May 2, 1796
Dear Lieut. Grant,
I am taking this opportunity to write to you before we sail to join the British garrison at the Cape of Good Hope because I do not know if or when I will return and I do not wish to leave things between us as they stand.
I have been sorely troubled by my conscience since the events of last month and wish to reiterate my most sincere apologies for the manner in which I behaved towards you, as I fear you did not read my previous notes or did not accept the veracity of their contents.
Please believe me when I tell you that I informed nobody except my uncle about the nature of our lessons and certainly never suggested your intentions were anything but honourable.
I am deeply ashamed of my failure to prevent the abuse you suffered at the hands of Major Wilson and I have no excuse other than a selfish desire to avoid any repercussions for my own career.
I also wish you to know that I remember the mornings we used to spend together with nothing but joy and am saddened to think I will never again have the pleasure of your company. I understand that you may not be able to find it in your heart to forgive my conduct but I hope that in time you too will be able to look back on those days with some measure of happiness.
I beg you not to abandon your studies of the sword because of my mistakes. You have the potential to become a great swordsman and I would hate to think that I played any part in dissuading you from following your dream.
As a token of my esteem, I have left a small gift for you in the place we used to meet and I hope that you will accept it in the spirit in which it is intended.
Should you not wish to continue this correspondence, I wish you well in your future career and I am certain you will succeed in all you set out to achieve.
I remain, &c., &c.,
Captn. Wm. De Lancey
May 18, 1796
Dear Captn. De Lancey,
Thank you for your letter of 2nd, which reached me here this morning. Although I believe that you did not mean to betray my trust and I understand your reasons, I fear I cannot say that all is forgiven.
I very rarely allow myself to develop close friendships and I am not accustomed to the difficulties that arise when such ties are broken. I realise that you could not predict the consequences of your actions but the fact that you did not hold me in high enough regard to protest when Major Wilson and his men were delivering their so-called punishment is hard for me to forget.
Nonetheless, now that several weeks have passed I find myself wishing that I had not been so pigheaded in my response to the situation and I feel that I owe you an apology for the ungentlemanly manner in which I refused to acknowledge you thereafter.
If you find the idea agreeable, I would like to continue our correspondence and hope that in time we may be able to put these events behind us.
I am, &c.,
Lieut. Colq. Grant
P.S. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful gift. I am continuing to practise at every opportunity.
Dec. 5, 1796
Having resigned myself to the belief that you wanted nothing more to do with me, I was surprised and very happy to receive your letter of May 18. It appears that it was sent in error to my cousin in the West Indies who immediately realised it was meant for me but subsequently mislaid it for a few months before finding it and sending it on to the correct destination.
I am glad you are willing to continue writing to me as I have few friends out here and it will be good to hear a familiar voice, even if it is only in my head. I am also happy to hear that you are keeping up the sword exercises. I have been attempting to master the drawing skills you taught me and I will enclose some sketches I have made of the countryside hereabouts so that you can laugh at my hideous trees again.
We are due to sail for India soon and I am hoping to put the lessons into practice there, as I have heard there is demand for such skills and I am becoming more and more certain that my future does not lie with the cavalry. Perhaps I will be able to find a staff position with one of the officers out there and discover if I am more suited to an administrative role.
Your Obliged, &c.,
Wm. De Lancey
Feb. 20, 1797
Dear De Lancey,
I must admit to being a little jealous of your travels, as I am starting to think I am never going to see active service. I have no wish to leave the 11th but the most action we have seen has been the fight against frostbite on our recent march to Norwich. I hear about the adventures other regiments are having in various parts of the world and although I know they are facing danger and death, I cannot help wishing I was there with them.
I appreciate your sending me the sketches. Although the trees are still hideous, they are a lot better than your first attempts. As with all things, you will continue to improve with practice and I look forward to seeing the progress that you make in India.
I have taken the liberty of writing to my mother and asking her to send you a couple of the books I left at home, as I believe they will be of interest to you in deciding whether you wish to pursue a career as a staff officer.
I have the honour to be, &c.,
June 17, 1797
My Dear Grant,
Speaking as one of those having “adventures” in various parts of the world, I can assure you it is not all that different from England, apart from the unbearable heat and the higher likelihood of contracting a fatal disease.
Thank you for the books. They helped me come to a decision and I am currently stationed in Calcutta, having been invited to join the staff of Major-General St. Leger as an aide-de-camp when he passed through Ceylon on his way to take command of the Honourable East India Company’s cavalry.
I must admit it was a relief to leave the 17th, as Wilson was becoming even more unbearable and I was tempted to call him out several times because of the way he was treating the men. In the event, I thought about what you would do and decided to pursue the matter through the proper channels and he is now under investigation for unnecessary cruelty. I realise this in no way makes up for my failure to do the same on your behalf, which still haunts me every day, but I hope it will give you some comfort to learn that I am trying not to repeat my mistakes.
Sir John Shore refused to accept Maj. Genl. St Leger’s appointment as the Company’s cavalry commander so we have very little to do at present which means that I have plenty of time to read and continue my studies.
I know you will find it hard to believe but I would almost rather than spend my time alone with a book than go to the parties we are required to attend. They are extremely extravagant affairs that can last for up to a week at a time and the people who attend them, while amusing at first, can become tedious after two or three days.
The only redeeming feature, apart from the excellent wine served by some of the hosts, has been the presence of Lieut. Col. Arthur Wellesley, one of the few officers with whom I can discuss subjects such as tactics and supply routes without the fear of being ridiculed.
