forced to make peace, and cede to the East India Company their outlying dominions, Scindiah's fortresses in the north, which became the nucleus of our "north-Western Provinces," and the Rajah of Berar's province of Orissa, which was added to Bengal in 1804.

You will excuse my taking the Liberty in pointing out these matters to you, as I conceive they may be of service to Chas & can be attended with no harm.

I hope the Castle of Dublin business will very soon be settled to your satisfaction and Confirmed so on this side (of) the water as to remove any future Crosses on this subjects which Concerns a number of old Officers.

Note: this refers to Napoleon again, who gave his approval to a scheme for an Irish rebellion headed by the young revolutionary Robert Emmet, whose achievement was to cause a riot in Dublin, murder Lord Kilwarden, the Chief Justice of Ireland, and was then hanged.

We are in daily expectation of Letters from Bombay and I hope to have my Bros and Son safe and well in England in May or June. My son William is with me here and stays till the 1st of March. He is in the Horse Artillery and greatly pleased with his situation & pretty high among the 1st Lieut. He was in Egypt from the first to the last of that Business.

Had your son needed my assistance as you thought he might, it would have given me great satisfaction to have complied with your wishes and was prepared to do so, far as in my power.

We have had a cold winter till within these few days that the wind has come to the S. West I hope shortly to hear of the arrival of three ships expected from Bombay, the length of East & North winds which we have had kept the shipping from our Channel. The late change will bring them in. I hope we shall be more regular Correspondents than we have been for the last two years.

Give my best wishes to Mrs Dudingston and the Ladies & to Captn Dudingston when you write to him. Mrs Nicols & the Ladies desire their Compts to you Mrs Dudingston & the Ladies
I remain My dear Dudingston
Your sincere Friend
G. Nicols.

The long struggle by the English against the would-be Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was marked from 1803-1805 when Bonaparte tried to settle the national duel by an actual invasion of England and failed. Between 1805-1808, England fought by subsidizing foreign allies, while Bonaparte struck at England by the "Continental System", a plan for starving English trade. While Bonaparte was drilling his army for rapid embarkation and multiplying his gunboats, he utilized the time to stir up trouble for England in all parts of the world.

Postal cover1805, the date of this letter, was the year of the Battle of Trafalgar, a naval battle against Napoleon's forces. There were many commemorative celebrations in 2005 in Britain, the 200th anniversary of this battle against the French, which resulted in the death of Lord Nelson. Part of the celebrations including the issue of a Prestige stamp booklet by Royal Mail in Britain. This has information, maps, and images of the battle on the interleaves between the panes of stamps.

References :

Dictionary of National Biography
History of England by Oman
Atlas of Warfare
Alan Robertson: Postal rates of Great Britain
The East India Company Register & Directory

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