He asked me the other day where I had acquired a certain piece of knowledge and when I told him about the books you sent he laughed and declared that he knew all about “young Grant and his books” from his conversations with your brother James.
I hope you get your wish of active service soon but if you do not, perhaps you would consider for yourself the path that you have helped to set me on, as I am sure there are any number of officers who would be glad to have you on their staff.
Believe me yours faithfully,
Wm. De Lancey
May 14, 1798
My Dear De Lancey,
I have only a few moments to write this, as we are finally on the move. We were ordered to the Isle of Thanet late last month and we have just been told to assemble our belongings and prepare to embark at short notice.
We have not been told where we are going and it seems even Lieut. Col. Hely does not know but speculation is rife since we have been joined in the camp by several other regiments of gunners and foot guards, as well as a few engineers.
I am glad to hear that you have had the pleasure of meeting Lieut. Col. Wellesley. Several of my brothers have served under his command or made his acquaintance in other ways and they all speak very highly of him.
I would, however, suggest that you do not try to keep pace with him at these parties, as Alexander once told me that his first and only attempt to out-drink Wellesley left him barely able to move for three days while the esteemed Lieut. Col. was up and riding with the hounds the very next morning.
If you happen to cross paths with James or Duncan, please pass on my regards and tell them I am doing well and looking forward to fighting for my country at long last.
June 14, 1798
I am writing to you at the request of Lieut. Colquhoun Grant of the 11th Foot.
I had the honour of leading the company in which he was serving during the ill-fated attack on the sluice gates at Ostend and I regret to inform you that he was captured by the French and is now being held as a prisoner of war.
The other officers and I have been exchanged and are back in England but as of this date the subalterns and the rest of the men remain in a camp near the river Scarpe, 75 miles south of Bruges.
Lieut. Grant asked me to make sure you receive the enclosed letter and I have promised that I will try to find a way to deliver any reply that is sent to this address into his hands.
With sincerity and respect, your faithful and obliged servant,
Captn. Wm. Gibbs
May 27, 1798
I am passing this letter to Captain Gibbs in the hope that he will be able to discover your whereabouts and send it to you on his return to England.
As you will be aware by now, the plan devised by Captain Popham and Major-General Coote to destroy the sluice gates of the Bruges canal was a success but adverse winds prevented our re-embarkation and those of us who had been sent to ensure the success of the mission found ourselves trapped between the raging sea and the advancing enemy.
The battle was fierce and I saw things that will haunt my dreams for years to come and almost made me reconsider my lifelong desire to serve in the army. Several of my company were badly wounded and Lieut. Col. Hely was killed right in front of me, taking a bullet to the head as he led the brave men of the picquet back through the he dunes.
I realise you must be quite accustomed to this sort of thing but it was my first experience of war and despite all my reading I was not adequately prepared for the horrors of close-quarters fighting. Although surrender would have been unthinkable to me before, I must admit I was relieved when the fighting ended as the French were preparing to mount a bayonet charge that would undoubtedly have resulted in many more losses to our ranks.
I feel I must commend Captain Gibbs for demonstrating how an officer should behave in such circumstances, for he remained calm and collected throughout the encounter, treating it as if it were no more than a final test of our training and nothing to be alarmed about. His presence helped me to overcome my fear and made me realise that a man’s chances of survival are much greater if he does not lose his head. I have therefore resolved to follow his example if I should ever have the opportunity of leading men into battle.
I do not wish to alarm you with tales of woe but suffice it to say conditions in the camp are far from pleasant. The damp, misty air and general lack of sanitation hasten the spread of disease and we are constantly plagued by mosquitoes. The food, when we get any, is appalling and the French soldiers who have been tasked with guarding us make Wilson look like a gentle maiden aunt.
Nonetheless, I consider myself fortunate since so many were killed or injured and I am holding on to the belief that the regiment’s release can be negotiated and hoping we will have a chance to meet when you return from India.
However, if we are to continue our friendship, I cannot in all conscience attempt to do so under false pretences and must therefore tell you that Wilson’s accusations, whether he actually believed them himself or just invented them in an attempt to discredit me, may not have been entirely unfounded.
At the time, I chose to believe that these thoughts were simply the folly of youth but they have endured and though I understand that nothing can come of it and sincerely wish to remain your friend, I realise that this revelation may be shocking to you and you may longer wish to be associated with me in any way.
I hope my frankness does not offend you and I will respect your decision in this matter.
With best love, &c., I am affectionately yours,
March 25, 1799
My Dearest C,
I am glad you felt able to confide in me although I wish that the circumstances were different for I fear that you did so only because you think it may be the last chance you will get.
I can reassure you that I am in no way shocked or offended by the idea. Indeed, I would say that I am flattered but that would not be the whole truth.
I must admit I was surprised when Wilson raised the issue as it had not occurred to me that you thought of me as anything other than a friend. However, I have found myself considering it at length since and I now understand that my inability to speak up for you may have been driven in part by the realisation that my own mind was not entirely free of such desires.
I have not mentioned this before because I believed that you no longer thought of me with such fondness and I did not wish to risk our friendship by reopening old wounds, but the thought of you suffering in that camp is too much for me to bear.
If I can ease your pain in any way by telling you how much I care, I have no hesitation in doing so.
I hope this letter will reach you and I must continue to believe that I will find you safe and well in England when I return.
I am yours ever,